Monday, April 27, 2015

Worship, Part Five - The Church Service Is Not a Worship Service

          Worship is our response when we see God. In the Old Testament it was primarily done at the location where God dwelt. With the advent of a new dispensation in the New Testament worship transitioned away from being geographical. Now it did not matter where you were you could still worship God. (I have a sneaking suspicion that a bunch of people who will not agree with today's post won't bother to take the time to read the other posts in this series which establish this paragraph. I have a word for people like that – lazy.)

          …all of which brings us to this statement: the New Testament church service is not a worship service. Yes. You read that correctly. The New Testament church service is not a worship service. Yet around the corner from you is a church with a marquee that says, '11 AM Worship Service' on it. In point of fact, your church marquee probably says that. Worse yet, the vast majority of people in your church believe that. They think they go to church to worship God. Indeed, they think that is the very point of the church service. The stubborn truth is that the church service was not designed or purposed to produce worship. God does not live in a building. You do not need to go to a geographical location to meet with Him.
          Obviously, the vast majority of Christianity, quote and otherwise, disagrees with me. I find talking to those willing to talk about it to be an interesting activity. I often ask them to take the Bible and show me the scriptural support for declaring the church service to be a worship service. Right away they want to run to the Psalms or Exodus or some such Old Testament reference. This is highly problematic for the church is explicitly a New Testament institution. In fact, the New Testament says the church was not even imagined in the Old Testament. I do not deny that Christianity has its roots in Judaism, but it is hermeneutically unsound to use Old Testament passages as the doctrinal support for your philosophical approach to the church service. Otherwise I expect to see a lot of churches slaughtering some animals at the altar next Sunday morning.
        Turning to the New Testament then they grasp for all they are worth on the solitary passing reference to worship in a church service. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. (I Corinthians 14.25) That's right. This is only New Testament mention of worship in connection with a church service. The only one. And it does not say that the church service was designed to worship God. It says that the lost man recognized God being in them and responded appropriately.
          All over the Bible you will find examples of people bowing down to someone who was a representative of God. Balaam bowed to the angel after his donkey reprimanded him. Manoah bowed to the angel after receiving news of Samson's arrival. David bowed to the angel sent to destroy Jerusalem. Obadiah, Ahab's minister, bowed to Elijah. Nebuchadnezzar bowed to Daniel. Daniel bowed to Gabriel. The wise men bent a knee before the infant Jesus. Lepers bowed before Christ. Various demon possessed people bowed before Christ. Jairus bowed before Christ. The woman with the issue of blood bowed before Christ. A Greek woman bowed before Christ. The blind man in John 9 bowed before Christ. Cornelius bowed to Peter. The Philippian jailer bowed before Paul and Silas. John twice tried to bow before an angel in Revelation.
          All of these people bowed instinctually before someone they deemed as God or the representative of God. Paul's statement in I Corinthians 14 about the lost man falling down on his face in worship during a church service is simply the 17th example of a person in Scripture recognizing God was somehow in someone and responding with worship. God is in you of a truth. The simple truth is that this verse comes nowhere near stating that the church service should be designed to produce worship.
          Even if you discount my explanation of I Corinthians 14.25 asserting it as the foundational support for viewing the church service as a worship service is still problematic. It certainly is not a clear statement of church service purpose. It occurs in relation to the most disorganized, unruly church in the entire Bible. And it only occurs once.

