Faithful Membership 2: Gather to Worship

This is the second part of a series reviewing three crucial commitments church members should make to their the congregation. The series introduction can be found here.

Our first commitment is to gather with the rest of the community for public worship every Lord’s Day. This is a fundamental way we fulfill our vow “to serve Christ in his church by supporting and participating with this congregation in its service of God”. What makes corporate worship so important?

Scriptural Command

DSC01874First, when we worship we obey God who commands our praise. I Chronicles 16:29 states the direction that runs throughout scripture, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness”.

Moreover, the one who is worshiped determines how. Our praise of God isn’t a time of self-expression, it calls for submission and obedience. God commands us in the manner of our worship, and this includes the “when”. Worshiping God, in the way He has prescribed, is at the root of obedience to the Fourth Commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

We keep the Lord’s Day holy, in part, by corporate worship – gathering with God’s people to hear his Word, sing his praises, and lift up our hearts in adoration.

Gathering of the Covenant Community

Second, gathering together for worship, as are all of God’s commands, is for our benefit. We can’t be God-centered without being other-encompassed.  As T.S. Eliot wrote in “Choruses from the Rock”:

What life have you, if you have not life together?

There is no life that is not in community,

And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

Gathering together encourages us as we remember our identity as God’s redeemed and embraced children. It reorients us within the body and towards our Head.  As Hebrews instructs, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

IMG_6272A cliché sometimes heard by those who frequently neglect common worship is that they can worship God just as well on the golf course, or on the lake, or ball field – or whatever else we allow to take priority over worshiping God with our fellow believers.  But if worship is rightly understood, you can’t.  You might feel close to God, you might think about Him, you might even feel inspired by the majesty of creation.  But you can’t really worship as God has taught us because you can’t encourage and be encouraged by other believers, you can’t gather around the Lord’s table to receive the supper, you can’t promise a new believer your support as they are baptized, and you can’t sit under the proclaimed Word.  Christian worship is fundamentally communal.  This isn’t about being in a particularly holy place, but in the midst of a particular people – “the Kingdom of God is within you”.1  As many commentators have noted, the elemental prayer our savior gave us begins not with my but Our Father.  Even as we pray in private, we remember that we do so as part of our new family.2  This communal nature of worship is unsurprising considering the very nature of the God we Worship.  Within the essence of God, who is Holy Trinity, is a communion of persons, therefore worship is fellowship with God the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What do I get out of it?

As we worship, we receive.  Caution is needed though, because there is a tendency for us to approach worship asking, “What do I get out of it?”.  The danger with that question is that it reveals a consumer’s attitude.  The question could be rephrased as “Do I enjoy the music?”, “Do I like being with the people?”, or “Do I feel good about the sermon?” In these of questions we approach worship with self-diagnosed needs and our own benchmarks.  This is a shopper’s approach, browsing for an inspirational feeling, wisdom to fix a problem, or an assuaging of guilt.

photo by James Emery

photo by James Emery

To receive as a disciple is to trust that the Master knows better than us and to accept what he offers: commands that I would rather ignore, conviction of sin that I have been suppressing, and humbling assurance of forgiveness.  These are things we will miss if we basing the question on our musical taste or how funny the preacher is.  What we “get out of” worship is God’s Word spoken to us and his gracious promises confirmed in water, bread, and wine.  We receive welcome and fellowship within a community that God calls his own.  We receive nothing less that God himself.

 

 

 

 

1. Luke 17:21, The “you” is second person plural. Jesus is not saying that the Kingdom is and individualistic, internal reality.
2. Eliot is helpful here as well, “Choruses from the Rock” continue, “Even the anchorite who meditates alone,/ For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,/ Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.

 

Faithful Membership 1: Introduction

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What do you think active membership in a church looks like? I can remember often hearing people bragging about being at the church every time the doors were open, but is simply showing up for services enough? Should a member make a goal of being at everything going on in the life of the congregation?

I’ve thought through what the expectations of the average member should be in a congregation and so now as part of our new member class I encourage everyone to make it a goal to worship, to connect, and to serve.
Over a series of posts I want to discuss each of these in more detail, but first I want to make note of two things about membership commitment and activity in the local church.

First: No one is average. A wise farmer in my first congregation used to joke that while the average summer might have the perfect amount of rainfall for a good crop, average that meant that about half the years would be a drought and the other half a flood. Both of these destroyed crops, so the average was simply an ideal between extremes that didn’t actually occur too often in reality. Our lives our like that. Everyone goes through times of more or less energy and free time. There is a difference in parents of small children, an affluent retired couple, and a grad student with debt and unsure of where she will be next year. So we take into account the season of life we are in and don’t feel guilty if our God ordained calling to care for an elderly parent prevents a lower priority of helping out with Bible school. Likewise, if we are in a place in our life where we have more time and more expendable income, we should avoid doing the “bare minimum” to assuage our guilt and get on with pursuing pleasure and entertainment more than serving and worshiping God. So when I speak of average member commitment, I mean take this as a starting point to think through how to best fulfill the vows you made to God and to the congregation when you became a member.

light-677062_1280Second: It doesn’t take the institution of the church to be a “Christian” activity. Obviously, gathering together with the saints for worship requires the church. And while we need Christians to support and serve in the congregation. Loving your neighbor doesn’t require the approval of the board of elders. Sharing God’s grace and love doesn’t require a committee. This should be obvious, but as a Pastor I am too aware of my own tendency to think of needs in the church as examples of Christian service: teaching a bible class, helping with the nursery, cleaning the church kitchen, or preparing a budget. These are of course needed. But leading your family in prayer and bible study, sharing a meal with a lonely neighbor, or mentoring a child at the Boys and Girls Club is no less Christian. So as we look at these three ways Christians should be involved with their local congregation, keep in mind that this doesn’t exhaust all of what discipleship means. There are other personal and family disciplines and commitments, but I’m only discussing those related to obligations to the local congregation. Also, while members should be involved in the ministry and work of the church, one’s Church involvement shouldn’t take so much time and energy that there is none left to give to your family, neighbors, and community. Salt is meant to add flavor to food, not to more salt. Light is to shine in the darkness, not illumine a bright room.
So with these in mind, I’ll next discuss why every Christian should be committed to gathering for worship every Lord’s Day.

Sermon: Accountable Disciples, Rom 16:17-27

Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and to the spiritual oversight of this church session, and do you promise to promote the unity, purity and peace of the Church?

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you. Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:17-27 ESV)

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Sermon: A Living Sacrifice, Romans 12:1-8

Do you promise to serve Christ in his church by supporting and participating with this congregation in its service of God and its ministry to others to the best of your ability?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

(Romans 12:1-8 ESV)

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Sermon: By Grace, Through Faith, Romans 3:21-26

Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of sinners, and do you receive and depend upon Him alone for your salvation as He is offered in the gospel?

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)

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Sermon: Community of Sinners, Romans 3:9-20

Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God and without hope for your salvation except in His sovereign mercy?

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:9-20 ESV)
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