Understanding the Concept of

I hope this study's emphasis on worshipping God now has your attention. I hope it challenges you to think. Some of the most important aspects of the meaning of Christian acts are held as assumptions. For example, we assume that if we are Christians we understand what worship is. We may often defend what we do in worship, but we rarely study worship as a concept.

We might conduct lengthy studies about prayer, and declare prayer is a part of worship, but we assume we understand the concept of worship. We assume if we have determined the correct way to pray in public assemblies, we understand a correct part of worship.

The assume the same thing for communion, or for giving, or for sermons, or for singing. We assume if we champion the correct forms of these things, we understand the correct concept of worship. Thus if we put correct prayer, and correct communion, and correct giving, and correct sermons, and correct singing together we produce worship. The assumption is this: if we do all the correct things in worship, then worship must occur and be correct.

In the first two lessons I challenged your concepts of worship by taking you to Cain's sacrifice in Genesis 4 and God's condemnation of Judah's worship in Isaiah 1. I had a reason for doing that approach. I wanted you to admit to yourself that maybe there are some things about the concept of worship you have not considered.

If I ask you to consider something biblical that is distinctly opposite of what you thought for a long time without first challenging you to recognize the need to learn from scripture, you are likely to react rather than think. I do not want you to spend your time reacting and determining ways you can counter what scripture says. I want you to spend your time thinking and understanding the concept of worship. I want you to think about realities from scripture that perhaps you have never considered before. I want you to form a biblical concept of worship instead of assuming you know and understand the biblical concept of worship.

  1. Let's begin with the obvious question: what is worship?
    1. Please do not confuse this question with another question.
      1. The question is: what is worship?
      2. The question is not: how does a Christian worship?
      3. There is an enormous difference between those two questions.
        1. There is a world of difference in "what" and "how."
        2. The first question deals with a concept.
        3. The second question deals with procedures.
        4. The first question deals with a basic purpose.
        5. The second question focuses on how that purpose is accomplished.
      4. These two questions suggest the unthinkable to far too many Christians.
        1. We can do all the correct "hows" in precisely the correct forms and ways, and still not worship--and to many that is unthinkable.
        2. In fact, that runs counter to an emphasis that I have heard or been aware of for as long as I have lived.
        3. This is the common emphasis from my past (a continues to be a common emphasis in too many congregations): if we do the correct things in the correct ways, worship happens and God is pleased.
        4. For far too long our emphasis has tended to be on "how the church worships," not on "what is worship."
        5. It almost has been as if the concept of worship is unimportant if the procedures in worship are correct.
    2. Our failure to understand and stress worship as a concept apart from the "hows" has produced disastrous results that produces problems that continue attacking us.
      1. I am going to make some controversial observations.
      2. The foundation reason that some Christians find their confidence in being physically present in a church building on Sunday morning when they make no attempt to worship begins with this: they do not understand the concept of worship.
      3. The foundation reason that some Christians come really get involved in all the worship "hows" on Sunday and live very ungodly lives the rest of the week is this: they do not understand the concept of worship.
      4. The foundation reason that some Christians freely substitute "going to church" for godly attitudes, godly emotions, and godly behavior is this: they do not understand the concept of worship.
      5. The foundation reason that some Christians would not dare miss communion on Sunday morning but frequently miss the rest of worship's fellowship with their spiritual family is this: they do not understand the concept of worship.
      6. The foundation reason that some Christians by design and personal desire come as late as they can and leave as quickly as they can is this: they do not understand the concept of worship.
    3. In the first two lessons I hope two things leaped out at you from scripture.
      1. Genesis 4: from the Bible's first recorded acts of worship (and continuing throughout all history to today!), the first step of worship that pleases God, that God has regard for, is that the worship begins in a person's heart.
      2. Isaiah 1: even if you are God's people, acceptable worship must have a primary influence on the way you treat people.
      3. Both of those understandings lie at the inner heart of the concept of worship.

