Jesus doesn’t need fans, He wants disciples. Don’t just like Him. Be like Him.
Let’s imagine that the Apostle Paul somehow managed to get his head re‑attached, found a time machine and a good English language tutor, then landed in a typical town in the USA in the early 21st Century. Let’s also assume that he hides his identity, calling himself “Paul Dekatria.” Obviously, he would want to know about the progress of the gospel that he preached and what it had produced over the centuries.
One of the first things he would notice is the profusion of buildings with the word “Church” on the sign. Several of the accompanying words he might recognize from the common Greek of his day, like Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, or Episcopal, or from Latin, like Catholic. But what else would he recognize? What would he find strange?
And if, after much investigation, he wrote a letter to the churches of America, what do you think would be the gist of his message?
Now, I do not presume to speak for the Apostle Paul. Nor am I inspired by the Holy Spirit as he was. But I can read his writings to the various churches and the other books of the Bible. And I can point out several problems with the present system that we find in Christendom. The only correct way to look at these problems is to honestly go to the Bible for what it has to say on the subject, and then to have the willingness to repent (i.e. be willing to change) when the Bible says that we are doing something wrong.
“But hold on right there! I am already doing everything according to the Holy Scriptures in my life and in my church! How dare you tell me that I might need to change my ways!” This reminds me of the joke about how many church members does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: “Change?! My Granddad put in that light bulb, and if it was good enough for him….”
If that is truly your attitude, I hope you can get your money back for this book. But let me point out one thing first. There are hundreds of denominations and churches saying that they follow the scriptures, but they are doing and teaching a lot of different things. Logically, this means that we cannot all be right. It could be that we are all wrong. Is it possible that there is a fundamental flaw in modern Christianity which has us all off base?
Let’s get back to Paul. Mr. Dekatria picks a church and shows up Sunday morning at the time advertised. He finds a big room with a bunch of padded wooden benches facing a fancy speaker’s stand. Some women huddle around a new mother admiring her baby. Other people, dressed in their finest clothes, are quietly sitting down, so he also sits. When a few people introduce themselves, he says his name is Paul Dekatria and he is just traveling through town. After a short while everybody gets quiet as one man goes on stage to give some announcements. Some beautiful songs are sung which Paul doesn’t recognize, but he generally likes the themes found in some of the words. Then a preacher gets up and talks for about thirty minutes about religious things, including three major points, two jokes and a poem. A few prayers are led. People eat a little piece of bread and small cup of wine after a blessing (if he is in the right place at the right time). Everybody seems to have enjoyed themselves.
For several weeks he visits different places only to find similar routines with slight variations. In some of the venues the people are extremely formal; in others they border on the wild and out of control. Some people are very friendly, but at some places he feels as if he is intruding. Not all have priests, others do. One place doesn’t use any instruments to accompany the singing, another has a whole band.
If I were Paul, I would be very confused. And probably not very impressed.
Where do you think Paul would feel most at home? That is one way to look at the ultimate purpose of this book. Most of us that claim Christianity would probably say that Paul would fit right in at our church. But, as we said, we cannot all be right about that. So let’s agree to put aside the gut reaction and go to the one source from which we can get a true answer to this question ‑ the Bible. Of course, we will primarily work out of the New Testament since it was written for the people who were following Jesus. And besides, Paul was instrumental in writing a good deal of it.
First, we need to admit that some of the things that Paul encounters are simply not found in the New Testament. Some of the things in this category include: a building owned by the church, pews, a pulpit, a song leader with or without an organ or a band, songbooks with four part harmony, priests, fellowship meals (OK, maybe I Corinthians 11 on that one, go see what you think). Other things which Paul might encounter would include central organizations to control many congregations, associate ministers, and preachers with exalted titles.
We will not here address the merits or demerits of each of these. However, let’s be honest enough to admit that they are simply not mentioned in the New Testament by Paul or any other writer. Yet, they are a major part of the religious experience of most of the people who are trying to follow the Christ. In fact, they can be the very things that keep people away. Eventually we each need to examine our own practices and make our own changes.
Again, back to Paul. I think his first reaction would be to ask where we got the idea that we needed so much “stuff” to exercise our faith in the Christ. Don’t we realize that the “stuff” just gets in the way, and then the next generation focuses on keeping up the “stuff” and neglects the real purpose? The real purpose of our assemblies is well buried under two thousand years of generations and stuff. Jesus did not set up His church to be a great example of organization, but to provide help for each other in our Christian struggles.
Hopefully, the logic presented in this book will be similar to what Paul would want to say to us.
God does things His way, often to the surprise of His people.
What is Worship?
Let’s start by pointing out some circular reasoning. Everybody “knows” that we worship God on Sunday morning. We are told in the Bible to worship God. Therefore what we read of worship in the Bible refers to what we do on Sunday morning.
