Is Worship for Believers, Seekers, or Both (or Neither)?
The CPC pastoral staff and I have been encouraged by such robust interaction with the CPC101 material as we have released it congregation-wide over the past several weeks. Along the way, we have heard some great questions and comments about the teaching. One recent question led to an email interaction that I thought would be helpful to post here — in an edited form. Question: On the subject of “hospitable worship,” which aims to be hospitable toward our non-believing friends and neighbors, what are we saying about the focus of worship? Shouldn’t worship be God-centered, and primarily a time of communion between God and his people? Not to deliberately exclude, talk down to, or confuse the unbeliever that may or may not be present, but to primarily focus on the communion between God and his people, first and foremost? Here’s my attempt at a response to this excellent question: Your interpretation of the teaching re: hospitable worship is right on target. The key idea here is that we want to be intentional toward non-believing ‘eavesdroppers’ who are present in every one of our services. The Scriptures actually say very little about “who worship is FOR” (believers, non-believers) — and much more about Who worship is TOWARD (God) — especially when it comes to a worship SERVICE, per se. We don’t see a lot of examples in the Bible of worship SERVICES — perhaps because God intends for services to be contextualized to the cultures in which they are held — in Nashville we use guitars and violins, in Zambia they use pans for music, for example. Besides Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about the worship gathering (1 Cor 14), neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament says a whole lot about regulations for worship services, per se. All of our assumptions are derived from biblical principles that inform our worship practices. What we do know is that the structure of the Old Testament temple had center courts for believers, and outer courts for gentiles to occupy. The Abrahamic promises spoke of God reaching beyond Israel to the (not yet believing) nations, as do the Psalms, during seasons of history in which “worship” was assumed to be restricted to the believing Jews. Yet there is a theme of hospitality toward the outsider threaded all through the Scriptures, both in public life and private life, for those who believe. The communication principles articulated in CPC101 re: hospitable worship are what we are aiming for…all of which are derived from the ways that Jesus and Paul in particular are communicating truth to generally mixed audiences that include both believers and potential believers. So, the principle for hospitable worship, really, is to broaden the net of ACCESSIBILITY to non-believers and “Cornelius-types” (see Acts 10), while taking care to remain Scripture and Christ centered in exegesis and application in particular. It is in the sermon illustrations that the “hospitable” part of hospitable comes through. Engaging, as Paul did in Acts 17, with non-believer ideas and assumptions that, because of common grace, resonate with biblical truth…call it bridge building via common ground. In every culture, the cultural narrative both contradicts AND affirms the biblical narratives in various places. hospitable worship also involves respectfully challenging and critiquing the assumptions of the prevailing culture that surrounds the church, particularly those which stand in contrast to biblical ideals. I hope this is clearer than mud! Again, the summary points for hospitable worship are: 1. God-centered versus believer or non-believer centered in its focus. 2. Love your neighbor oriented re: both believers and non believers present in the gathering. 3. In language, true to the biblical text while being accessible to all. Avoid in-house language that runs the risk of excluding those who are less conversant in Christian “tribal” or sub-culture vocabulary. And, when we do use in-house language, define our terms thoughtfully and carefully. Examples in our current worship? Explaining terms such as ‘sanctification,’ ‘sin,’ ‘regeneration,’ ‘confession,’ etc. which are not part of our secular culture’s common vernacular. Defining our terms is one example we are seeking to fulfill. Another is putting Spurgeon’s “Bible in one hand, newspaper in the other” approach to sermon prep and delivery. Preach from the text, apply from both Scripture and from credible voices in the culture whose points are confirmed by the biblical text. One final principle driving the hospitable worship concept is resistance of the notion of compartmentalizing “worship” to a Sunday service. If all of life is “worship,” as Romans 12:1-2 indicates, in some sense our behaviors and communications in worship services should mirror our behaviors and communications elsewhere, and vice versa. There should be an integrity and consistency between our communications while inside the church walls, and while outside the church walls. Our inside the walls communication, behavior, and relating should be incredibly sensitive, respectful, and thoughtful toward non churched people, while our outside the walls communication, behavior, and relating should drip sweetly of our Christian distinctiveness. Hope that helps. Feel free to ask further questions if you still don’t have clarity.