Friday, May 27, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: With One Accord

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tom: You and I were talking last week, Immanuel Can, about this recent exchange of ideas I had with Crawford Paul at assemblyHUB — civilly, of course — on the subject of worship, specifically what we refer to as the “Lord’s Supper”, that ended with Crawford pointing out that “The topic is much bigger than this article”.

I couldn’t agree more, so I’ve written here and here about it. But I’d really like to explore the subject a little more with you. What appears to be eating Crawford and others is that the traditions they have grown up with about corporate worship appear to be just that — largely traditional, rather than scriptural.

This is a subject I know you love, so I wouldn’t want to leave you out. Specifically, I’m interested in exploring our corporate freedom in worship, but not divorcing that from the issue of our corporate responsibilities.

Immanuel Can: Right. Count me in. Where would you like to start?

Individual Worship vs. Corporate Worship

Tom: Well, let’s see. I think first of all we need to distinguish between individual worship and corporate worship. I think that’s where a lot of people — including the well-intentioned fellow who wrote the original post that spawned my discussion with Crawford — go a little bit sideways. Here’s one quote:
“Reason and culture tells us to elevate the ‘Sanctuary’ or the place we gather and time we gather to a greater level than every moment of every day, but this is not what Jesus or the New Testament teaches! [referring to John 4:21-23] Jesus teaches us here, and Paul continues in the epistles that true worship has to do with Spirit and Truth, with the inner man, and that it is not dependent on a place or a medium (word, song, action, thought).”
IC: Well, that’s a half-truth. He’s right that all worship — no matter in what circumstance — must be done in “spirit and in truth”. Quite right. However, within that “spirit and truth” worshiping, there are two different contexts: one is private worship, and the second is corporate worship. Though there are similarities, what each demands is not precisely the same.

Taking One for the Team

Look at it this way: let’s say we believe that all sports ought to be played fairly. That’s a good general principle. But sometimes I play tennis, and sometimes I play football. When I win or lose, and whether I play well or badly, impinges only on me when I play tennis (so long as it’s singles). But when I play football, my team is implicated in everything I do; my wins and losses will be theirs too. And my skill will either enhance or limit theirs. It’s simply not possible to play good football by thinking solo.

Tom: I like the analogy. This is not a new thing. We have individual worship in the Old Testament (“Jacob bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff,” says Hebrews), and we have corporate worship too (“they bowed their heads and worshiped,” says the book of Nehemiah, and it was Ezra who led them). So yes, all worship ought to be in spirit and in truth, but some worship is private and the other sort involves groups. In the church, someone leads and a bunch of people listen, hopefully agree with him, and ultimately say “amen” to what he has said. And ideally, our hearts are united in doing so, not just our lips.

With One Accord

So, while not minimizing the fact that everything we do in life as individuals ought to be, in some surrendered sense, an act of worship, when we talk of “Communion” or of the “Lord’s Supper”, we are talking about something different. Yes, the inner man is involved of course, but there are other people involved too. And unless we’re all going to sit silently in a room “remembering the Lord” in our own heads, or unless we’re going to conclude that nothing at all is necessary beyond the mere ritual of breaking the bread and passing a cup from hand to hand to “show forth his death”, we need to come to some kind of agreement on how we’re going to do it.

Unless it doesn’t matter how we do it, of course ...

IC: Well, yes. And we have that same principle again in that very worshipful prayer made by the early church in Acts 4:42, where it speaks of the church being “with one accord”. Literally it reads, “They raised their voice” — one voice for all. But “they” are said to have done it, and it was with “accord”. Or to put it another way, being “of one mind” is what we should do when we are assembled as the local church. And there, the rule is “let all be done for edification” — that means that we are never to lose sight of how others are perceiving things and become individualistic in our attitude: we are always to esteem each other.

So the idea that the private counsels of the individual heart are all that matters in corporate worship is simply wrong. The keynote of corporate worship is unity, and the mood is one of fellowship. But were you thinking of something more specific?

Passing Judgment and Traditional Baggage

Tom: Well, the writer of the original blog post is concerned that at least in his church there seems to be a lot of baggage that comes with celebrating the Lord’s Supper. He’s noticed that men who get up to share feel as if they are being judged by others around them, and he’s interested in seeing more freedom:
“Let’s not be confined to formalities of what our worship or praise has to look like or sound like when we are in the breaking of bread meeting.”
To a certain extent I agree with him. The scripture does not prescribe rules of service when we break bread. The Lord simply said, “Do this in remembrance of me”. And Crawford points out that everything else that may be added to this — any requirements for participation other than self-judgment beforehand — are simply “man made” or “following man’s requirements”.

Now you know, IC, I’m the last guy to embrace liturgy. But how does the church worship corporately with spirits united if everyone is just ... kinda free to do their own thing?

