Divisive Worship

The official gathering of God’s people in worship, that peculiar Lord’s Day assembly, is meant to be a place that divides. As Paul declares in 1 Cor. 14, it is the place where believers in Jesus are built up and edified, and unbelievers are convicted as the secrets of their hearts are revealed, and so fall on their faces crying out “God is truly among you.” The children’s First Catechism makes this clear when it answers the question, “Why did Christ appoint these sacraments?“ The answer is counterintuitive: “To distinguish his people from the world, and to comfort and strengthen them.”

There are at least three reasons for this.

The first is that the Church’s worship is unearthly. It is for those who are already citizens of the city of the living God. The writer of Hebrews says that in our worship,
…you (2nd person plural) have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hebrews 12.22-24).
Though our physical eyes don’t see this, it is the reality of what is happening in worship, by the work of the Holy Spirit.. To put it in Paul’s words (Ephesians 2.18), through Jesus Christ we have access in the Holy Spirit to God.

Secondly, this new citizenship necessarily requires a new language. Augustine phrased it as, In dominico eloquio (“The Lord’s style of language”). Robert Louis Wilken points out that early on Augustine “recognized that if he were to enter the Church he would have to learn this new tongue, hear it spoken, grow accustomed to its sounds, read the books that use it, learn its idioms, and finally speak it himself. He had to embark on a journey to acquaint himself with the mores of a new country. Becoming a Christian meant entering a strange and often alien world.”1  And as we saw above, worship is entering another “world”.

Finally, the assembly is a foretaste, and a breaking in, of the great day when Christ returns and judges the living and the dead, divides sheep from goats. As the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 1: “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” The parallel between judgment and congregation is, or ought to be, stunning!

Therefore, Christian worship is meant to be divisive, for the purpose of raising the dead and delivering people “from the dominion of darkness, and transferring” them “into the kingdom of the Son of” God’s “love” (Colossians 1.13). Some people who enter the assembly are meant to feel terribly uncomfortable - so that they may turn to the Lord Jesus now and be rescued from the coming judgment now; and some people who come are meant to be comforted, encouraged, and made holier as they find “that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”


1. Robert Louis Wilken, “The Church’s Way of Speaking”, First Things, August/September 2005, Online: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/the-church8217s-way-of-speaking-24. The emphasis is mine.


Joel Fregia said…
The worship of God is necessarily separate from the norms of the world.
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

When we gather in a church building to formally worship God, we give voice to putting to death the earthly idols of fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness (Colossians 3: 5 NKJV) and putting on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (Colossians 3:10). That kind of worship won’t sit well with everyone. Isaiah 8:14 and 1 Peter 2:7-8 show us that Jesus is a rock of sanctuary for those who believe, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense for those who reject Him.

Yet, for those who worship God, Jesus is also the great unifier! Look at Colossians 3:11-17. We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. Whatever we do in word or deed, we are to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. In correct worship, there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
mphilliber said…
Yes, exactly! Nice job Joel!
Arrrrrrrr! This pirate promised he'd get around to reading your post, and he is glad he kept his promise.

Seemingly apropos of nothing in your post except that I was reminded by it, I read in another blog I enjoy that Jesus came not to make bad people good but to make dead men live. Just thought I'd throw that in. Lutheran historian Jim Nestingen said the same thing in a sermon once.

Two things worship-related occurred to me as I read your piece:

1. The ancient distinction between the Mass of Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful. Along with that the "mysteries" that were withheld from the catechumens until after they were baptized. Such things were done out of regard for the holiness of the eucharistic assembly, out of concern for the candidates being exposed to more than they could stand before they'd made the radical commitments that the church required, and out of fear of infiltrators. Only after the rigors of the catechumenate (I've read that in some places it could last up to three years) and baptism were the candidates allowed into the full worship of the church. And even after that they underwent a period of mystagogy to help them grow in understanding of what they'd been admitted to.

2. Worship and evangelism/mission are separate tasks, with worship b

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