I originally published this post on July 31, 2007 (“Here I am to worship (synchroblog)“). I think I published it as part of the first synchroblog that I participated in. I like this post because it combines part of my journey with God as well as my studies in ecclesiology. I hope you enjoy it.
Here I am to worship
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.