We are more pagan than we realise!
In the centre of the original Church building was the altar, the most holy place. The whole idea of the altar was both from the Jewish Old Testament and the Christian New Testament. In the Old Testament it was the place of sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament we have the eucharist, the bread and the wine for Holy Communion, which was placed on the altar in the Church. This was considered such a holy act that only the clergy could administer it. Again we see more Platonism, forbidding ordinary (physical) folk to take part in "spiritual" duties, which is certainly not the intention, as described in the Gospels. Do this in remembrance of me, Jesus told his disciples, the First Century equivalents of you and me. It was meant to be a simple memorial performed by ordinary Christians, not administered by special people in robes.
Also "holy relics" of dead "saints" were stored beneath the altar, a pagan practice and a corruption of the verse in Revelation, which speaks of heavenly matters.
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained." (Revelation 6:9)
The whole idea of the altar has absolutely no place in the Christian faith. Our bodies are the temple of God, an idea that Plato would have had no truck with, of course - the spiritual living inside the physical, oy vey!? The altar is no more as the Temple in Jerusalem is no more. Christ has made the ultimate and far-reaching sacrifice once and for all, so who needs an altar?
What else do we see in the Church building? I've never liked the word pew. It's a puny, effete little word, a tiny pursing of the lips and out it comes. It's a clever device to pack in a large group of people into a small space and to give the illusion of sacrifice by making the experience quite uncomfortable and restrictive. It has turned the Christian experience into a spectator sport, reinforcing the divide between clergy and laity. The clergy do their stuff on the stage at the front and the pew dwellers watch the performance, only interacting when directed by the performers.
This is a model that is still with us and has many faces. It has allowed us to emulate the World and provides us with "celebrity" preachers, teachers, prophets and apostles who, when Churches are not big enough, draw in the crowds to sports stadiums, conference centres and tents and to television sets around the world. This is not a criticism of these people, as they are purely functioning within the parameters of this age, thoroughly Greek parameters in this case.
This got me thinking. The secular model for presenting an entertainment to a large group is now firmly established. Picture the scene. A large stadium filled to capacity with excited fans, facing a raised platform packed with multimedia paraphernalia for sound amplification and TV broadcasting, huge plasma screens on both sides of the stage. The band starts up, guitars, keyboards, drums slice through the atmosphere with a steady crescendo of sound, a rhythmic cadence to some, a wall of noise to others. The MC stumbles to the microphone and announces the star, who arrives from the side to rapturous applause. The preacher has arrived!
This is where we are. This could be a Coldplay concert or it could be a worship service, same difference except for the message. When we have arrived at a situation where the latest Christian worship leaders dress the same as their secular counterparts, share the same musical genre and sound levels as their secular counterparts and follow the same stagecraft, then we begin to wonder if the blurring at the edges is a smokescreen to choke us to death. Watching a so-called "outpouring" live on my TV, I asked myself if those in the stadium, warmed up by an hour of high volume rock music with repetitive rhythmic patterns, simplistic lyrics, slogans and shouting, were really encountering a revival experience, or were psychological influences setting the agenda? Was this true worship? I asked myself. Was God boogieing away in heavenly places? Were the angels swaying to the throbbing bass beat? What is true worship? I ask myself now.
Going from the general to specific, we start with the accepted definition, as reverent love and devotion to one's God. This is fine, but the key question is how we worship? The Greek word for worship in the New Testament has the sense of "falling down before" or "serving" God.
"On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." (Matthew 2:11)
So this is our response to our mighty God, a voluntary sense of giving ourselves to Him. Shachah, the Hebrew word for worship, in the Old Testament also has the sense of bowing down or prostrating ourselves to God.
"Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground." (Nehemiah 8:6)
Being pedantic, then, a true act of worship in the Biblical sense is to prostrate oneself before God in adoration. So when a worship leader tells us that we are now going to worship God, why do we stand up to sing a song rather than fall to the ground? What has happened to our understanding of worshipping God?
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again)