The Fork in the Road: Learning from the History of Worship, Part 4

Abraham

Now, harken back to Abraham. He offered sacrifices, including offering his only son. He walked in the very presence of God, talking with him face to face. And he was marked with a sign of his covenant with God. And all these are true of Christians today, and none speak particularly of the assembly.

Jesus offered the only atoning sacrifice we’ll ever need. But we continue to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and fellowship offerings. These are no longer animals and such like, but they are offered by priests (each of us) in a temple (each of us and our congregations).

And we see over and over how the Spirit’s indwelling makes this all true. You see, in a sense, we’ve replaced the Spirit with 5 Acts of Worship. We’ve concluded that what brings us close to God and allows us to have confidence in his presence is getting the 5 Acts right — but the truth is that the Spirit makes this happen. The Spirt allows us to worship as Abraham did — wherever he met God. And God doesn’t live in a building made with hands.

That’s not to dismiss the assembly. The assembly is of vital, critical importance. But to make the assembly into the center of our worship as the Temple was the center of Jewish worship is to miss the point.

So what is the assembly for? Well, what does the Bible say? The Bible says the assembly is for encouragement, strengthening, comfort, and edification of the Christians present. The Bible says the assembly is where we go to encourage others to love and good works. You see, the assembly is where we go to prepare for a week of sacrifice.

And it’s a place of sacrifice, too, but remember the original meaning of “sacrifice.” You have to give something up to make a sacrifice. You don’t get to bring the lamb or bull home with you on a leash. It winds up dead and burned.

So if we want our assemblies to be places of worship, they have to be places of sacrifice — and what are we going to give up in our assembly? Do you see how that changes everything? Rather than going to have our ears tickled and our favorite songs sung, we go to encourage others. That’s what Heb 10:24-25 says.

And we go expecting to leave our weaknesses, bad habits, sinful attitudes, and bad theology on the altar, where they’re burned to a crisp. We give up our selfishness and our preferences, and we sacrifice them to God.

Oh, and we give up ourselves. Especially when we take communion, we remember that one lesson of the communion is that we are to hang ourselves on a cross for Jesus. It’s not worship unless we lay our lives on the altar. You see, wearing our “Sunday best” is not a sacrifice at all. We get to bring our clothes home with us!

The question therefore is: what will we leave at the building? And that’s a lot different question from: did we get the right Acts of Worship? The Spirit teaches us to be like Jesus, to give ourselves up out of a committed love, because Jesus us lives in us through his Spirit. And that approach to worship is nothing like the Five Acts approach. You might do much the same things on the outside, but on the inside, everything changes when worship becomes about sacrifice rather than affirmation.

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5 Responses

  1. As always, Jay understands and clearly speaks of the Way of Christ. Good for Jay. Good for all who realize that our worship is best done in private, not in public posturing. Not in ritualistic habits to be seen of men.

  2. Jay,

    Is it necessarily the case that a person who believes it is important to get the “5 Acts” right also believes that their participation in those acts is *not* sacrificial in nature?

    Is it necessarily the case that a person who believes it’s important to get the “5 Acts” right can’t worship in a sacrificial way?

    Is it necessarily the case that a person who knows nothing of the “5 Acts” doctrine themselves, yet attends a congregation who holds that view, cannot worship in a sacrificial way while assembling with that congregation?

    –Guy

  3. You see, the assembly is where we go to prepare for a week of sacrifice. And it’s a place of sacrifice, too, but remember the original meaning of “sacrifice.” You have to give something up to make a sacrifice. You don’t get to bring the lamb or bull home with you on a leash. It winds up dead and burned.

    You could also describe it as where we go early in the morning or late at night to prepare for another day of sacrifice (the Acts 2 model).

    And only the firstfruits of the sacrifices, and the atonement offering, were burnt to a crisp 🙂 The priests shared the rest – and with the peace and fellowship offerings, the whole congregation shared them!

    If all we give up is our selfishness and our preferences, we’re giving a pretty shabby sacrifice. In Isaac, Abraham laid his very LIFE on the altar (which, of course, included his selfish desire for a lineage that resulted in the birth of Ishmael… and his preference that Isaac… well… live!) – and now we all, in Christ, partake of that sacrifice and resurrection (more Hebrews typology – I love it!).

  4. Guy,

    Yes, it’s possible to do the 5 Acts sacrificially. I do. Many others do.

    The distinction can be seen in this: if you get upset because the form is wrong but don’t get upset because the heart is wrong, then you’ve misunderstood who God is.

  5. Surely it matters that we must remember that WE are the priests in our assemblies–all of us, not just those who stand in the front and speak or sing or play. If the sacrifice is to be shared with the priests, then those who have needs should expect to be blessed by gifts to help meet the needs. That’s Christianity.

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