Further, to say that I Corinthians 14.25 establishes the cardinal rule that the church service is a worship service brings an additional problem. Logically then it makes the church service primarily evangelistic for it was a lost man who bowed in worship. If I take this verse as the normative foundation for my philosophical approach to church then my philosophical approach must primarily be using the church service as a tool to reach the lost. Such an approach violates the entire context of the rest of I Corinthians 14. For instance, look at verse 22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for that believe not, but for them which believe. In other words, the preaching of the sermon is designed to help believers not unbelievers. Winning the lost to Christ is clearly the purpose of the church but it is just as clearly not the purpose of the church service.
          No, beloved, I Corinthians 14.25 cannot mean that the purpose of the church service is worship. Such an interpretation violates our understanding of how and why worship shifted between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God does not live in a building. God is not in a geographical location. In the New Testament we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus we can worship God anywhere at any time.
          If worship is not the point of the New Testament church service than what is the point? I am so glad you asked. The point of the church service is spiritual growth. How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (I Corinthians 14.26) Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (I Corinthians 14.12) For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. (I Corinthians 14.17) The simple truth is that in the chapter of the Bible that most discusses the church service edify is used seven times and worship is used once.
Some will say, 'Well, worship is edifying.' I do not dispute that in the least, and if you take this post as a screed against worship you do not know me at all. But I dare not make worship the primary tool for edification in a New Testament church service. I do not have the scriptural authority or example to do so.
          What tools am I to use? How then am I as a pastor to edify the saints who show up for a church service? First of all via music. Again, I reference I Corinthians 14.26. Psalms are to be sung as a means of edification. Let me be explicitly clear – music in church was primarily designed to teach you and grow you, not to help you worship God. Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5.19) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3.16) This is precisely because the service itself is primarily designed to grow you spiritually. It is not designed to enable you to worship God.
          The second tool I am to use in edifying the saints in a church service is the tool of preaching. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. (I Corinthians 14.3-5) Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (I Corinthians 14.19) My understanding of the word prophesy here drives me to see it primarily as preaching. As such, it is mentioned 14 times in this chapter. It is highly emphasized. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy. (I Corinthians 14.39) Why? So that you might edify the brethren. So that they might learn what God says in the Word. So that having been taught the truth they might grow in grace. That is the point of the New Testament church service.
        I can hear you from here. 'Why is he so upset about this? What difference does it make if we call our church service a worship service and you do not?' It makes an absolutely tremendous difference for when you misunderstand this you point your church service in the wrong direction. Practically speaking, even worse it makes it incredibly easy to swallow the lines offered by the contemporary Christian movement for dramatic changes in your church service.

          Next week I will lay that out for you. See you then. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Worship, Part Four - Worship's Change

          Worship is our response when we meet with God. (See how I arrived at that definition here.) But we haven't always met with God the same way. A dramatic shift in worship came with the shift from the Old Testament economy to the New Testament one. Today I am going to discuss this huge shift with you. Over the next two weeks I will discuss the practical ramifications of what understanding and misunderstanding that shift means to modern American Christianity.
          In the Old Testament (OT), other than occasional theophanies, God was present above the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. We see this vividly illustrated in the story we all learned in Sunday School as children about the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day that hovered above the Mosaic Tabernacle. To tabernacle means literally to dwell and those pillars visually indicated God's presence among His people.
          This is often called the Shekinah Glory, so named after the Hebrew word for dwell. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40.35) The original language word abode has the idea behind it of a bird's nesting place. Solomon, who I think wrote Psalm 132, said in verse four and five, I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. The original language word habitation is the same root word as abode in Exodus 40. It is the word that gives us in English the shekinah in Shekinah Glory. In Solomon's day there was a place but it was a thousand year old tent. Solomon, influenced no doubt by David, wanted to build God a more appropriate dwelling place. He did. Solomon's Temple sat on the same spot where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed. God liked that specific location. Still does, by the way, as will be made clear when Christ returns.
          In the OT we see then that worship was strongly associated with the particular spot your god or God lived; that was where you went to meet Him. Indeed, the very first mention of worship in the Bible indicates this concept. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship. (Genesis 22.5)
          This is seen in the many OT mentions that discuss going to a particular location to worship God.
Elkanah did this. And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. (I Samuel 1.3)
David mentions this repeatedly. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped. (II Samuel 12.20) Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill. (Psalm 99.9) We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool. (Psalm 132.7)
This concept, that one worships at a particular location, is the entire reason why Jereboam, the leader of the breakaway Jewish kingdom of Israel, built two false gods. He knew that his people would continue to go down to Jerusalem to worship unless he furnished them a particular place to worship within the boundaries of the new northern kingdom. This is also the reason why Hezekiah and other godly OT kings sought to physically destroy the altars and groves in which false gods were worshipped. If you physically destroyed the place you practically destroyed the god. Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it? (II Chronicles 32.12)
The post-Captivity prophet Jeremiah found this still true in his day. Thus saith the LORD, stand in the court of the LORD's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD's  house. (Jeremiah 26.2)
          This is why there is a strong indication that when one could not be physically present where God was at you worshipped facing in that direction. I will worship toward thy holy temple. (Psalm 138.2) Daniel is the best known example of this. Daniel 6 does not use the word 'worship' but it does say that he had the lifelong habit of opening the windows of a room that faced Jerusalem and kneeling upon his knees three times a day in prayer.
          In summary then in the OT God's people worshipped Him at a particular location or at least faced their hearts and bodies in that direction. God dwelt in the Tabernacle and then the Temple. Since worship is the response that comes when you meet with God His people went to that particular place to meet Him and to worship.
          In the New Testament (NT) we find a fascinating turn of events. Worship is not discussed near as much in the NT as it is in the OT but it is still certainly discussed. The most important NT chapter on worship is John 4. This is well known as Jesus' best example of personal evangelism. But in the context of the discussion in which Jesus leads the woman at the well to place her faith in Himself there is a very revealing interplay regarding worship.

