This week I’m posting daily discussion of points I raised in my July 8 sermon on the topic of worship. The sermon highlighted four pairs of values that often seem in tension with each other. Here is the second pair.
ASSEMBLY vs LIFESTYLE
Historically, Catholicism stressed the role of the church as a conduit to saving relationship with God. Even though they valued personal piety and even monasticism and solitude, they still administered these personal disciplines under the auspices of the church. One of the major offenses leading to the brutal persecution of Anabaptists in the during the Reformation by all major denominations of the time, was their teaching that individuals needed to decide for themselves whether they wanted to follow Christ. Anabaptists believed that the church could not save someone who didn’t want to be saved. Popular thought at the time held that you were a Christian courtesy of whichever church had baptised you, usually as an infant.
The pioneers of the Restoration Movement similarly held that the churches of their day had assumed too much power in determining individual’s salvation. Alexander Campbell’s personal experience involved being interviewed by elders at a church to determine his worthiness to participate in their semi-annual Lord’s Supper. As Campbell and other restoration preachers traveled the western frontier they gave people the opportunity to make their own decision to follow Christ. By fulfilling the five steps of salvation laid out in Scripture individuals could gain confidence in their salvation without it needing to be ratified by the church. Modern evanglicalism took this a step further in their emphasis on Jesus as a “personal Saviour”.
Perhaps as an inevitable consequence, many people today seem to hold the position that they don’t have to worship with the church to be a Christian. Often they present this in a way that sounds spiritual and pious, but there’s no doubt that God intended the church to come together to worship Him. All the letters in the New Testament were written to or about churches: groups of Christians. Some passages give considerable detail about how the church should conduct itself when it comes together. For example, 1 Cor. 14 describes a gathering of the NT church, as does 1 Cor 11. Additionally, the numerous “one another” instructions scattered throughout the New Testament writings can only be practiced in a congregational context.
However, it’s distinctly possible to over emphasise the time of coming together for worship. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul describes how dedicating our lives to God’s will is “true worship”. In his book Ceasefire Perry Cotham makes the statement that “The New Testament clearly teaches that the primary way a Christian worships God is by the way he or she lives Monday through Saturday (and not by keeping ritual on Sunday.)
I can think of numerous worship songs that we sing connecting our time of worship with the presence of God.
- Come Holy Spirit
- We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise into the house of the Lord
- Holy Ground
- O Come, Let Us Adore Him
But when I think of the fruit of the Spirit and evidence of God’s presence in us, it’s not through ecstatic experiences, but through lives demonstrating God’s values and influence. Many of our songs also capture this idea:
- Let the Beauty of Jesus be Seen in Me
- Holy Ground (I’m pretty sure the idea here is that wherever I go the ground is holy because God is with me.)
- I Need Thee Every Hour
- May My Steps be Worship
Ironically, as I got up to preach this sermon, we sang “May My Steps be Worship”. Only in this particular version an over zealous editor had changed the line to read “May My Steps Lead to Worship”. It was the perfect (if tragic) example of the topic at hand!
Individuals do need a personal relationship with God. Jesus died for each of our sins individually. At Pentecost (Acts 2), the apostle Peter did not respond to the corporate question “What must we do [to receive forgiveness]?” by symbolically baptising the crowed with a bottle of water. Each person individually had their sins removed in baptism (“Those who accepted his message were baptised, … about three thousand…”) and individually received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
But individuals also need a church. In 1 Corinthians 12:15 we find the illustration that a part of the body (foot or ear) decides to separate itself, it can’t. Christians, by nature, form an interconnected body and our attempts to isolate ourselves run counter to God’s design. Verse 26 demonstrates this perfect design, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” An additional benefit of body life is described in Hebrews 3:13 “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Our eternal salvation benefits from the involvement of other Christians in our lives.
It saddens me that the term “worship wars” has been used over the years to describe the conflict (often inter-generational) between traditional and contemporary music styles in worship. I’m eagerly waiting for the day when we have “worship wars” over whether we’re doing enough to worship Monday to Saturday.
I highly recommend A Gathered People by Hicks, Melton and Valentine (Leafwood: 2007) which discusses the role of the assembled church in achieving Godly transformation in individuals. The back cover promo says “We argue that the Lord’s Day assembly is fundamentally sacramental, that is, an encounter between God and his people for the sake of transformation and spiritual formation.”
Also relevant is They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball (Zondervan: 2007) which encourages the church to leave its ivory tower and live the way we teach.
- How do you make your daily life an “act of worship”? What does that mean to you?
- Do you regard Sunday worship more as a culmination of your past week of worship, or necessary to prepare you for the coming week?