Sunday, December 12, 2010

What is worship?

Alan Knox made this comment in response to a previous post:

And if you don't think that working to support yourself and your family and others is worship, then you don't understand what Scripture says about worship.

What?! You mean worship isn't a specially controlled and scheduled activity, something we do on Sunday morning that mostly involved us watching someone else? In fact working to support our families and to minister to the needs of others is every bit as much an act of worship as "going to church"?!

Hmmm, that is a bold claim. What does Scripture say?

I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Act 20:33-36)

So Paul sees working and giving as acts of worship and makes no mention of doing so by donating to the church general fund. Well what does Jesus say?

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24)

So worship is not based on where we go but the Spirit and Truth we do it in. So we can worship anywhere, anytime and not just here or there. How did we get so far from Scripture that we have decreed certain buildings as holy space, certain men as holy men, certain times as holy hours and seasons? A lot has to do with the error of going back to the Old Testament to find how the New Covenant church should worship. I have seen (and have done this myself) Christians referencing a famous event in the Old Testament that is supposed to speak to Christian worship, the strange fire offered by Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10:1-3)

Under the Old Covenant, we saw lots of specifics on how to worship and where to worship and those specifics were quite clear and had serious consequences if you flaunted or ignored them.

So why can't we use Nadab and Abihu and the prescriptions of the Old Testament to order the New Testament church? Because under the New Covenant the focus is on who we are worshiping and pretty thin on specifics of how to worship Him. The rules and very specific ceremonies of the Old Testament were types and shadows of the infinitely better to come. The Scriptures are mostly silent on the specifics of Christian worship not so that we can turn back to types and shadows but because the focus is not on doing specific acts in a proscribed way. Instead of being confused by that, we should rejoice that we have so many ways to show our worship of Jesus Christ to our unbelieving friends, neighbors and family.

So we didn't go to a building to "worship" Jesus this morning. I did go next door and cleared my neighbors driveway with my snowblower since her snowblower isn't working. I have to think that being the hands and feet of Jesus is at least and perhaps more a legitimate demonstration of worship than "going to church" to watch someone else perform acts of holy tradition. I don't write that to say "Look at how pious and holy I am! You should be more like me!" because I know all too well how rarely I act in a way that is worshipful and faithful. My point is that when you limit worship to specific acts in a specific building at a specific time, you limit the real joy of worshiping Christ and making your whole life an act of worship instead of dividing our lives into "church time" and "my time".

The Scriptures don't limit our worship to holy times and places and neither should we.


Ur Man CD said...

I was just getting over the last two posts and then you write this?! So why is it that you have a death wish for the carefully cultivated sacred cows that I have devoted myself to for nearly 25 years?

Keep up the good work.

Tim A said...

You are absolutely right. Tradition driven institutionalized forms are highly corrupt in their view of worship. God has designed for us a "living way" into God's presense, 24/7 is what He wants. To minimize worship to one hour a week in one location in one habit form that consumes 80% of the "giving", is a huge tragedy for the people of God.

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Heb. 10:20 -