In an earlier posting we talked about the “fingerprints” of the bride of Christ, the church, that helps us identify her clearly. We’ve spoken about the “fingerprint” pattern of the organization of the church, and for the next couple of articles, we’ll look at the church’s pattern of worship. For today let’s look at Christ’s bride’s general pattern of worship; next time we’ll look at her more specific worship patterns. For example…
“Where” doesn’t matter
From Moses’ time right up through the life of Jesus Himself, the place to worship God was really only one place, the Temple of Jerusalem (John 4:19-22). But starting with the beginning of the new covenant and the church, the “where” is simply anywhere other Christians (Christians according to the New Testament standard) are meeting:
John 4:21 “Jesus *said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’”
Hebrews 10:24, 25 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Church buildings and cathedrals simply aren’t necessary. A “temple” is formed anytime God’s people gather together in Jesus’ name (Ephesians 2:19-22 / 1 Corinthians 3:16,17), whether it is a private home, a meeting hall, or a catacomb.
“In spirit and in truth” does matter
If the Lord isn’t interested in the “where” anymore, we should note that He still continues to be interested in the the “how”; and the how is “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23,24). In simpler language, God wants to see worship Him with our complete heart (in spirit) and worship that is done His way (in truth). It’s no longer about “true location”, but both true devotion and true obedience.
Worship needs to be a reflection of my daily life
To be acceptable to God, one’s worship must be a reflection of the rest of one’s life. In other words, we mustn’t live like a sinner and come to church expecting that God will accept us like a saint. Some of Jesus’ most stark criticisms were reserved for those who came to the Temple with long prayers, many sacrifices, and expensive gifts, but whose lives were sinful. In criticism of religious people who sinfully tried to separate Jesus from the lost folks who wanted to hear Him, Jesus declared, (Matthew 9:13) “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Worship needs to be God-oriented, not about me
One of the great failures of much “worship” done in the name of the Lord is the popular trend to be worshipper oriented and the neglect to be God oriented. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 6:1-15, when warned us against practicing righteous acts to be seen and applauded by men. It is the Lord who needs to be the object of worship, not men.
Christian worship should be done with other Christians
It is a mistake to think that one may worship God acceptably alone; the Scripture is pretty clear on this matter. Although one may certainly do some things that are done in a church setting, they are no substitute for the worship of the gathered church. Hebrews 10:25 (quoted above) directly corrects the error men often hold in their hearts, that it will be OK to skip the assembly of the church. Indeed, how can one really take communion by oneself? Or how can one (Ephesians 5:19) “[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” by oneself? You see, the fingerprint of worship was always intended to be a together thing.
Should be done for edification
The worship of God must always be primary in any worship service; we must please God first. But a secondary priority in the pattern must be in the building up of the church. Paul was very, very clear through repetition (1 Cor. 14:5,12,26) that worship has a very important “horizontal” responsibility. Thus, our singing should be “[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns…”, our fellowship should “stimulate one another to love and good deeds”, our prayers should be for one another (James 5:16), the teaching and preaching need to be for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 14:12), our giving needs to be a collection (1 Cor. 16:1,2), and our celebration of communion needs to encourage all (1 Cor. 11:17-34, esp. v. 33).
Men should lead
Although this part of the pattern of worship is often challenged, especially in modern times, the truth has always been that God has designated men as the spiritual leaders in the church and its worship (1 Cor. 14:34-36 and 1 Tim. 2:11,12). And this is not because the Scripture was written in a “male dominated society”; religious rites in the society all around the ancient church were quite “gender integrated” with both priests and priestesses. If ever there were a time for women to take an equal role with men in the church, it was the first two or three centuries AD; but that was not the teaching of Jesus or His apostles. The Lord’s pattern for worship is that men should lead in the church’s worship.
Worship needs to be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40)
Worship to God must also be done, within the other parameters of the pattern, in a non-chaotic, orderly way (1 Cor. 14:40). The ancient church of Corinth was not doing this (see 1 Cor. 11-14), and some churches today are inclined to spontaneity, impulsivity, and uninhibited “worship” which often devolves quickly to chaos. This is not what the Lord has in mind; although there is room for some spontaneity, the overarching principle and pattern is decency and orderliness; “for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
It must be a New Testament pattern
Not just any pattern out of the Bible, however, will do. There was a pattern of worship in the Old Testament: “…Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘SEE,’ He says, ‘THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN’” (Hebrews 8:5). But Christians are under a new covenant: “When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). Animal sacrifice, Temple worship, instrumental music, burning of incense, etc. were all part of the old pattern. The new covenant has a new pattern — which is what we’ll look at next time.