Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 5

NEW TESTAMENT WORSHIP (cont.)

How then did the New Covenant community worship? To begin with, the majority of all cultic language describes worship as an entire life-orientation, rather than the activities of corporate worship. Christians are exhorted to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1). Thankful lips are considered “a sacrifice of praise to God” that is to be offered like incense (Heb 13:14), and good works are “sacrifices [with which] God is pleased” (Heb 13:15). The church is the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16)—the Mount Zion that stands in contrast to Mount Sinai of the Old Covenant (Heb 12:22), a “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9), and the “New Temple” (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5). D. A. Carson notes wisely, “This transformation of language is inescapable and is tied to the shift from type to antitype, from promise to reality, from shadow, to substance.” [1]

However, this radical language-shift does not nullify the need to meet together, but in fact it necessitates it because of our covenant stipulations to our Redeemer King and our fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God. As Peterson avers, “It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship of the New Covenant.” [2] Indeed, 1 Cor 14 speaks the most specifically concerning the corporate worship and even lists many of the elements common to their meetings: singing of hymns, teaching, proclaiming a revelation, speaking in tongues, or giving interpretation. In addition to this, we must also include celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20-34), the prayers of and for the people, the public reading and preaching of the Scriptures, and tithes and offerings (1 Cor 16:1-4). [3] What is peculiar about the early Christian gatherings, however, is the central importance of edification over and against religious activity itself. The apostle Paul concludes that in the midst of doing all of these things, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26). Likewise, the Christians were not to neglect meeting together for the express purpose of encouraging one another (Heb 10:25). There need not be a divorce between worship and edification; rather, edification is one of the chief ways the church gathered can glorify God. Moreover, the gathered assembly is ultimately eschatological, pointing to that triumphant gathering before the throne of God in the new heavens and new earth: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25). Because the Kingdom of God has only been inaugurated, the church must encourage one another to remain faithful to God in the midst of conflicting loyalties until the day of consummation at the return of Christ. Until then, our corporate worship ought to reflect the same reverence and confidence displayed by the heavenly assembly throughout the throne-room worship scenes in Revelation and so fuel our passion to live lives of faithful witness. In the first Exodus, the Israelites were delivered from the tyranny of Pharaoh by the servant of God, Moses, and eventually entered the Promised Land; in the Second Exodus, the end times’ people of God are delivered from the tyranny of the beast, and ultimately Satan, by the Servant of God, the Lamb and will stand before the very throne of God, to inherit the New Heavens and New Earth—the fulfillment of which the Promised Land was but a shadow. On that day we shall all sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb:

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

"Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."

~Rev 15:3-4~

ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF BIBLICAL, CORPORATE WORSHIP

Given the covenantal structure implicit and explicit in all of Scripture, the following “organizing principle” is suggested: Our individual and corporate worship is our tribute to God because the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus Christ inaugurated the New Covenant of which we are made members by the grace of God. More specifically, during the communal act of engaging with God, we come together to meet with our Lord who has redeemed us, called us into covenant with himself, and commissions us to be his servant-witnesses. In doing so, we celebrate and renew our covenant obligations, reminding and exhorting one another that we are a called-out community with responsibilities to God and each other and a mission to the world.

