Sunday, July 26, 2015

E8. The Church has worship as its most important and central task.

This is the eighth post on the Church in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit on the Spirit and the Church was on the Holy Spirit.
The Church has worship as its most important and central task.

1. It goes without saying that the most important thing in the entire universe is God. Nothing else is possible by definition, for to be the one God is to be the most important thing.

God is the source of the universe. The universe could not exist without God, but God could exist without the universe. Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition, of course, believe that God values the creation. The creation is important because God loves it and wants good for it. Every human being is important because God loves it. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without God's notice because God loves the creation (Matt. 10:29).

Accordingly, to say God is the most important thing in the universe does not mean that we devalue anything in the creation. It is merely to put the creation into proper perspective. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, "The chief purpose of humanity is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

2. The primary function of both the Church and us as individuals is thus to worship God. It could not be any other way for God is the most important thing. To worship is to give greater honor to something than oneself. To worship God is to give him honor as the most glorious and significant thing in the universe. It is to recognize in our words and actions that God is God. It is to bow before him not only as the sovereign king of the universe, but to give him the honor, glory, and praise that only he has and deserves.

This is a glory and honor that only he has. Nothing can compare. Nothing deserves or should have our loyalty and devotion more than he should. No loyalty or devotion we have can conflict with our loyalty and devotion to him. All other loyalties and devotions must fit within our loyalty and devotion to him. This is the greatest commandment of all, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30; Deut. 6:5).

Love in this context is not a feeling, but a commitment of intention and action. It is choice to value God above all else. Such love is not possible without the power of God through the Holy Spirit.

Such love is not only individual but corporate. We as the Church commit to honor God in all we do and think. Our corporate worship is a regular recommitment of us as the Church to honor God above all else and to act with love toward him in all we do and think.

3. Accordingly, there is no greater function that the Church has than to worship God. This follows naturally from the fact that God is the most important thing. True, God does not want us just to sit around all the time and just think about him and praise Him. He also wants us also to worship and adore him by the things we do in his name in the church and the world.

However, we cannot lose sight that all the things we may do in the name of God in the church and the world are ultimately expressions of praise to God as God. Our lives, our service, our mission are all expressions of worship to God as the most important thing. And we must regularly stop simply to praise him, both as individuals and as the Church. We must set aside regular time and space, "sacred time and space," to do nothing but to worship him.

4. We can certainly worship God with our minds, but our minds are only part of who we are as human beings. It is from our "hearts," our deepest being, that we most centrally worship God. Are our wills aligned with God? Are we committed to God? Do we adore God? Do we long for God?

Human feelings are fickle, and are not sure indicators of our relationship with God. But it is nonetheless natural that we would feel a longing for God in worship. It is no surprise that music--singing and instruments--have been part of the worship of God for as long as time can remember. Dancing and physical demonstrations have often accompanied the worship of God in history.

The power of ritual is not to be underestimated. The power to tap into the human subconscious by actions that are connected with the worship of God and with our spiritual past goes far beyond mere ideas. This relates not only to our spiritual past as individuals, which in itself is immensely powerful, the emotional memory of previous encounters with God. It also relates to our corporate spiritual past, actions that Christians have done for millennia or even that go back into the distant history of Israel.

5. The Church thus sets aside regular time to meet together in worship. Since the earliest days after Christ, we have primarily met together on the Lord's Day, Sunday, for this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Every Sunday when the Church gathers together, it remembers that Christ is risen from the dead in victory and is enthroned at God's right hand as king of all.

This is what the word church means in Greek. It is an assembly, a gathering. We meet to encounter God and to hear any word he might have for us. We meet to fellowship and encourage one another. But the most important thing we gather to do is to worship him. The visible church assembles to worship.

We will gather to worship God and the lamb for all eternity. "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12:22-24).

Revelation pictures a similar scene: "At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! ... And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, 'Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.' And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.'" (Rev. 4:2, 8-11)

We thus pray, not only to ask requests of the Lord for ourselves and others. We pray, not only to thank God for the things he has done for us. We pray to glorify God as God. We pray to honor him as the most important thing in the universe. We pray to express our love and longing for him. Praising God is the most important thing we do in prayer. And we pray, not only as individuals, but we pray as the Church assembled together visibly on earth, just as we will pray in assembly in the kingdom of God, just as the angels praise God now around his heavenly throne.

6. We worship God not only in the time we set aside in assembly to worship him. Our entire lives should be an expression of our devotion to God and of him as our first priority in life. We can thus glorify God in all we think and do.

"Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17). "Do everything for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Nothing we do should conflict with our devotion to God.

Certainly we glorify and worship God as we participate in the mission of God to redeem the world and see it reconciled to him. Certainly we glorify and worship God as we teach one another and grow in our walk with God. Certainly we glorify and worship God as we fellowship with one another. We worship and glorify God in everything that we do together as the Church.

Certainly we glorify and worship God by presenting our bodies both individually and corporately as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1-2). Certainly we glorify and worship God by not letting the power of Sin rule over our bodies (Rom. 6:12). We glorify and worship God by doing the good we know he wants us to do and by avoiding the evil that grieves him.

But we also can glorify God in the more mundane tasks of our lives by giving him the glory in everything we do. Our work in the world can be an expression of glory to God. Our work can be an act of worship. We can glorify God as we raise our families and invest time in our children and parents. Our relationships in our families can be an expression of worship.

Our relationships with others can be an expression of worship as we serve others and fellowship as God created us to relate to one another as human beings. We can even praise God as we enjoy the pleasures of life and creation that God has made not only for him to enjoy but for us to enjoy as well. Our thanks to God for all the good things we experience naturally lead us to praise him for who he is.

We can thus praise God in everything we do, making our whole life a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

7. We must also recognize that at times things arise in our lives that can compete with God for our ultimate loyalty. Certainly we cannot let anything in our lives contradict our love of God. We cannot always remove the things that tempt us to act against our love of God, but the Spirit can give us power not to act in thought or deed in a way that violates the love of God. If we can remove the sources of temptation, we of course should. But sometimes we cannot and must rely on the Spirit's power to overcome.

At times, however, other things can become "idols." These things may not in themselves contradict the love of God, but we can let them become more important to us than they should be. In the days of Israel, God commanded them to have no other gods above him (Exod. 20:3-5).

We do not make literal idols any more, but we can have figurative idols in our lives. These are little "gods" than compete with our loyalty to the one true God. They can be our possessions. They can be our ambitions. They can be anything that we value too highly. The proper worship of God demands that nothing in our lives compete with him for our loyalty.

The Church has worship as its most important and central task, as does each individual believer.

Next Sunday: E9. The Church participates in God's mission to the world.


Martin LaBar said...

Let's put it this way. I shared your post on Facebook, which is something I do about once a year. Thanks.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Dr. LaBar! That means a lot.