John 4.19  The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20  Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
21  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22  Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
23  But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
24  God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
          The woman at the well was a Samaritan, which is crucial to understanding this part of the conversation. The Samaritans share many similarities, religiously speaking, with the Jews but they also differ in some serious ways. These differences cause great animosity. One of those differences is a disagreement about where the Temple should be located. The Jews believe the Temple should be on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. The Samaritans insist that it ought to be in their neighborhood on Mt. Gerizim.
          This woman immediately perceives Jesus to be in her words a prophet. Yet He is also willingly traveling through Samaria and conversing with Samaritans. She questions Him about this dispute. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
Jesus' answer reveals the heart of this incredible shift that takes place in worship between the OT and the NT. He tells her that worship will soon no longer be done at or directed toward any one particular location as had been done all through the OT. The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.   
          Jesus then goes on to explain the reason for this shift in worship. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. In the OT God tabernacled with His people in a tent first and later in the Temple. In the NT God tabernacles with His people via the indwelling Holy Spirit. In the OT the Holy Spirit only 'came upon' or visited people. In the NT the Holy Spirit takes up residence in them.
          Thus it is that in the OT, when one wanted to worship – which is our response when we meet God – he had to go to a location. But in the NT dispensation when he wants to worship he no longer has to go to a place. There is not a spot in the NT where God lives because He lives in the heart of every believer. Thus – and I cannot emphasize this next sentence enough – the NT believer can worship God anywhere provided he does it with the right doctrine and the right heart.
          Paul, a Jews Jew if there ever was one, understood this shift. He grasped that one's physical location and direction in worship no longer mattered. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.3)

          Worship is our response when we meet God. But in our day we can and should meet Him everywhere. Join me next week as I begin to discuss the ramifications of that for the modern American church.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Worship Part Three - Worship's Neighborhood, Cont.

          Worship is our response when we see God. But closely connected with this definition are a number of spiritual concepts. Last week we examined briefly three of them – service, praise, and humility. In and of themselves these three are not worship but they are often found in conjunction with worship. It is wrong to conflate them with worship and I will speak more to that later but it is not wrong to associate them with worship. Today I want to give an additional three connected concepts.
          The fourth is the idea that there is only one God. This is foundational to the Christian but it cannot be overlooked. For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34.14) There is no point in intricately discussing worship if we do not realize all of this must be directed at Jehovah God alone. The very first of the Ten Commandments says this, and it is repeated more times than I can count throughout the Word of God.
          The fifth connection point is music. There is much I want to say here but I plan an extensive series of blog posts on music later this year and next. For the moment let me just say that music does not equal worship. Entirely too many Christians in our day think it does, and even those who give lip service that it does not still structure their approach to church as if it does. It is a terrible insult to the concept of worship to equate it simply with music.
          Having said that, it is also true that there are two instances in Scripture in which worship takes place in a musical environment. The first is in reference to to Hezekiah's reign. Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped. (II Chronicles 29.30) The second is a more generic reference in Psalm 66.4. All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.
          It is not hard to understand why these two are connected occasionally. Much of the music sung in the Old Testament as in the New is not just about God; it is actually directed to God. When such words are taken seriously the singer is actually voicing a musical prayer. Since it is in prayer that we meet God, and since so much of musical prayer is direct praise to God we can easily see how such musical prayer and praise becomes worship.
          The sixth connection point is holiness. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalm 29.2) The idea here is that I cannot worship God if I am not right with Him. My soul and spirit must be squared away before I can approach Him and give Him the worship He deserves.
          Saul was Israel's first king. He began well and ended badly. As things began to deteriorate toward the end he violated the sanctity of the priestly role. When Samuel called him on it Saul responded Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD. (I Samuel 15.25) We can debate whether Saul was genuinely repentant here but we cannot debate the truth of what he uttered: we cannot worship God unless our hearts are rightly related to him in obedience. Worship is not a mere external, physical action in which I bow my knee or my face to the ground. No, worship takes place first and foremost in the heart. That heart must be yielded to Him in every known area if it is to worship Him in a way that is acceptable to Him.

