Worship and Theology: Boundaries and Fences; Staffs and Clefs (3)
As we embark on this conversation, it may be helpful to be clear and narrow in our scope. When anyone brings up the topic of worship, hackles go up and some people immediately take a defensive position. Rich and I want this discussion to be specific rather than vague.
Scotty Smith, a Presbyterian pastor from Tennessee, spoke at a workshop at the Gospel Coalition Confrence this past April. He was careful to distinguish between “services of worship” and “worship services”. This was a helpful distinction, but still lacks a bit of clarity. For the purpose of these blogs and this one in particular, let us set the terms Services of Worship and Worshipful services. Services of Worship are the time we spend on Sunday morning gathered together with our local bodies to express our Worship to the Covenant Lord. Worshipful service is any good and profitable thing we do which brings glory to that same Lord. These themes flow from the pages of scripture from start to finish.
While in Eden our forefathers experienced both services of worship (when they walked with God in the cool of the day) and worshipful services as they carried out the commands of the Cultural Mandate (sometimes called the Covenant of Eden or Covenant of works). They were not simply prohibited from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they were positively commanded to be fruitful and multiply and push the borders of the garden outwards (Gen 1:28-30).
Later as redemptive history moved on, we find Moses and the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain. Here they are given the Ten Commandments by Charlton Heston. These Ten Commandments deal essentially with services of worship and worshipful service. The first four commands instruct Israel in her behavior towards God (or her services of worship). The next six commands deal with the way the people are to treat one another in everything from sexuality to business. Here God is dealing with their worshipful services.
Later still, Christ meets a Samaritan woman by a well. After a lengthy discussion she tries to bait him into declaring one place of services of worship illegitimate and another approved. Jesus masterfully navigates this complex and culturally loaded issue and declares that a time is coming where worshipers will offer services of worship all over the world and offer them in “Spirit and Truth”.
Paul and the writer of Hebrews pick these themes up as well. Paul speaks of our worshipful services in Romans when he calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. The author of Hebrews weaves the tow themes together seamlessly. He speaks of the excellencies of coming to heavenly Jerusalem as opposed to Sinai then urges us to offer acceptable services of worship. (Hebrews 12:18-29) He then launches into a treatment of our worshipful service, tying them together in chapter 13:15-16.
The scriptures even give us a peak into the world that is to come. Revelation continues the dance between services of worship with worship service, giving us pictures of both celestial services of worship and new earthly worshipful service.
So where does that leave us, to be more specific, where does this leave this series of blogs. Rich and I will be focusing on services of worship. We both understand the importance and biblical significance of worshipful services, but are not seeking to address it here. We want to deal with those specific activities that are practiced on Sunday mornings, the world over. The Church has put an emphasis on these since the earliest times. From the Hebrews author urging members not to neglect coming together, to the significance of the mass in the middle ages to the importance the reformers put on the Sunday service to the very models of ministry taught and used today, Sunday morning services of worship are a centerpiece to modern Christianity and we are seeking to address what goes on in them.