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Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Church... Then and Now

 

   003white Index to   Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian       >        The Church... Then and Now - Chapter III

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The Church... Then and Now
Chapter III - Why Christians Assemble Together

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

What exactly is "worship", and is "worship" the primary reason why Christians are supposed to meet?

INDEX TO ALL NINE SECTIONS

     

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The Four Main Reasons Modern Christians 'Do Church'
Worship and the "Worship Service"
The Meaning of "Worship" As Defined by The Hebrew and Greek Words
Is "Worship" The Primary Reason Why Christians Are Supposed To Meet?
Evangelism
The Sermon
Fellowship
The Primary Objective Of The Gathering Of Believers According to The Scriptures



The Four Main Reasons Modern Christians 'Do Church'
A tremendously important question is why, according to the New Testament, should the 'called out' group of believers assemble together on a regular basis.

The four main reasons most Christians gather together for 'church' today are for 1) corporate worship, 2) to hear a sermon, 3) evangelism, or 4) fellowship. Yet, the New Testament never, by word or example, puts forth any of these as being the chief reason for the church assembly.


Worship and the "Worship Service"
Catholics aside, most Christians refer to the Sunday morning church meeting as a "worship service", which raises two questions...  1) What exactly is "worship", and 2) is "worship" the primary reason why Christians are supposed to meet?

In the minds of many modern Christians, worship is restricted to singing hymns and songs of praise to the Lord, when, as said by Sandy Simpson, "Christians come together to sing songs, raise their hands, dance around, and get all excited about the Lord together in church". [13]. Many seem to believe that the more they can work themselves into a state of fervor, the more intense their emotions get, the more they can let themselves go to the music and lyrics of the song, the more real and relevant their "worship" is.

It is true that hymns and songs of praise were not unknown in the New Testament...

    After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30 NASB)

    But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; (Acts 16:25 NASB)

    speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19 NASB)

    Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 NASB)

However, while the singing of hymns can be incorporated into genuine worship, The Biblical meaning of worship is far more than songs of praise.
 

The Meaning of Worship
Like so many other words in the Christian vocabulary, "worship" can become a meaningless cliché if we do not take the time to consider what the Bible means by worship.

When most Christians attempt to define worship, they do so on the basis of the English word "worship", which is derived from the Old English weordhscipe, which means the "condition of being worthy". The original sense is preserved in the title "worshipful" [14], inasmuch as someone with the title of 'worshipful' is considered worthy of honor and respect etc.

While there is no question that God, above all others, is worthy of honor and respect, there is a little more to the Hebrew and Greek terms translated "worship" that just someone who is "worthy".  It takes some study of these terms to come to a right understanding of what the Bible means when it says "worship". Although a critical study, it is not a very complicated one. In summary, the English word "worship" has largely been translated from the Hebrew

    âbad, which means to work (in any sense); by implication to serve, and shâchâh, which means to prostrate, or bow down, or fall flat,

and the Greek

    latreia which means to serve, and  proskuneo which means to to do homage, or make obeisance. To kneel or prostrate oneself.

Thus, Biblically, to worship God is to "work" for or "serve" Him with an attitude of deference, humility and homage. A mental prostration, if you will. Worship is not something we do, such as praying, singing, kneeling, at certain select times, but consists of who we are, and what our attitude is towards God at all times. True worship remains with us all through the day, and colors every aspect of our daily lives.

Be warned that music, verbal praise, and the many "amens" and "Hallelujahs", all of which may appear as very successful worship to us, may not even be considered worship by the Lord, simply because because He looks much deeper than what might be surface expressions.  He made it very clear, on more than one occasion, that the offerings, the feasts and festivals, solemn assemblies, music, and even prayer had become a burden to Him. In fact, He may consider some of our worship meaningless and even despicable.

001orangePlease read The Christian and Worship for more detail, including how we ensure that our worship is not rejected by God


Is "Worship" The Primary Reason Why Christians Are Supposed To Meet?
While it is certainly possible to worship God during the church gathering, it may surprise some to know that the New Testament never once mentions "worship" in the same breath as a gathering of believers. Although Romans 12:1 does speak of a "spiritual service of worship", the verse has nothing to do with church meetings. ...

    Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1 NASB)

Paul is calling on those to whom he wrote to dedicate themselves to God, without reserve. When he urged Christians to present their bodies "a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God", he was referring back to the Old Testament sacrifices made on the altar when the one who offered the sacrifice released all claim, or right, to the offering, which was completely submitted to God. Now, under the New Covenant, instead of a dead animal Christians have to choose to actively offer their bodies as living sacrifices... In other words, they themselves are the sacrifice, set apart and wholly devoted to His service... just as much the Lord's property as the burnt offering was. 

