Part 5: The Importance of the Local Church
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
WORSHIP IN THE LOCAL CHURCH
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
When man was created in the beginning God instilled in him the desire to worship. Man was designed to worship God. According to the Scriptures, God rested on the seventh day after He completed all of His creative acts. Although the Sabbath, as we have come to know it, was not introduced until Moses, the seventh day gave man his first opportunity to worship His Creator. Before the fall, Adam and Eve naturally sought out the presence of God when He entered the garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). Think of it, they communed daily with their Creator face to face in all His glory!
After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, to their dismay their eyes were opened—they had sinned against their Creator with devastating consequences! As they fled from the presence of God they hid themselves among the trees of the garden, and ever since that day long ago the natural man has been running and hiding from God. It is telling that our first parents sought to conceal their nakedness by sewing fig leaves together to make themselves aprons (Gen. 3:7). By the works of their hands they were attempting to cover themselves in order to be acceptable before God. This is the first religious act recorded in the Scriptures, which was unacceptable to God because without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). Thus, the fig tree is often a symbol in the Scriptures of meaningless religious acts.
The desire of man to willingly worship the Creator was corrupted by sin. Sadly, grave damage was done that can only be corrected through redemption. The natural man hates God and the things of God, but ironically he is inherently religious. Ancient history bears witness to man’s insatiable desire to worship the “gods of the universe.” The Egyptians, for example, worshipped a pantheon of gods—Re, the sun god; Osiris, the god of the Nile; Ptah, the god of Artificers; these are just a few of the hundreds of gods to whom they paid homage. The Canaanites worshipped the gods of fertility, and Baal, the god of thunder. In the days of the Judges the Philistines paid homage to Dagon, the god of the sea (fish) and Ashtaroth, the goddess of propagation. All these nations knew about the true and living God, but chose to defy Him and worship the creation rather than the Creator.
“Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female….And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:16,19).
God, in His infinite foreknowledge, foreknew that fallen mankind would have a propensity to worship the heavens (Psa. 147:5 cf. I Pet. 1:18-20). This would be especially true of the sun seeing that it appears to sustain life upon the earth. Interestingly, God chose not to create the sun until the fourth day of creation, which more effectively accomplished His purpose. He demonstrated to the ages that He is greater than the sun and, therefore, able to sustain life upon the earth apart from this heavenly body. God transcends His creation!
The finished work of Christ at Calvary is the answer to the sin question. Those who place their faith in Him are transformed from being worshippers of self to true worshippers of God. Only the believer in Christ can worship God in spirit and in truth.
THE MAJESTY OF GOD
In 1715, Louis XIV of France died. Louis, who called himself “the Great,” was the monarch who made the infamous statement: “I am the State!” His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was spectacular. His body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize the deceased king’s greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral should be very dimly lighted, with only one special candle set above his coffin. Thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle, saying, “Only God is great!” (1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Edited by Michael P. Green, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pg. 168.)
Amen!! Only God is great and greatly to be praised for the things He has done! Sadly, Christendom has moved far away from a proper view of the majesty of God. The attempt of some to water down the attributes of God has robbed believers of an accurate understanding of His true essence. The Church at large has sought to humanize God, to conform Him to their way of thinking. But the Lord has this to say about this type of reasoning:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8,9).
The magnificence of God goes far beyond our human comprehension; therefore, we bow before Him in humble adoration. He is God! He deserves all the glory and honor that is rightfully due Him! Consider for a moment, God simply spoke and worlds supernaturally came into being! He is the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible.
Astronomers who turn their telescopes to the heavens readily admit they cannot number the stars of heaven. It has been said: “The total number of stars in the observable universe is estimated to be 1025 (1 followed by 25 zeros). Nobody knows the actual number.” But God has not only numbered them, He has also named each and every one of them (Psa. 147:4). We marvel, as did David, that “such knowledge is high.” Infinite!!
He parted the waters of the Red Sea with the breath of His nostrils so that they stood upright as a heap, which provided safe passage for His own, but death for the Egyptians. Outside of creation itself, perhaps the greatest demonstration of His power was when He raised His only begotten Son from the dead. Such power is infinite (Psa. 147:5; Eph. 1:19,20).
When the false prophets sought to deceive Israel, supposing that God was inattentive and really didn’t care, He inquired of them: “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD” (Jer. 23:24). Amazing! As the old saying goes, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
If you read the history of the Church it is evident that reverence for God and the things of God are at a low tide today. We are living in a day when our worship services are more like social gatherings. While there are exceptions, many church services begin with the chatter of brethren trying to work out a business deal or someone catching up on the news in the community. Usually the volume is such that the one leading the service has to make two or three attempts to get everyone’s attention. The song selections are oftentimes unknown by those present and could probably be sung at a worldly concert with little or no objection. If there is time to open the Scriptures, the best you can hope for is a devotional message. Now we are not advocating that the worship service should be like a funeral dirge. What we are saying is that when we gather to worship there should be a reverence for the things of the Lord.
The English word “worship” means to attribute worth to someone or something. In the biblical sense, God is worthy of our adoration, reverence, praise, and thanksgiving because of who He is and what He has accomplished. We are to acknowledge the supremacy of God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. The heart of our worship is the living Word of God. As we gather together on the first day of the week it is to be challenged by a capable teacher of the Scriptures that we might grow in grace and praise Him for all of His benefits. This is why regular attendance at your assembly is so important. It is essential for your spiritual growth.
