How and when do Christians worship?

cathedral worshipIn talking about the focus of our assemblies, I suggested a three-pronged focus: God, the church, outsiders. My suggestion was that we dare not neglect any of the three. But can we even discuss focusing on humans in the same breath that we discuss a focus on God in our assemblies?

Some of this discussion hinges on whether or not our assemblies are primarily a time of worship. Or, more specifically, can we relate them to Old Testament worship? I would say no.

We need to keep in mind the structure of Old Testament worship. Growing up, I thought that the Jews basically did what we do, except they did it on Saturday. As I got older, I realized their worship was very different, very much focused on sacrifice. (At least until the Exile; the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem radically transformed Jewish worship) Continuing to study and learn, I realized that their religious lives had a different rhythm than ours.

First, there were daily sacrifices, offered twice daily. The average Israelite had little interaction with this. This was done by the priests in the place designated by God. (first Shiloh, then Jerusalem)

Second, there was the Sabbath. Sabbath is focused more on family than it is on corporate assemblies. Over time, the Jews began having regular meetings in the synagogues on Saturday; this was a later development, from the Exile forward.

Third, there were the annual feasts. In theory, every Jewish male made three pilgrimages to Jerusalem every year; this doesn’t seem to have been done in practice, from what I see in Scripture. Most tried to make it every year at Passover, though I don’t even see that as being a universal practice.

There were other regular sacrifices offered by priests and special celebrations like the observance of the new moon and the tithe feasts.

Individuals would offer sacrifices at other times, based on vows, sin, or a need to give thanks. This was done on a personal basis; the one wanting to offer sacrifices went to the tabernacle/temple, sought out a priest, and presented the sacrifice.

What also needs to be included in this are the whole hosts of things that Jews did because they were Jews. Their religion dictated how they dress, how they groom themselves, what they ate,… dozens of daily reminders that they were part of a community that belonged to God and worshiped this one true God.

So which of these things are worship? In the strictest sense, it was what was done at the temple. We see that in Paul’s language in Acts 24; he had gone to Jerusalem “to worship” (Acts 24:11). Yet one could also argue that all of the above was a part of worshiping God.

So what about us? Help me out. What is Christian worship? When is Christian worship? Is the assembly a time of worship? Is all of life worship? How do we meld these ideas?

Image courtesy of

God-Focused Church Services?

some_assembly_requiredI got a couple of responses to this weeks’ post that reflected the same idea: worship should be neither member-focused nor seeker-focused; worship should be God focused.

In a sense, I agree. All of life should be God focused. God should be at the center of everything we do. As Paul said, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

For some, this is especially true about our assemblies. I’ve been calling them worship services, largely out of habit. Using Scripture alone, it’s hard to say that the main purpose of our assemblies is worship. Our should I say the unique purpose. We sing songs of praise, but one of the main purposes of our singing is to speak to one another and build one another up. Sermons should glorify God, but they are obviously directed at people. God doesn’t need to be preached to. Oppositely, prayers are directed to God, yet these are corporate, public prayers. At times we even speak to one another in our prayers. (as did Jesus in John 11:41-42).

We have made the Lord’s Supper about “me and God,” but the New Testament portrays it as a corporate time. We break bread together. We wait for one another. We do it with an awareness of the gathered body, or we do it wrong.

I think the answer lies in seeing worship as being focused not on one element, but three. To borrow David Mike Breen’s terminology (from Building A Discipling Culture), it’s Upward, Inward, and Outward. We need all three facets. Complete, holistic worship reaches up to God, in to the church, and out to the nonbeliever. Like the three-legged stool, our assembly collapses if we completely remove any of the three.

Up to God. In to the Church. Out to the believer.

Links To Go (May 15, 2015)

The False Fence of Fellowship

My conclusion, then, is that Jesus does not expect us to “withdraw” like hermits from all those we deem unrighteous or immoral. Rather, in his own spirit of gentleness, meekness, self-control, and (most importantly) love, we CREATE a relationship before we CONFRONT error. Perhaps if we spent as much time creating relationships as we did confronting sin, we’d learn the true fence of fellowship: a spirit that says, “I’m not entirely OK with everything I perceive you to stand for, but I do love you in Christ, and I’d love to have an awkward conversation with you in order to bring glory to God.”

How to Determine if an Issue is a Salvation Issue

There will be times when we see things differently and we will have to continue to reason together to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). But when we disagree, we MUST NOT condemn one another:

“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

There are certain behaviors – which if we persist in them – we are explicitly told will eternally separate us from God. There are other behaviors which mature Christian reasoning will lead us to understand are not the Lord’s will. So let us be mature in deciding how to conduct ourselves and how to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus’ View of Women is Bigger than What Feminism Can Offer

What Jesus inaugurated with his life, death, and resurrection wasn’t a new order of business, but one of the oldest kind, one that harkens back to the perfection of Eden when men and women dwelt in perfect harmony with one another. And in that place we are given a glimpse of God’s plan for men and women all along—equal, but created with beautiful differences (Gen. 1:26-27). Jesus didn’t eradicate these differences, instead he gave a new plan for them, one that exalted the goodness of his Father’s design in both men and women. He kept qualified men in leadership positions, while also showing that women have much to offer in his kingdom work. He removed the oppression that women (and even some men) face by tearing down the false barriers of classism, sexism, and racism that have plagued us for so long.

American Mythology– You Can Be Whatever You Want to Be

What we are seeing in America now is not merely deep sexual confusion about one’s identity, but that confusion is just exacerbated by the American myth that you can be whatever you want to be. You can choose your sex, or your gender identity, or who can be your sexual partner. Somehow some forms of modern counseling and psychology have gone off the rails and affirmed even the wildest fantasies and delusions of people who really needed to be given, in a loving way, a reality check, not a blank check saying ‘be whatever your wildest dreams tell you you can be’.

