There’s plenty to say about worship. Like many others, I can’t stand the label worship leader applied to the person who leads singing. It’s as if ‘worship’ and ‘sing’ are identical in meaning, with no remainder. They’re not!
Among those who avoid the obvious mistake, there is much still not settled. Can we call church, or other Christian gathering, ‘worship’? What is worship? And while we’re here, what should we do in church anyway?
There’s one facet I have seen too little of in worship discussion. (That could be because I’ve looked in the wrong place, of course!) The missing factor: the difference between now and the end.
There is a very important similarity between what we experience now before Christ’s return, and what worshippers will experience forever after. Right now, Christians have come to the heavenly assembly (Hebrews 12:22-23). Most significant! Yet there is also difference, and this difference has practical implication.
Here’s an attempt to note some of the differences between now (before Jesus’ return) and then (after).
|edify||be like Christ|
|worship is solo or gathered||worship is gathered|
|gathering is partial and inconsistent||gathering is permanent and perfect|
Here are two ways this is important to us.
Some point out that ‘you don’t have to come to church for the purpose worship’ (for example, here). There’s a very important point in this: the reminder that every believer is always a worshipper. Yet I think it is unhelpful: it somewhat disconnects gathering from the purpose of honouring God.
After Jesus’ consummation of the kingdom, I’m convinced we will be gathered worshippers – and that the gathering is essential, not incidental. That is, integral to the eternal glory of God is the benefit of being brought together into his kingdom and family. In other words: eschatologically we are gathered for the purpose of worship. So, I believe, discussion of present-day church needs to make room for this truth.
A second area it’s important is deciding what we do when we gather now. To replace worship language, with all its abuses and confusion, I’ve seen ‘edification’ suggested as the right category. Note, this is not merely saying that we should edify one another – that’s given – but that edification encompasses all that local church is about.
My fear is that edification places present-day church too strongly in the present day, and not strongly enough in the day to come. Christians speak of living in the ‘now and not-yet’, simultaneously. This world and the world to come. I see edification as a task for this world and not the world to come. Who needs to be built after God finished his reconstruction task on us? Therefore, ‘edification’, I believe can only be a partial expression of the purpose of local church.
Now, perhaps I’m off on an irrelevant tangent. Possibly distracted by the flowers as I wander through the field of theological discussion. If so, please be patient with me! In which case also I can tell you the main point I’d like to make in this blog post: that worship discussions have not made enough of the now v. not yet reality.
What do you think?