the weblog of Alan Knox

Here I am to worship (synchroblog)

Posted by on Jul 31, 2007 in blog links, edification, gathering, synchroblog, worship | 26 comments

This post is part of a synchroblog originally suggested by Glen Hager at “re-dreaming the dream“. Many bloggers are posting blogs around the topic of “Things I Learned From Church (That Didn’t Prove True And What I Am Learning Lately)”.

For as long as I can remember, I have been exhorted to come to church on Sundays in order to worship God. On Sundays, churches have “worship services” at certain “worship times” held in their “worship centers” during “corporate worship” to sing “worship songs” chosen by “worship leaders” accompanied by “worship bands”. I learned that I could participate in this “corporate worship” by attending the worship service, putting money in the offering plate, singing the songs, and listening to the preacher. This is what I was taught to do in order to worship God.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was also taught that “personal worship” was important. I was supposed to read my Bible, pray, and journal (if I was very spiritual). But, though these were suggested as important, they always seemed to be less important somehow than “corporate worship”. When preachers talked about being “fed from the Word”, they always counted preaching times during a “worship service”, but they didn’t count personal Bible reading times during “personal worship”. Thus, we were told, we should all see how important it is to come to the Sunday evening “worship service” because we would then be getting twice the amount of Bible teaching and “worship”. Again, that “personal worship” seemed to be important, but it didn’t really count. I was supposed to worship God personally, but I REALLY worshiped God on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings during “corporate worship”.

When I started seminary, this perception of “corporate worship” continued. The seminary held chapel services three days a week in which we were exhorted to “worship” God together as a seminary. I read articles about corporate worship, such as one where the author stated, “Corporate worship is the energizing center for all that the church is and does.” (G. Temp Sparkman, “Corporate Worship: The Experience and the Event”, Perspectives in Religious Studies 18 (Fall 1991), 241-48). Also, I was required to take a course called “The Ministry of Worship”.

It was in this class that I first began to seriously question the belief and practice concerning “corporate worship”, which led me to consider the topics of “worship” (in general) and ecclesiology. While much of the class dealt with music and the “worship service”, the professor did not allow us to limit our definitions of worship as I had been taught. We were encouraged to study what Scripture said about worship. This was eye-opening and life-changing for me.

The New Testament says nothing about believers gathering together for the purpose of “worship” as we see it today. In the NT, singing is rarely mentioned. In the NT, preaching is primarily for proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers. There is no teaching in the NT leading to a “worship leader”, and pastors are never seen as managing or even coordinating a meeting of believers. Sitting and listening quietly are never presented as a way to participate in “corporate worship”. These ideas, and many others that I had taken for granted, are nowhere to be found in the pages of the New Testament.

And, yet, followers of Christ are to worship God. Also, believers are to gather together. How do we understand worship and believers gathering together if not in the traditional sense? Jesus tells us that the Father seeks those who will worship him in spirit (or is it Spirit?) and truth. Paul says that offering our entire lives to God as a sacrifice constitutes reasonable worship. He also exhorts us walking in love (following Christ’s example) is the type of offering that is pleasing to God and that we should discern what is pleasing to God – that is, ways to walk in love and in light. But, where are the instructions to get together and sing songs, put our money in an offering plate, and listen to a sermon?

Certainly, there are various activities described in Scripture that people do together. For example, Paul tells us how important it is for us to partake in the Lord’s Supper together. However, he also says that simply eating the bread and drinking the wine (or eating an entire meal) does not constitute participating in the Lord’s Supper. Similarly, we know that many people pray together, give money together, and sing songs together without worshiping God. It seems something more than mutual attendance and activity are necessary to worship God.

To me, the key seems to be recognizing that worship is not about activity – whether individual or corporate. Instead, worship is a life lived in obedience to God. We can sing about loving God forever, but if we are not demonstrating that love through our lives then we are not worshiping. We can give every penny, but if that giving is not in response to the love of God and the love of others, then our giving is worthless, not worship. We can listen to Bible sermons, preaching Bible sermons, or read the Bible on our own, but without a life that demonstrates dependence on God and obedience to Him, then we are not worshiping. We cannot worship God without obeying what he has revealed to us. We cannot obey on our own what God has revealed to us. We are completely dependent upon God (the grace that he provides through his Spirit) to be able to worship God. Worship is not as much about doing things for God (an audience of one?) as it is about being in God, abiding in Christ, walking in the Spirit.

