Rethinking the Church:
Rethinking Worship and Community

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended a big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. "Well" said the farmer, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns." "Praise choruses," said his wife, "what are those?" "Oh, they're okay. They're sort of hymns, only different." said the farmer. "Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife. The farmer said, --"Well. it's like this - if I were to say to you:

'Martha, Martha, Martha,
Oh, Martha, Martha, Martha,
the cows, the big cows, the brown cows,
the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows,
the cows, the cows, the cows are in the corn,
are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn,
the corn, corn, corn.

Then if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times -well, that would be a praise chorus."

As providence would have it, the very same Sunday a young, new Christian from the city church attended a small town country church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. "Well", said the young man, "it was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs. " "Hymns," said his wife, "What are those?" "Oh, they're okay. They're sort of regular songs -only different," said the young man. "Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

The young man said, "Well it's like this - if I were to say to you, 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

'Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry.
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.

For the way of the animals who can explain,
There in their heads is no shadow of sense,
Hearkenest they in God's sun or His rain,
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

Yet those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night,
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.

So look to that bright shining day by and by,
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn.
Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry,
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.'

Then, if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse -well, that would be a Hymn."

If there is anything guaranteed to cause division in a church it is conflicting views on music and worship. But the issue goes much deeper than whether we prefer contemporary or traditional music and words, or what combination.

How do you feel about instruments being used in church. Is the saxaphone as acceptable as the piano, the electric guitar as acceptable as the violin? And what about well known secular tunes? Can they be turned into worshipful songs? And what about employing secular musicians to play worship music?

These are not new issues the church has had to face. Charles Wesley borrowed from the secular music of his day. John Calvin hired secular songwriters to put his theology to music leading the Queen to call his songs, "Geneva jigs". Bach used the popular cantata for weekly worship music and was known for seizing tunes from rather questionable sources and reworking them for the church. What we think of as traditional or contemporary worship and what is and is not acceptable in church is as subjective and culturally determined as anyone else's preferences. Lets not kid ourselves into thinking one kind of music or instrument is more biblical or more acceptable to God than another. Just come clean and admit its your personal preference. Our age, our upbringing, peers and exposure to other cultures will influence our taste in music, secular and sacred. Whatever our personal experience or preferences, we have just seen they are exceedingly narrow compared to the rich diversity of musical styles found in the Church around the world and through 2000 years history.

Tonight we are rethinking the Church - specifically rethinking worship and community, and we have already begun to do that. Please turn with me to Acts 2:42-47. In these verses we see the first Church at worship and in community. In Acts 2:42-47 Luke describes the hallmarks of the first Spirit-led church.
We see them meeting as a worshipping community.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)

Lets reflect upon what we can learn about worship and community by asking three questions of the early church:

1. What did they do to be a worshipping community?
2. How did they worship in community?
3. Why did they worship in community?

1. What did they do to be a worshipping community?

1.1 Learning 2:42
Their first priority in meeting together was to submit to the Apostles teaching. A Spirit-filled community is first distinguished by its instruction. The very first thing we are told about the newly constituted church is that it was a learning church. They were not reveling in some mystical experience but submitting to the Apostle's teaching. A church that is filled with the Spirit of God will always submit to, and give priority to the reading, the study and application of the Word of God. It is the primary reason we meet together - to hear God speak. We do not come primarily to worship God. Romans 12:1-2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

We come together already worshipping in order to have our minds renewed and apply that knowledge in the way we live. The only thing that will renew your mind, reform your values, reshape your priorities, remold your convictions is the word of God, explained and applied. If the church is the only hope of the world, then the Bible is the only hope of the church, for it contains the very word of life about Jesus. That is why its reading, explanation and application is central to our worship.

1.2 Fellowship 2:42
The second mark of the Spirit-filled community is fellowship and it flows from our meeting around God's Word. We use the word rather glibly but actually "Koinonia" describes our fellowship with God himself "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3). It is this communion with God that makes us one with each other. One with those who also submit to God's Word. Their koinonia was expressed not only in what they shared in but in what they shared out. They were generous with one another because the Lord had been generous with them. They knew that all they possessed belonged to God and that in Jesus they belonged to one another as brothers and sisters (2:44). They therefore shared voluntarily what they had with those in need. Community then is about caring and caring will lead to sharing.

