the weblog of Alan Knox

Here I am to worship

Posted by on Aug 29, 2008 in edification, gathering, worship | 13 comments

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.

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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.


13 Comments

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

  1. 8-29-2008

    Good post. What I find most do when coming together on Sundays as a church body is praise more than it is worship. Bowing down to Christ, submitting to His will,worshiping Him as Lord is living a Christ-like life in obedience to His commands and desires for us.

  2. 8-29-2008

    Alan you said:

    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.

    It always saddens me when I hear “I just don’t feel like going to church today”. Because of who I am I typically ask

    1. What does that mean
    2. Why not
    3. Why are you going anyway.

    This could lead to a whole ‘nother discussion so I will stop there. Maybe I will post something like that.

  3. 8-29-2008

    Alan,

    I’ve just heard of your blog through an Internet friend, Aussie John.

    I must say that it is so refreshing to read what you’ve written. I’m on that journey of what church life is all about scripturally myself. You’ve thrown a good strong beam of light with your post. Thanks.

  4. 8-29-2008

    Andy,

    I believe there is some praise involved in our church meetings. But, that praise is usually limited to songs and the occasional “testimony”.

    Lionel,

    Why do we do what we do? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

    Paul,

    Welcome to my blog. I’ve seen your comments before and find that they are usually grace filled. I hope you decide to hang around here.

    -Alan

  5. 1-26-2009

    Alan,

    I’ve come to see the typical American “worship service” as a time where we are so dedicated to loving God (first great commandment) that we are willing to neglect loving our neighbors as ourselves (second great commandment). But if we don’t love people whom we can see, how is it we can claim to love God whom we can’t see?

  6. 1-26-2009

    Steve,

    I agree that the desire of the traditional “worship service” is to love God. I’m not convinced that this format actually demonstrates a love of God though.

    -Alan

  7. 9-26-2011

    profound. :)

    There is “a lot” of scripture that involves music/praising (mostly OT I guess?) right?? So I wouldn’t want to discount the important of that ‘joyful noise’…. even if it’s not a command in the NT on what the Church should do together when we gather – it certainly seems to be something that is pleasing to the Lord right? And of course He gives reference that we will be doing a lot of that in heaven….

    It apparently helps us in someway too I imagine — since He encourages it so often.

  8. 9-26-2011

    P.S… sorry I didn’t mean to get hung up on the singing praises part of it… that clearly wasn’t the point. I take back my comment. You were in no way saying to do away with those things…

    this sentence you wrote summed it up perfectly:

    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.

    perfect!

  9. 9-26-2011

    I try to not use the word “worship” when referring to what we do on Sunday morning. It’s also often bothered me that so much of the Sunday morning service is geared to get an emotional response and that many of the lyrics about “giving my all” etc. are not actually practiced by the majority of believers outside the meeting hall. I sort of refuse to play that game anymore and pray the words to God and ask for his help to live them out. The main reason I go is to build relationships for outside Sunday morning.

  10. 9-26-2011

    Excellent article. Thank you for being frank and specific in explaining what so many Christians need to hear. I consistently meet and work with people who are so discouraged in their church. Simply, because they wrestle with the concept of worship. I will be sure to pass this article to them. God bless.

  11. 9-27-2011

    Randi, Dan, and Marc,

    Thanks for the comments. I also think this is a difficult topic because of the ways the term “worship” is used in the church today.

    -Alan

  12. 10-5-2011

    Dear Alan Knox,

    I assume that you are simply trying to show how the current trend of sunday services are not biblical. In that, I fully agree with you. However, the biblical way itself does not rule out many of the things you seem to be ruling out. I would love to discuss further in depth. My question now, to you, is “how does the word of God says that the Church should be gathered?”. I mean, Church is the gathering of believers. What requirements does the bible lay down for a person to constitute a believer? because Church is the assembly of believers. I would appreciate your answer to this as soon as you can.

  13. 10-5-2011

    Tesfaye,

    Here’s a quick summary of my views on church gatherings: “A quick summary about church meetings.”

    -Alan