Additionally, remember what Jesus told the Samaritan woman

    Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship (proskuneo) the Father.  "You worship (proskuneo) what you do not know; we worship (proskuneo) what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship (proskuneo) the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. "God is spirit, and those who worship (proskuneo) Him must worship (proskuneo) in spirit and truth." [John 4:21-24 NASB ]

In other words, worship has absolutely nothing to so with a particular time, or a particular location.

When, according to the Bible, real worship is not about getting all emotional in a hyped up "worship" service, but is something we live... the devotion, humility, obedience and thankfulness that is due God at every moment (Romans 12:1), one has to wonder how and when the concept of worship became almost exclusively associated with 10-11 a.m. on Sunday mornings.


Evangelism
The Purpose Driven Church, has a chapter entitled Developing Your Strategy, in which Rick Warren says

    "If you look at most church advertising, it's obvious that it was written from a believer's viewpoint -- not from the mind-set of the unchurched. When you see a church ad that announces, "Preaching the inerrant Word of God!" who do you think that ad appeals to? Certainly not to unbelievers! Personally, I consider the inerrancy of Scripture as a non-negotiable belief but the unchurched don't even understand the term. If you're going to advertise your church you must learn to think and speak like unbelievers. The spiritual terminology that Christians are familiar with is just gibberish to the unchurched." [15a]

And a few pages later, goes on to say

    If you scan the church page of your Saturday newspaper, you''ll see that most pastors are not attempting to attract the unchurched with their sermon titles. A sample of intriguing sermon topics from the Los Angeles Times includes: "The Gathering Storm," "On the Road To Jericho," "Peter goes Fishing," "A Mighty Fortress," "Walking Instructions," "Becoming a Titus," "No such Thing as a Rubber Clock," "River of Blood," and "The Ministry of Cracked Pots."

    Do any of these titles make you want to hop out of bed and rush to church? Would any of them appeal to an unchurched person scanning the paper? What are preachers thinking? Why are they wasting money advertising titles like these? [15b]

And, partially due to Warren's considerable influence, more and more modern churches seem to be turning to the idea that the church service is for evangelism. However, the Bible never equates the purpose of the church meeting with evangelism.
 

Also See What’s Wrong With the Purpose Driven Life?
Although Rick Warren apparently believes that "The Purpose Driven paradigm is the Intel chip for the 21st-century church and the Windows system of the 21st-century church", it has much going against it. The non believer will be given little or no information as to how he, or she, can be included in the coming kingdom, and will certainly not be told anything about the necessity of repentance from sin and holiness. The reader, both Christian and non-Christian alike, will be introduced to a wide variety of, potentially, very destructive people, ideas, and practices. And since they have been told, in no uncertain terms, that the most important thing is “unity”, they will never hear a word about discerning between true and false teachings, nor how the Bible instructs them to deal with those who practice and teach untruths.
 

There are plenty of New Testament examples of believers engaging in evangelism outside of the church meetings. The gospel was commonly preached in the places frequented by unbelievers, such as in the synagogues and market places, but there is not a single example in the NT that shows any church gathering was for the purpose of telling unbelievers the good news, or getting people to join their "church".

    But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, "Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it." (Acts 13:14-15 NASB)

    In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. (Acts 14:1 NASB)

    Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, (Acts 17:1-2 NASB)

    So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. (Acts 17:17 NASB)

    And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4 NASB)

    And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8 NASB)

Certainly, no assembly of believers was conducted with the idea of making non-believers comfortable. On the contrary,  because they aren't right with God yet, non-Christians should not really feel at ease in a church. For example, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 speaks of the unbeliever who walks into a church gathering and is called to account by all, which I am sure would not be a very comfortable situation to be in. Yet Paul tells us the end result would be him falling on his face and worshipping God.

    But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25 NASB)

Let's not put the cart before the horse. While the unregenerate were sometimes present, they were not the focus of the gathering.


The Sermon
Furthermore, the modern church meeting is literally structured around the sermon, which seems to have become the pinnacle of the service, with all else leading up to it. The sermon has so taken over center stage, that the very meeting is judged by the quality of the message.

Yet this format is without Biblical warrant.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes of believers speaking in tongues, prophesying (two or three prophets could speak), revelation made to one who is seated etc. Yet, he is absolutely silent on the idea of a sermon delivered by one man. Every member freely exercised his gift, with no one dominating the proceedings. The meeting were non-liturgical, which means they did not follow a prescribed format, but were flexible to allow the Spirit of God to move through the meeting, stirring different members to participate in varied ways.