If we worship individually as we abide in Christ, then how does this relate to the times when believers come together as the church? If abiding in Christ is related to obedience, then we recognize that we worship God together only as we obey him together. But, what did God tell us to do when we come together? Did God tell us to sing songs, take up an offering, and preach/listen to preaching? No. Instead, very simply and very clearly, we are told that whenever we come together everything should be done for the purpose of edifying (building up) one another. We worship God together as we mutually encourage one another toward maturity in Christ. In fact, we are told to consider (think deeply about) one another so that we will know how to spur on one another toward love and good works. When we come together we speak to one another and serve one another in a way that encourages us all not merely to think something, but to do something: love and good works.

Certainly, we would want to continue meeting with those who show us what it means to abide in Christ through their good works. So attendance at a meeting will not be required or commanded. Instead, meeting together will be a joy and a relief and a welcome opportunity for laughter and tears, comfort and admonishment, singing and praying, giving and getting, listening and speaking and serving.

This is not a “service” that is planned by a professional, but a gathering of God’s people that is choreographed by the Spirit. Similarly, it is not a time for one or two people to exercise the gifts of the Spirit in order to build up the church. We all speak and serve by each one exercising the gifts that the Spirit provides in the way that the Spirit wills in order to build up one another toward maturity in Christ and, in so doing, we bring glory to God.

As I’ve been learning about the church, as I’ve studied Scripture concerning the church and how believers meet together, I’ve found that God expects us to build one another up toward maturity in Christ when we meet together. This is a true “worship service” – obedience to God in service to one another.

————-

Synchrobloggers for the topic “Things I Learned From Church (That Didn’t Prove True And What I Am Learning Lately)”

Glenn Hager in Things I Learned from Church
Erin in
A New Synchroblog
Lyn in
Synchroblog
Heather in Things I Learned From Church (That Didn’t Prove True And What I Am Learning Lately)
Alan in Here I am to worship
Jim in Things I Learned from Church
Lew in Grace vs. Works
Paul in Things I Learned From Church (That Didn’t Prove True) and What I’m Learning Lately
Benjamin in Synchroblog – Things I learned from “Church”
Sonja in Things I Leaned From Church
Julie in Faith, Certainty, and Tom Cruise
Aaron in what i learned from the church: hope
Monte in What I learned from church that didn’t ring true
Cindy in i’m too late but here’s what I learned/unlearned about church
John in Syncroblog: Things I Learned From Church That Didn’t Prove True And What I Am Learning Lately – Meme


26 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-31-2007

    Alan…

    Your article truly touched me with the hope of what church can become… an authentic community pursuing God’s mission in the world.

    “We can sing about loving God forever, but if we are not demonstrating that love through our lives then we are not worshiping. We can give every penny, but if that giving is not in response to the love of God and the love of others, then our giving is worthless, not worship. We can listen to Bible sermons, preaching Bible sermons, or read the Bible on our own, but without a life that demonstrates dependence on God and obedience to Him, then we are not worshiping.”

    We humans always try to reduce following Christ to something external, easy, and cheap.

    “So attendance at a meeting will not be required or commanded. Instead, meeting together will be a joy and a relief and a welcome opportunity for laughter and tears, comfort and admonishment, singing and praying, giving and getting, listening and speaking and serving.”

    My, sounds like Acts 2 for today! God help us to lead the church back/forward to your dream.

    Alan, thank you for a thoughtful and beautiful reflection!

  2. 7-31-2007

    Thanks for this great post Alan. I am behind everything you said. I hope to post a lengthier comment later but right now the kids want dinner. Imagine that.

    Thanks, too, for compiling our links. I hope you don’t mind I copied them ;-)

  3. 8-1-2007

    This is good stuff, Alan! Thanks for sharing this.

    I’m sure some would say that a lot of your statements about things not being found in the NT are “arguments from silence”.

    However, I think the argument is still quite strong to the extent that the things being defended that are not found in the NT actually get in the way of the things that are found in the NT.

    That, to me, is quite significant.

  4. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  5. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  6. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  7. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  8. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  9. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  10. 8-1-2007

    Alan-
    Another thought-provoking post. Isn’t it funny how much of what we call “church” is just tied to Western civilization (and probably 1st-century Judaic influence on the early Church)?
    I have friends who are missionaries to the Moi tribal people in Indonesia. These people are so remote that they are accessible only by helicopter, and they had never seen a Westerner until a few years ago. They were animists. When Christian missionaries moved into their area and learned their language and culture, they began to teach the Bible chronologically and, about a year ago, they were able to tell them that Creator God had given His Son to take the punishment for their sin. A number of Moi people have trusted in Christ.
    The fascinating thing is that they had no Western model of what the Church should look like, except for the NT model. (and the missionaries tried not to influence that).
    I wonder what our churches in America would look like today if the Gospel had come to us from the Far East or Africa instead of from Europe.
    Kat

  11. 8-1-2007

    Alan,

    I have a question that has been weighing on my heart for a couple of years now. I think it is for all of us who are fortunate enough to have experienced the freedom in Christ and who are worshiping Him as one body in the spirit.

