THE TWO ASPECTS OF WORSHIPPING
If Christians from the first century world were to worship with us today on
mornings, they would find those worship assemblies quite strange and unfamiliar.
Christians of the first century would feel as uncomfortable and "out-of-place" in our
worship assemblies as we would in theirs about 2000 years ago.
- Our four-part harmony in singing would be strange to them. As I
it, having different parts and having what we regard as harmony among those parts is
relatively a "new" development. Among Christians around 2000 thousand years ago,
what we regard to be harmony did not exist. Many of us would not even find their
songs melodious. To us it would sound more like a reading or even a prayer. While
the sounds made in their music would be strange to our hearing, the sounds made in
our music would sound strange to their ears. [Even were it all in English.]
The focus and subjects of our songs compared to the focus and subjects of their
songs are different. In the few songs we have from early churches, the focus is
primarily on Christ and sometimes on God. Some of our favorite songs focus on us,
our dreams, our hopes, our anticipations. Likely they would find that a strange focus.
The purpose of our songs would be strange to them. To us, songs are primarily
inspirational. To them, songs were a means of confessing their faith in Christ or
teaching others about Christ.
- They would find our communion quite strange. Let's just say that the
emphasis they placed on communion and the ways they took communion were likely
quite different from our emphasis and the way we observe communion.
- They would find assembling in a church building quite strange. In the
Roman empire, Christianity as a religion was illegal. In places where Christians were
considered undesirable and dangerous, Christians of necessity had to be quite
cautious about where they gathered. Where there was little or no opposition to them,
they could be more open.
They gathered in a variety of circumstances for worship. If you were converted
from a Jewish background and history, you might gather in a Jewish home or in a
synagogue. If you were a Christian converted with a pagan background and history,
you might gather in a home, in a synagogue, or in a secretive place such as the
Since the major issue about Jesus among Jews was, "Is he the Messiah God
promised?" and since the scriptures of the first century church were the Hebrew Bible
[Old Testament to us], it was compatible for converts with a Jewish background [Jews,
proselytes, God-bearers] to gather in synagogues since that would be the depository of
scripture and the center of Jewish discussion about Jesus' identity.
To me, the bottom line is this: first century Christians would not feel like they had
worshipped if they came to our worship assemblies, and we would not feel like we had
worshipped if we attended their worship assemblies. The differences in each setting
would distract the visiting group.
- There is a significant change between then and now that has a
influence on our perception of Christianity and Christian worship assemblies.
- Christians existed in the first century as an identifiable community who took
of each other.
- They fed the widows (Acts 6).
- They adopted widows for total care when they had no family to care for them
(1 Timothy 5:8-12).
- They took care of orphans (James 1:27).
- They opened their homes to each other (2 John 9,10).
- That situation reminds me in many ways of the small rural church of my
- I can remember when several families pooled together their Sunday lunches
and had their own "small group meetings" on Sunday afternoon.
- I can remember when we "were there" for each other, doing what we could to
be of help in times of crisis.
- I can remember the strength of the bond that tied us together as a functioning
community of Christians who cared about each other.
If this sense of community with its bonding and closeness is to exist, at least
two things must be true.
- The congregation must be a community, not an institution.
- We must know each other.
- We must care about each other.
- We must help each other.
- The bond of genuine love must be strong among us.
- As a congregation, we individually must maintain a strong relationship with God.
- We must feel a joyful dependence on God--and see our dependence as a
- We must want to be Christians--we are attracted to God's holiness!
- We are committed to being Jesus' disciples--we willingly let Jesus teach us
who we are, how we live, and how we think.
- We as a people are committed to being a particular kind of people, not just
doing certain things.
- Our highest priority in life must be to walk in God's paths, to behave like
How does this relate to worship? We offer God worship in two basic
- We worship God collectively, together, as a people.
- That obviously occurred in the New Testament among Christians.
- It began in Acts 2 and continued to be reflected in the epistles--groups of
Christians met together to gladly praise God for His gift of Jesus Christ.
- For the sake of illustration, I call your attention to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
- Read with me and note one thing--the importance of their sense of
togetherness in taking the Lord's supper.
- Verse 17: the Corinthian Christians being together caused problems--their
assemblies made Christians weaker, not stronger.
- Verse 18, 19--their worship actually emphasized and advanced their
- Verses 20, 21--instead of their being together affirming their commitment
to each other and God, it only stressed their differences.
- Verse 22--their agenda in being together failed to emphasize their
closeness as a people in Christ [despising the church of God is despising
ourselves as Christ's body].
- The purpose is not to satisfy a physical need for food, but to affirm your
sense of community as God's people.
- Verse 33--you cannot achieve God's objective in the Lord's supper if you
do not care about each other being a part of the remembrance.
- Communion had two objectives:
- To remember what God and Jesus did for us in Jesus' death.
- To affirm our relationship with each other in Christ.
- The Lords' supper was to affirm a sense of belonging among ourselves, a
sense of caring and togetherness, a sense of community in Christ.
- We as Christian persons worship God individually on a continuing, daily basis.
- Read with me Romans 12:1,2
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to
present your bodies a living
and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so
that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and
- My personal understanding is this: they collectively were urged to accept a
- This presentation of the physical body to God is to be on a daily basis--the
injunctions that follow in Romans flows from this presentation.
- I make the presentation because I am moved by the enormity of God's mercy.
- I make my physical body a holy sacrifice--I consciously climb up on the altar
to sacrifice myself every day.
- By my desire, God redefines who and what I am.
- He gives me a new way to think and His will becomes my priority.
- God helps me define what is good, what is acceptable, and what is "on
target" in life (focuses life).
- Thus worship involves two considerations in a Christian's existence.
- It is a collective act in which I appreciatively declare my dependence on God
and my oneness with God's people; it is my commitment to the community of
- It is a daily individual act in which I surrender myself to God.
- All my obedience flows from this surrender to the holy God.
- This worship defines who and what I am in all my relationships and all
interactions with other people--those who are Christians, and those who
There are two questions each of us should focus on as Christians:
- What do I declare in my group worship?
- Every day do I climb on the altar and surrender myself as a holy sacrifice to God?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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