Responding Rationally to Greatness

IC: They don’t. And Crawford isn’t quite right. For one thing, he hasn’t even addressed the difference between, say, thanking God for his provision of our needs, celebrating our own benefits, speaking merely sentimentally about spiritual things, or making practical applications, on the one hand, and actually being preoccupied with the person of Christ on the other. Worship has a definite Object; and that Object is a Someone. Absent that Object, whatever is happening may be enthusiastic, heartfelt, and even truthful and spiritual — but not worshipful.

Far too many people today just don’t know what worship is: so let’s go back to basics. What does it mean to “worship”, Tom?

Tom: To respond rationally to greatness.

[This post and its sequel explore the meaning of worship more deeply and deal with the whole issue of “worship as a lifestyle” as set out by proponents of the doctrine like John Piper. They may be of some use to those interested in the subject.]

IC: Indeed: to estimate the worth of the Lord highly; to celebrate his greatness and marvel at his works … which is just as he deserves. But we can miss that, and thus can be sincere (though sincerely wrong) about how and why we are to be worshiping. And because we can be wrong, we can also accidentally misdirect the attention of the Lord’s people if we are leading or offering something irrelevant among them. And this we must not do.

Sincerity, Content and Focus

So, biblically speaking, we can rightly judge the worship of others as to more than sincerity … we can judge it as to content and focus as well.

Tom: Right. We may not know what a person’s motive is in speaking but we can certainly judge the accuracy or inaccuracy of what is said against scripture, and to a degree we can also judge its effect on those present: does it lead to greater occupation with Christ, or is it really just a distraction from the job at hand?

IC: Yes. Now, in fairness, a person new to worshiping may unknowingly offer something heartfelt but distracting, and to squash that with a spirit of meanness and criticism would be a wrong response for us. Rather, encouragement plus friendly advice would be the way to go there. Yet we certainly don’t want to open up a practice of regularly off-topic mental meanderings: that would lose us the whole point of worship. Some grace is essential there.

Tom: Absolutely. This is not something that can be done legalistically, but with an eye to what is most pleasing to the Lord.

What’s Other Possibilities Exist

Still, it may be that having any criteria at all about what should take place seems a bit limiting to some, so let’s consider some other options: (1) have no audible participation at all, just pass the bread and the wine and be done with it; (2) have an approved ritual conducted by approved people; (3) have a free-for-all in which anything may be said, and nobody is allowed to criticize; or (4) have some form of open participation with some minimal criteria attached to it.

Have I missed any? If not, I trust number (4) commends itself to most Christians as having the greatest appeal. If so, what “minimal criteria” would be biblical?

Minimal Criteria for Worship

IC: Minimally? Firstly, focused on the Lord — his person and works.

Tom: So not just thematically centered around his death?

IC: I think I’m missing the force of your question there. Can you develop it for me?

Tom: Some people feel the emphasis of the Lord’s Supper should be exclusively on the death of Christ. After all, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

IC: Well, if one proclaims HIS death, then one must proclaim him first, right? The death of a person is only as memorable as the person and his achievements, so I think we have both there.

Tom: Agreed.

IC: Secondly, edifying to the congregation — tending to lead them in that direction. Thirdly, sincere — that’s the “in spirit” part. And fourthly, scripturally warranted, not just passionate — that’s the “truth” bit. Fifthly, something that concerns us collectively — not an item that is merely individualistic or private, since we are gathered together. Anything else, Tom?

Worship as Sacrifice

Tom: Worship is by definition sacrificial. David would not give to the Lord something that cost him nothing, and you can easily demonstrate that theme goes all the way through the Old Testament. It seems to me that getting up and saying the first thing that enters our minds on a Sunday morning has little in common with that aspect of worship.

IC: Oh, I like that point. Yes, sacrificiality. Something needs to be ‘put into’ one’s offering. I’m reminded of the OT offerings; we are told it was to be the first fruits of everything, the best one had. Now, we know there never was such a thing as a “perfect” lamb; but you had to bring the one that looked most like it, the one you’d checked so carefully that you personally could find no blemish in it, and nor could the priest to whom you brought it and showed it. And that was probably the one you’d most like to keep.

How Do We Remember Someone We Don’t Know?

Tom: Right. My thought would be that we have to have intimate, personal knowledge of the Lord to be able to talk about him publicly in a way that is both accurate and mutually beneficial. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing word studies before attempting to lead God’s people in worship, but it does mean taking the time to regularly pray and meditate on the word of God during the week are part of the deal.

After all, how can we effectively “remember” someone we don’t know very well?

Now of course some people may feel anything that involves effort encroaches on their freedom in Christ and is legalistic, and if so, I’m sure we’ll hear from them in the comments. I don’t happen to think that, obviously. I think caring about what we say and trying our best to say it right despite our limitations follows naturally from any careful study of what worship is.

