In 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?