The Beauty of the Gathered Church (Part 3)January 19, 2023 Worship 1 Comment
The Beauty of Singing, Praying, Reading, & Preaching
Could you imagine a church that never sang? What about one that never opened the Bible, or prayed, or had preaching? I suspect it would be hard for most of us to say that what we were doing is "church" if one or more of those elements were missing.
Okay, here's another question: Why do we do those things specifically? Have you ever thought about that? Why -- when we gather as Five Points Baptist Church -- do we sing together? And pray corporately? And read Scripture? And listen to a sermon? And why have most churches over the last 2,000 years done these same things as well? We might answer that we do them because they are helpful to us spirtitually. And I agree! In fact, I'll talk more about that later. But that's really not the foundational answer. It goes deeper than that.
The reason why we sing, pray, read, and preach is because that's what God commands in His Word that we do when we gather. To put it another way, we do all these things because the Bible says we should. And we know that anything God commands will be for our spiritual benefit! Here's a brief survey of where we see each of these elements in the Bible:
In Colossians 3:16 Paul commands the local church in Colosse to let Christ's word dwell richly among them. How were they to do this? Paul says by "singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." We sing together because the Bible tells us to!
In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul tells Timothy that he has provided instructions to him so that "you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." Timothy was helping to shepherd the church in Ephesus and in this letter Paul is giving him a blueprint for what the local church should look like. And we know that he is speaking specifically of a local church (and not just the universal church) because of his instructions regarding overseers and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13) -- these are leaders within local churches (cf. Acts 14:21-23; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:17). And it's in this letter on local church life that Paul says corporate prayer ought to be a regular element. He writes, "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling." (1 Timothy 2:8).
In that same letter, Paul writes in 4:13 that the church should be devoted "to the public reading of Scripture..." Pretty cut and dried, huh? When we gather, we should read the Bible. Really makes sense when you stop and think about it. If God has spoken to us through His Word (and He has), then we should want to read and hear as much of it as we can in our gatherings. Sadly, in most churches the practice of Scripture reading has faded away. I suspect this may be because one person reading the Bible in quiet can detract from the emotive atmosphere that many churches want to create in order to keep the excitement high. Be that as it may, for the person who has been genuinely born of God, listening to His Word never detracts from the "atmosphere".
In the same verse, Paul goes on to say that the church should also be devoted "to exhortation, to teaching." (1 Timothy 4:13). And given that one of the qualifications for an overseer is that he be "able to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2), it stands to reason that pastors should regularly exhort and teach the congregation. This doesn't mean that pastors do all the teaching in the life of a church. Far from it! But when the church gathers all together, pastors have been set apart for the task of rightly dividing God's Word so that the church may be nourished in sound doctrine and protected from false teaching (Acts 20:28-29). A weak pulpit will inevitably lead to a weak church. Note also that Paul clearly instructed Timothy to "preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2). The verb for "preach" there carries the idea of declaring or proclaiming the truth. When we gather, biblical, Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting preaching should always be present.
Sing. Pray. Read. And preach. We do these things when we gather because the Bible tells us to do them.
When we sing, we exalt God and we edify one another as we remind each other, through our collective voices, of the sweetness of the Gospel. That's why we want the lights up and the speakers down. As a church family, when we come together we want to be able to see and hear each other! It is one of God's appointed means for allowing the word of Christ to dwell among us richly.
When we pray as God's people, we remember that we have all been graciously adopted by Him through the work of His Son. We gather as blood-bought brothers and sisters. And going to Him in prayer together reminds us of this precious truth. The Christian faith is biggger than just you or just me. We pray as a faith family because the Christian faith is ultimatley an us.
Just as we speak to God in prayer, He speaks to us through His Word. And God's Word creates God's people. Just as His Word brought dry bones back to life in Ezekiel 37:1-14, so His Word brings the Church into existence. So when we hear His Word together, we hear it as those who have been called out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that we might be a people for His own possession (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Finally, when the Word is rightly preached, it exhorts us to live our lives in light of the Gospel and it shapes us, slowly but surely, into the people He would have us become. A people who reflect the beauty of Christ in our shared lives together.
I love the beautiful simplicity here. Nothing fancy or flashy. Just the ordinary means that God has told us to use week after week for the building up of His body and the furthering of His kingdom. It won't draw a huge crowd. It won't get lots of likes and shares on social media. But you know what it will do? It will nourish Christ's sheep in the truth so that one day they may be presented to Him mature and complete (Colossians 1:28). Sing. Pray. Read. Preach. These are the biblical elements of corporate worship. And they transcend time and culture because they were given to us by our transcendant and timeless God.