Parties and temples

The wedding feastJust wanted to share a thought from a Bible study a few weeks ago. We were reading in John chapter 2. The chapter begins with Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast. Later he clears the money changers out of the temple.

We noted that Jesus seemed more at home among the partygoers than he did the templegoers.

I’m afraid we today might have gone into the wedding and cleared out the revelers while leaving those in the temple at peace.

What do you think?

Illustration courtesy Sweet Publishing

Assemblies that build us up, please God, and attract outsiders

Church AuditoriumI’ve been proposing several things about our church assemblies:

  • The main focus of our assemblies shouldn’t be worship. In the same way, God shouldn’t be the exclusive focus of our worship assembly. If we are people whose very lives are worship, then worship will naturally occur when we come together. If we are people who put loving God at the center of our lives, then we will seek to please God when we gather. But if we make focusing on God our exclusive goal, then we will fail at making the assemblies what they were meant to be.
  • Church services are primarily for the edification of the body. By doing so, we will please God. And as a body of worshipers, we will naturally worship when we are together. But what is done during the times we are together is done primarily for believers.
  • Our assemblies should be intelligible to outsiders. We don’t tailor the service for them. Instead, we invite them to come and see who we are and what we do. The assembly is not primarily about evangelism. It’s not about selling the church, either. As outsiders see us love and edify one another, they should want to know about the God that makes all that possible. Our hope is that what outsiders see in our assemblies will make them open to hearing the gospel message.

So, in short, we seek to build one another up in a way that is pleasing to God and makes sense to outsiders. We don’t expect non-believers to perfectly understand everything that goes on; we do hope that what they see will convey a message of love and mutual edification.

Church assemblies should be about us

encourageDoesn’t it sound strange to say that we should be focused on people when we come together? That’s not the way most of us learned Christianity.

Why did we put on our Sunday best? To present ourselves before God. It wasn’t about people.

Why did we speak in hushed tones before the assembly? We were supposed to show reverence to God.

Why did so many of us close our eyes or look down when taking the Lord’s Supper? Because it was a personal time with God.

None of these, of course, is in the Bible. The New Testament says to avoid showy clothes when coming together; we tend to misread the concept of modest dress in the Bible. It’s about avoiding ostentation.

The hushed tones? Not in there. I dare say that there’s more about shouting to God than whispering to God.

And the Lord’s Supper? Oh, that’s an old pet peeve of mine. Much of this comes to a real misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 11. Suffice it to say that the Corinthians’ problem was that they weren’t aware of one another when taking the Supper; the same problem exists in a lot of churches today.

I think Hebrews 10 is helpful as we consider all of this, especially verses 19-25:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19–25)

We draw near to God together, considering one another, looking how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, seeking to encourage one another through our meeting together.

We honor God in our assemblies, but we must never neglect the body of Christ. We come together, joining lives of worship together, in a build-one-another-up moment.

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 MorgueFile.com

Edification or outreach?

worshipA worship service is not an evangelistic event. Yet it is a place where the church interacts with outsiders and hopes that they respond favorably.

So what sort of balance should a church strike between ministering to insiders and ministering to outsiders during a worship service? Is it mainly about edification or outreach? Or do the two go together?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.