Article written for SMPC:
When we were blessed to have Bridget baptized into the covenant community of Spring Meadows there were family members of mine from the ‘Roman Catholic wing’ who came from out of town in order to be there. I remember one of my nephews, upon entering the high school auditorium, asking, “How can you worship here?” And his question wasn’t meant to be snarky. It was an honest question from a child, who has found himself in ornate Roman Catholic buildings his entire life. Honestly, there is not a question I’ve likely received more since taking a staff position at Spring Meadows than ‘How is the building search going?’ Might it be that when we ask that question, to a certain extent, we are identifying with my nephew? Now to be clear it’s all right that many (including myself) desire more in a worship space than we currently have (and the additional benefits a dedicated property would allow for), and yet it’s also important to be clear that fundamentally what takes place during worship itself is not about a building.
When we first think of church and its worship, we should center upon the very word of God heralded to a community of the faithful. While buildings, programs, enhanced fellowship, and things of this nature can be wonderful tools God uses to bless us, they are not unique to the church. If these things take the forefront of what church seems to entail for us, we have missed the point. Because at the heart of the church is the word of God.
Nor should secondary matters overtake the church. From politics to personal hobbyhorses, these abound within Protestantism – especially American Protestantism. Just to give an example, there are churches where how the music ministry is conducted becomes the driving focus of churches worship. Whether it is something like absolutely no stringed instruments (as if the cross somehow made David’s lyre sinful) or a demand that the music ministry have all the latest gadgets to aid an introductory concerts. A secondary matter becomes THE ISSUE for many people on which church they’ll pick or leave. There is a long history, with many churches either reformed or otherwise, that have been savaged by secondary issues becoming functional idols.
So when it comes to worship I find it helpful to breakdown genuine worship with three distinct markers:
First, we want to heed the words of Christ when he states in John 4:23, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” So worship must be directed to the Father, through the power of the Spirit (which we enjoy when we gather see Matthew 18:20) and it must have the truth present (which in no small measure is the very good news of the Son, Jesus Christ, who is the rock of our salvation).
Second, worship must be done with a genuine faith. A faith that puts no confidence in the flesh. A faith that is found in those whom have been circumcised through the Holy Spirit, and a faith which glorifies the Son (see Phil 3.3). We can see a practical example of this very thing in Mark 7:6-7 when Jesus quoted Isaiah stating, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’. Jesus was referring to the Pharisees in that moment. A group which , outwardly, had a worship that would put all others to shame and yet for a great many of them they had placed their faith ultimately in themselves and not in the fullness of God, making them worthy of rebuke, and invalidating their worship.
Third, worship must make sure that God alone is worshiped. We see this scripturally when we look to the first two commandments. We are people who enjoy traditions and shaping our worship, but we must remember to not introduce rival golden calves into the culture of the church. Where something other than our Triune God becomes what is praised – this is why Spring Meadows has a relatively uniform framework to our order of worship. Excessive creativity and experimentation is better left outside the worship space.
So how can we worship here? We can worship here when we, in community, approach God candidly, forsaking ulterior motives and rooting ourselves in truth. We can worship here when the scripture’s testimony is affirmed in prayer, through song, through the preaching of the word, and through the administration of God’s sacraments. Lastly we can worship here when we are centered upon Christ, the one who is the way, the truth, and the life, who is very God of very God and our access to the Father (John 14:6). The building, a high school auditorium, might be at times a stumbling block, and yet scripture has made clear, how we worship the revealed Triune God is not predicated upon a building, but established upon His work on our behalf. How glorious it is to worship Him here!