What Is Christian Worship?
When the first Christians gathered together, from the very start, they would worship together. They did so formally (in prayer and Sabbath services with Jews, until the fall of Jerusalem) and informally (in each others' homes and other gathering places). Many of the earliest non-Testamental records of the Church are about the Church in worship. They came together to revere God together, and celebrate God's worth-ship. They were full of fruit, especially the Holy Spirit's fruit of joy.
Even today, the Holy Spirit shapes us into being a people of worship, in which they experience God - God's works, God's words, God's presence, God's power. Most of all, we come amazed at how God has reached for us and loved us, repairing the breach with us by way of Jesus Christ. For those who take part in this, worship becomes a way of life, and life becomes a way of worship. This is a way of being close with our Father, a way of giving back what the Giver first gave us.
Whenever Christians gather for worship, it is, more than at any other time, the time to depend on the Holy Spirit.
Spirit and Sacraments In Worship
In Basil's Anaphora (Eucharist prayer), he specifically speaks of Jesus' having "sanctified us with the Holy Spirit". Also early Christian leader John Chrysostom, in his *Liturgy*, links together the Eucharist and the Spirit's work :
"Make this bread the precious body of thy Christ, and what is in this cup the precious blood of thy Christ, changing them by thy Holy Spirit, so that it may be to those who partake of it for sobriety, the remission of sins, the communication of the Holy Spirit, the fulness of the kingdom of heaven; for confidence in thee and not for judgement or condemnation."
The above prayer is part of the 'Eucharistic' (thanks-giving) prayer. In it, the presiding minister asks the Holy Spirit to come upon the bread and wine. Another early church liturgist, Hippolytus, wrote this prayer : "And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offerings of your holy church, that, gathering them into one, you would grant to all your saints who partake of them to be filled with the Holy Spirit."
GOD'S WORD IN WORSHIP
Through the proclaimed Word in sermons, God's judgements and promises actually come into the midst of the gathering. What is proclaimed is more than just an idea: when the Word is communicated, situations change, attitudes change, lives change. When the Word is spoken and interpreted, it comes alive to us. It's an experience of the Holy Spirit's work to reach your soul. If things are happening but the Word is not heard, it can be pretty safely said that the Spirit isn't doing it.
The main point of having a sermon in a worship service isn't to teach doctrine or practice, nor to rally them around a cause, nor to get their attention to whatever the preacher is saying that week. The reason the sermon is there is that the Gospel must be proclaimed and taught so that we can live in it. That is why at least one passage of one of the four gospels is read and preached in each service.
to the higher calling
PRAYER IN A WORSHIP SERVICE
When worshiping, Christians pray a lot. They pray for:
- oneself and one's own,
- those who are ill,
- the world and its leaders, sins, momentous happenings, and disasters;
- the pastor, the sermon, and an open mind in listening to it;
- a spirit of fellowship and friendship;
- our learning, discerning, and witness;
- church events, activities, and ministries;
- vision and renewed energy;
- giving thanks to God;
- becoming quieted enough to pay attention to God's presence.
These are all a part of prayer within worship. Prayers in the mode of the liturgical churches show a full vision of prayer. We examine ourselves and see our sin; we see how wrong it is, and commit before God to do it no more; we ask God to help us do it; we ask God to forgive us; we meditate on God's Word as told by the preacher; we thank God for the work of Christ in restoring our relationship; and we celebrate God's presence among us with praise.
Truth be told, many Christians don't really believe that the prayers said in a worship service have effectiveness and power. They pray, but expect that nothing will happen. Yet the Christian faith itself is one for praying with the expectation that someway, somehow, something will happen because of faithful prayers, that the Almighty does have room for us in the divine scheme of things. Jesus told us so. When those who are gathered pray and believe that it matters, it's amazing to be part of it.
There are many forms of prayer in worship:
- Recited scriptural prayers;
- Composed or poetic prayer (which can, in the right hands, say what the gathered worshipers want to say but don't know how to say it);
- Praying together in 'led prayer' or liturgical prayer (with prepared petitions and a congregational response phrase);
- Epiclesis (calling on the Spirit to come and act, especially in Baptism and Communion);
- Everyone praying aloud together their own prayers at the same time (sometimes called 'concert prayer', and is characteristic of Asian Christians).
- Breaking into groups of four or five, and praying in that group for a short period of time (usually five minutes).
