Why Christian Worship is Different: the body of Christ
Today I have the privilege of preaching at two different churches. In the morning I will be preaching on Romans 6:1-11 at Brookwood Presbyterian Church in Snellville, Georiga. In the evening I’ll be at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Woodstock, Georgia, preaching on Colossians 2:16-23.
Colossians is a remarkable book. Paul keeps pounding the same theme over and over, that everything that could possibly matter to human beings is caught up with Christ, that he is the fullness of God in whom is found all wisdom and knowledge. There is no reason to look anywhere else for anything else, because all things in heaven and on earth exist in him. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out in his Ethics, to view anything in creation apart from its relation to Christ is to view an abstraction. Apart from Christ, it has no real existence.
The problem with human religion – wherever it is found in the world – is that it always tries to transcend the human and the worldly by means of the human and the worldly. Human beings practice asceticism or mystical contemplation, they fix their minds on imagery or symbolism, and they play musical instruments or burn incense to somehow conjure up an experience of the divine. Yet none of this has any effect because what is from this world cannot transcend this world. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can what is perishable inherit what is imperishable. You cannot get to what is substantial from what is abstract. The worship experiences conjured up by those whose worship does not transcend flesh and blood are nothing more than abstractions. They are not real. They have no future.
Why is Christianity different? It is not the abstraction of a human invention. The object of Christian worship is the body of Jesus, in whom all things exist (Col 2:7; 1:17). In his body Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly, by giving up his body he paid the ultimate sacrifice, and with his body he arose from the dead, having conquered and transcended this world of sin and death. In short, he accomplished what no human worship can accomplish and in so doing he inaugurated the new heavens and the new earth. Christian worship is different because it consists of holding fast to this Jesus, and so following him in all that he did.
What does this look like in practice? Our only distinctive ceremonies are the Lord’s Supper and baptism, in both of which we testify to our union with the body of Christ. The focus of what we do is to hear and accept our Lord’s word to us, conveyed by the ministers he has appointed. Our only necessary response is to call upon his name by taking the word of Christ upon our own lips, in song and in prayer, and to share the gifts he has given us with one another. Nothing else really matters. Theologians have called this the Regulative Principle of Worship. Paul calls it holding fast to Christ.
Christian worship is different because whereas human beings rely on all sorts of fleshly practices to transcend this fleshly world, you cannot transcend flesh with flesh. You cannot get from death to life by means of things that die. Only by holding fast to the one who has gone before us and died to this world can we be raised up to life everlasting.