Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from our friend Johnny Markin. You can follow Johnny on Twitter at @JohnnyMarkin. Many thanks to Johnny for sharing this perspective on worship with us!
It doesn’t take very long to surf the media to see that the Christian Faith is under siege. And those of us who attempt to live Biblically find ourselves being “strangers in a strange land,” in what used to be a “Christian” culture, or at least one greatly influenced by Biblical values.
It’s really not so different from what we read in the early chapters of Daniel. The Kingdom of Judah had been decimated by the Babylonians, their Temple destroyed, and the people carried off to captivity in Babylon. Daniel and his counterparts in Chapter 1 were being pressured to take on Babylon’s values, compromising all that defined them as a people of Yahweh, the Living God, who had called them as His very own people. What did that promise look like now?
Of course we read about how God did a miracle when Daniel stood up for his faith, but we tend to forget that the Jews were there for a very long time. So the question that arises is how they managed to “keep faith” when the very core symbols of their faith were no longer the centre of how they worshipped: the Temple, sacrificial offerings, and the Ark of the Covenant.
A SURVIVAL PLAN
Well, it was in the time of captivity that the Jews developed the system of “Synagogue” worship. Ralph Martin, in Webber’s Complete Library of Christian Worship, writes:
“Synagogue worship had a distinctive pattern. Wisdom and the study of the Torah became the goal and focus of the synagogue. A crisis existed in the faith of the Jews, who had been without a temple for the greater part of a century. A new form was needed to adapt to the new circumstances. The synagogue became the ekklēsia, that is, the assembly or congregation. The worship in the synagogue stressed reading and exposition of the Torah, prayer, recitation of the Shma’ (based on Deut. 6:4), and recitation of psalms”.
Gathering regularly for worship enabled them to “survive” the Babylonian cultural onslaught. The early Church knew this, too, and survived the Roman Persecution by applying the very same principles. So, too, our gathered worship will help us remain faithful in the face of today’s cultural tsunami.
How does that happen? Well, when the Church gathers for worship:
1. WORSHIP AFFIRMS WHO WE ARE – a people in Christ.
The Synagogue was the central gathering for the community, and Psalms and readings helped continue to affirm their position in Yahweh, and their perception of themselves as God’s chosen people. Psalm 105 is a perfect example of worship that “remembers” the deeds of God. This was a powerful part of their gathered worship. They told the story of God, and of His Covenant promises toward them.
This actually formed the core of how the early Church worshipped, and should still form the core of how we worship. Acts 2:42 tells us: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (ESV).
2. WORSHIP AFFIRMS A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW.
When the faithful found themselves far from their historic centre, they had to develop an “exile” mindset that kept them focused on a distant day in the future, when God’s promises would be fulfilled and they would return to Jerusalem. Their faithful prophet, Jeremiah, had given them a new promise from God (chapter 29), that He had not abandoned them, but to be patient, getting on with life and living where He had sent them. Trusting in that word shaped a hope that helped them endure. But it also helped them discern whose voice to listen to, ignoring the voices of the local “prophets,” they were to rely on Yahweh’s word that they would return in 70 years.
Centuries later, Paul would write to the Church in Rome:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:1-2 ESV)
Our discernment of God’s perfect will is to know how to separate the cultural from the biblical. It’s the Word that shapes our worldview.
3. WORSHIP AFFIRMS OUR HOPE THAT GOD IS WITH US.
The Incarnation is a picture of how we are to live as exiles. Christ exiled himself and came to “our” world. It’s a beautiful picture of how God came to be with us, but more than that, the sending of His Spirit at Pentecost assures every believer that He remains with us.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17 ESV)
HANG IN THERE…
So God calls us to endure where we are. And the role of our worship is to keep us faithful where we are planted. That is why the author of Hebrews, addressing a persecuted church in the latter half of the 1st Century wrote these sage words:
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV)
A day IS surely coming, as surely as the people returned to Jerusalem; as surely as Messiah was born among His people; as surely as Christ rose from the dead, as He said He would. He is coming. Again. For He said He would.
Stay faithful, fellow Christian. Worship Christ alongside your brothers and sisters and be assured that: 1) we are His, 2) His word is true, and 3) He is with us.
 Robert Webber, The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, 1st ed., vol. 1, The Complete Library of Christian Worship (Nashville, TN: Star Song Pub. Group, 1993), 99. Back to post