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Invitation to the Word - What is a worshiping community?


Discover the marks of new worshiping communities in light of the early church “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” |  Read: (Acts 2:42)

Teresa Lockhart Stricklen

In some acting jobs, actors are given freedom to play with the script. A director may say, “As long as you hit these marks, we’re good.” The marks are then specified and the actors are trusted to improvise in keeping with their character and the spirit of the basic story. 

Could it be that our traditionally structured institution is willing to improvise? If so, we need to know what marks to hit with regard to what constitutes a worshiping community. We know the proper Presbyterian answer as to what constitutes the church—i.e., where the Word is preached and heard, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist are rightly administered and mutual accountability exists in the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ seeks to extend the good news of God’s intended blessing to all of creation by doing what blessing of good news it proclaims (Book of Order, F-1.0303). 

These are not just Presbyterian notions, however. We get these traditional marks of a worshiping community from Scripture. We see the early Christians “devot[ing] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “The prayers” consisted of traditional times of worship in the temple. The breaking of bread is table fellowship that kept Christ’s various fellowship meals alive. “Koinonia,” the word for fellowship, means much more than coffee hour conversations. It is a joining together of a tight-knit community that functions as a supportive family to help one another, sharing goods in common (Acts 2:45). It is like the bond of soldiers who keep one another alive. The apostles’ teaching was the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus as interpreted through the Hebrew Scriptures. 

READ other Scriptures on worship: Joshua 24 contains a covenant renewal service. Isaiah 6 provides a description of a temple service. Nehemiah 8:1–12 is a renewal service. John 4 contains a debate about worship. 

PRAY Psalm 96. 

STUDY Luke 17:11–17. Luther once defined worship as the tenth leper turning back, and, indeed, this story contains the traditional order of worship within it as the way in which we are to live all of life in worship. As God approaches, we ask for mercy from our disease of sin. Jesus speaks, and we’re healed as we obey in response. But then we turn back to give thanks (“eucharisté”) and are made whole before being sent on our way to continue to praise the Lord for all God has done. 

REMEMBER: “God is spirit, and those who worship the Lord must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). 

LIVE in worship. Worship is not an activity, but a way of being in the world before the Lord and one another that values the triune God above all. Amos 5:21–24 makes it clear that worship without justice in our communal structures is an abomination. When we worship Christ as Sovereign, we naturally seek God’s shalom in our relationships with all of creation as an extension of what we do in worship together.    

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