Worship: basis and perspective (2 of 2)

[continued]

I’m dealing here with this opinion:  that Christian assemblies should have little or nothing to do with worship.  I don’t agree with this opinion, but it is not baseless, and I esteem quite a few of those I’ve heard articulate it through the years.

My intent in two posts on this subject is 1) to acknowledge two opposing viewpoints, and 2) to affirm — although not in the typical, glib, contemporary way — that it is very reasonable to assume that worship was, and should still be, part of the Christian gathering.

At the baseline, though, we must acknowledge this: we have strikingly little material that explicitly indicates a strong connection between the Christian assembly and worship.

So, what are we to do with this non-corpulent corpus of scriptural material?

Without looking these passasges up … in the letters, we have a few bits on group worship in 1Corinthians 12 and 14; a brief, possible mention in Romans 15; and somewhat tenuous implications for group expression in Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, and Hebrews 13:15-16.  (Revelation chapters 4, 5, and 19, along with other passages in that document, also deserve hearty mention — especially given my view that Revelation speaks of the timeless Kingdom, not only of the future one.)  There are several worship-filled paeans — near-outbursts of praise — in Ephesians and Titus and 1Timothy and Colossians and 1Peter and Philippians and other places.  But these are individual expressions; the explicit, apostolic directives for worship in the Christian assembly are few, and brief.

I suggest that we not read the NC scriptures (assembly-related or otherwise) with a view toward proving the presence or absence of corporate worship.  Such a mindset — no matter the topic or preconception — is destined to misguide the student of ancient texts . . . or the student of anything, really.

No, rather than approaching Paul’s letters (or the gospels or Revelation or any other document) bent on proving something you already think or believe, it is far better to start with an attitude of letting the text stand on its own.  A text ought to be permitted to to say what it was originally intended to say, in its original historical and literary contexts.

In recent readings, trying to avoid preconceptions, I have seen plenty of evidence that the apostles and other writers thought worshipfully.  If one thinks worshipfully by nature and/or by habit, it seems that worship would surface naturally.  It would be expressed.  It simply seems logical to assume that worship would have appeared in many activities in which Christians were involved — whether individual or corporate.

If, as we read scripture, our assumptions and concerns could be more closely aligned with those of the original authors, in the original contexts, I suspect we would see various subjects, including worship, in better perspective.

As sure as I am that the early Christians (just like the ancient Jews) worshipped God — and Jesus Christ as God — I’m also sure that some now will not be able to shake their view that Christian assemblies are about edification only, not really involving worship per se.  But surely, Peter and Paul and the rest were sincere, regular — nigh unto perpetual! — worshippers.¹

God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Paul to the Philippians)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In God’s great mercy he has caused us to be born again into a living hope, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  (Peter to dispersed Christians)

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  (Paul to Timothy)

It’s really difficult for me to imagine Peter or Paul in a Christian meeting and not worshipping God.  What do you think?


¹ I seriously doubt they, along with today’s Jamie Grace, would have thought in such a teeny-bopper fashion as to “get their worship on” (what a ridiculous lyric), but every day was truly a “beautiful day” when the Lord of All was your Lord, and He loved you, and you loved Him and worshipped Him in return.

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6 thoughts on “Worship: basis and perspective (2 of 2)

  1. sonworshiper 10/04/2014 / 3:47 pm

    I’ve been to churches with a fair mix from the 10-30% option to half or more. The “half or more” concerns me IF it’s not being done because God is moving in the congregation, or IF it’s not the intended purpose of that particular gathering. Churches sometimes have services set aside for just musical expression of worship, and I think that’s great. Other times, we’ve had moments in the musical portion of worship where it was clear that the congregation was encountering God… so we stayed there and sometimes scrapped the sermon. Worship–back and forth hearing from God and responding to Him–became the sermon. But again, that’s an exception, not the norm.
    In answer to the posted question: To say “none” I think is as extreme and misguided as to say “all.”

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    • Brian Casey 10/04/2014 / 7:43 pm

      Thanks for this very pertinent, thoughtful comment. I’d certainly agree that extremes aren’t well-advised and probably indicate a lack of perception on someone’s part.

      I would probe the idea that one can always, or even usually, discern when God is moving in a church. I’m not sure that’s a bad measuring stick, but neither am I sure that it’s a reliable one, if you know what I mean. An influential leader, by the mere power of suggestion, can sway a group into thinking that God was moving, when in reality (I’ve seen this, and I’ll bet you have, too!), it was just a cool song.

