Do you want to join a perfect Church? You must die. You will not do it otherwise. And if you were to join a perfect Church, I am sure it would not be perfect after you had been admitted into it. You had better give up that idea and just believe what God says about His own Church, “You are my flock, the flock of my pasture, you are men.” Come, then, with us, and we will do you good.
-Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1807, “A Call to the Lord’s Own Flock”
I’ve talked about the unity the church has in the most central issue of the gospel of Jesus. I’ve talked about the unity we have in crucial areas of love, humility, and suffering. This time my desire is to talk to you all about the unity we have in the central and primary practice of the church, as a group and individually: unity in worship.
Now I want to set the boundaries of this idea first: this is not about music, though music and singing are inexorably part of the church’s worship of God. Likewise, this isn’t going to be a rant about musical styles or certain groups and churches, though inevitably that will be a point to discuss later on as a fruit of this. I invite that discussion, in fact, either here in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter, or through email if you’d prefer to discuss your thoughts privately. There are practices that even my own church uses, like instruments, that Spurgeon himself would not have approved of.
What I want to do is define worship, its purpose, and its ends in the body of Christ. As one body and as individual churches, we join together weekly to bare our hearts before our Lord. We cry out praises to him for who he is, and our need for him to strengthen us to obey his Word, to die to ourselves and to live to Christ.
When the church worships together, it declares its confidence that God will fulfill his promises and remembers how he has already done exactly that. We confess our faith that lies in the cross, we instruct the weaker brother to pursue God boldly, and we correct the erring brother who may fear that the Lord’s mercies are not sufficient to cover him. We confess our sins and weaknesses to God and we embrace his great and glorious grace, and remember that his love and patience will long outlast our sin.
Worship is not just music. To be honest, I’ve never liked the phrases “worship team” or “worship minister” to refer to those who are involved in music for a worship service. That’s just it: all of a service is worship. We worship through raising our voices in song; we worship through hearing the Word preached faithfully; we worship through sacrificial giving to strengthen our own body and for the needs of others; and we worship through observing the ordinances of the church. When a brother or sister is baptized, we rejoice and cry out in worship of God for the faith demonstrated, both in the finished work of Christ and in the promise of the day when we will see Jesus face to face, free from sinful weights and made totally new. And I cannot think of a more worshipful time than for a church to take communion together, to take part in a physical remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ.
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
whom should I dread?
When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
Though an army deploys against me,
my heart will not be afraid;
though a war breaks out against me,
I will still be confident.
-Psalm 27:1-3, CSB
When our hearts ache for intimacy for God, when he feels far and when fear presses in, we can let the light of the Word drive back the darkness alongside the sons of Korah:
I will say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about in sorrow
because of the enemy’s oppression?”
My adversaries taunt me,
as if crushing my bones,
while all day long they say to me,
“Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.
-Psalm 42:9-11 CSB
And when sin wounds, when we stumble and fall and need his restoring hands to heal us, David again comes to aid us:
God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of your salvation to me,
and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach the rebellious your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God—
God of my salvation—
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it;
you are not pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.
-Psalm 51:10-17 CSB
While worship serves to bring our hearts before God, and seeks his ministry (as it should!), worship is not about us. So often worship becomes a thing where men seek to bring glory to themselves. I won’t belabor this with many examples, except to say, this is an area where we all must guard our own hearts. We are going before the holy God who made you and who bought you for the price of his Son’s precious blood. It should not be a light and easy thing, nor should worship be simply an emotional high. That is not to say that it should be emotionally dead; I think a lot of times this becomes something of a false dichotomy for churches, where we feel we either have to be this over-the-top rock concert for Jesus, or a dour congregation that goes through the motions with Vulcan-like self-control.
Overwhelming joy in Christ is a wonderful thing! I can think of many beautiful times where joining in the body of Christ brought me to joyful tears or overflowing happiness. But we need to be careful that worship does not simply become the method by which we seek our next “hit” of an emotional high. If worship is designed simply to seek this over and over, I think it is wise to ask the question: Is this worship about Jesus, or about me?
I am looking forward to joining the body again and again to seek the Lord’s face, and I hope that the same desire is in you. Above all, I want the unity in worship that the church shares to drive us to greater heights of unity in the areas I mentioned in previous episodes: in love, in humility, and serving and suffering. Worship should never terminate on ourselves, and it should never conclude with the final chord or the benediction. It should be a refreshing draught that lets us rejoin the outside world ready to display the love of Jesus to those around us, full of faith and peace.