WORSHIP IN THE CONGREGATION
“I perceive that you are a prophet.”
What gave the Samaritan women the clue?
Jesus had just finished, in her own words, “told me everything I ever did.”
Her response? “You guys do it like that in Jerusalem and we do it like this here. And both camps say their way is right. What do you say about that?”
What was the IMMEDIATE ISSUE, when she perceived what kind of man He was? WORSHIP. I wonder if we can climb out of the tiny box we have created for church and hear with fresh ears Jesus’ definition of WORSHIP.
CS Lewis wrote a letter to his friend, Malcolm*, who was debating with Lewis about liturgy (doing church). In that letter, Lewis says, even if unconsciously, the basic reason people gather for church is that there is an outside chance that they will have an encounter with God. Lewis also said that they just tolerate everything else, including all the clever ideas of the pastor and leaders.
John 4:20-25 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.“
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.“
Jesus is He Who will tell us all things and He tells us God is seeking genuine worshipers.
What makes a worshiper “genuine?” Being one. Not just intending to. Not just singing about it. Not just going to church but actually BEING THE CHURCH [capital C].
In that light we can take Jesus’ words – “the hour is coming, and now is, when the genuine worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”– to be great words of hope and encouragement. Set aside for a moment the perception that these words are a kind of cryptic prescription for “correct” worship. Hear His words from the ears of this befuddled woman who had spent her whole life sample-searching for real love and genuine religion. She had poured herself out over and over only to be disappointed. See, her intention was real and valid, but she had never discovered the real thing. Jesus is healing this woman with these words as sure as He healed the blind man with His touch. “Salvation has come! You’re free to be the genuine article! Now! Right here! Right now!”
John 15:5-6 “I am the vine, you are the branches.“
Paul uses the pinnacle of our earthly worship, COMMUNION, as the centerpiece to show us this crucial issue in our life as worshipers.
1Corinthians 9: 16-19 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;…
22-27 … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
10:1-17 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
23-24 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well -being.
11:23-30 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
You may still think of the congregation as a room full of individual plants. Can’t do that! It’s not allowed, because it is not reality. ALL – the roots, vine, tender sprouts & branches, mature branches, leaves and fruit – all play crucial parts in the existence of the others, AND ALSO in the fulfilling of their individual purposes. For instance, if it weren’t for the leaf, certain crucial processes just would not happen. Each leaf is a factory which manufactures the “greening” fuel for the whole plant by being the interface between the sap and the otherwise destructive power of the Sun. Each leaf is a nuclear plant converting the carefully selected elements into power. And they ALL TOGETHER represent the whole combined purpose of the plant.
We are Jesus’ Body. As we take part in Communion (know what that means now?) we are told that we must “discern the Body”. Jesus also said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” There’s only one source of your sappiness! So in our congregational worship there needs to be the public rememberance that we have that one origin of life privately, actively communicating His life into us and purifying us – conveying to us what is life AND conveying from us what will cause atrophy and death. That intimate process is common to all of us who are “alive to Him”. We are indeed one “in Him” though we are all very different in our outward manifestations and in our varied purposes.
It is that diversity that gives us value to the rest of the Body. As we bring our varied points of view, our very unique manifestations of fruitfulness, our individual expressions into the congregation we become that “ever growing habitation for God” (Eph 3). For He inhabits, is enthroned on, is at home in, the praise of His people, the congregation of His redeemed.
The purpose of God, the ultimate pleasure of God is caused by the spontaneous and widely different expressions of His Body coming together in concert. The combined expression dependent completely on the actual events in each life and each heart, bearing the fruit of glorious truths about the God who has saved us and whom we now serve, is a symphony directed by the Holy Spirit. That is a rare event in what we call “church” today. The reason for that has been the fuel for every attempt to “reform” the church since the 4th century. The redeemed have become completely dependent on their priest or leader. When they come to church, they are entering the priest’s or pastor’s kingdom. In that domain, they are obliged to breath when he says to, to sing when he says to, to stand when he says to, etc. He has complete authority in the church building and operations but has very little authority in the everyday lives of the people outside the church. He can suggest, instruct, preach, advise, but of course, he can only hope we are actually obliged to do any of that once we’ve left the grounds of the church. This convenient replacement for dependency and accountability to the Holy Spirit, is the true “replacement theology,” has caused church to become an event that we have to schedule into our week, instead of our full time, all incompassing identity – being the Church.
Because of this perversion of the liberty and power of the Holy Spirit, the musician winds up being solely responsible for whether the people “worship” in church services or not – at least, in the pastor’s and the people minds. I would like to point out that what is in our minds does not change in any way what is in God’s mind. He is still looking for genuine worshipers and, YES, He is finding some. I can guarantee that.
This may sound all negative, but it is not. Why? Because there is a God in heaven and He is still on the throne. This situation only puts more weight of responsibility on you, the individual to be a follower of the real Worship Leader, the only lover of God – the Holy Spirit. When no one cares about what God cares about, God still cares. When no one seeks God, He is still seeking worshipers. Be the one who gets it. Be the genuine worshiper! Make sure you are daily surrendering your life to God’s unfolding revelation to you, filling up on His Word, getting the insight from Him about what is happening in the Body, communing with Him, discerning the Body. Be filled with the Spirit – then when you gather with the congregation, lead the way in your part of the intimate conversation with Him. Make sure every note, every word is in harmony with that intimacy God has drawn you into. Do it until it catches. Do it till it begins to bring forth fruit, a congregation in open, intimate conversation with their God.
At that point you can begin to take the others’ prayers, their words of thanksgiving and praise and add it to yours as the whole Body can participate without being encumbered by anything other than their deep desire to express their love & dependency on their Lord in open response to His voice. It doesn’t have to be new words and melodies, but fresh conversation, today’s new song to our Father from His Family. Whether you’re a leaf or a peach, you can bring glory to God in the congregation.
THE CHALLENGE comes from the same verse–
John 15:5-6 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Some among us are weak….
Some among us are sick…
Some among us are ASLEEP!
Do we notice? Sure we do. We are busily pointing out the weaknesses, the sicknesses, the apathy of the problem-people in our world, our families, our church.
Let Paul’s words sink in. The reason many of them are the way they are is that we are neglecting the call to “DISCERN THE LORD’S BODY”. What causes atrophy and fruitlessness? Isolation from the “Vine” or trunk and thereby separation from the whole plant, including the other parts. Can we progress on to what God has saved us for? CAN YOU SEE THE WHOLE TREE? Take a look. Pay attention. Discern and love the Body.
Rev 7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
*LETTERS TO MALCOLM CHIEFLY ON PRAYER, © C.S. LEWIS, 1963