Thursday, August 28, 2008


There have been two comments made recently that have caught my attention. One was made by Jon Zens as he answered a critic of the book by Frank Viola and George Barna entitled 'Pagan Christianity.' Jon said, in effect, that the New Testament knows nothing of the primary purpose of the gathered church being one of worship. [Not an exact quote] Someone else I read said "Show me a single verse in the NT that states the purpose of the church is to worship." Well I looked. That verse is not there. In fact, worship, according to Romans 12, is the purpose of living. All of life is worship.

The gathering of the church is for "one another" according to the only passage in the NT that speaks specifically of a place where the church is gathered. That passage is Hebrews 10:24-25 where it is made clear the purpose of the church gathered has to do more with the provoking 'one another' to love, good works, and exhorting 'one another' as we approach His return than it does worship. [Not that such activity is not worship since all of life is worship.]The word 'assembling' in Hebrews 10:25 is not ekklesia but a word that references a place. The only such reference in the NT. It is the Greek word from which we get 'synagogue.'

Certainly other passages such as in Acts speak of what is to happen when the church is gathered. Things like receiving a word from God, fellowshipping, eating, and sharing life's needs with 'one another' whether that gathered group is meeting in houses or an upper room some where. But the point of all those passages is an emphasis on our horizonal relationships far more than an experience of worship. [Not that such activity in our relationships is not worship.]

Another comment that has grabbed me is where someone stated that much of the teaching, talk, and thinking on church life in our day is falsely based on a model of the Temple and Prieshood of the Old Testament. I don't remember the exact quote but that pretty well summerizes it.

I thought about it. I concur. I DO think a false basis for church life to follow is one based on the Temple and Priesthood of the OT. But present day traditional worship experiences seem to be just that.

This is evidenced by those worship experiences being built around a special place like a church building, [the Temple] and when you are there your are "at church." [Thus able to worship] That is of course contrary to that earliest group after Pentecost who went from house to house. Then, special people become prominent [Pastors] and are the only ones qualified to lead us in worship just as the Priests of the OT were necessary for the people. "My Pastor" is the language we use to reflect that specialness. [Why we don't say "my Prophet" or "my Teacher" or "my Evangelist" may reveal more about our misunderstanding, if not our misuse of scripture, in establishing offices to be held by special people instead of experiencing Spiritually gifted people in the Body.] We don't often comprehend that the body gathered is to be ready to excercise gifts to edify all. Were we to honestly follow an Old Testament "Priests are to lead in worship" way of thinking ALL would have to lead since ALL are Priests in the New Covenant. But I digress.

Add to that special place and special person the need for special things and special days and times and you will soon get the picture. For example, the pulpit, the organ, the communion table, [special things] and a few other things become what I used to call "sacred cows." You don't touch them, move them, eliminate them, or change them in any fashion. They are not unlike the vessels in the Temple except Aunt Suzie or Uncle Charlie donated or made them thus making them as sacred as the vessels King David dedicated and were used in Solomon's Temple upon completion.

Special days and times? Sunday at 11:00 am and Sunday evening at 6:00 pm IS the day and time of worship. Monday through Saturday are days of work. [The six days shalt thou labor thing] But come Sunday, that special day, and we go to our special place to be led by a special man who uses special things all to bring us into the the special presence of God for a special event. Worship. [Forgotten is the fact that Sunday isn't the sabbath or a day of rest or worship for that matter but, for believers, every day is a Sabbath in Christ for all of us rest in Him.]

May I say it? Somehow I think we've missed the New Testament concept of church life and particularly the worship aspect of it. I'm not saying anything I've listed is, in and of itself, evil or wrong. But if we make an idol of any one of the things mentioned it becomes wrong if not evil. No standard or procedure was given in the text of the scriptures that would guide the methods we use in church life but what is fulfilled in ANY method is mandated scripturally.

We're wrong to make worship a Sunday thing only because we're mandated in scripture to present our bodies [all of our life] a living sacrifice which is the beginning of real worship.

We're NOT wrong in worshipping on Sunday at 11:00 am unless it becomes an idol we bow down to and refuse to let anyone touch or change.

We're wrong to make one man the center of all that is spoken or done in a gathering of believers because we are mandated scripturally that it is to be a "one another" time.

We're NOT wrong in hearing a message on Sunday morning unless it becomes an idol and we bow down to it and refuse to let anyone touch or change it.

