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49. Christian worship

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God lives in the Church.

If you want to know what a group of people really believe, look at what, why, and how, they worship. The ‘church’ is the living community of believing people. They have all responded to God’s call on their lives. ‘Church’ is not primarily any formal ecclesiastical, or denominational, structure of administration. ‘Church’ is not primarily any building or physical location. ‘Church’ as we are looking at it now, means “the local company of Christians visibly gathered together for worship and ministry”. “A true church will be recognised by its unity in relationships, its holiness of life, its openness to all, its submission to the rule of the apostolic Scriptures, its preaching of Christ in rule and sacrament, and its commitment to mission”. There are five reasons for meeting together as a Christian congregation:

  • for worship (Greek – latreia, and Greek – proskynein) ;

  • for fellowship (Greek – koinonia);

  • for teaching (Greek – didache);

  • for ministry (Greek – diakonia);

  • and for witness( Greek – martyria).

All five are to be carried out for the glory of God throughJesus Christ, by the local church. Worship is being totally absorbed by God. Meeting for worship is meeting to acknowledge God’s worth in acts of praise. My main interest in joining for worship is God Himself. I will meet other people, but if I do not meet God, then I have not worshipped. In worship, God occupies my complete attention. My heart is concerned only with the heart of God. In worship I show deep respect for God. I love Him, and I say so. I am awestruck in God’s presence, with none of the distractions that are usually around me in everyday life. I bow down to God in surrender of my own life to Him. I recognise He is the Kingly presence and I am only His poor servant. Together with others in Christian worship, we praise and adore God, we confess our sins, we break bread, we enjoy fellowship, we listen to Bible readings and teaching, we receive God’s call and grace to progress in our Christian walk, we thank God, we bring Him our world, ourselves and our needs, we call on God to intervene and we commit ourselves to be His helpers, we bring our offerings from what He has given us, and we proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians together are those “who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus”, (Philippians 3:3). Paul testified: “I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way”, (Acts 24:14). (‘The Way’ was the name and the lifestyle followed by disciples of Jesus Christ). The Greek word ‘worship’ (above) is translated to ‘serve’ in Revelation 7:15; and Revelation 22:3. The word has the root meaning of ‘a hired servant’. As the women folk in our families serve us up excellent aseeda, foule, or kisera to enjoy day by day, so in heaven we will serve up our worship to God! And in our weekly church services – until we get to heaven – we can already serve our corporate worship up to God! The results of a New Testament survey of the church at worship show:

  • they had daily – sometimes public and sometimes private – meetings (Acts 2:46; Acts 5:42);

  • they had meetings on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10);

  • the apostles’ teaching was listened to and learned from (Acts 2:42);

  • at least some of their meetings involved sharing meals (Acts 2:42;Acts 2:46);

  • they baptised new believers (Acts2:41; Acts 8:12; Acts 10:48;1 Corinthians 1:13-17);

  • the scheduled prayer times of their background Jewish faith, were adopted and developed (Acts 3:1; Acts 16:13; Romans 1:9-10; Colossians 4:12;1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 3:17, 4:2);

  • music was used in their worship, and the songs learned helped them in difficult situations (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25;Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13; Revelation 5:9-14);

  • in special circumstances some of their meetings were long (Acts 20:7);

  • peoples’ material needs were shared and were met from within the congregation (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35; Acts 6:1; Hebrews13:15-16; James 2:1-6);

  • they collected offerings to help others(1 Corinthians 16:2;2 Corinthians 8:15);

  • everyone’s gifts were given opportunity to make a contribution to the overall church programme (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11);

  • they exercised discipline over individuals where it became necessary (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5);

  • the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-35);

  • the believers were urged to treat every day as a sacred day, not just some days (Galatians 4:9-11);

  • they were urged to use all of their time carefully (Ephesians 5:15-16; Colossians 4:5);

  • and even the secular was seen to be God-given and to be prayed for (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

As Christians we should always seek to give to God in worship. We give God our praise. We give God our love. We give God our church life – all of us as Christians together. It is in this our giving that God reaches out to bless us. He builds us up together by His living and strengthening presence (Ephesians 2:19-22; Ephesians 4:11-15). We meet with God together in a way that is not possible on our own (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:18-20).

Singing and music has played a significant part in the history of the church down the centuries. Where not everyone can read, or where not everyone does read, the repetition of good theology in words set to memorable tunes is a valuable method of influencing the worship of the church and the understanding of Christians. In the early church, many people were suspicious of using music associated with pagan entertainment. It was St Basil, A.D. 330-387, who said “God blended the delight of melody with doctrines, in order that through the pleasantness and softness of the sound, we might unawares receive what was useful in the words … for this purpose these harmonious melodies of the Psalms have been prepared for us”. All singing is not necessarily worship. Good worship-singing centres on the value, worth and actions of God. It enables us to express our love, honour and respect to Him. In our church worship services it is right to be confident in Who God is, to be fascinated into knowing God better, to be thankful and appreciative of all that God does, and to express a growing love for God. True worship is offered to God from our hearts, by the Holy Spirit, in honour of the Lord Jesus Christ. Beware of two dangerous extremes in worship. Chaos is to be avoided. God the Holy Spirit creates an ‘order’ in the local body of Christ, just as there is a life-sustaining order of activity in our own human bodies. To have ‘order’ (Greek – taxis) means to make arrangements, to plan, to be tidy and to be systematic in our preparation for, and in our holding of, actual worship services (1 Corinthians 14:33,40; Colossians 3:15-17;

1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Ritual repetition in cold, unattractive formality is also to be avoided. We do not want to be unfeeling or to seem unattractive in our worship! Since worship is an overflow of our hearts’ feelings towards God, then there needs to be emotion expressed. God is so great! Salvation is so marvellous! Knowing God’s purpose in life is so exciting! (Mark 7:6-8; John 4:23-24; 2 Corinthians 3:2-11; Revelation 3:14-22). The brand new church at Antioch displayed visible evidence of the grace of God when a visitor came to see them (Acts 11:21-23). Encouragement built up the people. Evangelism added people to the congregation. Education developed their discipleship of Jesus Christ. The local believers tried to eliminate the needs of other believers far away, by their own generous sharing (Acts 11:21-30).

To worship God is to give Him the worth He is due, to express His value in your life. To worship is to think, to say, or to sing, how much God Himself means to you. Real worship is a heart feeling about the Lord our God, expressed in an appropriate way. Such “spiritual sacrifices (are) acceptable to God throughJesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

As we know the presence of God in our church worship on Sundays, it will help us live in the presence of God throughout the rest of the working week (Romans 12:1-2). God is present everywhere all of the time. When I leave the church building, or the church service, I do not leave God’s presence. I can continue to worship God by holy living. I worship God by outwardly whistling or inwardly humming songs of praise to Him, wherever I am and whatever else I am doing (Ephesians 5:19). We are not physically together as Christians all day every day. We may be scattered as individuals throughout Khartoum’s work, school, and home communities. But we are still close together spiritually, in the Church universal, and we live as citizens of a different Kingdom – the Kingdom of God – within the Republic of Sudan. Our Sunday or Friday worship together, should help us individually reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to the people among whom we live and serve (1 Peter 2:9-12).

Thinking it through.

(a). How are the ‘five reasons Christian congregations exist’ (above) expressed in your local church or fellowship?

(b). If one or two are weak, how can they be strengthened?

(c). Describe, in one sentence, ‘a group of Christians worshipping God’.

(d). Which is the worst trap for a local church to fall into: being ‘chaotic’ in worship, or being ‘too rigidly structured’ in worship? Explain why?

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