Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Should We Attend Worship Services?

I recently had a conversation with a friend who happens to be a Reformed Pastor on the subject of saints days. He was uncomfortable with saints days and asked, "Is the church just allowed to invent any day to celebrate something?" And "Why celebrate the saints?"

The church should always be pointing us to Christ. Worshiping on a saint's day provides an extra opportunity to point us to Christ and to give us God's good gifts in Word and Sacrament. In some churches the day may be used just to tell us how nifty the particular saint was and how we need to live like him. This would be an improper use of the saint's day. Saints days should be used to show how these saints tell us something about Jesus. They are subject to abuse but so is everything in the Christian church. There are plenty of Easter, Christmas, and just regular Sunday services that are not centered upon Christ out there. If we got rid of everything that has been abused in the church we would have nothing left. The Scriptures have been abused more than anything else, should we get rid of them too?

My friends was also concerned that if the church decides to celebrate a saint's day then everyone in the church is required to come. He along with other Reformed folks believes that if the elders call you to worship you are being disobedient to them by not attending the worship service. This is based on a rather poor understanding of Hebrews 13:17 which gives the general command to obey those who rule over us. Aside from the dangers of basing a particular doctrine off of a disputed book such as the book of Hebrews, there are other passages that deal more directly with the issue of celebrating "special" days.

Romans 14:5-6a One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.

The Scriptures speak clearly of freedom in regards to these days. We cannot require others to worship on these days and we cannot forbid others from worshiping on these days.

What stands behind this desire to create these rules and regulations about worship is the false notion that worship is primarily a duty that we perform. If worship is some duty that we do for God then we better make sure we get it right and that the right people show up. There's even something wrong with the phrase "Worship Service." "Worship Service" puts all the emphasis on us and our works. It is a "Divine Service" in which God serves us with His good gifts. God does not need anything from us. We need everything from Him. If saints days and feast days are viewed as another opportunity to receive wonderful things from God then I think there are plenty of good reasons to attend. True worship is receiving God's good gifts by faith. Deep down we know that we are pretty crappy worshipers. Our minds wander and our voices suck. If it were all up to our worship we would be on the highway to hell. We might as well go camping instead so at least we can ignore how lousy we are at worshiping God. If we go to the worship service the best we could hope for is that God grades on a curve and we can think in our minds about how much better we are than that guy who didn't show up.


Anonymous said...

That was explained very well Chuck! Love Mom

Gerhard said...

I'm not too familiar with the Reform catechisms. Do they teach that attendance at worship services is a work men must do to please God?

I just read over the explanations to the Third Commandments in Luther's Small and Large Catechisms. Please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think the Lutheran Catechisms teach that attendance at worship services is a work men must do to please God. Sinning against Third Commandment is despising preaching not failing to attend worship service.

Do regenerate men have a duty to attend worship services? Does this duty also pertain to the unregenerate?

Chuck Wiese said...

Neither Reformed nor Lutheran catechisms teach that worship is something we do to please God. However, in Reformed churches the emphasis seems to be placed on worship as duty rather than us receiving God's good gifts through faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith in chapter 21 speaks of worship only as duty.
The Lutheran churches have done a better job at emphasizing the idea of a "Divine Service" where God serves us rather than a "worship service" where we serve God. I intend to explore this in the liturgy in a future blog post especially as it relates the high points in each liturgy.

I do think in some sense we could speak of men having a duty to attend a worship service but it seems strange to make that the main thing. If someone was giving out million dollar bills and you received to go pick them up I suppose you could say that you neglected your duty by not picking them up but you would never talk about how you fulfilled your duty by picking up the million dollar bills. Nobody is going to give you a gold star and talk about how great you are. They will spend their time talking about the guy with the million dollar bills and how great he is. If we are going to talk about duty I suppose it would apply to both regenerate and unregenerate. I get a little uneasy with the use of the regenerate/unregenerate terminology in cases like this. Paul didn't go around calling people unregenerate but seemed to address all baptized people as Christians.

Gerhard said...

The Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Art. III, para. 189, distinguishes between the reconciled and born again and those who are not: "Thus the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive from God gifts; on the contrary, the worship of the Law is to offer and present our gifts to God. We can, however, offer nothing to God unless we have first been reconciled and born again. This passage, too, brings the greatest consolation, as the chief worship of the Gospel is to wish to receive remission of sins, grace, and righteousness."

The Apology also distinguishes between divine service and the worship of the Law. Although most Lutheran liturgies contain both, they take care not to mix the two.

In divine service, God's gift of the gospel is presented to all men in attendance and is received by faith. To make attendance at divine service a duty, I think, would turn gospel into law.

In the worship of the Law, only the reconciled and born again give gifts to God. Do those who have not been reconciled and born again have a duty to give gifts to God that they cannot give? Do they have a duty to attend worship service (not the divine service)?

Chuck Wiese said...

To say that if man is incapable of doing something he cannot be held responsible for not doing it would be to make the same mistake as Erasmus. We are all born sinners that can do nothing but sin by nature and yet God can righteously hold us accountable for those sins.

Gerhard said...

Yes! All men have a duty to fulfill the whole law including the worship of the Law. All men are sinful in their "worship of the Law." The sinful worship gifts presented by those have not been reconciled and born again are not acceptable to God. "For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation." Large Catechism, Creed.

The sinful worship gifts presented by the reconciled and born again are acceptable to God but only for the sake of Christ: "Nor is there a controversy as to how and why the good works of believers, although in this flesh they are impure and incomplete, are pleasing and acceptable to God, namely, for the sake of the Lord Christ, by faith, because the person is acceptable to God." FC, Good Works.