January 10, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 18:55 in the audio file.
Or, The Pulpit, the Pews, and the Priesthood of Believers
Series: Our Worship #2
The feedback after last Sunday’s sermon about liturgical feedback was encouraging, as in, many of you were encouraged. There is more to say today, and there will be more to say after today. My observations about what the liturgy has been working into us over the last decade or so are what they are, but those observations don’t say much about our objectives for following such a liturgy. While we can and should be thankful for the fruit, the liturgical seeds we’re sowing were not chosen just because we thought they would prepare us for something. They were chosen because we thought they would help our worship.
We always say something, not just by our words, but by what we choose to do and how we choose to do it, even when it becomes routine. Most of the time we just eat dinner and talk about the day. Sometimes the dinner is special and we talk about how tasty it was. But most nights we don’t all talk about the recipes used and the methods followed and the food presented. It’s all important, even strategic at different levels, but not explicit. We eat, we’re strengthened, we get back to work.
Our liturgy is like a recipe. It’s there, and those who lead the Lord’s Day liturgical charge consider it as they prepare, but we only talk about the recipe explicitly a few times a year. While there are many aspects to body life, our corporate worship on Sunday mornings is unique, and it works on and in us (and even through us) in ways that are worth knowing about. As should become more apparent as this message continues, the ingredients are not something only a few should know.
When I asked the elders about this round of liturgy reminders, they all agreed that it was worth setting a full table. We have been joined by a good number of worshippers who may like the taste, but may not have heard why we make it like this. We also have some among us who’ve been among us all along, but they are now twelve years-old instead of two, or they are saved instead of not, or they are different than they were and at a new stage of appreciating the meal. Then there are the rest of us who need regular reminders because we haven’t memorized the recipe. (Every once in while, someone who has otherwise enjoyed the taste freaks out when they hear what’s in it, but that’s not the norm.) I’m making the same meal of messages once more, but so far fresh.
We will consider the five Cs, why we chose to cook with those ingredients, what flavor we’re going for. But before that, there is an assumption that is only an assumption if you stop thinking about it.
Our liturgy (the recipe and ingredients and pattern) is for the worship of the assembly. It should not be surprising that one’s understanding of who worship is for affects how worship is conducted.
Our gathering together on the Lord’s Day is for corporate worship not for large-group evangelism. We meet as a church, we meet as those belonging to the Church, as those who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead. Of course not everyone who comes is a Christian, and there are congregations, in different contexts of history and cultures, where one might expect a higher number of spiritually dead men to attend. But we are a group of worshippers, and the liturgy should help Christians to worship, not constantly question whether we are Christians.
That “church” (as a verb) is for the church (as a noun) is not assumed by many churches/pastors. But I’ve observed that of the churches that do think church is for the church, many still treat it like the worship of the church is for Christians, and treat them much more as individuals than as an assembly. It is a bitter cocktail of cultural individualism mixed with ecclesiastical conversionism, topped off with pastoral neuroticism.
It was just 10 years ago, after having grown up going to church, after attending three different Bible colleges, after finishing seminary, after serving for ten years in pastoral ministry, that I was floored by this reality. It is not whether or not we’re an assembly. We are the assembly, whether we know it and act like it or don’t. We are God’s people and together we meet with Him and praise His name. This identity is game changing, liturgy changing, and world changing.
Abraham Kuyper wrote in his book, Our Worship:
> “The goal of all worship services must be to let the assembled congregation taste that fellowship with their God. Otherwise there may be learnedness, there may be profundity, there may be deep earnestness, but there is no religion and therefore no divine worship.”
This is our worship. The “our” refers to believers, the “our” also means you are not mere individuals nor are you a mere audience. The liturgy is for the entire body.
I started reading a book on bio-ethics this past week (ha! yes, but still true). The author used a word I am very familiar with in a way I had never considered. I had never thought of this usage because it’s not really what the word means, but it could just as easily.
The word is remember. It comes from re- meaning “again” and memorari meaning “to be mindful of.” Remember means to bring to mind again. But what about the word dismember? Dis means “take away,” but to dismember doesn’t mean to remove mindfulness. The member part in dismember comes from membrum meaning “limb” of the body. So if dismember means to take away a limb from the body, why can’t remember mean to bring the limb back to the body?
Take that meaning out for a mental spin. We are members of one body, in the 1 Corinthians 12 use of members as parts.
> For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)
There are many of us, so it is possible to consider each one of us individually. But we are more than individuals. We are more than truth-collection tubes stacked near to one another. We are a living organism. Think of the body you belong to. Think about how our assembling on the Lord’s Day is a rejoining the rest of you.
Yes, we are still Christ’s body on Thursday when we’re at our posts. We are still Christ’s body when we’re sick. We are Christ’s body with all believers all over the world, and throughout the generations. But there is also something special about re-integrating, re-membering the assembly for corporate worship.
This fits with Peter’s identification of those who are built on the cornerstone who is Christ.
> As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)
There is a plurality of stones making one house. And more corporate identity:
> you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; (1 Peter 2:9-10)
It’s why we pray “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). It’s why “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are God’s people not just godly persons.
