church pew Bible songbook

In a few recent posts, I've mentioned the biblical definition for worship.

Well, Christians tend to have our own lingo, at times.

Some of it is biblical; other times it's traditional or popular within a congregation or particular fellowship.

Within this vocabulary, there is one particular phrase that I wish especially strongly Christians would eliminate entirely:

worship services

Christians use this phrase to refer to church meetings, but did you know that nowhere in the New Testament are church meetings described this way?

Some might argue that other people know what we mean when we use the term "worship services." 

But our words are important because they reflect our understanding and how we think about things.

Many have argued (albeit mostly inconsistently) that we should use Bible terms to refer to Bible things.

And, while I try to avoid this phrasing due to past overuse, I agree with the concept.

The Holy Spirit chose specific words to convey thoughts and the meaning of those words is very important. Because the meaning of words often changes over time, we must frequently check the original definitions to ensure we accurately understand the thought being conveyed.

Our words are important because they reflect our understanding and how we think. Click to Tweet

The biblical purpose of church assemblies is for the purpose of building each other up—helping to change the lives of others to make one another more like Jesus.

Unfortunately, many congregations seem to have lost sight of this purpose, instead placing a higher emphasis upon completing a certain series of activities discussed at various places in Scripture.

A form of the phrase "worship service" is actually found in the New Testament, but its meaning is quite different than its common use today.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Rom. 12:1-2 NASB)

What should we say, then?

Okay, so if the term "worship service" shouldn't be used, what should we say?

Scripture uses three terms to refer to church gatherings:

  1. assemble,
  2. meet, and...
  3. gather.

Not worship services.

These terms reveal the simplistic, informal, non-ritualistic nature of early church meetings as seen in the New Testament.

The focus on these meetings was truly on the people—on celebrating the joy they found through life in Jesus and on building one another up in the faith.

As you read the post-NT early Christian writings, a significant shift can be seen towards the development of numerous traditions and additions to the simplistic pure Christianity of the apostolic church.

Simple church meetings focused on sharing life in Jesus and on edifying each other were eventually replaced with heavily-structured, pre-arranged meetings led by clergy that more heavily focused on activities and events than on the people.

This shift, over the centuries has led to the popular modern view of church meetings as "worship services."

Scripture uses 3 terms to refer to church gatherings: assemble, meet and gather. Never "worship services." Click to Tweet

So what does all this mean for us?

Two things.

First, churches needs to reevaluate their practices for church meetings.

Are they Scriptural? Are they optimally effective? 

Are they focused primarily on benefiting people as opposed to checking off completed activities?

If we wish to ever approach the effectiveness of the apostolic church, it stands to reason that we ought to imitate their example as closely as we can in terms of what made them successful in accomplishing GOD's purpose.

This is not to say they were perfect or that we are "behind" in all areas.

And secondly, we need to individually evaluate our terminology and our thinking and realign to biblical terminology where needed.

If we speak of church meetings in terminology that implies some form of production or highly-orchestrated program, then we'll probably continue to think of it in this way, which does not appear to have been GOD's purpose for the church, nor is it optimally effective.

What about you? Is "worship service" a frequent part of your vocabulary? Do you see the value in what I'm suggesting here?

Tim Harris
Author: Tim Harris

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