I’ve always found the tale of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman about worship to be an interesting one. She asks Him a very specific question and He gives a few very specific answers. But what intrigues me more at the moment is the type of question she asked.
John 4:19-20 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
This question, which wasn’t even really a question but rather a statement, to me is inherently formalistic. By formalistic I mean the way in which religion and legalism is ritualistic and repetitively practiced by groups of people.
Her question starts very broad regarding the physical location of worship. Should it be done on the mountain or should it be done in Jerusalem? Now Jesus immediately cuts to the bone in His answer, seeing right through a statement that was meant to provide justification of her way of worship, should He have chosen her way as the right way. But what if He didn’t? What if He indulged her and said Jerusalem or the mountain?
I believe she would have followed up with a second question, narrowing the formalistic focus:
Should we worship in the morning or in the evening?
Should we raise one hand or two?
Should we sing 2 fast songs and 1 slow one or 1 fast and 2 slow?
Should we use an organ only or a full on band with lights and smoke machines?
There are many questions we can ask about how we prefer to worship, our method of worship if you will. Now many will already be thinking that there is no method, there is only worship in spirit and truth. Yes, that is true, but then why has Christian worship been boxed in to be 3-4 songs sung for 30-45mins on a Sunday morning?
If you say the method is not important, why is it done in exactly the same way in every church, every denomination, every city of every country and nation around the world? I have been to thousands of different churches in my life. Every single one sings songs together as their corporate worship time.
Personally I feel the typical corporate Sunday worship time is a very awkward moment for many people, especially ‘visitors’. Firstly we are all semi-manipulated by peer pressure to sing along, visitors included.
Secondly we start feeling very alienated because we are just standing there while some are flopping and flaying around.
“Am I not doing it right?’ is the first question that pops into mind.
Thirdly, some scan the room trying to see what the quickest way out of the building would be. Seriously, I have seen way too many ‘visitors’ make a run for it during worship because it was just too much for them handle. This alone is probably the biggest reason why I never had any desire to ‘bring my friends’ to a ‘service’ to encounter God.
Forcing people to take part in a sing-a-long while half the crowd is speaking in tongues and the other half is rolling on the floor is enough to send anybody running. It’s also not how to spread the gospel effectively. Maybe that’s why Paul said to not do those things when unbelievers visit our meetings… (1 Cor 14:23)
If only scripture was as important to the corporate church as the traditional way they have always been doing things for years…
In the Bible, people would always be running to Jesus. They would flock and crowd and press to be in His Presence. But when we attempt to ‘call down and host the presence corporately’ during our worship sessions, people run away. That tells me there is something not quite right. Any method of worship that scares away unbelievers is a bit suspect in my mind.
Many might say, ‘I can’t help how they react to our worship. I will worship God unashamedly!’ Nonsense! Of course you can help it. If you are inviting visitors to introduce them to the gospel, why are you choosing to do things that could potentially and purposefully alienate them, freak them out and make them not want to ever come back? That seems rather counterproductive.
On the other hand, I have friends who went to go worship in the middle of a new age festival. They set up their equipment and just started singing in the street. People flocked to them and many got saved that day. This might sound like the exact opposite of what I am saying but there is a slight difference. They allowed the Spirit to direct.
Is there room for the Spirit if we just inherently do the same thing over and over and over? Are we truly being led by the Spirit to worship in the exact same way every week in every church around the world? I somehow doubt it. I am asking these questions of myself and my own worship as much as I am asking it to the church.
Are we truly being led to worship in Spirit and truth, or are we just falling into formalism and hoping the Spirit will approve? Or have we so identified singing with worship that even though we know it’s not just about singing we can’t help but to always revert back to just singing?
I know there is a more excellent way to worship, one that doesn’t alienate and that doesn’t get stuck in formalism. One that truly glorifies Jesus and would want people to flock to Him.
Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. 22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Justice and Righteousness. Actually serving and helping people is what God desires. That is true worship. And not just singing about it, actually doing something. The Message translation of this scripture really nails it for me.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
To be continued… PS. Please share your views about how you define worship in the comments section below!