  2. Do human feelings determine if worship does or does not occur?
    1. The answer to that question is "yes and not."
      1. Perhaps your response is, "David, that is ridiculous! That is no answer at all! The answer cannot be both yes and no!
      2. My response is this: whether the answer is yes or whether it is no depends on what is meant by the question.
    2. For the specific reason of making a contrast and creating understanding, allow me to look first at "no" as an answer.
      1. Have you ever been to what was regarded as a Christian worship assembly and left making this comment: "I do not feel like I have been to worship!"
      2. What did you mean by that statement?
        1. Did you mean, "I disapprove of what occurred! I personally resented what occurred so much that I found nothing about the experience worshipful."
        2. Was the criteria for what occurred--your personal feelings?
      3. Let me give you a specific example.
        1. Suppose you attended an assembly of 200 baptized believers on a Sunday morning that was definitely "high church" in tone in every way.
        2. The five things you ordinarily do in worship were done, and no more--singing without instruments, praying, communing, giving, and a sermon from scripture.
        3. But:
          1. There was a massive, ornate pulpit elevated about 18 feet high above the congregation.
          2. Those directing the assembly wore special clothing.
          3. Christians lined up in front to take communion.
          4. The communion bread was unleavened but in the form of a loaf.
          5. The communion juice was real wine.
          6. The rows of pews were short, uncomfortable, old, and ornate.
          7. When the collection was taken the collect plates were attached to long wooden handles, and no one touched the plates.
          8. When scripture was read everyone stood.
          9. When prayers were offered everyone stood.
          10. There was quiet before the assembly and after the assembly--talking was permitted only when you were outside the building.
        4. If that was the situation, if you remarked in the car as you drove away that you did not feel like you worshipped, would the fact that you had those feelings mean no worship occurred in that assembly?
        5. No! It might mean you did not worship, but your feelings would not prove that no one else worshipped.
      4. Years ago I met a very troubled man in a very prestigious position.
        1. The man had a religious background, but all his religious experiences were in a "high church" context.
        2. For months we studied, and for months he worshipped with the congregation I then preached for.
        3. After several months of study, he was baptized by his request and his initiative.
        4. For at least six months he continued to worship with us, recovering from his troubles, and becoming more and more spiritual in his focus.
        5. One day he came to me and said, "I mean no disrespect to you, but I just cannot continue worshipping here. It is not a theology problem; things are just so informal that I do not feel like I have worshipped when I come."
        6. The congregation I was in at that time was visibly more dedicated to tradition than this congregation is.
        7. Did the fact that he did not feel like he worshipped when he assembled with us mean no worship occurred when we assembled?
      5. If by the question, "Do human feelings determine if worship occurs?" one means that his/her feelings are the criteria that determines if worship does or does not occur, the answer is "No, human feelings do not determine if worship occurs."
    3. If by the question, "Do human feelings determine if worship occurs?" one means are human hearts gratefully honoring God as the Creator of life and the One who re-created spiritual life in us, the answer is yes.
      1. The fundamental purpose of worship is to honor God for all He has done and does in giving us life--which includes both physical existence and life in Christ.
      2. If hearts are honoring God through Jesus Christ [understanding that this act of honor is expressed in numerous ways], worship occurs.
      3. Worship occurs because of the manner Christians feel toward God.
      4. Human feelings that express gratitude as they honor and glorify God are expressing worship.

  3. This brings us to the second reality regarding the concept of worship.
    1. The second reality: in the concept of worship, there is a conscious understanding of the fact that God is the sustainer and we are the dependents.
      1. We worship Him because we are totally dependent on Him.
      2. That dependence:
        1. Is not a matter of debate.
        2. Is not a matter "to be determined."
        3. Is not a matter to be questioned.
    2. That dependence is understood and accepted.
      1. He brought life and us into physical existence.
      2. He made promises that He kept.
      3. Those promises expressed themselves in absolute completion in Jesus Christ.
      4. He is the Father who sent His son Jesus.
      5. Jesus is my only way to go to the Father (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5,6)
      6. The only access I have to God's grace and mercy expressed in forgiveness, justification, redemption, and sanctification is through what God did for us in Jesus Christ.

Christians worship because they are genuinely grateful for what God has done for them. It is impossible to separate human gratitude that seeks to honor and glorify God from Christian worship.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 18 January 2004
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