Last week, we explored the history behind our fractured Christianity. This week, we’ll take a brief look at the ‘Big-T’ non-negotiable practices of shared faith and contrast them against ‘little-t’ subjective truths of how we engage in religion, how we worship. But first, let’s define the term.
It is a 16th-century compound word that combines ‘worth’ and ‘ship.’ Basically, the word is action-oriented and represents how we assign worth to what we value. In the Bible, worship was actionable: bowing down, singing, praying, giving, sexual purity, kindness, etc. Jesus’ related point was that we tend to put our resources (worth) into what we value (Matthew 6:21). Let’s go back to the first century to contrast Christian mandates with today’s religious practices.
Two thousand years ago, Christians were charged with honoring their heavenly Father with all they were and had and to treat each other with the love of Christ (Matthew 22:34-40). They were to make disciples and baptize new converts into the faith (e.g., Matthew 28:18-21); those faithful newbies received the Spirit of God in return for regeneration (e.g., Acts 5:32 & Titus 3:5). Simple devotion, baptism, charity, and disciple-making while walking by the Spirit of God in the Christian community were essential Christian activities. Being a community, Christ-followers enjoyed table fellowship that brought the remembrance of what Jesus did for humankind and why, initially on Saturday evenings during corporate worship (prayer, teaching, singing, etc. (see Colossians 3:16 for a foundation)). No mystery or magic; no strict religious focus or a one-to-many format – well, not yet anyway.
By the fourth century, candles, chants, and rituals turned baptism into a solemn religious experience, although the primary intent remained: devote to God and renounce sin. Similarly, simple table fellowship and a communal remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the covenant it enabled became a formalized and mystical experience that not everyone could administer or enjoy. Corporate prayer where members in a Christian assembly participated has ceased to be a shared, communal experience. Collaborative teaching and the sharing of spiritual gifts have given way to preaching and a strict format that leaves little if any room for in-depth and applicable biblical teaching or movements by the Spirit of God.
“But, Ron – does how we sing, teach, pray, baptize, or take Communion in a worship service matter?” The answer depends on whether biblical teaching in disciple-making, heartfelt prayer, faith-fueled baptism, intimate sharing in covenantal remembrance or corporate singing and exercising spiritual gifts occur in true worship while involved in religious activities. We may practice our faith differently depending on religious culture. But, we must never forsake Communion’s intimate sharing, the devotion of baptism, communal prayer and singing, or the maturity found in discipleship.
Oh – I mentioned the phrase “Christian love.” Please join me next week to look at the different ways we do, and should, love!
Blessings and peace,