Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Worship and the Fear of God

When God is in heaven, and present with us during worship in much the same way that he is present with us in all of life, everywhere, but also abstractly distant, then our concentration upon him during gathered worship is mainly a concentration of thought and affection in the heart.

But, if the Christ whose face shone as the sun to John is really near in worship, even "in the room," where two or three are gathered together in his name, would not, and should not there be a Scriptural Fear of God in his worshipers?

Since the presence of God "in the room" during worship reorients the understanding of what corporate worship is, does it also work the other way around?  Does a form of worship which is built upon the presence of God "in the room" during worship tend to communicate the nearness of God to those who observe it?

Is the very "realistic" look and feel of liturgical worship, done in the Spirit, a shock to some believers precisely because it stimulates the Fear of God?

If we sense the true Fear of God in worship, then we ought to come back for more, for he is there!

The Offense of Liturgy

Do some believers take offense to liturgical worship because it seems mechanical or artificial? I understand that there is a person in the world who has called the worship at Redeemer Church a "pep rally." Is this because it is thought that God only looks upon the private motions of our individual thoughts and hearts in worship, and does not concern himself with our outward (or group) behavior?

It seems to me that in this view, corporate worship is private worship in a group. Perhaps this is why in traditional "non-liturgical" churches the people's role is so quiet (except for the corporate singing).

But, understanding the "real presence" of Christ, actually and specially in our midst during worship, actually but invisibly present to our bodies, faces and hearts, should provoke a different conception of worship. The Christ whom we see and hear by faith is really there in Person in our midst, and we must react accordingly.

When Christ is really there, and really personally speaks to you in the congregation through his Word, how can you not say "Thank you" -- out loud?

Liturgy -- The Dialog of Corporate Worship

It stands to reason that if you have the Jones's into your house, that you converse with them. So it is for Christ. They talked when Christ appeared on the first day of the week to the disciples before his ascension.

It stands to reason, then, that if we "have God in" at corporate worship, that both he and we speak to one another. We hear him through his Word, and he hears us through our words.

Now, for our corporate speech to God to succeed and be meaningful, there must be a plan for this speech, just as much as there must be a plan for the reading and preaching of his Word, and the singing of Psalms and hymns. This plan must be definitive where Scripture is definitive, and be planned wisely by the leadership of the church where the church must (or may) make choices.

This plan is traditionally called "liturgy."

The Upper Room; The Centrality of Corporate Worship

The "upper room" in ancient Middle Eastern houses and palaces has special qualities, because of the element of seclusion and privacy.

1) When Ehud, a judge in Israel (Judges 3), went to Eglon, King of Moab, to pay tribute, the Scripture states that Eglon was "sitting upstairs in his cool private chamber." This room is described as the "upper room" three times in the context. In this room Eglon, the oppressor of Israel, was killed by Ehud, and Israel was delivered from oppression.

2) When Elijah went to Zarephath and prophesied the unending supply of flour and oil for the widow, he stayed in an "upper room." (I Kings 17) He laid that widow's dead son on his own bed in his upper room, before he raised him from the dead.

3) Likewise, the Shunemite woman had a small "upper room" made for Elisha to stay in when he was in town. In this room, he also raised her son from the dead.

4) Daniel, prayed from his "upper room" before being cast into the den of lions. (Dan 6). He was delivered from death and returned to his "upper room" from which he had always prayed to God.

5) When Tabitha of Joppa died (Acts 9), she was laid in an upper room, in which Peter raises her from the dead.

Our acquaintance with the nature of such rooms, where privacy, prayer, judicial death and glorious resurrections of grace occur, now informs our look at passages which speak of worship:

1) It is related in Mark 14 and Luke 22 that Jesus sent his disciples to discover the location of a "guest room," which was a "large, upper room" all furnished, where they would prepare and eat the Passover, prior to our Lord's exodus. He speaks of his "fervent desire" to eat this Passover with them before he suffers. And, in this "upper room" he institutes his Supper.

2) In Acts 1, we find the group of about 120 disciples gathering and praying in an "upper room" as they wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit.

3) In Acts 20, the church is gathered in an "upper room" to hear Paul speak all night -- the night Eutychus fell from the window and was brought back from the dead by Paul.

We know from Daniel's example in his upper room, and Jesus' commands that we spend time in our own prayer closets, that individual worship plays a large part in the life of a Christian. But, the "upper room" gatherings are central and vital. It is where two are three are gathered in his name that Christ is specially "in the midst." In the "upper room" we meet our Lord as a body -- his body, and not just as individuals.

Corporate worship is not "individual worship in a group." It the worship of a group. It is there, especially, that we pray, as one, "Our Father, ... Give us this day our daily bread.  ... Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."  It is where the bread that we break is participation in the one body of Christ, and where the cup that we bless is participation in his blood (1 Cor 10).