Read John 4:21-24 …
Ferguson’s book on the Church of Christ wouldn’t have been complete without a section dealing with worship and assembly. Indeed, both worship and assembly are so ingrained in one’s understanding of church that often those are the only avenues ever considered while contemplating what it means to “do church.” In view of this, Ferguson outlined some common misunderstandings of worship that have infiltrated parts of the religious community.[i]
First, as with the P&S Club of Jesus’s day, there is an idea that merely performing certain religious exercises is the full extent of the Christian’s worship to God. This is what some have styled in the past as a “check box” type of Christianity. Although an individual may encounter the Church by doing certain rote motions, a problem arises when the motions take the place of sincerity and genuineness. Among the conclusions that follow when Jesus speaks about “spirit and truth” in John 4:24, surely one of the implications would be that He was pointing to a deeper spiritual relationship with God than “check box” Christianity can provide.
Second, there is also the thought that worship, even when among others, is more of a private religious devotion focused upon meditation and introspection of the individual. Should the individual have some sort of internal self-examination to determine the state of the mind and soul? Of course, this is exactly the thought of 2 Corinthians 13:5 when Paul tells those Christians to “examine yourself” and “test yourself.” Yet, to take the time when Christians are to come together and spend that time on personal meditation is the seed that produces the “I can worship at the lake as well as in a church building” mentality. The Church, as a body, has benefits that can only be shared when together. The Church, as a body, has strengths that can only be applied when together.
Finally, Ferguson’s last two thoughts may be merged as one because when one engages in worship for the emotionally uplifting experience, the expectation is placed upon the Church to provide those elative moods. When the focus of worship is the enhancement of the worshiper (even from a desire to praise God), those planning the worship service must begin to account for the emotional impact of what is said and done. When that happens, the activities of “those in front” becomes a structured performance designed to reinforce positive emotions. When the worshipper comes for their own benefit, God becomes a means. When the goal is to provide an “experience,” the Church becomes a production company.
Is there value in habitual religious activities? When times of trouble and doubt occur (which they will), habitual activities can become an anchor to a way of thinking and acting that looks to something greater then ourselves. Are meditation and personal devotions valuable? For the Christian and non-Christian alike, introspection often leads to the recognition of truths that can change attitudes and actions for the better. Should one avoid intense emotional experiences? On the contrary, God gave us emotions to help us form deep commitments and strengthen the bonds of compassion among ourselves and towards Him.
“The fuller truth is that the assembly is to be spiritual, corporate, instructive, and directed toward God. It should be an occasion that raises the consciousness of God and focuses attention on others.”
In the New Testament, the idea of “worship” indicates more than the corporate acts of devotion by the assembly, “worship” also considers Christian morality and acts of service to others on behalf of God. Yet, the assembled worship also has a place in the life of the people of God, and as such, should reflect biblical attitudes and expectations.
[i] Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 226-229.