carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
The Issues and Elements of Worshipping God
Part 1 – The Time and Place of Corporate Worship
"On Sunday we make our common gathering since it is the day
on which ... Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead." (Justin Martyr, 100-165 AD)
As we look from the Old Testament to the New Testament, no one would deny that the worship of God has changed. The important thing to understand, however, is where and why there has been change and that, because we are guided by the Word of God in these matters, these changes are not arbitrary or left to the whim of our own desires.
The Time of our Corporate Worship – The day of our worship is clearly designated in Scripture. It is found in the 4th Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” This commandment, like all the 10 Commandments, sum up the Moral Law of God and is therefore always there for our instruction and obedience. What’s changed, however, is the day. The Church of Christ has always historically recognized the watershed of all history in the resurrection of Christ and how that changed the day we are to remember and keep holy from the seventh to the first day of the week. (For more on the subject of what has and hasn’t changed regarding the 4th Commandment, check our church’s website and study my article on the subject.)
The entire day is set apart as holy the Lord the commandments states. One easy way to think of this is that God has given this day to us, the best way to honor Him is to give it back to Him. We do this in corporate worship but also in private worship and reflection, in fellowship with one another and with family, in ministry of necessity and mercy, and in rest. To accomplish this, it is necessary to discipline ourselves to bar out as much of the world and its interruptions and demands as we possibly can, to close the gate on the things that demand so much of us during the rest of the week (Neh. 13:15-22).
The specific time of the Lord’s Day that we gather for worship is not according to God’s command but is left up to our conscience, tradition and mutual convenience. Hence, 11 am is not any more “holy” than 9 or 10 am. But holding forth services of worship on other days, such as Saturday evenings instead of on the Lord’s day, for example, is in violation of this command. And closing out the day in worship is one of the best ways to ensure the proper use of the whole day. It guards the sanctity of the day, blesses us and each other spiritually and makes good sense.
The Place of our Corporate Worship – The issue of where we worship God is another of those things that has changed from the Old Testament to the New. The worship of God before the time of Christ was centralized. The first thing the nation of Israel did after leaving Egypt was to be gathered around the mountain where they met with God. After that the worship as well as the entire life of the community encircled the Tabernacle. That was followed by the Temple. It is significant that when the Temple was destroyed, the Jews considered themselves to be homeless and wandering in the world.
The New Testament Church is, in contrast, always at home in Christ. Our worship is distinctly decentralized. This is in part due to the pronounced extra measure of the Holy Spirit among believers today, but more to the point, because the Spirit indwells believers, they themselves become the dwelling of God. It is true, then, when two or three are gathered in His name that Christ is in the midst of them. And the presence of Christ is similarly lacking where believers fail or choose not to gather together (Heb. 10:25).
Because the people of God gathered to call on his name is the place of Christ’s dwelling, the physical location where they meet is not. We have a building in which we gather, but it is not, in and of itself, holy as the Temple was holy. The room we worship in might be called a sanctuary, but that word implies a holiness about the structure itself that it doesn’t own. In like fashion, our room for worship contains no altar. Our altar is where Christ Himself has served us – in the true Holy of Holies that surrounds the Throne of glory. Our duty as Christians is not to retreat to a holy room, it is precisely the opposite:
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. (Heb. 13:10-14)
David G. Barker, 2003
|David G. Barker