Worship and Relationship

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.

9 thoughts on “Worship and Relationship

  1. I agree. When we look at Hebrews 13:15-16 “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Although the ‘praise’ and ‘thanks’ could be interpreted at our ‘worship music’ I think it is better to understand ὁμολογούντων as individuals publicly giving thanks to God. Probably was us Americans would call a testimony or praise report. And of course ‘doing good and sharing’ is call ‘sacrifice.’ I think so much confusion on the ‘worship wars’ would be settled if we just revisited the NT and ask what is the purpose of the gathering.

    • Hi Matt,
      Thanks for the note. In context, I think that verse could be seen more broadly than simply singing in church, as you suggest. It could be towards each other for encouragement but also to the outsider, I think.

  2. Marty, thank you for this post. I was wondering, do you think that the reasons why “corporate worship” is more focused on “individual worship” (singing, listening to a sermon, giving) has anything to do with:
    people looking toward meeting their own needs rather than ministering to others?

    people not desiring to be confronted personally with having to apply the truths of Scripture in a “gathered church” setting?

    It appears that the way we do it now, it enables people to easily compartmentalize their church life, and to avoid uncomfortable biblical “one another” interaction. What do you think?

    • Chris,
      I completely agree. I remember reading Mark Dever somewhere (I think in Deliberate Church) say that he thinks that Christians should NOT close their eyes when they sing because that signifies some kind of blocking out of the other in order to “focus on God.” What I am getting in a small way in the post at is that we focus on God by encouraging and ministering to one another.

      Another example of that is a few years ago at a large conference in the US, some 7,000 people there, we were all singing wonderful songs led by Bob Kauflin. The guys in front of us were all throwing their hands up in such a way that we couldn’t actually see the screen to sing the words. The irony is that if you dare tell someone not to “worship God” that way, they brush you off with a kind of “how dare you tell me how to worship.” The individualism is quite rampant. And I think some or much of it comes from how we’ve misused the worship and connected it with our purpose of gathering.

      Yes, the idea of compartmentalizing is as old as Christianity. But, what struck me when I first read Tony’s argument about worship almost ten years ago was indeed your point. Without anyone overtly teaching me it as such, I was thinking that “worship” happened in church and when church was over, so was worship.

      • Marty,

        Thank you for your thoughtfully-written and clearly-expressed post. It has given words to some of my long-held hunches. Namely, if obeying the greatest commandment (love God) does not result in pursuing the 2nd commandment (love others), then we have actually neglected the first.

        However, I am sure you’d agree that there is a danger in conflating the two. “Exhortation and encouragement” need to be protected from worldly paradigms. They must find their definition and motivation from a right viewing of God, his people, and his world.

        Second, I wonder if the distraction of men vigorously gesturing during worship represents the rampant individualism that your post (rightfully) condemns? Are you certain that if you had tapped these brothers on the shoulder and informed them that you could not see the lyrics, they would have brushed you off with a “how dare you”?

        I suspect that “appropriate social decorum during gathered church singing” might not fit the slender view your comment suggests. And giving our more demonstrative brothers the benefit of the doubt would be in keeping with the fine spirit of your post on worship and relationship.

        • Hi Matthew,
          Thank you for taking time to post a response. That is very helpful. I realize that I made a blunder in connecting the points. In my mind I wasn’t insinuating a link between the guys who have their hands up and the people I have discussed this issue in the past (the “someone”s who have responding to me in such a manner as I listed in the next sentence).

          Obviously, I am saying the issue is much more than pushing an appropriate social decorum. It goes to the heart of what worship is and how we relate to God. It certainly has little to do with hand position or the like.

  3. Thanks for your article Marty.

    I confess that I still have not been convinced by the various articles etc arguing for the doing away of worship language, re ‘church’. One of these days I’ll get to posting something, if the topic is still live…

    But for the moment, can I say that I do agree with your point that the best format for exhortation and encouragement is informal and casual. I think trying to formalise those things will usually be forced and cheesy. In the end what we need to work on is people’s hearts, and building a culture, by word and example, where these things happen more naturally.

    • Hi Kirk,
      Thanks for the note. I certainly don’t want to say the only way for edification and encouragement (outside the sermon and singing) to happen is through informal and casual means. As Tony’s third article in the Briefing series on worship suggests, there are ways to encamp mutual edification and corporate fellowship idea into our “corporate worship” time (if you want to keep the language).

      And I guess that is the point. Why is it this time of encouragement isn’t considered “corporate worship”? Are there ways to better encourage people to be encouragers on Sunday mornings than just allowing only for it during the casual and informal time “after” church? I think the language we insist on retaining (which I still don’t think is there in the NT) severely hinders the idea.

      So, it would be great to keep interacting on these issues. This isn’t one of those obligatory sayings, I really would like to read your thoughts if and when you get to it. I am sure I will be challenged and helped. Obviously, this is more than just a discussion on theological issues. I does affect the way we do things.

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