In fact, what would, at best, be thought of as a disruption in the modern church, was par for the course in the first century. The meetings were so governed by the Holy Spirit that if, while one person was speaking, an important truth was revealed to another, he was free to immediately give voice to the revelation. Fascinatingly, the first speaker would stop speaking and give heed to what was being said by the second. (I Corinthians 14:29-30). More about this in the next section "A Spectator Event" (below)


Fellowship

The English word "fellowship"  is defined as

    a. The condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences, as by reason of profession, religion, or nationality.

    b. The companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms.

However, if you read the passages in the New Testament in which the word is mentioned in connection with believers, do you not get the impression that Biblical "fellowship" was something much deeper than a superficial exchange of pleasantries over coffee?

    They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NASB)

    what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 NASB)

    If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7 NASB)

In the average traditional church, very little real "fellowship" take place. It is usually limited to a short time after the service when some of the congregation get together over some refreshments. This is supposed to provide people with the opportunity to socialize with each other and greet visitors or new members, which it does to a very small degree. Most members of the congregation never really get to know each other, much less edify and encourage one another, which was the New Testament church's reason to exist.


The Primary Objective Of The Gathering Of Believers According to The Scriptures
So, if not for worship, evangelism, short socializing (I cannot call it "fellowship"), or the sermon, why do we meet on a regular basis?

The Lord’s Supper
Acts 20:7 says “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread ... “. There is no question that The Lord’s Supper is a central focus of the weekly assembly of believers. [See Feast or Famine]. This is an extremely good article which refutes the idea of the Lord’s Supper as being a morsel of bread and a sip of grape juice. However, I disagree with the Lord’s Supper as being the only reason for regular Christian gatherings. Other very important reasons are edification, encouragement, teaching and admonishment.


Edification or Building Up
1 Corinthians 14:26 clearly states that everything done in a church assembly is done for edification.

    What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)

The English word "edify", which has been translated from the Greek oikodome, means to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement. In other words, it is "building up" of a person, which is exactly how it has been translated in other verses.

    So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up (oikodome) of one another. (Romans 14:19 NASB)

    For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up (oikodome) and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, (2 Corinthians 10:8 NASB)

    And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up (oikodome) of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NASB)

Building up a person (in the context of Christianity) encompasses several concepts. The believers need to be encouraged, taught, and even admonished.


Encouragement
Both Paul and the author of the book of Hebrews tells us not to forsake the assembling together, but to encourage one another, which becomes more and more crucial as the days get darker and more difficult.

    and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 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. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NASB)

    Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NASB)


Teaching and Admonishing
This next verse obviously applies to the time believers assemble together.

    Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 NASB)

The Greek word translated admonish, is noutheteo, which means to caution or reprove gently.

Since the Lord does not need any building up, encouraging, teaching, or reproving, the primary focus of the gathering of believers is to strengthen His people. While the assembly must definitely remain God-centered, it exists for the benefit of the body of Christ.

The more believers matured in the faith, the more 'trained' they were, the more they were equipped to go out into the world with the message of sin, repentance and salvation. And should any of those they spoke to become believers, the new converts were then taught in the church so that they, in turn, could venture out and evangelize, thus building an ever expanding core of disciples.

 
Summary
Not only has the term "worship" being widely, and wrongly, connected with the hour spent weekly "in church" singing and praising the Lord, but we have also wrongly termed this gathering of believers as a "worship service". And, as long as we continue to do so, people will assume that the primary reason to get together is to "worship" the Lord, and any edification, or encouragement, that a person may receive is incidental.

Having established the reasons Christians are supposed to get together on a regular basis, we should now look at how they are supposed to encourage, teach, admonish, and edify one another. Unfortunately, the way the modern church services are structured makes in impossible to do any of that. In a significant departure from what is described in the New Testament, church meetings have become a spectator event.


 001orange CONTINUE ON TO CHAPTER IV - Is The Church Service Supposed to Be a Spectator Event?
When most Christians think of church, a largely spectator event comes to mind. However, the church is not supposed to resemble a theater in which one or more paid actors dominate the stage, while every one else looks on and occasionally applauds. In fact, the concept of virtually inactive, mute believers would have been totally foreign to the early church. The New Testament teaches that gathering together with other Christians is to be a participatory and interactive event, where each person uses his God given spiritual gifts for the benefit, or building up, of the congregation as a whole. Think about it. When was the last time you were able to use your spiritual gift in accordance with the pattern established in the New Testament? Tragically, a spirit led church that gave every member the freedom to contribute to the meeting, became a formal liturgical service, set in stone by the church hierarchy. And, since then we have, as usual, accepted the status quo, never bothering to look any deeper. HERE

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The Church... Then and Now. Part I

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