    Knowing what we now know, now what? What about our brothers and sisters who at the beginning heard His call and briefly experienced the fire of the Spirit within but have since been, diverted, pre-occupied, distracted, on simmer, and becoming lukewarm and stagnant? Those that are neither hot nor cold. According to Jesus’ words this appears to be the most dangerous place to be. He said He would vomit the lukewarm out of His mouth. What about those “leaders” of the institution that are enabling and encouraging if not demanding them to be there? Not all, but I’m afraid a majority of traditional church attending brothers and sisters could be unwillingly stuck there, content only because they don’t realize there is more.

    Do we ask God to send a great tempest to “Rock the boat” causing them to take their faith out of this man-made vessel that is seemingly, possibly deceptively, transporting them and protecting them from the elements of the world? Which would then, hopefully, cause them to turn, walk towards Jesus, and wake Him up as He is sleeping amongst them. Patiently waiting for them to need Him.

    Do we walk with Christ in the midst of all the boats hoping people will see Him, and then, following our example, take their faith out of their boats, and ask Christ to command them out to Him?

    Whatever the case it seems we are, and always will be, “swimming up stream” if you will. Going against the flow. Which I, personally, take comfort in knowing God has always and will always use the minority(weak) rather than the majority(strong). This makes it evident that it is Him and His power being displayed, not our own.

    So, do we just continue walking with Him as we are, leading by example and not looking back? I know that no one can come to the Father unless he is called first. I realize Jesus is fully capable of building His Church without our help. But all through scripture the Spirit chose to work through Gods people. Have we ourselves now become content simply knowing? What part, if any, should we have other than simply following and worshiping Him? What is the Spirit showing you and others concerning this?

  12. 8-1-2007

    Jeff,

    Since you opened it up to the rest of us, too, I’ll share some of my brief thoughts in response to your excellent questions.

    These are questions I continue to mull over, too. But what I have come to, at least at this point, is this:

    I try to faithfully live out what has been revealed to me. When opportunity arises, I share what’s on my heart.

    However, I have found that I have to be extremely sensitive to the Spirit’s voice in this, because sometimes I can say too much. It can quickly cross out of what God has revealed to me to just speaking what I think I know (in my flesh). Does that make sense?

    So, when there are ears to hear, I press. But when the ears are not able (or willing?) to hear, I back off and just try to live it out.

    I think a living example is the best “testimony” we can give. And it seems consistent with the teaching of the NT (and even that of the OT, for that matter).

    Just my brief, scattered thoughts. :)

  13. 8-1-2007

    Glenn,

    Thanks for starting this synchroblog. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s posts.

    Erin,

    I look forward to your lengthier comment. I understand about cooking for the kids… my response comments are later than usual because of football practice.

    Steve,

    I agree. Sometimes there is silence in Scripture for a reason… i.e. believers never met for “worship”, so why would it be in Scripture?

    Also, thank you for your reply to Jeff. I think your response shows much wisdom.

    Kat,

    Those are very interesting questions. I have been amazed at the way believers interact with one another in places where American church culture does not reign.

    Jeff,

    I agree with what Steve said. I teach when I can, model whenever possible, and encourage any who will listen. I cannot change everyone, but I know that God is changing me and he is using me to challenge others. I will leave “everybody else” up to God and disciple those that he brings into my life.

    -Alan

  14. 8-1-2007

    I keep telling the people at church that worship is not worship. What they and we do at church is not worship. We should worship everyday and remember the Risen Christ daily is what I tell them

    Great Post!

  15. 8-1-2007

    Juan,

    Thank you for the comment. How are people responding to your teaching?

    -Alan

  16. 8-1-2007

    I had to think on this because it touched a nerve. Worship (in the sense of the actual singing kind of worship) is so often a tool we use in the presence of other believers to prove how spiritual we are. We lift our hands, close our eyes, sing loud and try to seem as “into it” as we can.

    Now I’m not at all saying that’s always the case, but I know if I’m as guilty of it as I am, there are many more people who are guilty of it as well.