Honesty time. This post will take a very different style to anything I have written because this is about me personally. Over the past year I have had a pretty trying time emotionally and spiritually. There have been major ups and major downs along the way. I find myself now not really on a new journey, but one that I am on nonetheless. One that I am excited about. But first a little background:
Since I was 5 I could not wait to go to church on Sunday. I would wake my dad early in the morning, all dressed in my Sunday suit to ask what time we were leaving for church. If he said we weren’t going that day I would walk 1km to my friend’s house and catch a ride with them. When we did go I always hoped to be able to go with my dad, who was an elder, to the back room where all the elders and deacons met with the pastor before the service. I loved this more than anything else. I felt like I was part of the special inner-workings of the church.
For 26 years I was a committed Sunday Christian. I basically did almost every job you could think of in the church system.
I worked the parking lot.
I cleaned the toilets.
I managed the resource table.
I caught the slain.
I packed the chairs and swept the floors.
I played in the band.
I lead worship.
I made coffee. I made really good coffee.
I attended prayer meetings.
I led small groups.
I wrote books.
I founded a ministry.
I preached at conferences and churches in 6 different countries.
I was chosen to serve on leadership teams.
I had job offers from churches.
I did outreach into the community.
I taught Sunday school.
The one thing I never did though, was plant a church or pastor it. And I actually came pretty close… But then, about 7 months ago I stopped being a ‘Sunday Christian’ if I can put it like that. I have not been to a Sunday service since, and currently don’t really plan on going anytime soon.
This didn’t of course just happen over night and in the course of my transition major bridges were burned with very close relationships and connections I have built in the past. Granted some of the bridge-burning helped me make my choice to forgo the Sunday service. But to this day I am saddened when I think of those people, to the relationships lost for now. My heart will always be for their dreams to be fulfilled, even if we don’t currently walk side by side as we once did. We each did what we thought right at the time when I made the choice to search for a different expression of church. Words were spoken, some in anger, some in frustration and some in regret, and in the end the relationships ended. Badly.
Since then I have gone through stages of being critical and angry, at myself, at the leaders I had a falling out with, at church in general, at God even in someways. Did I say things that I regret during these times? Of course. And since I have a rather public voice it means what I said travelled pretty far and that unfortunately has led to some people thinking I no longer value local church. Nothing could be further from the truth. But it also didn’t help the possibility of mending those burned bridges anytime soon…
Then about 4 months ago I was invited along to a home group meeting, a small group of one of the bigger churches here in Hong Kong. The people I met there have become like family to me in these few short months. And contrary to what some might think, I am very committed to my local church. I have never attended their corporate Sunday service, and like I said I am not planning to anytime soon. I still have things to work out…
We meet in a building (a house is a building after all) every week and we sing and share teachings, we talk, discuss, laugh and cry. We bring testimonies, share prayer requests and food. Oh do we eat! I have found a community of believers who actually do life together, who desire real, honest and transparent relationships. They loved me even with the baggage I came with. They actually loved me despite the baggage I came with. They knew my story, they knew what happened in the past year. They knew how I felt about church at that time. Yet they opened their arms, their homes, their lives and said, come in, and come find yourself again.
To such love I can be committed. To such acceptance I can not add. They might not know it, but they restored in me a hope I thought lost. And more than that, maybe beyond what they actually realise, they are a very real expression of what I now believe church is really meant to be.
I no longer hold any grudges against the people with whom I had a falling out during my transition. I am no longer angry. I forgive them. I bless them. I pray that grace and peace be multiplied to them. And if it ever happens that our bridges may be restored, I will welcome it gladly and I will be overjoyed. We will most probably still define certain things differently and place more value in different things, but we are family nonetheless and I love them regardless.
To those who have walked beside Rensia and I during this time knowing a little more about what was going on, thank you for your prayers, emails, calls, advice, council and love. We love and appreciate you all more than you know.
So as I continue on my journey outside of the typical Sunday church I will share what I find, what I see and what I experience, as I have always done through this blog. Perhaps not always as personal, I don’t know. I also might not see things the same as many of my friends who still go to Sunday church and that is actually ok by me. We might strongly disagree and on certain topics and we might strongly agree on others. Even in disagreement nobody needs to end relationships. If we have to agree to disagree, then lets rather do that than destroy the relationship.
