Worshiping as We Gather

We have been looking at the subject of worship now for eight weeks. If the whole series of messages were one sermon, then last week and this week were focusing in on the application of those things we have learned. Last week we considered application for what has been the primary thrust of this study, and that is worship as it relates to everyday life. That has definitely been the thrust of the series. It’s worshiping as we go, in whatever we do, in our homes and places of business, in our relationships and conversations. Worship as it relates to everyday life has been our primary focus, because something else we have talked about is that we are all worshipers. In John 4, when Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan woman, he said:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23)

We are to be worshipers as Christians, worshipers of the Lord. Whether we’re here, or out there, in a crowd, wherever we are, our hearts and minds are to be in a perpetual state of worship. So as we go, we worship. This means a never ending focus on God, on the Lord Jesus Christ always. We are a worshiping people. We are to be continuous worshipers, and we have to start with that as we begin to talk about worshiping as we gather. I’m afraid we may think that worship is to begin as we come to church on a Sunday morning. I’m concerned if the picture in our mind when we think of worship, if the picture that comes to mind is that of a hundred and fifty or two hundred people coming through the doors as we begin our service, and as we sit down and the service begins, that there is some switch that is flipped, and non-worshipers are then transformed into worshipers. Like, “Okay, now we are worshiping, because we are in this building and we call this a worship service.” That it begins there, that is a concern I have. It’s like, “Now finally, we have come together, we have left “normal” life and its activities and we have gathered as a church, so now it is time for worship.” That we go from individual, non-worshipers out in the world, that that’s our state, to a group of worshipers of God as we sit in a room together. I think there is something terribly wrong with that picture.

Instead of that visual of non-worshipers gathering here to begin worshiping, I think we should see, and the Bible teaches us, that we are to be a couple of hundred worshipers, those who are already worshiping outside of these walls, actively worshiping God as we come together, considering His worth, praising His name, in a state of awe of His grace, actively worshiping as we get in our cars to come here already worshiping, as we drive to the church building we are worshiping, as we walk in the doors of the church house we are worshiping, as we gather in this room already worshiping, all worshiping God from the heart and in our minds, and we converge together in this place as active worshipers. And so with great unity of heart we simply continue to worship, not as individuals, but as a group of people who have gathered together. There is a convergence, a coming together of individual worshipers to, in unity, to worship corporately in the church.

Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” As we worship during our week, as we go through life, we bring that heartfelt attitude of active worship with us as we gather together. That seems to be what our normal pattern as Christians ought to be. So that means we don’t come to church to get hyped up to worship, we don’t have to do that, but we come to church to continue worship. To do corporately as a body what we have been doing individually as we came.

So we come to the subject of corporate worship, and even as we do right now, again, we come to it as those who are worshiping individually and continuously, as a people already at worship when we come together, even today, to worship. You may say, “To be honest, I don’t really come to corporate Sunday morning worship in that way.” I understand that. None of us do all the time, or as consistently perhaps as we should, but that is how we should come, that is where corporate worship begins, outside the walls. If we are not coming that way, then don’t expect to move seamlessly into corporate worship. Because there is a disconnect if that’s what’s taking place.

There are of course some things that are very unique to corporate worship, different from individual worship. It is the “togetherness,” the fact that we are all together, that’s different from what we do outside of these walls. When we think of worship as individuals, as individual worshipers coming together to worship, it places the responsibility of worship on each individual person. It puts the responsibility with us. It is not simply that the leaders are responsible for the worship. If true spiritual worship did not take place for you or me in a corporate setting such as this, we can’t simply look at those who lead in worship and blame them for our lack of worship. If we place the responsibility for worship outside of ourselves, on those who are leading, instead of on the inside of us where Christ is dwelling, then we miss the point of biblical, ongoing, never ceasing worship.

So if we gather together fully prepared to continue in a corporate way what we have already begun individually with Christ at the center of our lives, at the center of our minds, then what goes on here – up on the platform or around us – will not really be central. What will be central is Christ in us, truth about Christ, the gospel of grace. Our focus will be rightly on Him, not on the music guy, or the piano, or the person next to you, but on Christ.

If we believe this, then the thought of whatever we do here as being needed to make us worship or to enhance our worship, then that way of thinking has to seriously be questioned, because God is our worship. If we think we have to create worship, things might get crazy, but if we are going with what God is already doing in us, then we become free to be involved in faith-driven acts of worship. We don’t have to depend, in other words, on someone who will cause us to worship together. One author says it this way: “The burden shifts from our dependence on what is around us to our trust in the One who is at work within us.”

