December 24, 2002
There is a perception among many in the Body of Christ that only FIVE "acts of worship" are authorized in the so-called "worship service." These are: Singing, Praying, Preaching/Teaching, Giving and the Lord's Supper. It is assumed by some that any act other than these five, no matter how noble in and of itself, is forbidden in the "worship service" as "unauthorized." I believe this is much too narrow a view of worship.
One of the best definitions of worship I have heard is: Worship is the expression of the adoration of one's heart! It is the demonstrative outpouring and overflowing of heartfelt love for God. Is such forever limited and restricted to FIVE "official" actions when God's children assemble themselves together? It is argued by some that there may well be additional acceptable "worshipful" expressions and actions performed individually, but only FIVE are approved by God when His children ASSEMBLE themselves corporately. Is this true? May I suggest the following as likely additions to the five "official" acts of worship for the assembled saints:
ONE --- Church Discipline. Some may well argue that this is hardly an act of "worship." However, maintaining the purity of the One Body for which our Lord gave His life is indeed a worshipful act. It is an expression of devotion and love. It reflects our valuation of the purity of that Body, and our devotion to its maintenance. Maintaining its purity is indeed an expression of the devotion of our hearts and lives to our God and to His holiness. What greater expression of devotion to deity can one conceive than an active and corporate resolve to keep the Body pure so as to present to Him a bride spotless and undefiled? This is indeed a worshipful action on the part of the people ... not only individually, but collectively.
In 1 Cor. 5:4 Paul urges the saints in Corinth, "in the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus," to take corrective measures against one of their number who was defiling the Body, and remove this person from their midst. These disciples were being challenged to display the devotion of their hearts not only to their God and to His will, but also their devotion to the one who was in need of repentance and to the purity and sanctity of the One Body. By taking such action in the assembly, they would be expressing a collective worshipful attitude toward their God. By virtually any workable definition of "worship" this action can thus be seen to be an expression of that heartfelt devotion & praise of God's eternal purpose.
TWO --- Eating Together. "They were taking their meals TOGETHER with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:46-47). In the ancient Middle-Eastern societies sharing a meal was often viewed as a sacred event. As Moses, Aaron, Nadab & Abihu, and the 70 elders of Israel came before God on the mountain to worship, they "ate and drank" together in His presence (Exodus 24:1-11). These times of sharing food ("breaking bread") were essential parts of the fellowship and worship of the early disciples. In our current society such occasions are not esteemed quite the same as they were by these ancient peoples. The early church, however, understood the value of eating together as the family of God. It was not only to be a sharing of food, but also a celebration of the unity, harmony and oneness they had experienced in Christ Jesus. These truly were meals in which God was praised. They were worshipful occasions.
Paul, in 1 Cor. 11, seems to link the Lord's Supper with such a meal. Peter refers to them as "love feasts." Paul says, "when you come together to eat..." (1 Cor. 11:33), thus signifying the continuation of this time assembled together in this worshipful activity. Acts 20:11 shows us that a meal was likely shared by those who had assembled on the Lord's Day in Troas. Thus, it seems rather obvious that the NT documents validate disciples assembling together to share a special love feast with one another, and in so doing they expressed the devotion of their hearts to their God for having brought them together into ONE BODY. It is tragic that this "act of worship" was so abused during the early centuries that it died out as an expression of worship. That should never have happened. However, there is no reason its original intent and purpose can't be restored today.
THREE --- Baptism. The immersion of a disciple into Christ Jesus does not require an assembly of all the local believers, obviously. One can be baptized anywhere at any time. Indeed, immediate response is preferable to waiting. However, there are times when one may be moved to respond to the call of our Lord during an assembly of believers. When such a one comes and confesses the Lord and is immersed, there is rejoicing among the assembled believers and praise unto God for this lost one who is now brought into the family. Just as the angels rejoice in heaven, so do the saints on earth pour out their hearts in expressions of adoration to the Lord for His saving grace in the life of this new child. In many congregations with which I've been affiliated we will immediately assemble ourselves around this person and hug them and affirm our love & support for them. Is this not worshipful expression? Is this not praising our Father as we embrace His newborn child? As we behold this child do we not glorify the One who begot him/her? I fail to see how such an event fails to be "worship" for all involved. It is indeed an "act of worship" in the assembly of the saints.
FOUR --- Restoration & Reaffirmation. Along the same lines as the above, what about the wayward child who comes before the assembled saints and confesses sin and asks for forgiveness? Is not our Father praised and glorified when the assembled brethren rush forward and embrace this prodigal and visibly evidence the Father's love and acceptance toward him/her? Time and time again I have witnessed in the assembly this restoration and reaffirmation of a child who has found his/her way home. We most certainly express the devotion of our hearts to our God, as well as to the prodigal, when we embrace such a one. Remember, Jesus said that to the extent we do it to even the least of one of these little ones, we do it to HIM. Our expressions of love and devotion to one another, therefore, are also expressions of love and devotion unto Him .... and that is "worship." We offer up worship unto Him when we embrace one another in the love of the Father. This should happen in every assembly!!
