The True Worship of God:
The "Called Out Ones"

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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Today, the English word "church" is often used to describe a building used as a Christian house of worship. In the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint translation) and later in the New Testament, the Greek word "ekklesia" that we translate "church" originally referred to people - God's people gathered to worship their God. But the significance of the word "ekklesia" actually goes beyond this difference in a profound and meaningful way.

To the Greeks, "ekklesia" described a public meeting that only certain members of the community were privileged to attend. Such a meeting was often called to transact the business of the community. Although this word was sometimes used to describe meetings of the Jews in the Septuagint, the word that came to be used of Jewish houses of worship was "synagogue" (Greek: sunagoga), which means "a gathering" or "an assembling together." While this word was also used to describe Christian gatherings and houses of worship, Christians chose the word "ekklesia" derived from "ekkaleo"; "ek" out of "kaleo" to call (Thayer, Joseph Henry. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977). Christians are the "called out ones."

Christians are "called out" to worship because the worship of God through Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the one activity that supremely separates Christians from the world. "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5 in context). Paul's point here is not that there is something evil about human beings and human needs, or that Christians should think only about spiritual truths. Christians and unbelievers live in the same world. The difference here is that Christians are enlivened, guided, and informed by the Holy Spirit in all that they do, whereas non-Christians live only on the level of earthly needs and desires (Ephesians 2:1-22, Galatians 5:16-6:8, Philippians 3:17-20, Colossians 1:13-14, 27-28). They are not "alive to God." Even when they are outwardly religious, they live as if the one, true God does not exist.

Just as there are problems when we fail to see the connection between formal times of worship and the rest of Christian life (all of which is to be worshipful in the sense that all of it is dedicated to the service of our Lord), there are other problems when we fail to distinguish formal times of worship from other activities. A woodworker may be an excellent craftsman, exalting Christ by making excellent furniture, but furniture making is hardly an appropriate activity for services of Christian worship. A chef may prepare delicious, healthy meals, and may do so to exalt Christ through cooking, but cooking is not a valid part of Christian worship.

It seems that we have lost the distinction between activities that are appropriate in worship and activities that have a spiritual theme. It is Christ-honoring to do all manner of activities that focus upon Christ and spiritual truths. Music, plays, literature, artistic expression of many kinds may be used to exalt the Name of Jesus Christ. All of us would benefit from more artistry today that exalts Christ in a natural way. Christians need to recapture the idea that what they bring to the arts can drive our culture. But we must be very careful about bringing this into formal worship. Today, more often than not, it is secular culture that drives Christian culture.

On these matters there is certain to be some disagreement among Christians. This is also true in the matter of how much of contemporary culture to bring into our services. Styles will change across cultures and across time. But we must become careful when we cross the line from matters of style to matters of substance. The translation of the Scriptures that we use in our worship services, for example, is largely a matter of choice. But there is no question that reading and meditating upon the Scriptures must be a part of worship. The hymns and songs we use change from tradition to tradition and from church to church. But, it is not open to choice that they be Scripturally sound and that the style of music reflects the nature of God. We should measure everything by God's Word and God's character. And while tradition alone is not the final measure of soundness, we need to be very careful when we are asked to discard something that has been a part of traditional Christian worship or to bring in something that has not been.

Worship and Evangelism

Christians need to separate themselves apart regularly to worship their God - an activity those still a part of the world are neither interested in nor understand (I Corinthians 2:14). We do so not because we hate those who are not Christians, but because we love God. Christian worship is an activity designed by Christians for Christians in accordance with the will of their Lord.

It would be wrong to conclude, however, that our worship services should be closed. The worldliness of unbelievers is not a reason for Christians to hate them. On the contrary, Christ died to bring sinners into the kingdom of God (I Timothy 1:15). Paul makes clear that they are not our enemies (Ephesians 6:12). "Separation" does not mean running into seclusion to get away from the world (John 17:15-26). As long as non-believers are not disruptive, they should be welcomed to our worship services. We should be careful to help them understand our activities and our message in the hope that they, too, may be drawn to Christ (I Corinthians 14:23-25). Evangelism, the preaching of the Gospel and the call for people to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, is always an appropriate part of worship.

But evangelistic activity within worship services is different from making evangelism the controlling factor. When worship services are conceived of as primarily evangelistic in nature and the services are designed primarily to maximize appeal to those who do not walk with the Lord, the true purpose of Christian worship, and its true nature, are lost. The success or failure of worship is then judged by the number of people who are attracted, not by whether God is pleased or the Body of Christ is helped to spiritual maturity.