          So far in the first three weeks of this series on worship I have focused on what worship is and what accompanies it. Next week I will shift that. I will describe how worship changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament, for it does, and dramatically so. The last two weeks of this series I will discuss how that shift in worship has a direct bearing on twenty first century American Christianity and its concept of church.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Worship, Part Two - Worship's Neighborhood

          There are only three rules about real estate – location, location, location. You may have two houses exactly alike and yet they may have radically different values based entirely on the neighborhood that surrounds them. In other words, how we view something is often determined not just by what it instrinsically is but also by what is often found around it.

          In a sense worship is this way. When we examine it in the context of its surroundings in the Word of God we often find things that inform how we view worship itself. While these things are not necessarily worship in the strictest sense of the word they do help us to understand worship because they are often seen in its company. They are part and parcel of worship. They are the package that often surrounds it.
          In today's blog post I am going to discuss three of these and I will follow that up with another three next week.
          The first of these is serving. The original language words so often translated as some form of the word 'servant' in the King James Bible (253 times) is also translated nine times as 'worship' or 'worshipper.' In fact, in one particular usage in the New Testament the English word 'worshipper' actually comes from a word that means 'one who sweeps and cleans the temple.'
          There is a direct connection between your sense of worship and whom or what you choose to serve. In practical terms that means if you claim to worship Jehovah and yet you do not serve Him I highly doubt whether you actually do worship Him. By the same token, if you serve yourself or money or any one of a number of false idols often found in current American life it cannot be reconciled with a claim to worship God.
          Jeremiah believed in this deep connection between worship and service. Then they shall answer, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them. (Jeremiah 22.9) In the same generation Daniel's three friends saw the same thing. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. (Daniel 3.18) Five centuries later Paul grasped the same truth. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. (Romans 1.25) Jesus Himself, quoting no less an authority than Moses, established this emphatically as truth when He said to Satan, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matthew 4.10)
          I am writing this on Easter Sunday afternoon. All across America this morning millions of people gathered in churches to worship God, at least as they see it. Yet a large number of those people made no effort in the last week to serve Him. They gave no cup of cold water in His name to one that was thirsty. They fed no hungry man in His name. They clothed no naked person in His name. They completely ignored the spiritual, physical, emotional, and financial needs of their neighbors. For one hundred sixty seven hours this week they pursued a selfish course yet because they sat in a worship service and sang worship choruses this morning they think they worship God. They could not possibly be more mistaken. If you worship you serve.
          The second connection point we often find with worship is praise. Last week I defined worship as our response when we see God. As I enter His presence I am deeply convinced of my own unworthiness and His transcendent supremacy. I place Him in my heart and mind into the proper sphere He ought to hold and I place myself appropriately as well. Consequently, I bow before Him. I worship Him.
          Such a view of God almost inevitably leads me to praise Him. The sweet psalmist of Israel, who full well knew worship and praise both, saw this connection. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. (Psalm 86.9) Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy. (Psalm 99.5) I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth. (Psalm 138.2)
          Overall I take a rather dim view of contemporary Christian America's praise and worship music but I have the greatest respect for the sincerity of the motives behind it. Praise and worship do go hand in hand and ought to go hand in hand in the life of God's people. They bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever. (II Chronicles 7.3) The one thing that such churches and such people get right more than any other is a deep desire to praise the God we all worship. I love them for it.
          The third connection point Scripture implicitly and explicitly pairs with worship is humility. We saw last week that humility is central to the whole idea of what worship is. This is borne out repeatedly in Scripture. I will not bore you with a long list of quotations. I will allow myself just one. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. (Psalm 95.6)
          Humility is necessary for the proper exercise of every spiritual grace but none more so than worship. If I am to bow in my heart it must be because I see myself as completely unworthy of Him. Pride is anathema to all that God would build in us. At the same time it is mother's milk to all that is wrong and wicked in this world. The older I get the more shocked I am to find famous preachers and ministries that seem to embrace pride so thoughtlessly. Do they not understand? Can they not see? If they really are as close to God as they represent themselves to be the result would be the opposite of great pride – it would be a profound humility.
          Yet it is exactly here that I must pause. I must pull back my indignantly outthrust arm and retract my accusatory finger. I must cease peering around the corners of the beam in my own eye. I must drag the clandestine cavities of my own heart into the full orbed light of God's day and see the filth contained therein. While I want to throw everyone else at God's feet in my self-righteous judgment I must instead throw myself there. I must humble myself under the mighty hand of God and let Him worry about humbling everyone else.
          Worship is not service but if it does not include service it is not worship. Worship is not praise but it will naturally produce praise. Worship is not humility alone but without humility worship cannot exist. Humility is the air in which worship breathes.

          Beloved, do you serve Him this week. Do you praise Him this week. Do you humble yourself before Him. In these ways, then, let us worship the Lord our God.