From what I understand, I am one of the few who have been convinced by Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen’s assertion that you don’t come to church for the purpose of worship. Call me a company man or, as I like to think of it, a person who recognizes biblical correction. Either way, I know that I am in the minority.
I’ve been studying Hebrews for the last several months. Other than reading through the book many times, I was helped by two very insightful resources – Joshua Ng’s From Shadow to Reality and Peter O’Brien’s commentary on Hebrews. Both of these resources pushed me to think more about the letter as a whole than in previous readings of the book.
As with previous readings of the book, I am reminded of the fact that we relate to God through both the finished and ongoing work of Jesus Christ, our high priest in heaven. But, what I’ve missed in my previous readings is that the this-world, tangible expression of that relationship with our heavenly Father is seen in how we relate to each other. You find this clearly in the exhortation sections of the letter, namely chapters 3, 4, 10 and 13.
So, for example, O’Brien says 10:19-25 is both the “capstone” of a lengthy exposition (beginning back at 5:1) about the person and work of Christ and the transition into the exhortation of how to respond. So, “On the basis of our access to God provided by Christ’s sacrifice, our author seeks to motivate his listeners to respond appropriately” (Pillar New Testament Commentary on Hebrews, pg 361).
What is the appropriate response of our now nearness to God in Christ? Worship is a way to give a summary answer. However one wants to define worship, it certainly has its center in how one relates to God. And, it seems to me that our relationship to God is demonstrated in how we relate to others and in prayer.
So, even if we continue to call the purpose and name of our Sunday morning meetings as worship, why is it so often that it has little to do with our relationship with each other? (And, by the way, how often does it have little to do with prayer?) Why is it that we express our worship more closely with the cultic rituals (whether through our formal liturgy or through a weird, informal, non-relational liturgy) that Hebrews shows is so unnecessary?
In practice, we certainly relate to God as he speaks to us through his word. Most bible-teaching churches have this part right. But, the edification fellowship that is so central to the New Testament purpose of why we get together is sorely lacking. What little relating that actually happens is usually about sports, weather, lunch, etc. after the “corporate worship” time.
I am sure exhortation and encouragement does happen on Sunday mornings. Usually, it is informal and casual. And perhaps that is the best format for it to be effective. But, what I am thinking about is why it’s not part of what everyone insists on calling “corporate worship”. I’ll keep thinking.