One of the sins Paul wrote to the Corinthians about was the failure to approach their meetings, especially the Lord's Supper, with the proper attitude of reverence. Some made church gatherings an opportunity for gluttony and drunkenness. Paul warned the Corinthians that they brought judgment upon themselves by their careless behavior (I Corinthians 11:17-34). There has been more than a little speculation as to what Paul meant when he spoke of God's judgment upon the careless in I Corinthians 11:29-30. Whatever he meant, it is clear that carelessness with sacred things is completely offensive to God. Unbelievers may be among us, we should try to help them understand what we do and why, and we should invite them to be fellow partakers of God's grace through Jesus Christ. But beyond this they must never govern our worship, nor should we belittle the blood of Christ by blurring the line that separates those who are Christ's from those who are of the world. This is especially true with baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Christians best evangelize the world when they truly worship God themselves, not when they change their worship to please those whom the Scriptures describe as being governed by "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (I John 2:16). Further, the spiritual growth that comes from true worship ensures that Christians will be fruitful, while compromise with the world merely ensures some measure of popularity. The Corinthians thought of themselves as superior, sophisticated, and super-spiritual when they were really simply carnal. They proclaimed a higher spirituality when they were really practicing a different kind of worldliness. The world can always play its own game better than Christians (Luke 16:8). The only thing we can do better is render faithful service to God (John 3:19-21). It is at just this point that we, as modern Christians, have so often failed.

Giving Worship

Meeting "to worship" is, in some ways, too weak a description of what Christians do when they come together. It is more correct to say that Christians meet "to give worship." The concept of giving in worship completely differentiates modern attitudes from proper Christian spirituality. Too many go "to worship" in the same manner that a sports fan goes to a sporting event, a music lover goes to a concert, an art lover goes to an art museum, or a vacationer goes to the beach. Whatever cost may be involved in these activities, and there is often the price of admission in addition to some level of involvement, it is still true that the individual goes primarily to receive, to take advantage of. And there is nothing wrong with this, of course, in its proper place. But true Christian worship is more like being the athlete in the sporting event, the musician who gives the concert, the tour guide at the art museum, or the lifeguard at the beach. The same is also true of education - the mind of the good student is always at least as active as the mind of the teacher. Christian worship is not passive. It always involves the active participation of the worshipper throughout the service - a concept we seem to have largely lost.

Quiet interludes are times for quiet self-preparation, prayer, and meditation. Hymns are opportunities for everyone to proclaim our faith in song. Corporate prayer is when all members of the congregation lift praise, confession, thanksgiving, and needs before the Lord, even when the pastor voices this on behalf of the group. The offering is a time for all to give of themselves to honor God. The reading and preaching of God's Word is where we direct our attention to serving Him better. Fellowship is where we encourage others to walk with God. In worship, as in the rest of the Christian life, as Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). And all of this giving is directed toward honoring the living God we worship.

But to the person who attends worship to get, silence is boring, hymns have no life, the pastor offers the pastoral prayer, the offering is where we lose something, preaching is not entertaining, and fellowship is where we hope to be uplifted by others - people we will leave when they cease to be interesting or to benefit us. In this group, it is more blessed to receive than to give. Instead of coming out of worship asking themselves if they accomplished what they went to church to do, they leave worship evaluating whether they felt better because they were there. And when these people express their boredom at true worship, we too often try to make up for it by making our worship services exciting and pleasing rather than holy and edifying.

It is not a blessing, but a curse, when the only difference between Christian worship and a secular gatherings is that the Christians have a little different style and vocabulary, but both are motivated by the same carnal desires. We are to be the salt of the earth, a light set on a hill (Matthew 5:13-16), the aroma of Christ in the world (II Corinthians 2:14-16). In some quarters we have become just one more party - another "trip" for those seeking recreation and escapism. If Christians do not approach worship with the sense that something very sacred is happening, how will the non-believer who attends know this? We have decided that unbelievers leave our services because our services are not exciting, when the truth may be that they leave because we, the Christians, are not excited about giving worship to our God. Often, it isn't the activities that need change, it is the Christians themselves.

Worship and Church Growth

There can be no doubt that insights of the "church growth" movement have helped the church do a better job of evangelism, and for this we are grateful. But it is also true that the teachings of the movement have often been dependent upon observation rather than Scripture, science rather than theology. As with all data, it is the interpretation and application of data that is most significant. One mistake that I believe we have made is that we have seen church growth findings as analytical when they were often descriptive. When we look back, we may find that what the church growth advocates often did was to measure the worldliness of our cultures and the lack of true faith in our churches, and then drew a conclusion that should have been obvious, that if we became more worldly in our "worship" we could attract more people into our churches.

This would not have happened if we were better grounded in the teachings of God's Word or if we had more faith in what we say we believe. The conclusion that comes from Scripture is much different: if we are truly faithful and we truly give worship, we attract people to our God and to His saving grace in Christ, thus truly building the Body of Christ. The truth is that as the world has pressed upon the Christian community, the physical things of the world have seemed to us to be more real than the spiritual truths we say we believe. We have allowed sacred things to become familiar and dull in our minds until, though they are the most profound things in the universe, they no longer excite our imaginations or grip our souls. Then, to compensate, we import trinkets and methods to take the place of true worship. But "fool's gold" is valuable only to fools, and inappropriate worship in unworthy of the living God.

The story is told of a preacher who asked an actor why people were more moved by the actor's performances than by the pastor's preaching. The actor replied, "Because you preach the truth as if it were fiction, while I act fiction as if it were true." If there is a problem with worship today, it is that the church doesn't act as if the Gospel is true. Any lack of true worship is hardly due to a lack of modern methods or the church would not have lasted for nearly two thousand years. If we lack true worship it is because we lack true faith or faithfulness. We have been called to better than this because we have been "called out" by the One who deserves our best.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 9, September 1996.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.