    Your last three paragraphs meant a lot to me because it encourages me that other people see it this way. I so wearied of “performance” services and “5 point acronym sermons…” where I experienced little actual encouragement.

    I guess I could go on…in a nutshell, great post.

  17. 8-2-2007

    Awesome post Alan. I honestly hope that you write a book someday about your understanding of church.

  18. 8-2-2007

    “This is not a “service” that is planned by a professional, but a gathering of God’s people that is choreographed by the Spirit.”

    That sentence literally took my breath away. I had to read it two or three times and a big smile spread across my face. It’s just beautiful. And so right.

    This is a wonderful post, thank you, Alan.

  19. 8-2-2007

    Alan,

    The people are slowly learning. They will come in on Sunday and tell methat during the week they remembered what I said about remembering that Christ is alive today not only on Easter. I will let you know how things go. I will use this converstion at work and will see what feed back I get.

    Juan

  20. 8-2-2007

    Erin,

    I once had someone argue with me that a “sermon” is the most important thing to happen when the church gathers. Then, they later said that most sermons that they had heard had not help them mature to Christ-likeness. This person did not see the discrepency. Like you said, some are recognizing a problem with this system.

    Grace,

    Thanks for the encouragement. If I do write a book, then I’ll send you a copy to review.

    Sonja,

    I appreciate your comment very much. I think that when we meet with other believers, the beauty of the Spirit’s work should take our breat away… and not because we’re yawning, but because we’re awed at what He is doing and who He is doing it through.

    Juan,

    First, thank you for replying to my question. Some people will listen; some will not. In my experience, we should keep teaching and leading, especially those who are learning and following. And, most of all, we must have patience and trust God to work.

    -Alan

  21. 8-3-2007

    thanks Alan, it is good to remind ourselves about a life of worship and to remember it’s about not just what we sing and say but what we do and be…

    As such church to me is about the holy spirit leading us through Jesus to the Father – singing/music seems to be a very powerful way of doing that, at its best it connects us emotionally, intellectually and experientially to the truths of our faith, often teaches us a lot of the bible and can re-orientate us away from a me experience towards God, challenge us, confront us again and ask us to recommit to the Kingdom of God.

    Of course it is only one way to do so, personally i’ve found some of my most honest reflection and prayer is sparked by songs and i’m able to pray out loud cos where i am without fear of embarrasing my neighbour :)

    I find it interesting that we can look at different models of church, which can often be reactionary – i’ve been in churchs which were a spirtual free for all and churches that were a bit more ordered and seen the holy spirit at work in both and a lot of crap in both – so i guess i’m a bit more agnostic to specifying a specific model as the way of doing church or having a worship service…

  22. 8-3-2007

    Paul,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not as interested in models of church, as long as a specific model still allows the believers to function among one another as they are characterized by Scripture.

    -Alan

  23. 8-6-2007

    Great post! How easily we who lead churches can find ourselves believing things that are simply self-serving – things that give us more control – and then get cranked when others don’t follow the game plan.

    I am a pastor of a small and mercifully kind-hearted church. We are finding it very difficult, having seen lots of what we don’t want to be, to find a way of assembling together that doesn’t turn toxic on us. I think it is a good process, but certainly an uncomfortable one!

  24. 8-6-2007

    Monte,

    Thank you for the comment. You’re right: it is very difficult. I’ve found that it only takes doing the same thing twice to begin a tradition. I’m not sure how long you have to maintain a tradition before you forget why you did it in the first place. I think that it doesn’t take very long. Thus, we must always – constantly and consistently – check our purposes and practices against Scripture.

    -Alan

  25. 9-13-2012

    I want to be a member of your church (if you’d have me) – that is how I feel after reading this.

    P.S. I am from Canada and understand the impossibility but I wanted to show you how moved I am, we have been feeling this way for over 10 years and my heart stopped when I read this. We have been looking for a fellowship and have not found it yet – but I am hopeful and believe that it will change :)

  26. 9-13-2012

    Dmitri,

    Thanks for the compliment. Of course, I don’t have a church, but I think my friends would love to get to know you and spend time with you. Hang in there… you’ll find brothers and sisters in Christ who desire to gather together and edify one another.

    -Alan

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Creative Synchroblog | The Assembling of the Church - [...] started taking part in the monthly synchroblog 3 1/2 years ago with my post “Here I am to worship.” …
  2. Rethinking “Corporate” Worship « Truth Hunter - [...] Here I Am To Worship [...]