Is the Original Text of the New Testament Lost? Rethinking Our Access to the Autographs

In other words, it is possible (and perhaps even likely) that some of the earliest copies of the New Testament we posses may have been copied directly from one of the autographs. And, if not the autographs, they may have been copied from a manuscript that was directly copied from the autographs. Either way, this makes the gap between our copies and the autographs shrink down to a rather negligible size.

Dear Church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out

So no more three points and a take home. No more self-help. No more marriage and parenting advice. No more anger management pointers. We don’t need you to be our therapist, we need you to be our church. We need you to show us how to be the hands and feet of Christ, to struggle with us in making it more on earth as it is in heaven.

Open Table

I asked our church to open their homes to someone within our congregation who is different from them—a person or family living at a different stage of life, or of different politics or race, or any of the thousand ways difference blooms in the garden of community. We do this because we believe there is healing in knowing.

Is Christianity Dying?

We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America. Again, that’s good news. The gospel comes to sinners, not to the righteous. It is easier to speak a gospel to the lost than it is to speak a gospel to the kind-of-saved. And what those honest atheists grapple with, is what every sinner grapples with, burdened consciences that point to judgment. Our calling is to bear witness.

Your attention span is now less than that of goldfish, Microsoft says

Among the findings of the 54-page study was that, thanks to our desire to always be connected, people can multi-task like never before. However, our attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today. A goldfish is believed to have a nine-second attention span on average, the study says.

Astronomers Find Mystery Telescope Data Came From Heating Up Lunch

In a new paper, the lab group describes “perytons,” transient signals that look similar to the astrophysical pulses as detected through cold plasma. Mysteriously, these signals usually seemed to be picked up around lunchtime. Sadly, these weren’t coming from aliens hoping to break bread with us. The radio pulses were generated by the microwave in the staff kitchen.

The Case For Outsider-Focused Church Services

Church welcome signHere’s the counter-argument to yesterday’s post. When arguing for an insider focus to our church assemblies, I referred to 1 Corinthians 14. Yet in that passage, Paul also makes a point about considering outsiders:

“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”” (1 Corinthians 14:23–25)

Paul envisions a situation where an outsider comes into the assembly, seemingly on their own. Our services need to be aware of that possibility as well.

Think about it. We advertise our church services on signs and sometimes in paid publicity. We often include some sort of “Come join us!” message. We’re inviting outsiders; shouldn’t we treat them as welcome guests?

In our society, most people have some concept of “going to church.” Many have had relatives that go to church, if they haven’t gone themselves. They understand “going to church” as a way of interacting with Christianity. If they are going to seek God, for many of them the first step will be to find a church service to attend.

It’s my point of view that the healthiest church services have a body focus while trying to make them something intelligible and attractive to outsiders. However, some churches thrive on the “seeker-focused” mentality. Their invitations to outsiders are “come join us at church”; evangelism centers around getting people in to hear a powerful message from the preacher. As we’ve seen, a case can be made for that.

Links To Go (May 13, 2015)

5 key findings about the changing U.S. religious landscape

  1. Christians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number.
  2. Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics.
  3. The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation (religious “nones”).
  4. The major trends seen in American religion since 2007 – the decline of Christians and rise of the “nones” – have occurred in some form across many demographic groups.
  5. The share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, has grown modestly.

Nominals to Nones: 3 Key Takeaways From Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey

  1. Convictional Christianity is rather steady.
  2. There have been significant shifts within American Christianity.
  3. Mainline Protestantism continues to hemorrhage.

Apologetics: Who Really Wrote the Gospels?

Here’s the explanation that seems to make the most sense: When churches received each Gospel, they also received information about that Gospel’s origins, telling them whose eyewitness testimony this Gospel represented. Because they received clear oral traditions when they received each book, when Christians began adding titles to these manuscripts, every congregation connected each Gospel to the same author.
They already knew where each Gospel came from. Nothing less can explain the early consistency of the titles.

English Proficiency on the Rise Among Latinos

These shifts coincide with the rise of U.S.-born Hispanics as a share of the nation’s Hispanic population, and the slowdown in immigration to the U.S. from Latin America. In 2013, U.S.-born Hispanics outnumbered foreign-born Hispanics by nearly two-to-one—35 million to 19 million—and made up a growing share (65%) of the nation’s Hispanic population. They are also much younger, with a median age of 19 years compared with 40 among immigrant Hispanics (Stepler and Brown, 2015). At the same time, immigration from Latin America, primarily Mexico, has slowed (Passel, Cohn and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2012), leading to fewer Spanish-speaking new immigrant arrivals and a more settled U.S. Hispanic immigrant population.

Lotteries: America’s $70 Billion Shame

Half a century ago, gambling was criminalized in every state except Nevada. As recently as 1980, just 14 states held lotteries. Today it’s 43. A political cynic might say lotteries are the perfect public policy: A tax disguised as a game without an organized lobby to oppose it. Corporate income taxes punish corporations, and companies respond with lobbyists. Personal income taxes and estate taxes hurt the rich, and rich families fund elections, so no need to elaborate on that problem. But lotteries disproportionately affect the poor, who vote at lower rates, donate less to campaign funds, and have inconstant representation on K Street and its equivalents in the states. So no surprise that, as recently as 2009, lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal, including Delaware, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

Bad Hebrew = Free Advertising

If you have ever used automated translation software, you can already tell this is going to be bad.
But what they ended up with is actually even funnier than the standard, slightly ungrammatical or jumbled automated translation.
Somehow, they ended up copying the words “Babylon is the world’s leading dictionary and translation software” in Hebrew, and that’s what they gave the tattoo artist!