“The church gathers for worship.” That seems to be a given these days. And, by the term “worship,” people typically mean singing, listening to singing, praying, listening to praying, preaching, listening to preaching, and perhaps giving.
I examined some of these ideas three years ago in a post called “Edification as Worship.” The post is actually as response to a lecture given by one of my favorite authors, David Peterson. The primary point in the lecture/post is that, to quote Peterson, “It’s silly to make artificial distinctions between the vertical and the horizontal,” and “Edification is the lost factor in alot of our discussions about worship.”
When we are building up others, we are worship God. If we are not building up others when we come together, we are not worshiping God, regardless of what activities are going on around us.
I was delighted to see that the first few lectures were given by David Peterson, author of one of my favorite books Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (IVP 2002). (If you haven’t read this book, you should.) I was also delighted to see the title of Peterson’s fourth lecture: “Meeting God in the Gathering of His People“.
Then, as I started listening to this lecture – hoping to hear what I had read in his book – I was thrilled when Peterson says at the very beginning, “Edification is the lost factor in alot of our discussions about worship”. Yes!
Later in the lecture (around the 34 minute mark), Peterson begins defining “edification”:
And in Christian terms, “building” means founding, maintaining, and advancing the church in God’s way. Now that definition needs to be set aside of what I think are some fairly common misapprehensions.
First of all, a lot of people think that edification purely has to do with education – that it’s a purely intellectual activity. And so you say, “Was that an edifying sermon today?” “Yes, I learned alot”. hmmm… well, that’s not exactly what the Bible means by edification as we will see.
Or, I’ve heard people come out of a symphony concert, “That Beethoven was very edifying tonight”. And what they mean is, “I felt good about that Beethoven. My that was exciting!” I feel good. That’s not edification either.
Edification is a corporate concept. It has to do with founding, maintaining, and advancing the church in Gods way.
Peterson goes on to exegete several passages of Scripture to demonstrate that edification means both adding to the church in number, and also increasing the maturity of the church corporately. Edification of a process of growth and development for the whole church. He says, “Edification is a corporate motion. It occurs when Christians minister God’s truth to one another in love, seeking to express and encourage a Christ-centered faith, hope, and love.”
At one point in the lecture, Peterson talks about the blurring of distinctions between the vertical aspect of worship (between God and us) and the horizontal aspect of worship (between us and other people). He says (around the 21 minute mark):
So the three things can be happening together: 1) God can be speaking to us. 2) We are ministering to one another. 3) And we are responding to God. It’s silly to make artificial distinctions between the vertical and the horizontal…. Is not worship also listening to God, ministering to one another, declaring his greatness, preaching, testimony, singing. The whole thing needs to be thought of as intricately interconnected – the vertical and the horizontal… That’s really at the heart of what I’m trying to say to you this afternoon.
As John told his readers (1 John 1:3), our fellowship with one another is truly fellowship with God the Father and the Son. Its time for us to recognize that we usually demonstrate our love for God by loving others, and we serve God by serving others – especially in a corporate context.
As we build up one another – as we exercise our gifts to serve one another and as we speak to encourage, instruct, and admonish one another – we are worshiping God. The horizontal aspects of worship and the vertical aspects of worship become blurred. However, if we fail to edify one another, then we have neither the horizontal nor the vertical aspects of worship – regardless of what we do or say.
As Paul told the church in Corinth, whenever we come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, everything we do should be for the purpose of building up one another – that is, seeking to express and encourage a Christ-centered faith, hope, and love. If we are not edifying one another as the church, then we are not worshiping.