The Heart of the Church: Worship

  • The Heart of the Church: Worship

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!

Psalm 67:3-4a  (ESV)

“You [the church] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you my proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” 1Peter 2:9-10 (ESV)

What is the Church?  What is the Church’s ultimate purpose?

This is an easy one right?  The purpose of God’s church is to seek and save the lost—the people who need Jesus.  Right?  A close reading of the New Testament reveals that while there is no denying such is a key task of the church, it is not her ultimate purpose.  Let me ask it this way:  Is the church merely an instrument in God’s hand or a co-laborer with Him.  Is the church a hammer in God’s tool box or the Bride of Christ?  Now, a bride can and ought to do many things for her husband, but she is never a mere tool.  What she does for her husband is out of love and devotion.  With Paul in Ephesians 5:22-32, I am saying the mystery of marriage ultimately points us to the church’s relationship with Christ.  It is a relationship of love, self-offering, adoration and worship.  Sweet and full union is the goal of the spiritual marriage.  Evangelism is only one of many tasks to be accomplished along the way.

Now from what Peter says in the quotation above (1Peter 2:9), the church is no mere tool, but rather chosen, royal, holy and belonging to God.  Therefore the church declares to the world all of God’s goodness and greatness.  Note that Peter does not say, “You are a royal priesthood . . . so that you can win lost people to Christ, OR, serve the poor, OR build strong families in your community. Are all those things a good and a necessary part of fulfilling God’s call as His people?  Absolutely!  Are any of them the end all and be all of who the church is?  No way!!

Pastor John Piper in his book Let the Nations be Glad!  The Supremacy of God in Missions (Baker Books, 1993, pg. 11) is very direct on this point, starting at the first page in the first chapter:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church.  Worship is.  Missions exists because worship doesn’t.  Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.  When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.  It is a temporary necessity.  But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. . . .  Missions begins and ends in worship.

The Church is not a mere tool, and neither is her worship!

I love the corporate worship of God’s people.  Even when done poorly or thoughtlessly, an opportunity has been given to meet with the good, holy, loving and Triune God of all that is.  I’ll be honest, I struggle the most when corporate worship is employed to serve an agenda.  Truthfully, if worship is God directed, people will naturally be introduced to Jesus, and probably in a more powerful way than when we strive to be seeker friendly.  True worship lets the lost, seeking or struggling person encounter the Triune God in all His fullness.   When church leadership reduces worship to what they think the seeker can tolerate without being offended or scared away, only parts and portions of God can be received. John 4:23-24 (ESV)

So how should the Church worship?

Over the last 2,000 years, we can see a persistent pattern of corporate worship that has consistently exalted God, formed and discipled Jesus’ followers and introduced the lost and broken to Jesus the Savior:  Word and Table woven together with Prayer (an idea taken from a sermon by my friend, Pastor Pete Matthews).  Christian worship contains the primacy of the Scriptures, leading us to encounter the living Christ at His table with Prayer before, during and after.  (nearly all of our songs, old or new, are prayers—prayers of praise, adoration, testimony, petition, confession, etc.)

This pattern, Word and Table woven together in Prayer, has sustained the church in every era of history, in every continent, culture, language, and style.  Styles change with every new generation and each culture—all the while the basic pattern remains true and life-giving.

A brief word about “worship style”

When we come together to focus on God, we ought to bring forth both the old and the new (Matthew 13:52).  Worship is not about what a particular group of individuals finds most palatable or what feelings are stirred through certain songs and instrumentation.  Worship is about a meeting – God with His people.  God offers Himself through Christ by the Holy Spirit, while we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving.  In order to do that well, we need the best of the “old” hymns and the best of what the Holy Spirit is inspiring right now.  To emphasize one to the exclusion of the other is an inherently selfish and man-centered approach to worship.  Worship that becomes about us and not about God is no longer truly worship.

What happens in worship?

Christians come together in worship to remember, re-enact, and re-appropriate (or reclaim) what God has done for us in Christ.  We remember that God the Father and no other is King of the universe!   Through Word and Table, we re-enact Christ’s rescue of us from Satan, sin and death.  We re-appropriate, through the Holy Spirit, what God in Christ has accomplished for us and in us (we are new creation in the fullness of Christ).  All of this happens whether a church’s style is contemporary or traditional, formal or informal, urban or rural, Baby-boomer precision and polish or Gen X rough and real.  Worship in spirit and in truth transcends style.

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