Three ways that worshipping keeps us faithful
Surviving our cultural Babylon
By Johnny Markin
It doesn’t take very long to surf the media to see that the Christian faith is under siege. Those of us who attempt to live Biblically find ourselves being “strangers in a strange land,” in what used to be a Christian culture, or at least one greatly influenced by Biblical values.
It’s really not so different from what we read in the early chapters of Daniel. The Kingdom of Judah had been decimated by the Babylonians, their temple destroyed, and the people carried off to captivity in Babylon. Daniel and his countrymen in Chapter 1 were being pressured to take on Babylon’s values, compromising all that defined them as a people of Yahweh, the living God, who had called them as His very own people. What did that promise look like now?
Of course we read about how God did a miracle when Daniel stood up for his faith, but we tend to forget that the Jews were there for a very long time. How did they manage to keep faith when the very core symbols of their faith were no longer the centre of how they worshipped: the temple, sacrificial offerings, and the Ark of the Covenant.
A survival plan
Well, it was in the time of captivity that the Jews developed the system of synagogue worship. Ralph Martin, in Webber’s Complete Library of Christian Worship, writes: “Synagogue worship had a distinctive pattern. Wisdom and the study of the Torah became the goal and focus of the synagogue. A crisis existed in the faith of the Jews, who had been without a temple for the greater part of a century. A new form was needed to adapt to the new circumstances. The synagogue became the ekklesia, that is, the assembly or congregation. The worship in the synagogue stressed reading and exposition of the Torah, prayer, recitation of the Shma’ (based on Deut. 6:4), and recitation of psalms.” Gathering regularly for worship enabled them to survive the Babylonian cultural onslaught. The early church survived the Roman persecution by applying the very same principles. So, too, our gathered worship will help us remain faithful in the face of today’s cultural tsunami.
Worship affirms who we are – a people in Christ
The Synagogue was the central gathering for the community, and The Psalms and readings helped continue to affirm their position in Yahweh, and their perception of themselves as God’s chosen people. Psalm 105 is a perfect example of worship that remembers the deeds of God. This was a powerful part of their gathered worship. They told the story of God, and of His covenant promises toward them.
This actually formed the core of how the early church worshipped, and should still form the core of how we worship. Acts 2:42 tells us: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (ESV).
Worship affirms a biblical worldview
When the faithful found themselves far from their historic centre, they had to develop an exile mindset that kept them focused on a distant day in the future, when God’s promises would be fulfilled and they would return to Jerusalem. Their faithful prophet, Jeremiah, had given them a new promise from God, that He had not abandoned them, they were to be patient, getting on with life and living where He had sent them. Trusting in that word shaped a hope that helped them endure.
Centuries later, Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: “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.” (Rom 12:1-2 ESV)
Our discernment of God’s perfect will is to know how to separate the cultural from the biblical. It’s the Word that shapes our worldview.
Worship affirms our hope that God is with us
The Incarnation is a picture of how we are to live as exiles. Christ exiled himself and came to our world. It’s a beautiful picture of how God came to be with us, but more than that, the sending of His Spirit at Pentecost assures every believer that He remains with us.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17 ESV)
God calls us to endure where we are. The role of our worship is to keep us faithful where we are planted. That is why the author of Hebrews, addressing a persecuted church in the latter half of the first century wrote these sage words:
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV)
Johnny Markin is Pastor of Worship at Northview Community Church, Abbotsford
[Originally posted on Worship Links]