The information we have about the early Christian church is rather scant. Much of what we do know gives us a sweet picture of devoted believers who lived out their faith in tangible ways of worship and service.
They usually met before sunrise, then came back together after working all day to have Lord’s Supper in the evening. The worship service on Sunday lasted about three hours, with the congregation standing the whole time. The sermon was delivered by the pastor, who was seated (you didn’t know how good you have it, did you?!). Early Christian art indicates that a typical posture for prayer was standing and looking heavenward, with arms outstretched and palms up.
Also, Christians came to be known as “caregivers” because they wouldn’t forsake their own children and they would rescue the forsaken children of others. The Roman philosopher and critic of Christianity Julian the Apostate said he had to admit that “Christians not only take care of their own poor but for our poor also.”
However, not everything that was happening in Christian churches was idealic or commendable.
Divisions were occurring over teachers, there were questions about marriage and divorce, misuse of the Lord’s Supper, strife over food offered to idols, and abuse of the spiritual gifts.
With all this strife and confusion occurring in the early church, the apostle Paul provides them with this clear, concise command: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), because “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Worship Reflects the God We Worship
What a helpful paradigm for corporate worship—and indeed every church activity—this is! Everything the church does should reflect the character of the God we worship.
God is not a God of confusion, so our worship services should not be chaotic. God is not a God of strife, so our every endeavor should be undertaken peacefully and harmoniously.
Of course, we must be careful not to project our own preferences or strong opinions onto God, pretending to reflect him while actually only reproducing ourselves. But those attributes of God which are plainly revealed in God’s Word, Paul implies, should having a shaping, controlling influence on the endeavors we undertake in his name.
Consider this principle the next time you are planning a worship service, or participating in a service project, or forming a vision statement, or merely enjoying fellowship with your fellow church members.
How can we best reflect the character of God in this activity? Is there any way in which we are putting ourselves, rather than God, on display?
When we, as a church, internalize the priority of God-reflection in all we do, it will not only change what we do—it will change the way we do it. It will change our motivation in it. And it will change us as we participate in it. Strife will be banished, confusion will be diminished, and our witness will be less tarnished.
God will be on display, not only in the preaching, but in the very way that we go about worshiping him in the body.
Worship Submits to the God We Worship
There is more to Paul’s reasoning though, isn’t there? Ultimately we could reduce his argument down to: “Let all things be done in a certain way, because God wants it that way.” In other words, worship isn’t about you or me, it is about God. While this doesn’t sit well with many of us, coming from an individualistic and authority-questioning culture in the West, it is a crucial part of understanding worship.
I read recently of an interaction Francis Chan had with a person who had visited his church. The person complained, “I didn’t really like worship today.” To this Chan replied, “That’s ok, we weren’t worshipping you.”
It is this issue—God being the object of, and authority over our worship—which jumped out to me as I studied Paul’s writing for my new book Adorned: How to Grow a Biblically Beautiful Church. The book is an unpacking of Titus 2, specifically, but it serves as a mirror to the ultimate authority of God, as it is displayed on every page of Scripture.
This is a timely reminder in our day as much as any other. No matter what part of worship we are talking about, worship is never meant to be centered on us as the worshippers. This means our only authority for ordering worship—from beginning to end—is the God whom we are worshipping. We dare not merely consult our own feelings or personal tastes on the matter.
On the other hand, when we reflect both the character and the authority of the one true God in our worship, we can expect more than just warm and fuzzy emotions—we can expect God himself, in our midst.