      Personally, I like the idea that sometimes, worship would constitute a majority, and other times, less than 30%, 58% ,or whatever number might be assigned. My ideal percentages might range from 20% to 80%, but, like you, if things really flowed for an hour or more and everything was worship, that would fine. Similarly, if the local body had pain in its midst because of a death, a divorce, a hospitalization — maybe no worship would occur at all, and that would be OK at times.

      What really bugs me — and this comes from the more impoverished corners of my own tradition more than others, probably — is the assumption that worship has occurred when all the prayers have been “gimme” and “help us,” and the songs have been “When We All Get To Heaven” and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” and “Mansion Over a Hilltop” and “Blessed Assurance” and “Walking in Sunlight.” Not much worship content there, although individual hearts might have moved in worship during those things….

      On Sat, Oct 4, 2014 at 3:47 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

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    • sonworshiper 10/04/2014 / 9:07 pm

      Yep, well said. Honestly, it comes down to faith. Not just “Do I have faith that this is God moving and not just a charismatic person up front” but also am I engaging whatever I’m doing from a position of faith regardless of emotion?
      When the congregation gets the idea of that, I’ve seen some really exciting moments in the musical worship portion. And that’s what I want more than just a spiritually empty emotional moment with a moving song.

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    • Brian Casey 10/06/2014 / 9:24 am

      I like your 2nd question and could easily apply it to a “pew” or leadership role at most any given time. The question of “Do I trust that this is God moving and not just a charismatic person” seems to lead off track, though. That is more a matter of discernment, maybe, and not nearly as reliable — since it involves judging the situation with others and not with the self. Definitely, the goal is a spiritually full moment (emotions or no)! 🙂

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  2. Steve Kell 10/06/2014 / 2:35 pm

    If I recall, the books entitled “Broken Bread” and “Spilled Grape Juice” by (my former brother-in-law) Mike Root espouse the “total reason for meeting together is edification, not worship,” and that all of life is worship. And yes..there is the idea of a life of service using liturgical vocabulary in Rom 12:1f being worshipful in nature (emphasizing I believe the sacredness of our daily lives), but that does not negate worship taking place in an assembly that comes together for events that not only edify, but also result in justification of those present and glorification of their object of affection–God. (1 Cor 14) I would think that “agenda” falls into some form of worship. If Jesus is not the focus and center of the gathering, then “edification” is diminished into a positive attitude pep rally; conversely, if He is the focal point of all activities of the gathered group, I find it hard to not believe that the longer we gaze at Him, the more worshipful we become.

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    • Brian Casey 10/07/2014 / 11:04 am

      Thanks for this, Steve. I hadn’t known Mike Root was a relative, and I haven’t read those books but have seen them referred to enough times that I associated them, in part, with the concept that the whole-life sacrifice is equal to the sum total of Christian worship. I think that idea is unhelpfully ethereal and probably leads us away from Paul’s inspired intent. The idea that the presentation of the Christian’s body is the sum total of “spiritual worship” weakens both the philosophy and the reality of Christian worship, not to mention departing from a reasonable translation of λογικαν (word play intended). If Paul had our current gestural language as part of his manner of communication, I could easily see him using scare quotes: “You see, if you aren’t conformed to the world and you really offer your whole self to God, moving away from the old animal offerings, it sort of *becomes *”worship,” in a priestly-service-sort-of-way.”

      The NASB, which I find typically more careful than this, completely misses the mark since “spiritual” is not in this text at all. “Service” is, but “service of worship” would at a glance imply the presence of two words. While “service” is a reasonable single-word translation of the Greek, it is not altogether sufficient to convey the concept, which may be why the NASB translators felt the need to take a further step in English. Unfortunately, they chose an institutionalized church-ese expression: “service of worship.” I’m no zoologist, but I find no no such Biblical animal as a “service of worship.” 🙂

      The NIV’s rendering of the expression in Romans 12:1 as “spiritual act of worship” compels me, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t get at λογικαν λατρειαν well enough, in my estimation. I think Paul was suggesting that the Christian’s life-service (sacrifice) becomes, in a way, “worship.” Forgive all the further sermonizing here.

      You’re right, of course, that there is a sacredness to the entirety of our living. This living relates, whether we want it to or not, to our worship. Your emphasis on adoration as the basis of being built up is something I wish more Christians — leaders and non-leaders alike — could internalize.

      On Mon, Oct 6, 2014 at 2:35 PM, NT Christianity wrote:

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