What does the Bible mean to you?
To a religious Jew everything is spiritual, everything is theological, everything is sacred. Life is not compartmentalised. By now you have probably got my drift and can now understand this key distinction between the Greek thinking that has insinuated itself into all parts of Church thinking and practice and Hebrew thinking that has been waiting in the wings for far too long!
Jesus once had a spat with a Samaritan woman about acceptable ways to worship God. He spoke to her of a future time.
"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)
So worship is going to have to be infused in spirit and truth. It needs to be of a spiritual nature because God is spirit, but it needs to be based on truth.
The use of memorised songs as the predominant form of worship has come about historically as a result of the high degree of illiteracy in earlier times. People didn't read much, if at all. Hymns were how many people got their theology, so it has always been important that they contained sound doctrine, based on the truth of God's word. Of course we are more literate these days, though not always Bible-literate. Worship songs are all well and good and helpful, but are no longer necessary to fulfill the role as the main channel of doctrine to the masses. Yet many people still do get their doctrine from our worship songs. Perhaps it is now time to free oneself from the past and break free and explore other ways to worship God, other ways to feed oneself from the Word of God, like reading the Bible!
The big point to make is that the Western Church has evolved (or devolved) into a rigid pattern whereby the phrase "we will now move into a time of worship" is a cue for throats to be cleared, brains emptied of the mundane and legs and arms placed on standby and "praise and worship" is understood as a musical genre. This is Greek understanding, it puts God in a box and misrepresents Him as someone who can only be worshipped in recognised spiritual ways, such as prayer, singing and proclamation. Hebraic worship frees us up totally to worship Him using every part of our created being, body and soul, with our arms, legs, voice, mind and spirit. God created every part of us, so every part of us has been divinely cleared for take-off!
It's a shame that there is so little literature around that can tell us more about the original Church, so that we can learn more on how they did things. I am not referring to the Church of Constantine, or even that of the Church Fathers, but the Jewish Church which is mentioned, with not too much detail, in the Book of Acts. Luke, the writer of the book, was writing a history and focused, unsurprisingly on the acts of these first Christians, the Acts of the Apostles. Maybe one day we'll find a companion volume, the Lifestyle of the Apostles, detailing how they worshipped God and "did Church", but until then, we're feeding from scraps!
The problem is that most writings by early Jewish believers (apart from the apostles, of course) were destroyed by the Gentile Church, deemed heretical (too Jewish) by their theologians. In other words, these Jewish writings were either canonical or diabolical! Most information we have on the Jewish Church was written by Church historians, who were not going to be very sympathetic in their treatment. History has tended to be written by the victors! The one thing that we can discern was that those early believers were meeting both in homes and synagogues. Even Gentile converts were meeting with their Jewish brethren in synagogues and observing the Jewish Sabbath and festivals, at least until the Church edicts were passed banning them from doing so.
There are some clues though, in the pages of the New Testament, particularly in the Book of Acts. Here is one of them, regarding Paul and his attitude to the Jewish festivals. In Acts 20, we read of him hurrying to get back to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot (Pentecost), so obviously it still meant something to him.
"Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost." (Acts 20:16)
For these first believers, many of them had the advantage of actually meeting their Messiah in the flesh, or at least knowing of him. For them, Christianity was a straightforward faith. It wasn't primarily defined by rules and regulations, it was about one person, Jesus. Belief in the person of Jesus and all that he did for us, has always been the key to faith. These days many Christians deny that they are following a religion, rather they are following a person, Jesus, but for the Church of Constantine and onwards, it wasn't that simple. It was all about doctrines, complexly worded philosophical statements, borne out of the Greek mind and which Christians argued over and fought over.
Remember, in an earlier article, we talked about the conflict between the Arian or the homoousian or the homoioousian positions, with regard to Jesus's position within the Godhead? This was the natural outcome of viewing Christianity as a philosophy rather than a pure faith. It just complicates what is really a simple faith in the life and death of Jesus Christ, no wonder the Western world plunged into the Dark Ages at this time!
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again)