We have already made the point that there are allot of Christians who don’t seem content with church. Some of these come in the form of church hoppers while others are members of churches who have grievances and are happy to make them known to others. They are simply not satisfied wherever they go. What we have argued so far is that for a Christian to search for ecclesiastical contentment, he/she must begin by establishing that joy can only be had in a church that looks to be theocentric as opposed to centered around men. God and His glory must be the focal point of the church. A big part of the way this is manifested is in how a church worships. Again, this is not simply what hymns are sang or how eloquent the preacher is or whether you have a large congregation participating in the worship, we are talking about how people approach God in worship.
The scriptures tell us that God is seeking men and women who will worship Him (John 4:23) and this is the primary purpose of the church. God’s people are privileged with the ability to approach the God of eternity through our Lord Jesus Christ with praise and adoration. This must entail more than just a physical demonstration of worship in that it must also include Spirit & Truth (John 4:24) . It is the spirit of a person that must enter into the worship of God in truth. Ecclesiastical Contentment must begin with worship but again, not simply “how we do things” but more importantly in what spirit we do things. I don’t want to diminish the importance of what we do and this will come out loud and clear in future posts but for the moment we must build a foundation as to how this all works. It begins with the inner and expresses itself in the outer.
What is Worship?
Prior to talking about worship, we need to spend a few moments defining what this means. The term worship in scripture is derived from a compound word “proskuneo” which simply means “towards a kiss”. It is the act of seeking to adore God and to glorify Him with our heart, words and actions. This is done in the presence of God and this we must be careful to remember when we worship. God is present when the saints gather to worship. This worship is directed towards God and Him alone. All our praises and adoration must be His or we fall into the grave sin of idolatry which is worshiping the creation rather than the creator.Worship can be individual worship which is the application of worship to our Christian life yet there is also corporate worship which is the gathering of the saints together in a chorus of praise and actions that are meant to please God and present Him in His splendid grandeur. What we must remember is that worship is not meant to be entirely individualistic but needs to be done corporately as well (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Worshiped by Whom?
Worship is not a free for all that anyone and their dog can enter into. God has always had a peculiar people that He has given the privilege to approach Him in worship. These are those who have the Lord Jesus as their mediator. This is the gathering of the saints or what we refer to as the church. We have to make clear that the church is not the service or a building but the people. We define the church as God’s covenant people gathered together with the intent of making Him the center of their gathering. These are the people for whom Christ shed His blood (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25). He is the head of them and they are his body (Ephesians 1:22-23). The people of God who worship Him are those who have received the word (Acts 2:41) and continue in the manner in which God has decreed (Acts 2:41-47). These are the people who truly can approach God’s throne in worship through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Like Dead Men
There are a number of individuals in scripture who have had an encounter with God that should really make us reflect on what exactly it is to approach God. Their reaction in the presence of God allows us to understand what it means to approach Him. When God approached Abraham, the scriptures tell us that Abraham fell on his face (Genesis 17:3). The Israelites who had come to Mount Sinai to receive the law from God experienced God’s presence in this way: All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18-19). When Isaiah saw Yahweh, surrounded by the Cherubim and stood in God’s presence, he states“Woe is me, for I am ruined!Because I am a man of unclean lips,And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). The prophet Daniel, after receiving the vision of the Ancient of Days writes that my thoughts were greatly alarming me and my face grew pale… (Daniel 7:28), he also could say I was frightened and fell on my face (Daniel 8:17) and a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees (Daniel 10:10). John, on the Island of Patmos, when encountering our Lord Jesus fell at His feel like a dead man (Revelation 1:17). When men in the scriptures met with God, it was serious business because they experienced the reality of the greatness of God. Worshiping God today should be no different. There was no apathy in the reaction of any of these men. We should realize the majesty we are approaching and feel overwhelmed by Whom we are encountering as a congregation in worship of the God of Abraham, the Israelites, the prophets and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fear and Reverence
The worshipers of the only true God approach Him carefully with deep reverence. Scripture tells us that God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.(Psalm 89:7 NKJV). This is the foundation of how God’s people are to approach worship if they wish to please Him. Their mindset together as a church must be to view Him with fear and reverence. The assembly of the saints as we can see is a theocentric assembly. To be theocentric in our church means that we basically better think long and hard about how we express our worship to God. It means we need to encounter God like those men in scripture who fell down and were overwhelmed with Him. God’s people are to hold God is the highest esteem. God must be reverenced by those who are truly about him.[I] We cannot approach Him with the external without considering the internal. Spurgeon once said:
“God is to be praised with the voice, and the heart should go therewith in holy exultation.”
What is the most amazing thing when we think about approaching God in worship is that we are even able to do so in the first place. Men have lived and died in history without enjoying that privilege. It is because of our Lord Jesus Christ who has taken away our sin that we can come into His presence. John Piper has expressed it well:
“God is one great massive fire of holiness. He hates sin and cannot abide it. We are little ant-like cinders of sin and if we got within ten trillion miles of this God, we would be consumed… The problem that the bible was written to deal with is “I have no hope of drawing near to God without being consumed because I am a sinner”. Unless there is some kind of asbestos –like priest who can wrap me around with all that He is and take me into the center of this fire, there is no hope for me at all.”
So how do we express fear and reverence when approaching God? We must first have a right view of God and the seriousness of approaching Him. God is to be served in reverence and awe because He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29) and when we have experienced His holiness we can get a bigger picture of what this looks like. Our singing, praying, sermons and fellowship together must have this in mind. Are all these things done with a heart that fears and reverences God. You can have the best preachers, singers, devotional prayers and the biggest Christian gatherings around and still fail in reverencing God.
The beginning of ecclesiastical contentment is understanding this about God. It will mark our minds with an overwhelming sense of how grand is the One we have come to worship. Churches that do not view God in this manner will never truly find satisfaction because they have not truly made God the center of their worship.
[i] Notice it isn’t the pastor who takes the title “reverend” that requires our reverence but God.