We're wrong in making the pulpit, the hymnal, the organ, the choir loft, or anything else a sacred thing because we are mandated by scripture that people are sacred and any tool can be legitimate as it aids in building relationships.

We're NOT wrong in using any tool that enhances body life unless they become idols and we bow down to them and refuse to let anyone touch or remove them.

We're wrong to think of the church building as sacred because we're mandated in scripture to see our physical bodies as the true Temple of God.

We're NOT wrong to take care of any property we, as a church gathered, might own or use unless it becomes an idol and we bow down to it by refusing to use it for ministry and instead protect it from damage.

It seems to me we may be at a time in history where new wine skins are needed for the fresh wine of the Spirit to flow through the Body of Christ and the need is bigger than just adapting to a new style of worship. It may be that some of our old school thinking about a lot of things biblical may need investigating afresh. This will not mean the text has changed but our understanding of that text is an ever deepening and comprehending thing.
That's my thinking at least.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...


I feel like the man who was asked whether there was much ambivalence in the church. He said sometimes he thought there was, and sometimes he didn't.

Some of what we see about praising God, like the harp and the crashing cymbals and the psaltery itself, wouldn't be real useful by myself down in my garage. It seems worshipful to me when we gather and do that.

Also, pastors and teachers would have a hard time fulfilling their role in ministering to the body, one at a time. So I guess gathering is a good thing.

Beyond that, I do agree there's a lack of real proskuneo worship in most worship services, and I think that has several causes beyond merely the format. One cause is the expectations of the people who are there. I hear some people say they're bored after a service in which I found myself really, really worshiping.

Another is acceptance and affirmation from the pulpit of services that are less than worshipful. I've heard pastors call services "GREAT" when I really never saw any real worship, but 3 couples walked the aisle and joined by letter.

Part of the blame lies with true worshipers too, I think. Somehow we don't express the realness of it to those who come and equate worship with presence at something called "worship".

And perhaps preachers haven't made the reality of true worship real, and said anything that sparked a desire in the body for real worship, and a decision not to settle for anything less.

The experiences in my life which caused me to hunger for real worship didn't come from any church I've ever belonged to. Interestingly, the desire (and determination not to settle for less) came from Red Hills Baptist in Kingston, Jamaica, and at Kingwood Assembly of God in Alabaster.

I seem to have written a book, and even at that, I don't think I got my point across very well.

Sorry 'bout that.

Paul Burleson said...


I think you said what you meant quite well. Thanks for commenting.

You said.."Also, pastors and teachers would have a hard time fulfilling their role in ministering to the body, one at a time. So I guess gathering is a good thing."

I totally agree. I would imagine that's why we're commanded in Hebrews 10 to not forsake the place we assemble as the church.

You said.."Beyond that, I do agree there's a lack of real proskuneo worship in most worship services, and I think that has several causes beyond merely the format."

Again, I agree. Since 'proskuneo' means bowing before in recognition of worthiness, and that is to be the attitude of all of life for us, were we to experience that attitude 24/7 we would not need someone else taking the responsibility for doing it for us on Sunday and we would sure recognize it when we see it in the gathering.

As I said, I think you said it quite well.

Aussie John said...


It sometimes seems to me to border on platitudinous to agree with writers of blogs, but sincere thanks for what you have been saying of late. It's interesting, to say the least, that quite a few of we old-timers are coming to the same conclusions, at the same time, about so many matters.

I agree wholeheartedly that the worship of Christians is to be whole of life. Meetings at a particular time, on a particular day, may be a part of that worship, but a very small part at most.

In your reply to Bob you say,"...we're commanded in Hebrews 10 to not forsake the place we assemble as the church."

Obviously, where brethren gather is "a place", so I'm unsure of where you are going with the comment.

As a good Baptist preacher I always used to make sure the inference of the exhortation to "assembling" was at "the church building", and at the very least, on Sunday.

I have been convinced for a few years now, that Christians assembling together, wherever they do, whether informally or otherwise ,for a meal or to play, benevolent reasons, or to sing, learn from a speaker etc., each "assembling", individually and together,whether many or few, fully satisfies the demands of the exhortation, which ultimately is "to stimulate or provoke one another to love and good deeds".