FOOTNOTES:
[1] Carson, 39.
[2] Peterson, 220.
[3] Edmund Clowney, “Presbyterian Worship,” Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 117, provides the most succinct summary of what took place when the church was gathered: “As in the synagogue, corporate prayer is offered (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim 2:1; 1 Cor 14:16); Scripture is read (1 Tim 4:13; 1 The 5:27; 2 The 3:14; Col 4:15, 16; 2 Pet 3:15, 16) and expounded in preaching (1 Tim 4:13; cf. Luke 4:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2. There is a direct shift from the synagogue to the gathering of the church (Acts 18:7, 11; cf. 19:8-10). The teaching of the word is also linked with table fellowship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; cf. vv. 20, 25, 28). The songs of the new covenant people both praise God and encourage one another (Eph 5:19; Col 3:15; 1 Cor 14:15, 26; cf. 1 Tim 3:16; Rev 5:9-13; 11:17f; 15:3-4). Giving to the poor is recognized as a spiritual service to God and a Christian form of “sacrifice” (2 Cor 9:11-15; Phil 4:18; Heb 13:16). The reception and distribution of gifts is related to the office of the deacon (Acts 6:1-6; Rom 12:8, 13; cf. Rom 16:1, 2; 2 Cor 8:19-21; Acts 20:4; 1 Cor 16:1-4) and to the gathering of believers (Acts 2:42; 5:2; 1 Cor 16:2). The faith is also publicly confessed (1 Tim 6:12; 1 Pet 3:21; Heb 13:15; cf. 1 Cor 15:1-3). The people receive God’s blessing (2 Cor 13:14; Luke 24:50; cf. Num 6:22-27). The holy kiss of salutation is also commanded (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). The people respond to praise and prayer with the saying of “Amen” (1 Cor 14:16; Rev 5:14; cf. Rom 1:25; 9:5; Eph 3:21 etc). The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are explicitly provided for. (1 Cor 11:23-27; Mat 28:19-21). Confession is linked with baptism (1 Pet 3:21); and a prayer of thanksgiving with the breaking of the bread (1 Cor 11:24).”

6 comments:

jason said...

Josh you said,
"Our individual and corporate worship is our tribute to God because the substitutionary, atoning death of Jesus Christ inaugurated the New Covenant of which we are made members by the grace of God. More specifically, during the communal act of engaging with God, we come together to meet with our Lord who has redeemed us, called us into covenant with himself, and commissions us to be his servant-witnesses. In doing so, we celebrate and renew our covenant obligations, reminding and exhorting one another that we are a called-out community with responsibilities to God and each other and a mission to the world."

This is a wonderful statement about what our corporate worship times are to be. I pray that the community that I am part of will experience this and reflect the God who has reconciled us to himself and placed us in a community that experiences this together in worshiip. Thanks so much for continuing to share your paper. It has been very edifying for me as God continues to shape me as a leader of his people amd as a worshipper of him.

Josh said...

Jason,
You are a Barnabas to me today, brother. Thank you! I deeply desire that my studies will bear fruit in our local churches and that our interaction will only sharpen our thoughts so that we and our people will have a God-entrenched vision for our entire lives. I'd love to hear how things are going in your congregation. Know that you are missed, but always welcome here in New England. If you're ever up this way be sure to let me know. We'd love to have you stay for a while!

Dave said...

great organizing principle my friend. you are writing some gold pieces. call me and let's talk.

corey thomas said...

if the edification of the body is a big part of the corporate gathering then it follows that what we do has the freedom to go beyond the prescriptions in the Bible. i think the precepts set forth in God's Word should be our starting point, but what do we do with other elements we devise that ultimately edify the body but don't really fall in any other category of corporate worship?

some examples would be:
-creative use of instrumental music
-integrating secular or cross-over music
-announcements in the middle of the service
-the soloist
-handbells
-choir
-video
-drama

jason said...

Corey,

I think that part of the regulative principle is that you start with what God has ordained that worship would be and you need to question does this naturally flow out of what God has ordained about worship. It is about living in trust of his provision and leading of us as his people. Not presuming that we can do what we want and expect God to ok it. With that starting place I am not sure that I see problems with what you have listed. Why do you think that these things fall outside of the bounds of acceptable worship?

Josh said...

Good dialogue. What then of the things we do and the things we would like to do during corporate worship that the Bible just doesn't talk about?!

This is the million # question! Jason, you've got it right. Start with the Bible, continue with the Bible, end with the Bible!

Corey, you've got the right heart with your questions about other elements: anything "we devise" must be for the glory of God and the edification of the people of God. The problem comes when the "we devise" part overwhelms or replaces the "thus says the Lord" part. While there is not a clear order of service or even events for gathered worship, there are plenty of things that are listed as examples in the NT, that if we tried to do all of them in one service it would be (for us today) obnoxiously long! Just check out the footnote #3 and all that Clowney lists.

That said, I do believe we have the freedom to include the EXPRESSIONS of the ELEMENTS that you listed: instrumentals, soloists, etc. I would choose to be more legalistic in what I call "elements" and reserve that for what Scripture commands.

Probably one of the best sermon/teaching series that I've heard on the foundational and practical teachings on worship is "Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning" by John Piper. Give it a listen sometime: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/bio/johnpiper.html