The New Testament adapts the terminology of worship found in the Old Testament in two significant ways. First, it describes Jesus in his death, resurrection, and ascension as the great high priest who has offered a perfect sacrifice to fulfil and replace the worship associated with the tabernacle and temple. The Lord Jesus enables us to approach God with confidence, as those who have been purified, sanctified and perfected by his finished work, and to live in God's presence forever (Hebrews 5:7-10; 8:1-6; 9:11-14; 12:22-24).

Secondly, the New Testament uses worship terms to describe the response we are to make to Jesus and the gospel. Some terms are applied to the service that we offer to God in everyday life, as we gratefully respond to the grace he has shown us (Romans 12:1; Hebrews12:29; 13:16). Similar terms are used to describe particular ministries that God gives to advance the gospel and build his church (Romans1:9; 15:15-16; Philippians 2:17; 4:18). The exercise of gifts in any context may be regarded as an expression of worship if the ministries are genuinely for the benefit of others and for the glory of God.

 

Reflection: Read Acts 13:1-3 and consider:

  • What is meant by 'worshipping the Lord' (literally 'serving the Lord') in this context?
  • What other activities might we legitimately include under the heading of congregational worship?
  • What is the relationship between serving the Lord and serving one another in a congregational context?

 

Another set of worship terms expresses the submission to Christ and homage that is involved in confessing his true character and becoming his disciple (Matthew 14:33; John 9:38; 1 Corinthians 14:24-5). Praise is particularly associated with submission and homage in the Psalms (95:1-6; 96:1-9; 99:1-5) and in the Revelation to John (5:9-14; 7:9-17; 15:3-4). Praise is our calling as Christians and an expression of our true identity (Ephesians 1:3-14; Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

As we gather to express who we are as the redeemed people of God, we worship God by hearing his word with faith and by responding with submission and praise. As we celebrate the victory of Christ and enjoy its benefits together, we echo the songs of the heavenly assembly and anticipate the worship of the new creation (Revelation 5, 7).

Such references suggest that it is consistent with Scripture to talk about a church 'service', and to view congregational ministry as a means of worshipping God. However, since other terms such as fellowship and edification can describe the purpose of gathering, it is not helpful to use 'worship' as the main or exclusive term. Moreover, it is important not to obscure the fact that worship belongs to the whole of life. While all ministry must be understood as a response to God's grace, and not in any sense a cultivation of his favour, ministry to others when the church gathers is an important aspect of our service or self-giving to God.

The 'vertical' and the 'horizontal' dimensions of what takes place should not be artificially separated. One part of our meetings cannot be 'the worship time' (prayer and praise) and another part 'the edification time' (preaching and exhortation), since New Testament teaching encourages us to view the same activities from both points of view.

Next: Gathered for fellowship in Christ

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