1.3 Worship 2:42
The third mark of the Christian church is the outworking of the previous two - Meeting together to hear God speak leads to the recognition that we do not belong to ourselves, we have been purchased by the death of Jesus Christ; he alone is Lord. Enthroned in heaven far above all rule and authority, the one to whom entire allegiance is due, how can we not wish to exalt him, to glorify him in praise and worship.

In the Greek the definite article comes before both phrases indicating that what is meant is the Lord's Supper on the one hand and 'the' prayers - that is collective meetings for prayer on the other. The balance of the worship of the Spirit-filled church is noteworthy - both formal and informal. It took place both in the larger congregation meeting in the Temple or other larger building as well as in their homes in smaller cell groups. Early Christian worship was both formal and informal, structured and spontaneous, reverent and joyful. But remember worship reflects our heart attitude toward God every day, not just on Sundays. If we do not enter this building already worshipping God, it is unlikely we will begin when the service starts and it is even less likely we will continue to when the service is over.
Learning, Fellowship, Worship - this is what they did.

2. How did they worship in community?
What are some of the words Luke uses to describe how they worshipped in community? Devotion, awe, gladness, praise.

2.1 Devotion
For me the most important word in this passage is that little word 'devotion'. It means 'steadfast perseverance" - they gave themselves as a first priority to the apostles teaching and to one another. Our mission statement summarises our primary purpose. We are here to assist irreligious people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Fully devoted. Inside your news sheet is a character check list that will help you reflect upon how you can become and remain fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Ask yourself those questions and allow the Lord to speak to you about any area of your life where you are not fully devoted to him. They were devoted.

2.2 Awe
I want to play you something that John Ortberg said at the Leadership Summit we attended this Summer, about awe in worship - play tape. Do you relate to that? Eugene Peterson is best known for his translation of the NT called the Message. He also wrote, 'The Gift' which is about Christian ministry. In it he quotes the Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard going to worship. She asks,

"Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?... On the whole I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? ...It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to the pews. Explorers unmindful of 'conditions' died. Why don't similarly unprepared worshippers perish on the spot?... Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week, Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, 'It is all right, believe it or not, to be people.'"

Pure unadulterated grace. How did they worship? With devotion and awe.

2.3 Praise
John Calvin once described the world as the "theatre of God's glory". Psalm 19:1-4 says this:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

The early church praised God with jubilation for his mighty works revealed in creation and supremely in Jesus Christ. If praise and worship is not your moment by moment experience then there is something wrong with your eyes, something wrong with your heart. If the "trees of the field clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12) then I suspect its OK to do it in church. Geoffrey Fisher, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, "The longer I live the more convinced I am that Christianity is one long shout of joy." If we are alert to God everywhere, then every waking moment can be an act of praise. How they worshipped in community. With devotion, awe and praise.

3. Why did they worship in community? (2:47)
Because the church is God's only hope of the world. Because authentic worship and community is infectious. What ever else the tongues of Acts 2 were, they were first and foremost known languages - a means by which people from all over the world heard the gospel in their own language, Greek, Aramaic, Coptic, Arabic, Latin. The Lord added to their number. Notice that what he did was more than save. He added those who were being saved to the church. He didn't save them without also adding them to the church and he didn't add them to the church without saving them first. That is why it is impossible to be a Christian without at the same time being part of a local church. There is no salvation apart from the Body of Christ. If you are united with Christ you are part of his body. Jesus does this double work - saving and adding. Daily - day by day.

Their witness in community was not an occasional or sporadic thing. It was as continuous as their worship. Day by day, they were attending the temple, breaking bread, praising God (2:46). Day by day they were praising God and he added to their number daily. We have begun to rethink our worship and community. Next weekend will give us an opportunity to put this into practice. To bring together worship and community. Saturday night we have our Harvest Supper down at the Church Hall with food, music and dancing. What better way than to bring non-Christian friends to see the church celebrating as a community. Then on Sunday we will celebrate our Harvest Festival. The worshipping community in action, bringing our gifts to God to share with those in need. The two events make a whole, the community in worship, the worshipping community. The Saturday is no less an act of worship. The Sunday no less an act of community. Both an opportunity to exalt our Lord. In worship, in community. Not just at Harvest, not even just every Sunday but every day and everywhere. In Church and in our homes. Then God-willing, we shall continue to see the Lord adding to our number those whom he is saving. Lets pray.