Upgrading a Church of Christ Worship Service Without Buying a Guitar, Part IIA

Angel with harpAbout 18 months ago, I wrote this post on how to upgrade an a cappella worship service. And then for some reason, just today it became a comment magnet. It’s not that surprising, really. This post has garnered around 4,000 hits by itself, which is quite a lot by OneInJesus standards. Worship is a big, big deal in the Churches of Christ.

On the other hand, as important as worship is to us, we aren’t very good at worship theology. Indeed, we routinely ignore some of the most important passages. I’ll consider just two, which should be enough to make the point.

(Heb 10:24-25)  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Where I grew up, this passage meant: “Attend all services of the church, even if they conflict with the SuperBowl.” But that’s not really the point of the passage. Rather, this passage sets up a contrast with what immediately follows:

(Heb 10:26-27)  If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

The writer’s point is that the Christian walk can be tough. We need each other’s support to make it. To avoid being deceived by sin, we need to meet — so that we can encourage one another toward love and good deeds. You see, one of the best ways to avoid sin is to be active in Kingdom service. (Compare 2 Pet 1:5-11.)

The writer squarely emphasizes the “horizontal” function of the assembly. We go to be encouraged.

Oops! I said it wrong again. The verb is active. We go to encourage others.

In short —

* The assembly has a strong horizontal component

* A horizontal purpose is to encourage others to love and good deeds

* This will help keep us away from rebellion against God (that is, from falling away)

Obviously, if we are all encouraging others, we’ll be encouraged, too.

The passage is plainly talking about more than singing to each other or being preached to by a preacher. I think the deepest fulfillment is found in the conversations in the aisles — where we seek volunteers, comfort those suffering a loss, invite the lonely to lunch, encourage someone to attend a small group, greet visitors — the stuff that reveals the true heart of the congregation. Oh, and in the announcements! If we’re announcing new opportunities to serve the homeless or teach the illiterate or volunteer to paint a school, well, that’s what the writer is talking about.

Which brings us to —

(1 Cor 14:3-4)  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

In Paul first letter to the church in Corinth, he answers several questions about the conduct of the assembly. When asked about whether to permit tongues or prophecy in the assembly, he doesn’t speak in terms of what is authorized or not and he doesn’t read from the semi-secret apostolic book of positive commands. He asks a very pragmatic question: will the questioned practice edify, strengthen, encourage, or comfort? And if not, is there a way we can do it that will work?

Thus, he concludes regarding tongues that they are only proper if a translator is present. The test isn’t: authorized or unauthorized? It’s: edify or doesn’t edify? And he concludes the tongues without a translator don’t edify but tongues with a translator do. Just so, prophecy edifies — unless the prophets interrupt each other or too many speak in the same assembly.

I have no idea why we imagine that we’re so smart that we should apply the test of “generic and specific authority” when Paul thought the “does it edify?” test was quite sufficient.

(1 Cor 14:24-25)  But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Although the scriptures teach that the assembly is for the encouragement, edification, comfort, and strengthening of the church, it is also to be seeker-sensitive. We don’t want visitor to think we’re crazy (14:23), rather, the visitor should see the very presence of God!

Now, this most recent Sunday, I was teaching my class about the congregation being the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I mentioned this passage. Do you see the connection? If our congregations really are a temple for the Spirit, then the presence of God should be manifest. I said this and, to my surprise, a new couple interrupted me and said, “At this church, God truly is presence in the worship!” They’d not been members for long. And then another new member chimed in with a vigorous agreement. And then some more said the same.

I was delighted — and a little surprised. I shouldn’t have been, but I guess I’m spoiled. No, I’m unquestionably spoiled.

When is it that our worship service needs an upgrade? Well, when visitors don’t feel and see the presence of God. And when members aren’t edified, encouraged, strengthened, and comforted.

But how do we get there? That’s the next post.


11 Responses

  1. Sadly, what you say here is – to some folks – not just hearsay but heresy.

  2. Jay–

    i checked my junk mail folder to no avail. So everytime i check the “notify me of follow-up comments via email” box, i’ve never been sent anything.


  3. Who is this clown writing this article? Since when is “Two or more gathered together” not Biblical, even if it is to watch the Superbowl or to be sociable or to share an event or to go hunting? This guy seems to think that the church building is the only place to gather together. Maybe it was the only place to meet a hundred years ago. But it wasn’t the only place to meet 2000 years ago. We aren’t going to build churches by huddling together in our sanctuaries and pretending to be sanctimonious. We are going to build churches by breathing God’s love where ever we go.

  4. Craig please quote accurately .
    Mt 18:20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (TNIV, ibs.org)
    Since when is the superbowl or hunting in Jesus’ name? No one said it had to be a building but most seen to find it useful.

  5. I love that part in Hebews and I use it all the time to talk about the purpose of church. More people need to see this.

  6. Craig,
    “Clown?” Your comment seems to miss something or see something I did not see in the article.

    The point of the article and the original discussion was not how important the assembly is but what purpose it serves and what if anything needs to be done to help it better fulfill its intended purpose.

    Whether it is popular to think so or not the Church Jesus built consisted of many types assemblies large and small. And yes two or more gathered to honor Jesus are a blessed assembly. But no way do we always and only want two or three getting together. We also want tens (small groups), hundreds (congregations) and even thousands (Tulsa workshop, Pepperdine lectureships, Lipscomb Celebration, etc.) Each type of group accomplishes a different type of work for the Body and a different kind of encouragement. I need the constant reminder that “me and my buds” belong to Jesus but from time to time I also need to be reminded that the Lord has reserved for Himself thousands who have not bowed the knee to this world’s rulers. When there are two or three agreement is easy and we know exactly how to deal with an unbelieving third or fourth. When we get dozens, hundred or thousands things tend to be a bit more complicated. We have to determine what works best for everyone, or what fulfills the mission, or what best honors God, hoping and praying they are all the same thing but knowing someone, somehow will find a way to disagree.

    I believe that is what we are trying to discuss: “What works?”, “What doesn’t?”,and “Why?”

  7. I agree with the idea that meeting together in Jesus name doesn’t have the clause “in the official building” in the verse. If I meet a Christian at McDonald’s for coffee, that is gathering together to encourage and strengthen one another. A group of men at our congregation meet at Bob Evans every other Friday morning. We talk about everything and nothing. I believe our meetings are in Jesus name as, except for being men, the only thing we have in common is we are Christians.

    QUESTION: (serious question, I would like to hear some answers) Does such a breakfast meeting count as a “love feast” or as “breaking bread?”

  8. Yes, and yes.

    Had the first century had McDonalds, it is quite possible that it would’ve read, “And they met house to house, when they weren’t meeting at McDonalds.”

  9. Guy,

    Feedburner shows you as an active, verified subscriber since 9/3/09. You should be getting daily emails from them. If you aren’t getting them and they aren’t in your Deleted, Spam, or Junk folder. I’m at a loss for an explanation. Emails are handled by Feedburner, and I have no control over the distribution.

    An alternative would be to subscribe via RSS feed, such as through Google Reader. http://graceconversation.com/2009/04/01/on-subscribing-to-the-blog/ explains how.

  10. Dwayne,

    Meeting with brothers in Christ at McDonalds in the name of Jesus, for Christian fellowship, is unquestionably a love feast (although Hardees would certainly be a better choice. Mmmm. Sausage biscuits at Hardees.)

  11. Please Pray For Street Bullies & Schools. In The Name Of Jesus Christ. Please Pray for People that been attack by Witch Craft In The name of Jesus Christ

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