The unique thing about corporate worship, worshiping as we gather, is that it is corporate. That is obvious to say, I know, but that is a major issue that makes it unique. We have a very diverse group of Christians here, diverse in history, in culture, in age, in marital status, in likes and dislikes, we are diverse in style, we are not all dressed the same this morning, our haircuts are not all the same, we eat different types of food, when we have lunch together this afternoon we will not all have the same things on our plates, some like ice cream, and others like frozen yogurt – I like both. We are different in our tastes, in our habits, in how we feel, and in how we process data. Our accents are not the same. Some of you have very high IQs, while others of us maybe not so high. We don’t look alike, we don’t sound alike, we don’t all hear the same, we have different things that may annoy us, and we may have very diverse things that make us happy.

It is our diversity that makes the corporate part of worship very interesting. Paul explains that God is in the business of bringing together very diverse people into one body, a body united together as worshipers of God.

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

I love that passage. It is a great passage! What we see here is a melding together of very diverse people into one body – that is what Paul is talking about here – into one body, which is the body of Christ. We may love our individuality, but we do have a central point of unity, and that central point of unity of our faith in Christ should dwarf all the differences. We are united in our common salvation in Christ, and what unites us should dwarf whatever may naturally keep us apart. So we come to worship Him celebrating grace, the gospel, and the person of Christ as one body. We begin to discern what is most important and what is not. What is most important is what unites us, what is not so important is our differences, if we treasure Christ, if we treasure the Father and the Spirit, and we come together in great unison.

In some ways, the fact that we can come together in worship is just an indication of the power of the Lord. Do you realize that you have brothers and sisters in Christ that you will probably talk with this morning who are so different than you are that your path would never have crossed theirs except for here, as those united in Christ? We have been saved by grace, and this is why such a diverse group of people can worship together, because what we now have in common is so much greater than our differences. Our diversity comes together in our unity in Christ.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:13-14, 18-20)

We can worship together, a diverse people in ways, because of the strong unity we have in Christ Jesus. If Christ overshadows all of our differences, then our unity in Him will dwarf those differences outside of Him.

So given that, what I would like to do is bring in a few principles that can govern how we can worship together. When I say worship in this context, I want to talk mainly about music in worship. That is not all that worship is by any stretch, it’s a small part of worship, music is simply an aspect of how we can actively and expressively worship together.

It is a shame that many churches go to war over music. I don’t know if you’ve seen that, or been a part of that in places. When I hear of that, it greatly saddens me. It also tells me that music for some may have become too big of an issue, too central to worship as a whole. We are not here to focus on music, we are here to focus on the Lord.

A few years ago I went to a conference where I took a series of classes that were based on Ken Sande’s book called, “The Peacemaker.” The classes were part of a larger curriculum where a person can become certified in biblical peacemaking, it’s a type of ministry. The idea is to get people trained in what the Bible says about living at peace with one another, and they then make themselves available in their community to be called upon to help individuals and groups of people who are not getting along with one another in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord. So they learn to live peaceably in ways that would honor God. Through this seminar and series of classes there were four men teaching, and each one of them had been doing this for a long time. They had been involved in this peacemaking process for a long time, and they all confessed that their most challenging cases were centered on church groups in the middle of what they described as “music wars.” And in most cases the wars did not involve lyrics. The wars were not about whether truth was being proclaimed, or if heresy was creeping in, but what was primarily under discussion and being warred over was style. It was not a battle for truth – I would join that battle, that’s something to battle over – they were battles about music style.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:13-14)

Principles that may help us to govern corporate worship. The most important thing for us to remember is that worship is about God. So in whatever we do, the Lord must be in the most prominent place. This means we would aim to not allow any single person or persons to compete with God in worship. No one person should dominate the service which is dedicated to God. Church worship is not a place to perform, to draw attention to oneself, or one’s skills, it is not a concert, or entertainment. It is worshipers coming together to worship the Lord God. The Lord has got to be central. People, whether leading or others in the congregation, neither should seek attention for themselves. God is to be central.