In worship, the pastor or worship leader often speaks a prayer on behalf of all of those gathered. But the leader is not to do this alone. Everyone present is called on to pray along, so that all are joined together in prayer. These sort of prayers are often printed in the bulletin each person receives when they arrive, or put up on a screen when it's time for the prayer. This way, the prayer can be spoken out loud by all, and they can develop a stronger sense of being joined together. A well-written liturgical prayer not only gets us all to pray together, but also frees our mind from having to create ways to express the prayer. It can 'hit the nail on the head', saying what we all mean to say at that point in the service, so we can simply give it our 'yes' (or our 'amen').
MUSIC IN WORSHIP
The Bible is brimming with music, song, chant, refrains, and commemoration. The Hebrew poetry of the Prophets and Writings lends itself to being sung. The Psalms are really worship lyrics, gathered in a hymnal of sorts. Embedded in the histories are several songs, including those of Miriam and Hannah. One of the great heroes of the Jewish tradition is David, who was not only a King, but a good musician and songwriter (something said of no other ancient Middle Eastern hero). The most natural setting for most of these biblical lyrics is in worship. Also, the apostle Paul's letters have several small liturgical verses in them, which may have been chanted or sung.
The Bible records that God's worshipers stood up in song (2 Chronicles 20:19), clapped their hands (Psalm 47:1), lifted or raised their hands (Psalm 63:4; 134:2; 1 Timothy 2:8), and spoke and sung loud praises (Psalm 34:1; 103:1; Acts 4:24). There were many different kinds of songs, used for many different purposes (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16). A wide array of musical instruments were used (Ps 150:3-5; Revelation 14:2). For the Jews in ancient times, and Christians to this day, worship has been a fountain for musical styles and instruments. These new kinds of music worked their way into the world at large, giving it great joy, expressing deep sadness, touching people in a way that can only be described as 'spiritual'. In short, when Christians worship, they sing, and they carry that song with them into the rest of their lives, even in those who carry into their lives nothing else of the faith.
The most common Christian statement of praise is "hallelujah!". It translates roughly to 'Praise YHWH'. Its Hebrew root word halal is best caught as 'to resound' or 'to make noise'. A Hebrew word which more precisely means 'praise' is zamar , which according to the Writings includes the playing of instruments.
Not all Christians have supported the use of instruments. The early church leader Clement, in his *Protreptikos*, argued against instruments and in favor of the use of the human voice, and for the mystical music of the art of one's living. Philip Pfatteicher paraphrases Clement, in *The School Of the Church*, p.61 : "The Lord made humanity a beautiful breathing instrument after his own image, God's harp by reason of the music, God's pipe by reason of the breath of the Spirit, God's temple by reason of the Word, so that the music should resound, the Spirit inspire, and the temple receive its Lord." In the tradition of the Churches of Christ, and in parts of other Southern US traditions, many congregations forbid the use of instruments and 'fancy' choirs, favoring simplicity and directness. White Baptist churches often come down harshly on anything that smacks of a dance rhythm.
I very much love to see instruments in worship music, as a way to express some things that words don't, to help us remember praises for God throughout the week, and as a way for artists to offer their arts before the Lord. But then again, I am also a big fan of acappella singing of all kinds. When the Orthodox monks sing on Mount Athos, it is, as a general rule, done without instruments. Clement's approach led to the great Gregorian Chants, which have a kind of aural purity that even the totally worldly can get swept into. Some of the non-instrumental and no-dance churches were big supporters of sacred small group singing, which itself led to so many of the sacred and popular music singing groups that nearly all people have come to enjoy. Many (including myself) would argue that restrictions on musical styles in any church activity are wrong. However, the Spirit has never let these rules stop the music. Creative music, dance, or drama that expresses love of Christ will develop around the edges. In a way, that's the best proof of all that the Spirit is at work in music to bear witness to Christ.
Christians can worship using any style of music, but there are some limits. Good worship music is not about the musician, but is sung to the God who is Worthy. Thus, it is wrong when the music is done mostly to entertain those present, or to say all the right and expected things that keep people in spiritual slumber, or to be tricked-up love songs done in karioke. Too much of today's worship music is packed with 'cheap praise' -- overloaded with "I" and "my" and "mine", rarely lamenting, waiting, mourning, or showing fear or doubt or wonder. Lyrics matter, because the words are the Spirit's normal way of striking that special chord inside us, or teaching us what we need to hear till it sinks in.