Of course not all priests are godly; see the Old Testament. But follow 1 Peter 2:1-3, get rid of sin, crave the word, grow up in salvation, and worship.
When we remember our identity, we all, as the priesthood of believers, offer spiritual sacrifices to God. We all are a holy (1 Peter 2:5), royal (1 Peter 2:9) priesthood. So we all worship and proclaim God’s excellencies.
It is definitely possible for Christians to forget their corporate connection. It is par for our culture that individualism runs amok, that sinners isolate themselves and think too highly of themselves. But another reason the flavor of individualism is so strong is because of churches and their liturgies, and in particular those who have responsibility to lead the liturgy. What I mean is that those in the pulpit are the first to do damage to the identity of the assembly rather than those in the pews.
There is a dominate pastoral mindset today that seeks to test the attendees rather than to build the assembly. I am speaking of orthodox churches, God-centered churches, Reformed-ish churches, not smooth-talking, ear-tickling Jesus TV audiences. Elders are required to identify and refute error (Titus 1:9), yet too many seem to think that their chief role is that of testing professions of faith. But Paul told the Ephesians that pastors and shepherds were given by God for training the saints. The goal is not testing, the goal is “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
Church isn’t mostly for evangelism, nor is it mostly for examination, it is for exalting God and edifying His people. The shepherds and teachers have distanced themselves from the sheep and are constantly badgering and pushing the sheep rather than patiently equipping and caring for them.
This has had disastrous consequences for husbands and fathers, and down the line also for employers and our representatives/rulers in government. We are an imitative people, and shepherds are explicitly called to be “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Men who should be leading without a controlling, demanding spirit have provided the wrong pattern.
I blame the pretension of the pulpit. Among many who would call themselves sons of the Reformers, the furniture of the pulpit has replaced the Pope’s chair; the misplaced authority and over-realized importance is just as strong. It is a subdued but still harmful division between sacred and secular, but among Protestants it is between pulpit and pew. Shepherds approach the lectern as a launching point against the sheep. They treat the sheep like the enemy. They question the faith of the sheep Jesus obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
The answer is not to install plexiglass music stands, or to sit on a stool in a sweater. I like a good pulpit, and it is good for the pulpit to be front and center. But, ironically for those who talk so earnestly about being “biblical,” there are no pulpits in the Bible. At best there is a platform for those reading God’s Word to be seen and heard (Nehemiah 8:4), but no “sacred desk.” Similarly, and also ironically, the Bible says, “Not many of you should become teachers” (James 3:1). But it doesn’t say that then the people can’t be godly, holy, consecrated, and mature in Christ. It is preachers who have defined their ministry as more important rather than stewarding their particular giftedness for the building up of the body (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is preachers who have forgotten the priesthood of believers, and have become like Gentiles domineering over those they are supposed to be leading by example (1 Peter 5:2-3), not by fiat/diktat.
A man’s ordination to ministry does not have more value than a believer’s election to salvation. In other words, being recognized by a group of men for sake of being an elder doesn’t make one more important than being chosen by God, atoned for by God’s Son, and indwelt by God’s Spirit.
By the grace of God we are being built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. What we build with will become manifest when the day of the Lord discloses it, whether with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). But Paul’s point is that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you. God’s temple is holy, you are that temple, so don’t let anyone destroy it (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Paul referred to those he served as his joy, his crown. “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1). He was not only not threatened by them, he was seeking to present them as complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
This is because he represented God to them. He was showing what God is like. And God is more than the big test-giver in the sky. God is our Father, God fellowships with His people, He feeds His people, He strengthens them, and He glorifies them. God loves His own.
> “What king surrounds himself with warped, dwarfish, worthless creatures? The more glorious the king, the more glorious are the titles and honors he bestows. The plumes, cockades, coronets, diadems, mantles, and rosettes that deck his retinue testify to one thing alone, his own majesty and munificence. He is a very great king to have figures of such immense dignity in his train, or even better, to have raised them to such dignity. These great lords and ladies, mantled and crowned with the highest possible honor and rank are, precisely, his vassals. This glittering array is his court! All glory to him, and in him, glory and honor to these others.” —Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough, 87)
See Ephesians 2:4–7, and Colossians 1:27, and God’s aim to show us His immeasurable riches of kindness and glory in Christ.
You will not be the same after re-membering like this week after week. This is where making Marysville a destination succeeds or fails. You will have great difficulty trying to explain it not just to unbelievers, but to friends and brothers in Christ who have been told that the Lord is good but by men who have not tasted it. There will be a degree of distance between you for now, and it is because you have been being transformed from one degree of glory to another differently than they have. May it be so more and more.
Charles Spurgeon said in 1887, “Children of God, whatever you have got, you have a God in whom you may greatly glory. Having God you have more than all things, for all things come of Him; and if all things were blotted out, He could restore all things simply by His will. He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast. Blessed is the man that hath the God of Jacob for his trust….Let the times roll on, they cannot affect our God.” So trust God, keep loving one another, and use the grace He gives.
> As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10–11, ESV)