Monday, March 27, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 7


Because of the radical typological fulfillment that occurred in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the corporate worship that was proper in the Old Covenant may actually be improper in the New Covenant. Though animal sacrifice was a required stipulation of the Law, it would be blasphemous to offer an animal sacrifice in view of the atoning efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Likewise, since the local/universal church is the true Temple of God, corporate worship cannot be confined to a geographical location. How then should the New Covenant community of faith deal with the circumstances such as architecture, furniture, and the style of music, in corporate worship? The following are broad principles that consider the global breadth of the church but are specifically applied to the North American church.

Given the delocalization corporate worship, where the church worships is not as important as how the church worships. Certainly the corporate worship of a local church is not any more acceptable because they meet in a cathedral rather than in a home, so long as they worship in spirit and in truth (as discussed above). Much thought and care should go into the design and arrangement into the space where corporate worship takes place so that it promotes participation and spiritual formation. What must be guarded against is the notion that where the church gathers is “sacred space.” This is a return to the shadows of Old Covenant worship. How can any physical space be more sacred than where the Holy Spirit dwells—in the believers themselves, corporately and individually? If a congregation decides to meet in or decides to build a “church”, the architectural design should be thought out theologically as well as pragmatically. As a result, those who are gifted artistically have opportunity to exercise their gifts.

Furniture and Art
In the same manner that “sacred space” detracts from the typological fulfillment in both Christ and his people, so our choice of furniture may also. Since the Lord’s Supper depicts the ratification of the New Covenant with all the people of God, then its location and shape should represent this important truth. Priestly vestments and clerical dress potentially obscure the priesthood of all believers. Granted, some sort of distinction between the pastoral staff/church leadership may be necessary, but it must be done so with these theological truths in mind. Even the symbolic value of the Geneva robes ought to be re-evaluated considering the largely forgotten historical context of the preacher as “scholar.” Other traditional furniture such as the pulpit, chairs for the presiding church leaders/elders, and congregational seating are largely matters of preference.

The use of art in the church (buildings) has been hotly contested since the Reformation, leaving many artists disillusioned with some protestant denominations. The Emergent church represents a movement to reclaim the arts, both ancient and contemporary, in worship. Unfortunately, the movement seems to have no organizing, biblical principle to determine the theological appropriateness of their inclusion except the centrality of beauty.[1] During any given gathering, one might be encouraged to venerate icons, light candles, and/or experience a prayer-labyrinth. Therefore, the historical-theological scenarios behind the art and/or artistic practices must be considered when employing them in any church context. Now more than ever, a theology beauty and aesthetics is needed that takes into account the entire drama of redemptive history, the controversies of church history, and the needs of the local congregation

As mentioned in the introduction, our church-culture’s obsession with music reveals a widespread ignorance of the function of corporate worship in relation to God’s total plan and purpose for his people. Just as an overemphasis on the Word or the Table can detract from the continuity of the other parts of the service, so the current attitude of “music equals worship” actually detracts from the potential spiritual formation and edification that should take place when the church is gathered. The debate between “traditional” vs. “contemporary” is misguided and has resulted in sinful divisions, the tyranny of personal preference, and individualism. It is normally assumed that since the New Testament speaks so little about the style of corporate worship music that there is unlimited freedom. Nevertheless, whether a church chooses to adapt mainly a classical-traditional, contemporary, or blended style, the lyrics and accompaniment should serve the overall flow of the four-fold service and encourage participation. A wisely arranged blend of “old and new” music is perhaps the best decision since it keeps an eye on the past and a pulse on the present workings of the Holy Spirit. In addition, when special music and choirs are utilized, the appearance and attitude of performance should be guarded against. This also applies to all musicians. Finally, the congregation is the chief instrument of praise. Indeed, as we offer our tribute to our Redeemer King in the form of unified, vocal praise, we depict on earth the ultimate heavenly gathering when all the covenant people of God and the hosts of angels will confess:

"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
~Revelation 7:10, 12~

[1] See especially Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).


jason said...


thank you for posting this series. Sunday mornging I am going to use this benediction that you posted on my blog. Thanks for sharing this with me.

May the God of love, who shared his love,strengthen us in our love for others.May the Son who shared his life grant us grace, that we might share our life. And may the Holy Spirit dwelling in us empower us to be only and always for others. Amen.

I pray that it will be a fitting ending to our time of worship and that God will be glorified in us always.

Josh said...

Good word, Jason. It's been refreshing to stay connected, albeit via our blogs. Nevertheless, I count you as a dear friend and colleague in ministry. Thanks for the encouragement.