New Approach To Worship

If you are like many Christians, you view worship as something you do on Sunday morning (and possibly Wednesday night) when the worship team or the worship minister leads the congregation into songs of "praise and worship." Or . . . it's when you are at home singing to a worship CD or tape.

The New Testament, however, paints a very different picture of worship. First, worship is extremely important to God. Thus, it should be a lifestyle, not an event (see Romans 12:1). Second, from the beginning of the Old Testament when God gave the law to Israel and throughout the New Testament era, worship was very much a corporate exercise. It was not the exclusive domain of the individual. Third, God has given us specific instructions on how to worship Him.

Recall when King David wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Israel responded to his desire and brought the holy Ark to the chosen city on a wooden cart. As the cart headed toward the Holy City, Israel danced, sang, celebrated with music. That is, they worshipped! And they worshipped with great fervor and passion. It was a wonderful celebration. But tragedy struck, and God ended the celebration (see 2 Samuel 6:1 -15).

Why did this happen? It is because the people had violated the Lord's prescribed will on how the Ark was to be carried. God had a specific way in which He was to be worshipped, and He didn't compromise that expectation.

Even though the hearts of God's people were right and even though David's intentions were pure, the error was that they didn't "inquire of him about how to [worship] in the prescribed way" (1 Chronicles 15:13, NIV ). God made clear through Moses that the Ark of the Lord's presence was to be carried upon the sanctified shoulders of Levitical priests. It was never to be placed on a wooden cart.

David got it right the second time around and placed the Ark on the shoulders of the Levites, just as God prescribed. God was pleased. Consider David's sobering words about Israel's mistake the first time around:

"It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the LORD our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way" (1 Chronicles 15:13, 'NIV).

Israel's error was that they didn't seek God according to "the prescribed way." That is, they didn't worship God according to His way. They worshipped Him in their own way. It's important to note that Israel borrowed the idea to place the holy Ark on a wooden cart from the heathen Philistines! (See 1 Samuel 6:1-12.)

In the same way, God has not been silent about how He wishes to be worshipped. He wishes to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). "In truth" simply means in reality and according to His way. Regrettably, however, the holy vessels of the Lord are still being carried on wooden carts. You have already read the story in this book.

A NEW APPROACH TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH

The early church produced followers of Christ who turned their world upside down. Even today, these first-century Christians have much to teach us about how we are to live as we grow in Christ. True discipleship is about bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God based on the development and activation of Christlike character. True disciple-ship is knowing Jesus Christ and allowing Him to live His life in us.

It's unfortunate that we have made Christian discipleship an academic exercise as well as an individual pursuit. Across the country we have defined "success" in spiritual formation in terms of the quantity of knowledge received and retained. We often measure this in terms of programs or courses of study that have been completed. We have lost sight of the authentic aim of discipleship in favor of impractical, passive outcomes that do not reshape who we are and how we live.

Yet Jesus never told us that "He who dies with the most religious knowledge, wins." Nor did He ever make discipleship an individual task accomplished solely through personal sweat and toil.

Jesus spent His life equipping others to live a life for God and showing them firsthand what that looked like. He began with a community of twelve men and a handful of women who lived a shared life together. And that community expanded into communities all over the Roman world. Those communities were the early churches.

Jesus' approach to affecting lives was interactive and hands-on. His lectures were few and far between and always led to implementing the point of the lesson in the trenches of life. His perspective was drawn from the big picture of God's Kingdom—that is, based upon a worldview that was shaped by a comprehensive understanding of God's ways and His desired outcomes.

How does this translate into practical, personal action?

Very simple. The school of Christ is none other than the community of the believers—the ekklesia of God. We learn Christ from one another and with one another in a close-knit, shared-life community, where every member is free to share the Lord with their brothers and sisters, just as the first-century Christians did.

According to Paul, Jesus Christ is someone to be learned in the believing community (Ephesians 4:20). It is in that community that we "learn Christ" to be better disciples. It's in that community that we learn Christ to be parents, children, husbands, and wives. It's in that community where every member learns Him together, hears Him together, and follows Him together.

There is no substitute for that. The Christian life was never meant to be lived outside of Christian community. And that is precisely what the church is in the biblical sense . . . a shared-life community under Christ's leadership.

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