This month's Evangelical Times (March) carries the second article in the series of three guest articles that I have done
A special time
How strange that those who believe God has singled out one special planet, one particular species on it and one special people from among them to receive his blessing should think like that!
We considered the fact that the New Testament marks out the first day of the week as special. It is the Lord’s Day, a day to be kept to him. This month we address the question, whether it is right to think in terms of special times of worship.
Is it right to put a notice outside a church building announcing ‘worship services’? Should we speak of ‘coming together to worship’? Or is that, as some suggest, a concept more Jewish than Christian, and one that has no New Testament basis?
For some years, various evangelicals have been advocating the idea that it is wrong to think of those times when God’s people gather together as times of worship. Their arguments are similar to those against a special day.
People who are not keen on keeping the Lord’s Day special often assert that every day belongs to the Lord. Similarly, those who say that our meetings are not primarily for worship often assert that all of life is worship, not just certain hours in the week.
They may then go on to give the impression that there is little difference between going fishing or having a family meal on one hand, and corporate prayer and praise on the other. More often the idea is developed, with reference to Hebrews 10:25 and 1 Corinthians 14, that the main purpose of our meetings is encouragement and edification.
The character of Christian meetings thus significantly shifts from a vertical to a horizontal focus — meetings are seen to be chiefly for teaching, rather than worship.
Certainly Romans 12:1 urges believers to offer their bodies ‘as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God’ and Paul calls it ‘your spiritual act of worship’. There is no suggestion, however, that those who live such lives will not take time apart, especially on the Lord’s Day, to worship.
John 4:24 says that worship in the new age is to be ‘in spirit and in truth’. Surely this does not mean forbidding the church to have any set times and places for public worship? Rather it points out that worship occurs, not automatically when one is in a certain place or following a certain ritual, but when one offers honour to God in accord with his standards.
Yet, just as some cannot see how one day needs to be special, so there are those who cannot see why Christians need special times to worship. Well consider these points:
If all of life is worship, and there are no special times of worship, why does Acts 13:2 say of the disciples that it was ‘while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting’ that the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul?
If all of life is worship and there are no special times of worship, what do we make of Jesus’ statement that when two or three come together in his name, he is there with them (Matthew 18:19-20)?
If all of life is worship and there are no special times of worship, what does Paul mean when he speaks, in 1 Corinthians 5, about God’s people being ‘assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus’ and ‘the power of our Lord Jesus’ being present?
If all of life is worship and there are no special times of worship, what about prayer? We are told to pray continually, but New Testament believers, clearly, still set aside times for prayer (e.g. Matthew 18:19; Acts 12:5; 1 Corinthians 14:23-25).
At times they were praying together; at times they were not. Surely the same is true of sung praise and hearing God’s Word.
What we are saying is not new. It is what believers have practised in all ages. This is not because they have unwittingly imbibed the idea from Jerusalem or Rome, but because it is there in the New Testament.
Some today are nervous about calling their meetings ‘services’ or ‘acts of worship’. This undermines such meetings and detracts from God’s glory. Rather, we should be setting aside regular times for the precise purpose of worshipping Almighty God.