So to end, my message is not one that is anti-local church. My message is Christ and Him crucified, as it has been and will always be. So when you read what I might write, I pray you will realize I am now more for local church than I ever was in the 26 years before. I do not plan to write much about church in general, and I also don’t like to make the distinction between organic church and institutional church as others prefer to do. But I will make distinctions between freedom and religion. I also understand that one man’s freedom might look like religion or rebellion to another, but that is a story for another time…
“The free person in Christ and the rebellious will always look the same to those who labor under religious obligation, because both ignore the conventions that govern men and women. But there is a major difference between the two. The rebel does it to serve himself and his passions, always harming others in the process and leaving a wake of anarchy behind him. The free person in Christ, however, does so because they no longer have a need to serve themselves. Having embraced God’s love at a far deeper level than any method of behavioral conformity will touch, they will guard that freedom even if it means others will misunderstand their pursuits. They reject the conventions of control not to please themselves, but Father Himself.” ~ Wayne Jacobsen
Grace and peace to you all!
Today’s guest post comes from Georgia in South of America and it was written by my friend Clint Byars of Forward Ministries. What Clint wrote about is something I have been realizing more and more. Thanks for this grounding reminder!
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Luke 9:1-2
Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” Luk 9:49-50
If they’re not against me they’re for me… Really? That’s how Jesus answers the disciple whom “he loves.” This is John, the one cuddling with Jesus at the last supper. What an amazing attitude Jesus displays. John says, they haven’t followed you, they haven’t gone to our school, they don’t have our culture, I don’t think they’re qualified so I told them to stop. I didn’t think they should be walking in that kind of power so I forbid them. Hello? Have you ever been told by some Christian that you couldn’t do what Jesus said to do? Jesus says go for it!
Who is this guy? Just a few verses before he’s found doing the stuff is where Jesus gave the 12 power over demons and told them to go heal people. How in the world is this guy already doing things the disciples themselves struggled with. (remember when they came back and asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast our devils and he told them it’s because of their unbelief?) This guy, who is not even named, must have heard Jesus giving his disciples power and decided it was for him too. I want to meet that guy in eternity. Keep in mind, it’s not til the next chapter that Jesus sends out the 70. I want to be that nameless guy, out there doing the stuff, unknown by the formally called disciples, blowing things up for the Kingdom.
There’s another key point to this story. Obviously this man had not been included in Jesus’ inner circle, hearing the detailed explanations of the parables which Jesus gave to the 12. He most likely didn’t have his theology worked out, yet he took Jesus at his word and started operating in Kingdom authority. And Jesus’ attitude is to leave him alone. I find that amazing and incredibly encouraging.
You see, the disciple John made the distinction “he follows not with us.” This mindset is far too prevalent in the church today. We have the conservative crowd, the denominational crowd, the grace crowd, the grace crowd that thinks they’re more grace than the old grace crowd, the prophetic crowd, the anti-church crowd, the gung-ho church crowd… feel free to continue the list. The attitude we’re seeing is that because someone is preaching something different than us, they’re not following Jesus the way I do, therefore they must be wrong somehow. They very well may be, but it’s not your place to forbid a fellow brother who’s out there following Jesus the way they follow Jesus. The very attitude of Jesus himself is to let them do their thang (don’t worry, that’s not a type-o, I’m from Georgia). The Holy Spirit is much more capable than you to lead people into truth, I say we let him do his thang and get out of other people’s business.
It reminds me of the military industrial complex. You know, the corporations that profit from war. The military industrial complex likes war because it benefits them, they need an enemy because they get something out of it. Today we seem to have a MILITARY INDUSTRIAL CHURCH. A mindset that always needs an enemy to fight so our system is validated, making us feel special. When you’re known more for what you’re against than what you’re for, you may be MIC minded.
John was stripped of his elitist mindset through Jesus’ response. No doubt John believed he had something this man didn’t. He thought he was special somehow. He thought he was closer to Jesus than this man. Of course I don’t really know what John thought but it’s evident he believed it was ok for him to do what Jesus said and it wasn’t for this man.
Ask yourself these questions
- Am I always finding things wrong in what other people preach?
- Do I consider people who don’t follow Jesus the way I do dangerous?
- Do I think every Christian should focus on the same things about God that I do?
- Am I always arguing doctrine with fellow brothers and sisters?
- Am I always making snarky comments about people’s ideas about God?
- Am I always fighting the devil and looking for demons in other people’s lives? Oh wait, that’s another blog…
Please, leave people alone, let them follow the Holy Spirit for themselves. Better yet, give them a call or sit down for coffee, you may find you have more in common than you think. You have the same Father and that’s what counts.