IC: Other than scripture, I can’t think of any source we have that can direct us to the true knowledge of Christ. The thoughts and imaginings of our mind are totally unreliable on that score, as are the visions and experiences that may be claimed by others — we cannot know what they did or did not “see”. We surely cannot trust the fanciful and dismissive reconstructions of secular history. So if it’s the Lord we’re supposed to be remembering, I can’t see any way but what you suggest as a means of getting it. To be remembering him accurately, we can only study scripture.


  1. That seems to be incorrect, see this link.

    "Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

    Knowledge can refer to a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic.[1] In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology; the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as "justified true belief", though this definition is now agreed by most analytic philosophers to be problematic because of the Gettier problems. However, several definitions of knowledge and theories to explain it exist.

    Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings.[2]"

    My comment cont'd:

    So clearly knowledge can be acquired in many ways, including by tradition that is passed on through writing or word of mouth. And you are limiting yourself by not acknowledging that fact and thereby creating an incomplete way, and also partly incorrect way, of understanding a topic. There are plenty of examples in human history and the personal and public sphere where knowledge is correctly transmitted that way in all fields of endeavor and study. You cannot simply deny that for religion based on your own personal preferences.

    I agree that you can argue with regard to the content of a topic based on truth likelihood but that can in itself entail all of the above methods.

  2. You forgot a word, Q.

    You're talking about *human* knowledge. It's not our "personal preferences" that tell us the truth about God, but rather God's self-revelation in the Word, and pre-eminently in Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:2). In fact, we are explicitly told that "the world by its wisdom did not come to know God" (1 Cor. 1:12). So where God is concerned, ordinary human knowledge is simply inadequate.

    As for religious tradition, look where it got the Pharisees (Mark 7:13). Tradition is only good if it's also Biblical. When it departs from or contradicts the Bible, it goes wrong.

    So if we were talking about, say "knowledge" of the natural world, or "knowledge" by scientific inquiry, you might be more-or-less correct (if we ignore things like the Gettier Problem, which perhaps we should not).

    About the knowledge of God, you're definitely incorrect.

    1. I don't quite see it that way, IC, after all God' s knowledge that we are to share in is only accessible to us through human knowledge so that there is no conflict. Basically we are wired that way. Also, clearly, God had to arrange it so that our knowledge is adequate for the purposes that are intended for us. There is no knowledge competition intended or even possible and I think that is generally understood and beyond discussion.

      Btw, I did read up on the Gettier Problem (in Wiki) and as an amateur philosopher O.O found it quite interesting. There were several camps and I tend to agree with the one suggesting that by changing a couple of things one can make the problem go away. Also, according to Wiki the majority of philosophers does not agree with the problem anyway.

    2. Far from it being beyond discussion, Q, it seems that the Lord is telling us plainly that there are things human knowledge simply cannot access. Of course He's not saying we can *know* nothing at all -- or that knowledge is not so certain, so JTB as we assume it is (see the Gettier Problems) -- but that there are things *about which* we can know nothing more than God reveals (see for example, 1 Cor. 2:9), or things which we cannot know without the dynamic intervention and teaching of the Spirit of God Himself (see John 16:13), or that we cannot know Him *relationally* apart from being born again (John 3:3).

      That last one is the key to the others, just as Lord Jesus Christ Himself says.

    3. We are not making any progress, I C. It is irrelevant by what means the knowledge comes about, what its content is, and even how well it is understood. What is under discussion is that knowledge can most certainly be acquired and transmitted in a variety of ways such as by observation, tradition, word of mouth, analytical thinking, inspiration, practical experience, etc. as well as by writing, and retain its truth value. What is important is to sort out and define the truth content (the probability of being correct). As a matter of fact, it certainly seems obvious that combining all of these methods will yield a better truth value than relying on only one method. See this link from the IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

      I am certainly not telling you anything new here and I understand that that goes against the Solar Scriptura argument that you as an Evangelical Protestant are committed to. Nevertheless, it is clearly by the very nature of the methodology the more valid and successful approach to acquiring knowledge including concerning your faith. It is certainly not my intent here to rewrite Evangelical Protestant history, understanding and conviction just that this will probably be an occasional sticking point between us that we'll have to get past.

    4. I think you're missing the point, Q. We most certainly *are* talking about "the means the knowledge comes about, what its content is" and how it can be understood...specifically, the knowledge of God and godliness. These things God Himself explicitly tells us are just not available to common knowledge (see John 3:3)...not by any means.

      So we're not discussing general epistemology, nor scientific knowledge, nor the Protestant Reformation; and we're certainly not talking about what IC says. I'm happy to dismiss all that as irrelevant to the question in hand, which it certainly is.

      However, what is clearly not irrelevant is what God says on the subject. And as you can plainly see, all the Scriptures I've quoted back what I've been saying.

      Now, what did your catechism teach you the Bible was? Doesn't it say it's God's Word? However, if now you think that Christ Himself was simply mistaken, or that God has changed His mind and now made spiritual truth generally accessible regardless of people's spiritual state, perhaps you might explain why you think so. For my part, I see that nowhere in Scripture.