The key to that circle is the statement that our Sunday morning assemblies are simply for the purpose of worshiping God. However, this is not a Biblical concept.
Worship is not ritual. Worship is not assembly. Both assembly and some rituals are commanded, but they are not the definition of worship. Our society has confused and mixed these three concepts (assembly, ritual and worship) until we can no longer recognize what the Bible says about each. I am referring here mainly to the popular perception of the Sunday assembly, not necessarily the doctrines that the “wise men” would expound.
Also, worship is not simply praise. Praise and worship are separate concepts. They are sometimes related, but we need to understand that worship is much more than telling God how great He is. On a practical level, we do need to praise God to remind us of His great attributes.
So, let’s get this straight. The Bible does not say that we get together to simply “worship God.” We tend to use the word “worship” as if it includes all the things we do on Sunday morning. But that is, at best misleading, at worst it is a lie. If you think that the whole purpose of assembling is to praise God, you are contributing to the shallow view of Christianity that is prevalent in today’s society, and you are helping stunt the growth that is expected of God’s people. If you go to church simply because it is comfortable, you are simply wasting everybody’s time. And those of you who “go to church” just to enjoy the show, you’re not even wading in the shallows. We all need to grow up and start doing the good works that were prepared for us.
And, frankly, if we continue to insist that the purpose of assembly is only to worship, it will prevent us from accomplishing the real purpose (more on that later).
Some Basic Facts
Enough of the negative. Now for some Biblical facts.
A few basics:
First, God wants us to worship Him. There can be no doubt in that statement. Much of the Law of Moses is about various sacrifices, which was the central action of worship to God in that system. But we worship Him not because He needs it (He doesn’t “need” anything we can give Him), but as a natural result of a relationship with Him. We worship what inspires awe within us, and a true view of God can result in nothing else.
Second, God is very particular in the method of worship toward Him. This is very evident from even a casual study of the rules for the priests in the Jewish Law. Everything had to be done in the right way, with the right clothes on, with the right animals for sacrifice, with the right level of cleanliness, etc. At least two times His worship was desecrated in what appears like minor ways, but the perpetrators were instantly killed. When Nadab and Abihu died for bringing strange fire to the altar, their father Aaron was not even allowed to mourn because he had sacrificial worship duties as the High Priest. Therefore, we need to be vigilant to know what God wants from us when we worship.
Third, the rituals associated with worship are not supposed to be the main idea. The prophets often spoke of the misuse of ritual:
I Samuel 15:22
So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. (ESV)
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. (ESV)
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (ESV)
Go and learn what it means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (MTEG)
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (MTEG)
And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. (MTEG)
In many of the above quotes, God speaks against His own command to sacrifice. The people replaced the basics of God’s will with ritual, assuming that a few sacrifices and the right words would placate God. Then they went on living however they chose.
If ritual is not the point, what about praise? After all, the Hebrew writer said: We have no abiding city here, but we are seeking the one which is coming. By him let us continually offer up the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips, confessing his name. Also, do not forget well-doing and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Hebrews 13:14f (MTEG)
The system outlined in this book does not preclude praise. Praise to God is a natural and important part of the Christian life. Praise and worship are related, but are separate concepts. But neither praise nor worship is stated as a sole purpose for the assembly. There are other priorities given for us to get together.
Let’s look at this from another angle. I read somewhere that “worship” is an unfortunate word in our English language. I like that. The word is from Old English. It basically means “to give worth to something,” or better, “to declare something to be of worth.” While this can be considered a good thing in relation to God, it severely limits the ideas behind the words in Greek and Hebrew that are translated to the English as “worship.”
Worship, as used in the Hebrew and Greek, is based on the action of bowing before a lord. For a Christian, bowing is to be done before God and His Son only. Even the angels refused to accept John’s worship.
Bowing to God implies several concepts:
First, it includes the ideas of praise, homage, deference, reverence, respect, or honor to God.
Secondly, you are showing your own humility and unworthiness.
Third, you are offering yourself to His service.
Each of these results from realizing who God is. When you add in what He has done to show His love for us, what else can you do but fall prostrate before Him?
But, according to Jesus, serving the Lord has been reallocated to serving each other. Read Matthew 25:31f, especially verse 40, “The King will reply to them, ‘Indeed I assure you, when you served one of the least of these my brothers, you served me.’” (MTEG)
More about this in chapter 3.
Now we come to the point where the customs and traditions start getting in the way. The weekly assembly of the saints is also a binding example in the New Testament. The early Christians met on the first day of the week, and we have information about what they did during these assemblies.
How many times have you gone to a “worship service” on Sunday morning? Have you ever realized that the term “worship service” is never biblically applied to the assembly of the saints?
I will try my best through this book to be consistent and use the term “assembly” to talk about the time on the first day of the week when the church is to get together. I will use the term “worship” when talking of showing reverence for God and serving God through whatever means is biblical…
By Tim Reeve
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