by Tom Brennan
Worship is our response when we see God. In the Old Testament it was primarily done at the location where God dwelt. With the advent of a new dispensation in the New Testament worship transitioned away from being geographical. Now it did not matter where you were you could still worship God. (I have a sneaking suspicion that a bunch of people who will not agree with today’s post won’t bother to take the time to read the other posts in this series which establish this paragraph. I have a word for people like that – lazy.)
…all of which brings us to this statement: the New Testament church service is not a worship service. Yes. You read that correctly. The New Testament church service is not a worship service. Yet around the corner from you is a church with a marquee that says, ’11 AM Worship Service’ on it. In point of fact, your church marquee probably says that. Worse yet, the vast majority of people in your church believe that. They think they go to church to worship God. Indeed, they think that is the very point of the church service. The stubborn truth is that the church service was not designed or purposed to produce worship. God does not live in a building. You do not need to go to a geographical location to meet with Him.
Obviously, the vast majority of Christianity, quote and otherwise, disagrees with me. I find talking to those willing to talk about it to be an interesting activity. I often ask them to take the Bible and show me the scriptural support for declaring the church service to be a worship service. Right away they want to run to the Psalms or Exodus or some such Old Testament reference. This is highly problematic for the church is explicitly a New Testament institution. In fact, the New Testament says the church was not even imagined in the Old Testament. I do not deny that Christianity has its roots in Judaism, but it is hermeneutically unsound to use Old Testament passages as the doctrinal support for your philosophical approach to the church service. Otherwise I expect to see a lot of churches slaughtering some animals at the altar next Sunday morning.
Turning to the New Testament then they grasp for all they are worth on the solitary passing reference to worship in a church service. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. (I Corinthians 14.25) That’s right. This is only New Testament mention of worship in connection with a church service. The only one. And it does not say that the church service was designed to worship God. It says that the lost man recognized God being in them and responded appropriately.
All over the Bible you will find examples of people bowing down to someone who was a representative of God. Balaam bowed to the angel after his donkey reprimanded him. Manoah bowed to the angel after receiving news of Samson’s arrival. David bowed to the angel sent to destroy Jerusalem. Obadiah, Ahab’s minister, bowed to Elijah. Nebuchadnezzar bowed to Daniel. Daniel bowed to Gabriel. The wise men bent a knee before the infant Jesus. Lepers bowed before Christ. Various demon possessed people bowed before Christ. Jairus bowed before Christ. The woman with the issue of blood bowed before Christ. A Greek woman bowed before Christ. The blind man in John 9 bowed before Christ. Cornelius bowed to Peter. The Philippian jailer bowed before Paul and Silas. John twice tried to bow before an angel in Revelation.
All of these people bowed instinctually before someone they deemed as God or the representative of God. Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 14 about the lost man falling down on his face in worship during a church service is simply the 17th example of a person in Scripture recognizing God was somehow in someone and responding with worship. God is in you of a truth. The simple truth is that this verse comes nowhere near stating that the church service should be designed to produce worship.
Even if you discount my explanation of I Corinthians 14.25 asserting it as the foundational support for viewing the church service as a worship service is still problematic. It certainly is not a clear statement of church service purpose. It occurs in relation to the most disorganized, unruly church in the entire Bible. And it only occurs once.
Further, to say that I Corinthians 14.25 establishes the cardinal rule that the church service is a worship service brings an additional problem. Logically then it makes the church service primarily evangelistic for it was a lost man who bowed in worship. If I take this verse as the normative foundation for my philosophical approach to church then my philosophical approach must primarily be using the church service as a tool to reach the lost. Such an approach violates the entire context of the rest of I Corinthians 14. For instance, look at verse 22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for that believe not, but for them which believe. In other words, the preaching of the sermon is designed to help believers not unbelievers. Winning the lost to Christ is clearly the purpose of the church but it is just as clearly not the purpose of the church service.
No, beloved, I Corinthians 14.25 cannot mean that the purpose of the church service is worship. Such an interpretation violates our understanding of how and why worship shifted between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God does not live in a building. God is not in a geographical location. In the New Testament we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus we can worship God anywhere at any time.
If worship is not the point of the New Testament church service than what is the point? I am so glad you asked. The point of the church service is spiritual growth. How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (I Corinthians 14.26) Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (I Corinthians 14.12) For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. (I Corinthians 14.17) The simple truth is that in the chapter of the Bible that most discusses the church service edify is used seven times and worship is used once.
Some will say, ‘Well, worship is edifying.’ I do not dispute that in the least, and if you take this post as a screed against worship you do not know me at all. But I dare not make worship the primary tool for edification in a New Testament church service. I do not have the scriptural authority or example to do so.
What tools am I to use? How then am I as a pastor to edify the saints who show up for a church service? First of all via music. Again, I reference I Corinthians 14.26. Psalms are to be sung as a means of edification. Let me be explicitly clear – music in church was primarily designed to teach you and grow you, not to help you worship God.Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5.19) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3.16)This is precisely because the service itself is primarily designed to grow you spiritually. It is not designed to enable you to worship God.
The second tool I am to use in edifying the saints in a church service is the tool of preaching. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, butrather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. (I Corinthians 14.3-5) Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (I Corinthians 14.19) My understanding of the word prophesy here drives me to see it primarily as preaching. As such, it is mentioned 14 times in this chapter. It is highly emphasized. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy. (I Corinthians 14.39) Why? So that you might edify the brethren. So that they might learn what God says in the Word. So that having been taught the truth they might grow in grace. That is the point of the New Testament church service.
I can hear you from here. ‘Why is he so upset about this? What difference does it make if we call our church service a worship service and you do not?’ It makes an absolutely tremendous difference for when you misunderstand this you point your church service in the wrong direction. Practically speaking, even worse it makes it incredibly easy to swallow the lines offered by the contemporary Christian movement for dramatic changes in your church service.
by Tom Brennan
Original article can be found at http://concerningjesus.blogspot.com/2015/04/worship-part-five-church-service-is-not.html?m=1
Thoroughly enjoyed this.
This article is confusing to me, Maybe I am overthinking this? Do these biblical truths agree with your article? The OT tabernacle is where man met with God. God was never solely in a geographical area even in the OT as the tabernacle was portable. The OT scripture can be applied to our lives today and is very important even though we are not Jewish people or held to the law but live in grace. Now, since His death, burial, and resurrection and the coming of His Spirit God resides in the regenerate man’s heart so that we can access Him anytime and everywhere. Is not the church for the purpose of edifying the saints and bringing honor and glory to God? The church (that is you and me) operate in this world (not exclusively in a building) to bring others to the saving power of God’s Word. The problem today is that the man and woman of God sit in a pew enlarging themselves spiritually rather than serving God by going out into the world “fishing” for lost souls which bring honor and glory to Him. Simply going to church does not make one a servant of God.
Thought it was bs
This has been my view for many years. I concluded I can worship anywhere, anytime, but what I can’t do all by myself is what Ephesisans 4.11-16 or 1 Corinth 14 talks about as far as assembling together for edifying one another with our individual roles/ gifts.
The use of “worship” for Sunday morning service is such a common way of thinking that I don’t see it ever changing. There’s a tradition about the Sunday morning worship (and Sunday evening, Wednesday night) that I don’t think it will change. Though there may be some independent Bible churches that have a different view and approach about it.