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie John,

I so agree with your final paragraph. I wish I had said it. :)

My all too subtle emphasis in using the Hebrews 10 passage was to make certain it is seen that the scriptures DO recogize [not authorize] a specified place for a gathered group of believers since the language is 'assembling' whose root is the one found in the word 'synagogue,' [As mentioned, the ONLY such passage.] But, as I said, when christians do gather with specificity as to location it is for something other than worship as an activity since all of life is that.

My concern is that many use the word 'Ekklesia' to refer to a place [the church] and it doesn't at all as you well know. It's simply refering to called out people for a unique purpose. Thus the 'place' the Ekklesia gathers IS recognized just not specified. It's being used only the one time would put the overwhelming emphasis of scripture on exactly what you speak of in your last paragraph.

But when a group of believers choose to 'specify' a location they are not violating anything as long as they don't make it the only place or even the primary place of worship. [Which is what is happening presently unfortunately.]

I guess it's that old on going debate between the church as an organism [Body of Christ] and the church as an organized group. [First Baptist Church] Which is it? Whichever, the latter gets very small play in the scriptures.

Your final paragraph speaks to the reality of the former and when christian people are together at any place they are to function as the church in a "one another" way that is edifying. That's the overwhelming emphasis of scripture.

I know it is a fine point but I believe it would save us from an either/or position on what constitutes the church.

When you said... "Meetings at a particular time, on a particular day, may be a part of that worship, but a very small part at most" you were speaking to that small emphasis in Hebrews 10. That says it much better than did I. Thanks.

Aussie John said...


Thanks for your reply. You're so right. I'd have appreciated running into you a few years ago. As you and yours know, it can be a rough road when one starts going against the grain of the status quo.
Have you read the blog of one of the"young fellers",Alan Knox at

There's hope yet! The Shepherd is still in charge of His flock!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie John,

I'll check that site out...right now. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for this blog post. I am another one of those "older" folks that thinks the times are a'changin' and is excited about the transformation in the ekklesia.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that many folks have turned buildings and the trappings of organized religion into an "idol". One reason is that it is easier to go through the motions within an organization than to allow the Holy Spirit to work the much needed change all of our lives need in order to be conformed to the image of Christ.

As I have found, when we are exercising our gifts properly to "one another" within our gatherings it is pretty messy. It is much easier to send someone to a program that will "solve all their problems" than it is to walk the journey with them.

It is good to see you back to blogging. I have been praying for you and your family. It is my hope your body is increasingly strong and returned to health.

Paul Burleson said...


The vision of Ezekial about the river always reminded me that when the Holy Spirit really is working He cuts His own channel. It is that new channel-cutting that is messy for institutionalists. It is that messy channel-cutting that is needed however. May God grant the Spirit's work in a fresh way is my prayer too.

By the way, I'm doing great and recovering completely. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm in your amen corner and I'm back in the USA. I have missed being able to read and write this summer (while in South Africa), but it is good to do so again.

I wish we called singing something other than worship. I wish we wouldn't see going to church as our time for worship. As you note, Romans 12 tells us what worship is. And because of our culture of compartmentalization the enemy enjoys dividing our lives into boxes of secular and sacred. Meanwhile we have divided hearts, filled with many idols, and we fail to live as God purposed.

Great post. Hope to see you again soon.

Paul Burleson said...


Well said and welcome home.

Anonymous said...


How did we get to the general practice of a congregation "calling" a pastor from outside that group of believers? If the spiritual gifts are in the church (the body), shouldn't that practice be the exception and not the rule?


Sarah said...

Hi Paul, Traveller pointed me to your blog, and I'm glad he did. Reading your blog is a real encouragement to me! Thanks for posting and I'll be back again! :)

Paul Burleson said...


I'm not sure how that developed but it could have been the western movement early in our history which also helped create the practice of a fellowship having only one pastor instead of multiple elders. Seldom would more than one "parson" show up in a location so the habit of one pastor developed. Interesting question.

I do believe it's better to develop ministers from within.


Welcome. I hope you come often and comment the same way.

Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at Also, have you seen the spoof video for "Pagan"? Very funny. Check it out at

Lin said...

"It seems to me we may be at a time in history where new wine skins are needed for the fresh wine of the Spirit to flow through the Body of Christ and the need is bigger than just adapting to a new style of worship."

Amen! we keep trying to fix the wrong problem. we are all ministers to one another in the NC.