Our worship of God, however, is not to be limited to a Sunday morning worship service. This is a good beginning, but it is not meant to be an end in itself. We should be in a continual attitude of worship every day of the week. This means studying the Scriptures daily that we might know the Lord in a fuller and deeper sense (Phil. 3:10). I was doing this very thing one evening when I came across a passage in the Book of Psalms that caused me to pause, and say, “Wow, how true!”
“The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Psa. 10:4).
Although God doesn’t reside in the thoughts of the unbeliever, the Psalmist strongly implies that He does or should fill all the thoughts of the believer. I rarely, if ever, thought of God when I was in unbelief. If I did, I turned my attention to other things so I didn’t have to ponder my lost condition. I was blinded by the things of the world.
Since my conversion to Christ, my how things have changed! He now fills my thoughts throughout the day. Every time I see a sunrise or sunset that graces the horizon I marvel at the beauty of His creation. I was sitting in the doctor’s office recently for my yearly physical; on the wall was a picture of the human anatomy, which reminded me of the handiwork of God. Like David, I was led to praise Him that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
The other day my wife and I had the privilege of watching the grandkids. These opportunities have given me a much greater appreciation for those people they call referees! About midday little Katie informed Nana that Pap-pap was taking a nap in his chair (I wasn’t on duty). By the end of the day as we collapsed into bed, the last thing I remember was offering thanks to God for each of the grandkids and the little addition on the way. He fills the thoughts of those who love Him!
Paul says in Romans that we should present our bodies a living sacrifice “holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” This, too, should be done daily. The Old Testament saints worshipped God by offering burnt offerings. As the aroma of the sacrifice rose heavenward it was well-pleasing to the Lord. Under grace we worship Him by offering ourselves a living sacrifice on the altar of service. This is what is acceptable to God today. But sometimes the fire on the altar needs to be stirred up to remind us that the “things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Cor. 4:18). More on this next month!
As you can see our worship of God should not be limited to Sunday morning, as the above demonstrates. Our lives should be filled with these types of acts of worship everyday as we humble ourselves before Him who is worthy of our praise and adoration.
THE PLACE OF WORSHIP
Seeing that worshipping God is a spiritual experience, our worship of Him is not confined to a “church” building. But it is pleasing to God when we join with others of like-precious faith to worship together as a group. In fact, we are instructed not to forsake the assembling of ourselves, which some are inclined to do. When we gather with other believers in worship it gives us an opportunity to fellowship together around the Word, rightly divided, and encourage one another in the faith. The Lord has given each of us different gifts and abilities that when brought together result in a symphony of praise to the One whom we’ve gathered to worship. In addition, interaction with other believers will help you have more of a balance in your Christian life.
As we stated in a previous article, it is important to attend a Grace assembly where you know the truth of Paul’s gospel will be proclaimed. This will ensure that your relationship with Christ is resting upon the right message. But what if there isn’t a local Grace assembly in your area? The concept of the church today is large buildings, with stained glass windows, and grand pianos. While there is nothing innately wrong with large facilities, the church is not brick and mortar; it is the Lord’s people. Wherever believers in Christ choose to meet together, we have a local assembly of the true Church, which is His Body.
“And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house” (Acts 18:7,8).
After the unbelieving Jews failed to heed Paul’s warning at Corinth, he walked out of the synagogue, leaving Judaism behind, and went next door to the house of Justus and established a Grace church. Initially the assembly at Corinth was few in number, but God honored it. The church that meets in someone’s house is on equal footing with the assembly which has two hundred in attendance.
I’ve led worship services in the home where I ministered the Word, we sang, gave testimonies, and had a wonderful time of fellowship. Since it was an informal setting everyone took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions, and we even addressed a few thorny issues. But what if there isn’t someone to teach the Word? Beloved ones, we have enough taped messages and literature from our Grace organizations and churches to keep you under the sound of the Word until the Rapture. You may be surprised to learn that many of our Grace assemblies originally started in someone’s home.
Whether your local assembly meets in a “church” building or in a house, those who come among us to worship are usually searching for the truth. They are dissatisfied with what they perceive to be the failure of denominationalism to meet their spiritual needs. They have been ministered to, to a point, but they desire to have a fuller understanding of His will. The Lord’s people want to hear the Word of God. We have something to offer them that the denominations have no desire to offer—the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery. Paul’s apostleship and message freed me from the legalistic ways of men and it will free you too!
It is one thing, however, to know the grace of God, but it is an entirely different matter to make an application of it in our lives. One of the perils of having an understanding of the Word, rightly divided, is that it can become an academic exercise, leaving assemblies cold and indifferent. And many times they are totally unaware of the problem. We talk about grace, but do we practice it? At Thessalonica Paul not only preached grace, he demonstrated it!
“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us….Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children” (I Thes. 2:7-11).
Although Paul was already a spiritual giant by this time he was not condescending with these dear saints. Instead he nurtured them in the faith like a loving mother who nurses her children. Grace is patient! He received each of them, without prejudice, celebrating the fact that they were fellow members of Christ’s Body. They were all dear to him. Grace is thoughtful! Like a father, Paul took a personal interest in them. He knew who needed a word of encouragement and who was brokenhearted and needed to be consoled. Grace is understanding! These characteristics of grace should exemplify every Grace assembly. As the hymn writer so eloquently said, “Grace `tis a charming sound, harmonious to the ear.”