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COLLECTIVE DELIVERANCE IN WORSHIP
In liturgical worship, there is usually an order of general confession and forgiveness. It can be the occasion for people to be freed from various bondages (continuing evils that are especially hard to stop or prevent). But churches very rarely use that time to confess about specific bondages that have made the local Body sick -- bondages such as cliquism, racism, anger, fear, rampant sexual immorality, infighting, warmongering, collective greed, and isolation. Why not use that time to ask God for forgiveness and to ask the Spirit to liberate them from the specific evil that has bound them? I don't mean that the pastor should go rattle off a bunch of names of what he/she thinks are big generalized evils, on his/her own accord, nor turning it into a cult-style devil-obsessed exorcism event. I mean naming the specific evil which is the strongest counter-witness to the Gospel for those present, and naming where it has done its damage, as part of the process of recognizing the evil and collectively rejecting it. When the evil itself is named and treated as evil, then it can be taken to the Lord before whom it stands no chance. But when we're too timid or too foolish to name the evil as evil, God will let us keep what we so obviously still want.
LAYING ON OF HANDS
The laying on of hands is a liturgical act that appears in the New Testament. The Spirit is given through it (Acts 8:17), especially for bestowing an office or special ministry (Acts 6:6; 13:3). Other charisms (specialized gifts) were given through it (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6-7). Through it, the Holy Spirit acts to heal (Matt 9:18; Mark 6:5; Acts 9:12, 28:8, 5:12, 9:11-12), and there is even a promise attached to such use (Mark 16:18). It is also used for blessing children (Matt 19:13-15).
Charismatics view the laying on of hands as an act of faith and a form of prayer, when seen in the light of Matthew 18:19-20. There are no rules, and God is perfectly free to act without our laying of hands. There is one caution, though: "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands." (1 Timothy 5:22). (This is mostly in reference to the laying on of hands as part of commissioning a leader.) A common practice is that, either during communion or at the end of a service or cell meeting, they gather around a certain member to lay hands and pray, for the kinds of things mentioned above. It expresses solidarity and love for the person on whom the hands are laid. A someone who has a burden and is taking it to his/her Christian community, and they take the burden together to God. It sounds like they're formalizing an informal moment, but they're really giving it a form or shape of activity so that when it is done, they all can have the sense of what was done and why it was done and even that it was done. It makes what would otherwise be a bewildering moment into a defining moment. The comfort it gives is great, but it goes far beyond the comfort, all the way to God's own heart for us.
let your praises arise
ANOINTING WITH OIL DURING WORSHIP
The letter of James speaks of the use of anointing oils for healing:
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
-------- James 5:14-16a (RSV).
In this passage, the anointing with oil is done with prayer and is linked to the power of faithful people bringing a concern before God. It is an action done in the name of the Lord, and an occasion for sins to be forgiven. Anointment for healings is also found in Mark 6:13, as part of the task of the disciples when Jesus sent them out on missions shortly after choosing them. Far from being something done only by weird spiritualists and superstitious ceremony freaks, anointment of the sick is something that has been an honored part of churchly action ever since Jesus was here.
While anointments of the sick if often done in private ceremonies (including at the homes of shut-ins and at hospitals), its most proper context is within worship services. It can be part of the scheduled Sunday services, either every week or upon request (often, in liturgical churches, as one goes forward for holy communion, before receiving the bread and wine). But the usual use is within special worship services for healing, and on certain commemorative services such as those for St. Luke the Physician.
Healing is not the only purpose for anointment. The main ancient use of anointment was to signify that the Spirit was sent into one who was chosen and commissioned for a specific task. Anointment marked the start of being a king or a priest. It is this use that lies behind the Hebrew term 'Messiah' and its Greek cognate, 'Christ'; both terms mean 'the Anointed One', the One chosen by God to rescue God's people and restore the covenant relationship. Thus, to anoint for commissioning someone's mission is a core symbol of the Christian faith. New Testament examples of anointment's use in 'sealing with the Spirit' or commissioning include 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30. This commissioning is done in public, in the context of a ceremony or Sunday worship service or event, along with the laying on of hands. Some congregations use anointment as part of the worship service where they commission their Sunday School chief, elders, hospital visitation staff, youth ministry leaders, and others who make long-term commitments to a specific ministry of the church. Liturgical church bodies anoint their bishops in special worship ceremonies.
In a sense, all baptized Christians are called for witness and are given the Spirit for bearing that witness. Thus, anointing oils are sometimes used after a baptism, and are also used in Catholic confirmation services.
focus on things above (the text...)