Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Theological Significance of Worship: Evangelicalism

[At Street Prophets it was suggested that folks write on "worship" in their theological traditions. This is my contribution to that conversation]

The first thing is that we do not have a liturgy, or really even an order of worship, when we meet for corporate worship. Sunday services have elements that remain constant: worship by lots of song, some prayer, teaching from the Word, and the collection of offerings. The order in which they occur is variable. There is no lectionary, no scripture reading per se. Indeed, there is no ceremony, bells and smells, ritual, mysteries, or indeed sacraments in the way most "higher churched" folks mean that. In my current church, there isn't even always a celebration of the Lord's Table. [I will get back to this]

Since I am not a trained theologian, but mostly a "fanny in a seat" - I actually did some reading on the theology behind all this to see what I am missing theologically in the practice I am experiencing. Bob Deffinbaugh speaks to the need of folks like me to understand the theology of worship:

Robert Webber, in an article in Eternity magazine, made this condemning statement concerning the ignorance of the Christian in the matter of worship:
... the majority of evangelical lay people don’t have the foggiest notion of what corporate worship really is. To questions such as: Why does God want to be worshipped? What is the meaning of an invocation or benediction? What does reading the Scripture, praying, or hearing a sermon have to do with worship? I received blank stares and bewildered looks.
The resources I touched base with:
  • The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. See "You Were Planned for God's Pleasure", Days 8-14. As much criticism as has been leveled on Warren for the whole Purpose Driven thing, I see no problem with these chapters

  • "Worship Today", by Marty Kendall, which I sort of picked arbitrarily out of this list at Bible.org

  • "Worship (Part 1 and Part 2)", by Bob Deffinbaugh, also from Bible.org
What is Worship?

I will start with Deffinbaugh's definition of worship:
Worship is the humble response of regenerate men to the self-disclosure of the Most High God. It is based upon the work of God. It is achieved through the activity of God. It is directed to God. It is expressed by the lips in praise and by the life in service.
Marty Kendall's definition is slightly different:
. . . worship is:
  • Aligning ourselves with God’s will (Geoff Bullock).
  • ‘The English word ‘worship’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘weorthscipe’ - ‘worth’ and ‘ship’ meaning one worthy of reverence and honour’ (derivation).
  • The act of revering or honouring God; obedient service (Heinemann Australian Dictionary).
  • To pay great honour and respect to (World Book Dictionary).
  • The celebration of God’s supreme worth in such a manner that God’s worthiness becomes the norm and inspiration of human living (Ralph Martin - The Worship of God).
Thus, in this document, it will be understood that the word ‘worship’ refers to the way we acknowledge God’s worth; the way our knowledge of God affects the way we live.
There is nothing in either of those two definitions has anything to do with Sundays (or Saturdays, or whatever day a church holds its meetings) - our whole life, in all of its moments, should be directed to worshiping God: our lives in our families, our work, our recreation, our community life - all of our life - should reflect those definitions above.

What is Church?

Certainly, the gathering of a local body of the Body of Christ is indeed about corporate worship as well. However, it is also very much about fellowship and community - and for the Evangelical church maybe more about fellowship and community than about worship.
not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (NASB) - Hebrews 10:25

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (NASB) - 1 Corinthians 14:26
Marty Kendall's conclusion, which applies to the theology of my current church:
Church is about relationships with those who inspire you to come closer to God. We meet together so that we may be strengthened (through teaching, fellowship and prayer) so we can continue to worship God in our daily life. Every Christian, as part of the priesthood of all believers must be both equipped and encouraged to exercise ministry to build up other believers.
This is why every church I have been in, and especially my church now, stress building community - and particularly the need for community groups, life groups, and other small groups of various kinds. Fellowship, relationship, and community do not happen in the lobby of the church after weekly services.

What about Communion (the Lord's Table)?

My appreciation of this whole topic has to do with this particular part of it: my church does not share the Lord's Table weekly. This is a brain cramp for me; as almost all the churches over the last 11 years have until now. My problem with this is frankly not that large - more an itch that doesn’t quite go away rather than a pain that needs to be medicated. The reason it isn’t that big a deal is that I have the means, as part of the priesthood of all believers, to solve the problem outside of our weekly gathering for corporate worship: my community group can celebrate communion; and indeed my family can celebrate communion every day (or once a week), if it wished, as the Apostolic church did.

First though, you have to understand communion in both the Apostolic church and the Evangelical church:
We know from the early chapters of the book of Acts that initially the Christians observed the Lord’s Table daily (Acts 2:42, 46). Apparently, this practice did not continue indefinitely but settled down to a weekly remembrance at the church meeting (cf. Acts 20:7). From early church writers it is evident that the Lord’s Table was considered central in their worship. Later church history continues to support the high regard in which the Lord’s Table was held.

It was not until the middle ages that the observance of the Lord’s Table became encrusted with Roman Catholic tradition. The Lord’s Table was no longer regarded as a simple remembrance of the person and work of Jesus Christ once for all and His accomplishment of our salvation on the cross. Instead, the doctrine of the perpetual sacrifice developed. It was believed that there was a daily repetition of the work of Christ on Calvary, with the priest offering the work of Christ to God in the elements of the bread and wine. - Deffinbaugh
Indeed, there is no sacramental element to communion in our church. I am fine with that - really quite good with that indeed.

This separates communion from any need for the actions of Priesthood or a Clergy. Deffinbaugh goes on to criticize the practice of my current church as one of the reasons communion has diminished in importance in the Evangelical church:
First, we have never totally shaken the idea of a priesthood which is solely authorized to serve Communion. In the New Testament, every male believer-priest was given the privilege of serving the elements. Although the Roman Catholic concept of the priesthood has been rejected by Protestantism, nevertheless, it is somehow thought that some member of the clergy must ‘administer the sacraments.’ Consequently, the Lord’s Supper is thought to be more the domain of the clergy than of the masses.

We should not think that the priesthood of every believer has been snatched from the grasp of reluctant laymen, for in most instances this privilege has been forfeited by default. The Christian ‘laymen’ have not lived up to their responsibilities and would far rather hire someone to take over their priestly duties than to assume the responsibility themselves.

Second, I would suggest that declining understanding of the doctrine of worship has led to a corresponding lack of appreciation for the Lord’s Table. In addition to this, there has been an increasing emphasis upon relevance and emotional gratification. This has led to more emphasis on the sermon because it is thought to be ‘more relevant to me and my needs.’ In short, we have become more self-centered in our ‘worship’ than God-centered.

Third, some have insisted that a regular weekly remembrance of the Lord makes the event less significant because it happens so frequently. To hold Communion less frequently makes it an event of more moment, we are told. First of all, this view gives too little weight to the command of our Lord ‘to be doing this in remembrance of Him.’ This is the force of the present imperative which our Lord employed in
Luke 22:19. Strangely enough, I have never heard anyone suggest the same kind of practice with respect to the physical relationship between a man and his wife. It is not the frequency or lack of frequency of the Lord’s Table which makes it significant, but how we view the meaning of the event.
Of course, this last line means that it doesn't matter whether we do it once a week, once a month, or every night at my family dinner table. It is the heart of the worship, and not its frequency, that matters. In that my church is also just fine - and my itch is still there and may continue for a long time.

And, as to the earlier comment by Deffinbaugh - I found I indeed understood the purpose of worship from my time in the pews. I guess I have been blessed with good churches and teachers.

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1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly