In this series of posts, we’ve been exploring some of the foundational elements of worship found in the Bible. In the midst of so much confusion about what “counts” as worship (even the word is used in some pretty misleading ways…yeah, I’m guilty of it too), it’s important to go to God’s revealed Word and find out what he says about our response of love and obedience to him (worship). Today, we’re looking at a big one: The Church.
Of course we can’t talk about the Church sufficiently in one post, so we’ll just have to hit some of the highlights. [It’s important to note that most of the time “The Church” (capital “C”) is used to represent the Church Universal, while “church” is used to refer to the local congregation. The local congregation is the immediate expression of the global Church.] A proper ecclesiology (view or belief about The Church) is foundational to our life of worship.
Much of what we learn about the formation of the Early Church can be found in the book of Acts. In Acts 2 the Spirit falls (as promised – see Joel 2:28) during Peter’s first big sermon and thousands are converted. What follows is the unfolding of the spread of the gospel across the known world amidst great persecution. But we need to be cautious lest we be tempted to look only at Acts and think that what we find is a complete description of “the early church.” It’s important to remember that the book of Acts describes the events that catalyzed the birth of the church, the “spark that lit the forest on fire.” Much of what we read in the rest of the New Testament (such as the pastoral Epistles) helps to expand our view, telling us a lot about the development of the early church (as they dealt with all kinds of problems). But there’s more to it than that (just hear me out!). In order to see how The Church developed across the centuries, a little bit of history of what came after the New Testament helps tremendously. Other historical accounts of early church practice (such as the Didache) can really help us see what the Early Church did as it grew and developed.
But alas, that’s too big to cover in this post (but check it out – some info here, some of the text here). Here I just want to outline what I believe to be four important ways that The Church helps shape us as worshippers:
1. The Church is the continuing incarnation of Christ. Christ came as the incarnation of the Father to the world. Now we, as The Church, continue that presence of preaching, healing, and “bringing the Kingdom” (Matt. 3:2). What Christ was as God’s representative in the world, the Church continues to be by the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. The Church holds the promise of God’s presence. This is a big one. Not only is the Church the context in which the widely-used phrase “where two or more are gathered, I am there in the midst” (Matt. 18:20) occurs, but The Church stewards the means of grace for the world. The Church is charged with the proclamation of the Word (1 Tim. 4:4), the administration of the sacraments of baptism and eucharist (1 Cor. 11, Acts 8:36-37), and the unique power of God on display through prayer and prophecy (1 Cor. 14:24-25). The Church is the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), the very place where God dwells. As members of The Church, both globally and as we gather locally, we become something more than we could ever be on our own.
3. Corporate worship is the counterbalance to personal worship. There is a lot of talk these days (especially in the songs we sing and the language we use) about having a personal relationship with Christ. This emphasis comes from the revival period, where members of a predominantly Christian (or was it?) society were challenged to make their faith their own. That time has passed, and we need to return again to communal faith that complements our personal devotion. Personal commitment to Christ is important, but it is only part of the equation. Our corporate worship informs our private worship and vice versa. You can’t have one without the other. I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as a strictly “me and Jesus” Christianity. Following Jesus means we become part of his Body (The Church). The “we” is greater than the “me.”
4. The Church is forms us, orients us, and reorients us. Not only are we shaped by our acceptance into this community of faith called The Church, but we are oriented as to what really matters in life. We are freed up to love others (John 13:35), serve (Gal. 5:13) and to embrace suffering (1 Peter 4:12-13) and even death because of the power of what Christ has done to ransom us. The Church also serves as a course-corrector when we are wayward. Accountability, correction, counsel and encouragement all flow from being a part of this community called The Church. Where would we be without it?
I hope these brief points have spurred some thoughts for you. If so, I’d love to hear them. Let me leave you with a challenge to change the way you view the “you”s of scripture. More often than not, the word translated “you” in our English Bible is a plural pronoun and not a singular one, addressing the corporate body of believers rather than the individual reader. Isn’t it funny how we typically don’t read it that way? It may be best to think of what we here in the South would say in that case: “Y’all,” or “you all.” Christ desires to purify for himself a bride (Eph. 5:26) made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 5:9). Let’s remember that and focus on the “we” as we work to see his Kingdom come. What a joy that we have a place to belong and that we get to do this together.