In addition to people being central, I would also say that no thing should dominate our service which is dedicated to God. I like to think of this as primarily removing distractions that may inadvertently become central to the worship service. Frankly though, it ought to take a lot to distract us from worship. I know we’re too easily distracted, but it ought to take a lot to pry our minds off the Lord Jesus Christ. But we can do things to try to minimize distractions. Years ago we had a set of old speakers on the ground, that was our sound system. It seemed like frequently during our service, whether singing, preaching, or Scripture reading, one of those speakers would start crackling with a lot of static, and a lot of times one of them would just go out. You know what tended to happen as a result of that? That faulty speaker would start to dominate the service! You know where all the attention went? To that speaker! “What’s up with that speaker?” Of all things, to be so distracted from worshiping the Lord God, our Savior, to focusing on a box sitting on the floor. People’s attention would be drawn to that. I would lose my place if I were up here. It was a distraction. I know I’ve told this before, but we had a music stand for a pulpit. You’d put your Bible on it and it would start to slide down. Your Bible would weigh it down, so you’re constantly sliding it up, and I know the kids were probably thinking, “How low is he going to let that thing go before he pulls it back up?” It was a distraction. Things will never be perfect around here, I understand that, but we should take care, when possible, to remove distractions when we’ve come to worship the Lord. I’ve got lots of stories. We had metal chairs on this concrete floor, and every time someone would move just a little bit it would scratch the floor, and it was loud! And they were cold in the winter time. We have done some things to remove distractions, but we can certainly do more. We are looking and will be looking for ways to do more to remove those distractions. Again, we don’t do those things for the sake of spending money or just to have nice things, but so that nothing begins to dominate our service or our worship of the Lord. This is not a perfect science – everyone is not distracted by the same things – but it is an attitude that we can have that we are here to worship, so how can we be careful to keep God at the center of our worship? One way is to remove distractions.

Keeping God at the center means that we are not at the center. It means we need to consider others ahead of ourselves. That’s certainly a biblical principle, isn’t it? It means it matters to us what others like and dislike, that matters! It means we can go soft on our own preferences and take very seriously the preferences of other people. Loving others, not putting ourselves, but God, at the center. I think doing those things can make music style less important. The Bible does not talk much about music style. Scott read a Psalm this morning that mentioned a lyre and trumpet. We’ve never done that! Music style changes from generation to generation. Biblical truth does not change. Truth to be proclaimed does not change. Styles come and go. 

I know a man who says, believes, that nothing should be sung in the church unless it is at least one hundred years old. His theory was that unless the music has survived a hundred years and stood the test of time, it is really not worthy of worship to God. So for him style was about a hundred years behind, but I guess that’s more progressive than somebody who thought two hundred years. It’s all kind of relative, isn’t it?

We can appreciate diversity in what our neighbors like and dislike, enjoy or don’t enjoy, when it comes to style, and yet be unified when it comes to truth and doctrine. Jesus did not come to make declarations about proper music style, He came to declare truth. What might this mean practically? I think it means we can enjoy and worship God with varying styles. Style’s not the main thing. Piano, guitar – both acoustic or electric – drums of all kinds, violin, fiddle, orchestra, or a band. Fast moving songs or slow, contemplative songs, songs of lament and songs of praise, music in a book, on a screen, printed on a piece of paper in the bulletin, we like different things. The church is diverse, our people are diverse, yet united in Christ.

What are we to think about style? We should consider our neighbor and not demand our own preference in music. Does that mean anything goes? No parameters at all? No, I don’t think so. I think there are some parameters. What are they? If the Lord is to be central in our worship, then what we proclaim about Him ought to be heard, understood, and true – I’m talking about lyrics. If what we sing is going to be heard, I mean the lyrics, then the instruments must not overpower the lyrics. So that says something regarding volume, volume of both the singing and of the instruments. We are not proclaiming the instruments, we are proclaiming truth about God, about His work, about His grace, so lifting our voices in praise and adoration and thanksgiving is something that ought to be heard. Isaiah, when he stood and saw the Lord Adonai, he heard the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” even while the foundations were trembling. The words must have overpowered the sounds heard. Can the music be loud? Sure it can, as long as it doesn’t overpower truth being proclaimed.

With diversity in style there is something really special that takes place. It allows for each of us in the congregation to live in a state of grace. That is what preferring others does. We say, “You have your way in a preference, I’ll give you that, I’ll grant you that, and I’ll rejoice with you in it.” It is good, it shows humility then if we all get the opportunity to show such grace with our neighbor, while glorying in Christ who unifies our hearts and minds because of His grace.

Worship can be described as: “The praise, adoration and reverence of God, both in public and private. It is a celebration of the worthiness of God, by which honor is given to his name.”

12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:12-22)

We are worshipers of God, all who believe. I pray that we will worship Him in Spirit and truth, with much grace regarding our neighbor. That He will be the focus of our worship, that He would be at the center of our hearts and minds. Keeping a focus on Him, on the Lord Jesus Christ, and resist any temptation to make much of anything that might draw us away from such a lofty endeavor of worshiping our Holy God.