FIVE --- "Business Meetings." I employ this term simply for lack of a better one. There are times when God's people assemble themselves together to prayerfully plan the work of the Lord in their area. We need to count the cost and be about the "business" of the Father in our communities. This requires planning, purpose, wisdom, coordination, goals and the like. When God's people assemble together to prayerfully discuss how best to serve Him in their community, is this too not all done to the praise, honor and glory of the Father and with devotion to His will for our lives? Is this, then, not a worshipful expression of assembled saints?
Paul says, "I urge you therefore, 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" (Rom. 12:1). I believe this is primarily directed to individual responsibility for living godly in the present world, but could it not also (since he addresses it to the "brethren") refer to our corporate responsibility? We as a BODY must also strive to fulfill our spiritual service of worship, and this, in part, is to "prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (vs. 2). Is it not consistent with a worshipful attitude, then, to assemble ourselves to prayerfully purpose and plan how best to accomplish this goal?
Well, these are but five additional corporate "acts of worship" that I would propose which could be linked with the "official" five. There are obviously more that could be discussed. Some groups, for example, regard foot washing as a prescribed "act of worship" for the assembly. Would we deny them this worshipful expression if that is their true conviction? I know of one congregation, as another example, where almost all the women assemble themselves together for quilting parties, and they make quilts to give to the poor of the community in the name of Jesus (in the spirit of Tabitha/Dorcas --- Acts 9:36f). Is this also not praising and honoring their God corporately in charitable deeds? Is this not also worshipful expression among assembled saints?
But, I will let these few suffice to demonstrate that to limit and restrict the "acts of worship" for the assembled believers of a community to a mere FIVE "official" acts is simply inconsistent with a sound exegesis of God's Word. Genuine worship involves every aspect of our very being, and it occurs daily. Whether individually or corporately, we express the devotion and adoration of our hearts to our Father in many ways. Let us never limit love!!!!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I am on break from seminary. As you recall I corresponded with you back in May. I just looked at your Reflections --- awesome!!! There are people like you and Rubel Shelly and Max Lucado who are actually allowing the Holy Spirit to direct your lives. I believe the Holy Spirit is working through you and a few others for reformation. The people who are in the Spirit desire reform, those who are holding on to tradition at all costs will want to separate from those being nurtured by the Holy Spirit.
It has finally come to me why I am so bothered by the CofC. A large majority of people in the CofC feel that their denomination is more important than a personal relationship with God. I do hope that you, Rubel, Cecil Hook and others can make a change. Don't the hardliners know or even care how many people are leaving the CofC? Their work is so hate-filled that I do not understand how anyone would be drawn to Christ through their writings. However, there are those who realize that it is God they need to be worshipping instead of the Church of Christ. May the Holy Spirit continue to work through you and may you always be as open to the Holy Spirit as you are now.
From a Reader in Kentucky:
I just wanted to add my name to the list of Christians who are encouraging you in these Reflections articles. I have agreed 100% with all that you say in them. I now recognize that unity does not come in conformity (agreeing 100% of the time on everything), but comes in accepting God's Son, Jesus Christ. I have been extremely busy lately, and have been meaning to write you ever since the first issue of Reflections. I will catch you up later on how my family and I have been doing since we made the change from the man-made plan that the Non-Institutional Church of Christ told us about and started focusing on Jesus the man.
Keep up the good work, brother! Those of us whose desire is to focus on Christ need to do more work (like you) in getting out the word.
From a Reader in Texas:
I am writing to let you know I share your concern for the Body of Christ. I am 69 years of age, and was raised by parents and kin who were for the most part affiliated with the Churches of Christ. The early part of my life and my Christian walk was in churches of the Non-Class persuasion. I wanted to share with you that unity has been a chief concern for me during my entire walk with the Lord, and really has been the main thrust of the ministry in which I have been involved. Years ago I reached a decision that can be perhaps best expressed in the words of a dear brother by the name of Carl Ketcherside. With Carl, I came to recognize that "wherever God has a son or daughter, there I have a brother or sister, and my determination is to openly acknowledge them and honor them as such."
I am sure you realize that people must have their hearts changed in order to escape their sectarian and separatist ways. I have reviewed your Reflections on restoration. I must say that if you are wrong in what you have written, you've got company. Finding you expressing my own mind and spirit, I therefore can only commend your insight and applaud your ability and readiness to articulate your understanding of this important subject. One problem we have had in the past is a shyness on the part of many "pulpit types" to declare what they have known to be true regarding our need to accept other brothers/sisters not in our "camp." Thank God some are lately receiving the spiritual gift of boldness. Hang in there, brother! As near as I can tell, you are telling it as it is.
From a Reader in Nairobi, Kenya:
Your Ministry/Site has blessed me, and I cannot afford to miss it in my daily walk with the Lord. I am in Kenya and hope to invite you into this land to preach the gospel of deliverance. I am serving God in the Ministry he called me unto after saving me. God is faithful. I am 22 years old, single and serving God in my full capacity.
From a Reader in South Dakota:
I'm rating your site as a 10 because it promises to be one of the most worthwhile sites I've ever visited and I plan to visit as often as possible and do some reading. God bless you as you continue in your ministry of spreading God's love and working to bring unity where there is now so much division. May our Lord's Name be glorified in all that you do.
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