Gathering the church for worship 1
So far brothers, we’ve discussed Guarding the Truth of the gospel (); Preaching the Word (); Praying for the flock (); and Setting an Example ().
These are all aspects of pastoral ministry in which your elders placed by God in local churches so that the men of God in those churches begin to pursue the same things.
This is the purpose of these last few bible studies.
For our last three men’s studies we’ll look at our worship service.
To gain more participation from the men in our church body.
To reach that goal, we’ll look together at what Scripture teaches about worship (we’ll develop a theology of worship) and then we’ll look at how we put that theology into practice.
Ministers Who Desire to Lead their congregations in God-honoring worship must lead with an understanding of the Bible’s teaching on worship. A failure of theological leadership will leave God’s people unanchored, carried about by every wind of human cunning (). In matters of Christian worship, ministers who do not lead theologically hand over the role of leadership to passing cultural fads or cherished traditions. Our criticism of superficial, romanticized modern worship music, on the one hand, and of mushy, sentimental classics, on the other hand, is shallow if we do not teach God’s people the Bible’s message about worship.
Within the pages of the Old and New Testaments, God has graciously met our need for a theological (not cultural or traditional) vision for worship. Through the Old Testament, Christians learn that God cares deeply how he is worshiped. In the New Testament, God explicitly teaches believers how He is to be worshiped. These two theological premises protect believers from worldly craftiness dictating the pace of Christian worship.
Worship in the Old Testament
Worship in the Old Testament
A reiterated theme of the Old Testament is God’s regard for Himself. He is committed steadfastly to His glory and honor and seeks to make Himself known through the key Old Testament events of creation, exodus, exile, and the promise of a new covenant. God’s devotion to the glory of His name provides a foundation for other Old Testament developments, including
Worship regulations in the law
Penalties for violating these regulations, and
The frequent commands for God’s people to praise him.
The primary function of the created order is to testify to the creative excellence and skill of God. He designed creation to reveal His character and unveil specific attributes. As humans perceive the beauty of the dawn, dusk, and night sky, they perceive a visual witness of “the glory of God” () and a declaration of the great Judge’s “righteousness” ().
God’s dealings with his people, the Israelites, also reflect His desire for glory. He created His covenant people and called them by His name for His own glory (). His plan for this people, which He revealed to Abraham, involved bondage in and deliverance from Egypt (). The purpose of the extraordinary events of the exodus is to show the Egyptians the exclusive dominance of the God of Israel (; , ; , ; ; , ).
Events throughout Old Testament history remind readers of God’s intention of glorifying Himself. Through extraordinary circumstances, the people of Israel enter the land God promised them. God causes the Jordan River to part, and the people cross the river on dry land. The purpose of this impressive display was that “all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful” (). Furthermore, God orchestrates Israel’s conquest and occupancy of the land in such a way that deters Israel’s boasting and credits Him (rightfully) for Israel’s victories (; ).
This theme—God’s intent to glorify Himself—persists even as Israel rejects God. God grants wicked King Ahab a victory over Syria in order to reiterate to Ahab God’s character (). For that same reason, the prophet Elijah confronted Ahab’s false prophets (). However, Israel continues to rebel, and God brings about the curses of the law and sends His people away from the land promised to them. Israel’s exile and eventual return from exile share a common purpose. God exiles Israel because He “had concern” for His holy name (), and He extends mercy to exiled Israel for the sake of His holy name ().
God’s regard for Himself and His desire for his own glory are traits that sometimes confuse believers. Any human with this kind of self-regard would face charges of narcissism. Yet, what makes the human pursuit of glory vapid is each human’s inherent imperfections. Not a single one of us deserves glory. God, however, in his exemplary holiness, radiant beauty, inscrutable wisdom, and scores of other perfect virtues, is worthy of all adulation, affection, and acceptance, and because he is omniscient, he knows his worthiness. Would we not think less of God if he thought less of himself?
Understanding God’s regard for Himself and His glory clarifies the worship practices of the Old Testament. The phenomena of Old Testament worship moves around the weighty truth of God’s concern for His glory. The extensive worship regulations, for instance, find their ground and rightful place in God’s desire for His own glory. Moses devotes six chapters of the book of Exodus (chapters 25–30) to the Lord’s instructions regarding the design of a place for his worship. He later uses five chapters (chapters 36–40) to describe how Israelite craftsmen follow these instructions. This attention to detail communicates God’s desire for His glory. He cares deeply about how He is worshiped.
God’s commitment to His glory explains the severity of punishment that God calls for against those who violate worship regulations. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, conducted priestly worship outside of God’s guidelines. They provided an offering that was contrary to God’s command (). Tragically, Nadab and Abihu die “before the Lord” because of this sin (verse 2). God earnestly seeks the worship of His name, but He wills this worship to conform to His standards. The severity of this particular judgment communicates the extent to which God cares about His glory in worship.
