Friday, June 01, 2012

On Worship: Community

Continuing on with with my thoughts on worship I want to examine yet another purpose behind our worship. In my post on lists, I talked about the 5 acts of worship. We concentrate on what we are doing in worship (specifically inside the "worship service") too much when we should be focusing on why we worship. As a quick review, the primary need our worship fills is to give glory to God, the Father, the Creator, the Sustainer of all things.
There are other needs that our worship fills within us, other reasons for our worship:

I recently heard the analogy of cross-shaped worship. The cross points both horizontally and vertically. Cross shaped worship involves us reaching up to God and reaching out to our neighbors. If we are neglecting any of these aspects of worship then we are not living up to our potential. As always there is grace overflowing in our weakness. Our relationship with our fellow man is so important that Jesus said we should delay our worship if we there is a conflict between us and another and go solve the problem (Matthew 5:21-24). Looking at the letter of 1 John, it seems as if every chapter stresses the importance of loving each other. It's a new command, it's an old command. Whatever era you are from, loving one another is vital to our Christian worship.

The church is about community. The reason God put us all together is to help each other and bear one another's burdens. Paul tells us to speak to one another in our songs, but we rarely do anything other than face forward. When I am leading worship, I really appreciate everyone singing toward me. It is a great encouragement. Now imagine if we all sang to each other.

When the believers in Corinth gathered for worship, they turned communion and potlucks into divisions. Paul did not chastise them for the acts themselves, it was their attitudes and lack of consideration for the body of Christ. "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:29). When I write about communion in a few posts, I want to go deeper into how the Lord's Supper can be more than just remembering Christ's body, but also remembering His body. It is something that is sorely lacking in our worship. As I hear about some other practices of serving the Lord's Supper there are some great ways to help emphasize the "one another" aspects of communion.

While worship is about community, it is not a gated community. We do not get to decide who we want in and who must stay out. In fact, it is our mission to bring in everyone from all over the world. On Jesus' last night before his crucifixion he prays a beautiful prayer. One of the few things he requests is for the unity of all believers, "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us" (John 17:20-23).  The reason he gives for this unity is "so that the world may believe that you have sent me." In addition to encouraging the church, our worship is to be a beacon for the unbelievers, those seeking a path to God. Paul writes that in the use of various gifts (tongues and prophecy specifically) some of them help believers and some help nonbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22-25). In our worship, we need to show the world something that they cannot get elsewhere, namely God. It is not about entertainment but about engagement. When they visit our assembly, do they get drawn closer to God? When they look at us as a community, do they see God? Do they see love? Do they see peace and joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit?

I ran across this blog the other day that is well worth a read: The Work of Worship by Mark Love. Mark  talks about the church functioning as the priesthood in the world. He writes that in our worship we often try to see God more clearly, but what we need more of is to see the world as God sees the world, to love as He loves. "In this way, worship rehearses us for our vocation in the world." Lots of things for me to think about there.

How do we accomplish this? Speaking to one another in worship. Inviting outsiders into our community. This worship cannot just be 1 hour a week or even 2 or 3 in the "assembly." Whenever someone says "Worship Service" it should be redundant. Of course worship is about service (Romans 12:1-2). If we are not in each other's lives, we cannot be united. If we are not serving each other, we cannot be united. If we are not united, the world will not believe. Just think how many more would believe if God's church stood united before the evils and apathies of the world.

Throughout scripture we find examples of worship that is pleasing to God and worship that is not pleasing. But amid all the ceremonies and rituals, when the people did not get the purpose right God was never pleased.

  • Jesus quoting Isaiah “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:6-9)
  • David from the depths of despair writes "For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17)

Lord, let us never forgot who we worship and why we worship. Help us to be the unified body that will bring the world to You.

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