Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Who's in the House?

In every local church I have attended, the consensus teaching was that the Lord was present when gathered together for worship.  I wonder, though, if this wonderful truth of Scripture is effectively denied by how corporate worship is conducted.  What has God promised?  What are we confessing by our practice?

God Dwells Among His People: Past, Present, Future
Throughout the wilderness wanderings of Israel, the pillar of cloud went before the people, leading the way and demonstrating visually that the Lord was among his people (Exod 40:36-38).  Later, as the people prepared to enter Canaan, God promised to place his name at a specific location for worship (Deut 12:5-7).  There the tabernacle would be erected, and God would dwell in the midst of the cherubim above the mercy seat.  Later, the Lord anointed the temple with his presence after Solomon’s dedication (2 Chron 7:1-3) wherein the glory dwelt until it was ultimately removed (Eze 10:4, 18-19).  The promise of this presence was reaffirmed as Jesus explained to the twelve the indwelling and abiding presence of each member of the triune God: Father, Son (Matt 18:20; 28:20), and Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul reinforced the indwelling presence in a corporate sense in writing to the church at Corinth:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:16-17)
Lastly, we have the promise from the throne of God at the end of the age:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Rev 21:3)
If God has promised his presence as they meet together, one would expect a significant measure of respect in the conduct of worship in similar fashion to the command given to Israel: “You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Lev 19:30).  Currently, the sanctuary of God on earth is not a physical structure, but in the corporate gathering of his people.  How we conduct themselves in this gathering directly reflects our understanding of who is being honored and where the honoree is in proximity to the gathering.

Common Evangelical Practice
For the past six years my home assembly has had a regular format that I have discovered is quite common among non-denominational groups: opening song(s), announcements, special missions/ministry update or semi-monthly Lord’s Supper, more singing with a scripture reading, sermon, closing song.

How are announcements worship?  I do not say that these are unimportant.  Members (and visitors to an extent) should be kept abreast of pertinent information concerning the business or administration of the local church.  This needs to be disseminated.  My question has to do with placement in the worship meeting.  Listen to whomever leads singing immediately after this break, “Let’s continue our worship with….”  We acknowledge the worship was interrupted.  In effect, we are saying “Sorry, God.  Our business is more important than yours.”  With all the means of communication at our disposal, why must this occur during worship?

Missions or ministry updates are of greater import, since they deal with the work of the gospel, but can we call this worship?  When the update is given, who is the focus?  It is the missionary or ministry leader.  Should not the focus be the Lord Jesus?  Certainly updates are needed: it is good, important information.  We can rejoice in the work being accomplished or rally behind the need, but should we interrupt what is set aside for the Lord of Glory to make it known?

The Lord’s Supper (or Communion, Breaking of Bread, Eucharistic meal) is of vital importance in worship since it derives from and points to the completed work of redemption on the cross by Jesus to our behalf.  Why do we not celebrate this every week?  In our assembly, someone has a devotional that precedes the eating of the elements.  The comments are mixed because the men sharing them have varied understanding of whom they should be speaking.  Sometimes it is a personal anecdote leading to the bread and cup, sometimes a thought from scripture.  And then there are times when you wonder what the devotional has to do with Christ at all.  I commend the effort put forth, but I cannot help but feel that what is shared would be more pointed and intentional if the speaker saw Jesus sitting in the front row, because He is.

The proclamation of God’s word should be clear, distinct, and correct.  We expect this of our pastors; we should expect the same of our song lyrics.  Last Sunday we had a new song introduced (“Always Enough” by Kare Jobe) that spoke of how good I feel about an ambiguous deity named “God” and how he/she/it satisfies me.  Why?  Who was being worshiped?  You can’t tell from the lyrics.  Why introduce it?  The closing song, on the other hand, was “Victory in Jesus.”  Here is the first verse:
I heard an old, old story how a Savior came from glory;
How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me.
I heard about His groaning of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.
That will preach!  With its simple melody this one verse delivered a richer, deeper doctrinal content than the entire song preceding it.  When we sing, do we understand that we are song to and about him who dwells in the midst of and with his people?

Do It Right
We are called to receive from our great God and Savior Jesus Christ and return praise, but not as though he is far off that we should go get him or try to build a bridge to his home.  He is with us.  Act like it, and thank him because he is present.

Psalm 75:1
We give thanks to you, O God;
        we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.

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