Particularly in the book of Psalms, God frequently commands his people, and even all peoples, to praise him. Over thirty times, we receive the command, “Praise the Lord,” and the psalmists use many other imperatives, including “Ascribe to the Lord …” (), “let us bow down in worship” (95:6), and “Sing to the Lord” (149:1). With these entreaties, God is not fishing for compliments, lacking confidence, or seeking assurance. These commands are decrees from a Judge who preserves justice. One being in all the universe deserves all glory and all praise; therefore, “Praise the Lord!”
In the way God has created the world, treated His people, commanded His praise, intricately specified worship practices, and judged the disobedient, He has sought His fame, glory, and honor. The Old Testament, then, reveals to us God, who cares deeply for how He is worshiped.
Worship in the New Testament
Worship in the New Testament
The God who deeply cares how He is worshiped—as revealed in the Old Testament—is the God who takes great care to teach Christians how to worship in the New Testament. The nature of Christian worship, as well as the activities of Christian worship, are explicitly set forth in the gospels and in the epistles of Paul.
Christian worship is spiritual and truthful.
As Jesus dialogues with a sinful Samaritan woman, their views on worship begin to contrast with one another. She is preoccupied with matters of genealogy and geography. The right lineage (“our father Jacob,” ) and location (“our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,” ) are the criteria she emphasizes for right worship. However, Jesus contests these notions and twice points to “spirit” and “truth” as the standards for God-honoring worship ().
Worshiping in “spirit” implies that proper praise involves the affections, the emotions, the desires, and the will. No longer does worship primarily revolve around physical acts, such as animal sacrifices.
Worshiping in “truth” centralizes praise in Jesus Christ. He is the one who provides access to God the Father (). Apart from Jesus Christ—and the truthful good news about his deity, incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming—worship lacks credibility and truthfulness.
Worshiping in “truth” centralizes praise in Jesus Christ. He is the one who provides access to God the Father (). Apart from Jesus Christ—and the truthful good news about His deity, incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming—worship lacks credibility and truthfulness.
Christian worship is purposeful.
The apostle Paul operates from this principle as he instructs the church at Corinth about worship. In corporate worship, Paul in his own practice sought to sing with his mind (his understanding) and his spirit (). This means Christian worship is not a freewheeling experience that concerns itself only with moving and stirring, spontaneous responses. Christian worship is equally an intellectual activity—one in which believers acknowledge, confess, and profess (biblical) truth. By engaging the mind and the spirit in worship, Christians edify one another and testify to the truth before unbelievers. By purposefully addressing mind and spirit, Christians imitate God, who is not a “God of disorder” (), and they do all things “in a fitting and orderly way” (verse 40).
Christian worship is congregational.
The New Testament in pattern and precept defines worship in the context of the local church. The early post-Pentecost church gathered frequently to receive teaching, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and pray (). Though the number of believers in Jerusalem was significant (three thousand, according to ), the congregation still gathered in unison, though doing so required a large public venue (Solomon’s Colonnade, ). New Testament commands for worship often imply the participation of the entire local congregation. For instance, the commands to sing to one another (; ) involve the whole congregation in encouraging one another.
The New Testament often includes commands that indicate what God expects to occur in Christian worship.
An expectation for all Christians is to regularly gather for worship ().
These gatherings are the context for gospel ministers to fulfill their charge of preaching God’s word (; ).
The New Testament depicts and expects churches to have an active corporate prayer life, which includes supplications for other believers (), ministers (), and civil authorities ().
Churches are commanded to sing when they gather (; ).
The reading of God’s word is a command repeated in the New Testament (; ).
The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper form an important part of the church’s gathering, with baptism constituting the mission of the church () and the Lord’s Supper enduring until Christ’s return ().
All of these commands ought to inform and shape the worship practices of local churches. God has carefully taught believers how to worship when they gather together.
Applying a Biblical Theology of Worship
Applying a Biblical Theology of Worship
A summary of the Old Testament’s teaching on worship is that God cares deeply how He is worshiped, and
A summary of the New Testament’s teaching on worship is that God has specifically instructed believers on how to worship Him.
Christian ministers must understand and apply these principles as they oversee their local congregations. These principles give church leaders (YOU MEN) the theological vision needed for planning and leading worship.
These two summary statements blend well with one another. If God cares deeply how He is worshiped and if God has given us specific instructions on worshiping Him, then Christians ought to prioritize these commands in their worship. When churches gather
The preaching and reading of God’s word
Congregational singing, and the
Practice of the ordinances are essential.
These practices are the means that:
Number 1. God has devised and ordained for glorifying Himself in the local church.
Number 2. The right use of these means in the church’s worship strengthens believers. Furthermore,
Number 3. Intentional, orderly worship best communicates the gospel to unbelievers who have gathered with the congregation ().
[IN THAT ORDER]
A wise way for applying these biblical principles and prioritizing these commands is what has often been called the regulative principle. God’s word gives us precise parameters for worship. The New Testament, in particular, regulates worship. What it commands Christians to do in their gatherings ought to be the substance and sum of congregational worship. God is eager for His glory; He would not leave any essentials for the worship of His name unrevealed.
As a pastor, I love these doctrines from God’s word and desire to teach our congregation to love them also. Only in this doctrinally rich context will the application of these principles flourish.