Are We Worshipping Like The ‘pagans’?

Posted by Maicol Umana on 28 January 2016

Some time ago I got invited to visit a certain church in London. I got lost (blame my cheap Sat-Nav!), and arrived late. I sat down on the back row as the worship time was about to start. The worship leader began his part by saying: “Hi everyone, let’s pray to invite the Holy Spirit to come into this place, let’s sing and worship together to invite Jesus into this gathering!”

I thought: “oh, Jesus is not here yet. He’s late as well … so I am not so bad!”

But joking aside, I am surprised by how many times we hear phrases like that in our congregations. It makes me wonder what kind of theology of the Church, and the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit do our worship leaders have, if they have any.

Do we really need to invite Jesus into our gatherings? Is the Holy Spirit so absent that we must use songs and prayers to invite Him in? Is God so busy somewhere else that we need to invoke him to minister to our congregation? Is God like the ‘pagan gods’ that He needs to be summoned by rituals and worship? Are we worshipping like pagans?

In the Old Testament God manifested His presence through the theophanies (big word that really means ‘an appearance of God to a human being’). Those manifestations were accompanied sometimes by ‘scary’ natural phenomena, like the fire in the burning bush to Moses (Ex 3:1-6), or like the ‘smoking’ mount Sinai to Israel (Ex 19:16-18). Those appearances evoked awe and fear, and the only human response was to worship. So worship was a response of God’s presence and not otherwise.

When we study the Old Testament we realise that God did not manifest His presence after being called by worshippers. Nowhere in the Bible does God have to be summoned through rituals like the pagan gods. God always has the initiative to dwell amongst his people, which is why He instructs Moses to build the Tabernacle for Him to meet with them (Ex. 29:42-43), naming the place "the temple of the Lord" (1 Sam. 1:9).

You might say: “But what about when Elijah challenged all the pagan prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel? Elijah prepared a sacrifice of worship and called upon the name of God, and God came with fire!”

You are right, but if you think that God was present there, then you are not reading your Bible properly because in the very next chapter of the story (1 Kings 19:9-18), God teaches Elijah a lesson: that God was not present in the strong wind, nor in the earthquake, and not in the fire. God was present in the low whisper, teaching Elijah that God appears as He pleases, and how He pleases by His own initiative and purpose, and not by Elijah’s worship call. Yes, God ‘sent’ the fire but He was not in it.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is present, empowering the Church and His people. Nowhere we read that the church invites the Holy Spirit to come when they worship. Instead they understand that Christ is present. That is why believers are called "the temple of God" (1 Cor. 3:16, 17), and the Church is designated "an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21). So God is already present by His own initiative and purpose. God dwells in us believers!

So, when we are gathered in the church to worship, let us remember what Jesus said: ‘for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’ (Mt. 18:20). Therefore, unless you are leading worship in an empty church building, Jesus is present when there are two or more people in communion to worship Him.

If you believe that Jesus is the real ‘Master of the ceremony’, the ‘Lord of the Banquet’, and the ‘Bridegroom’ waiting for his bride the Church, you don’t have to invite Him into your meetings. Jesus is already waiting for you! Let us worship God, the Father that is already waiting for us and runs to meet us (Luke 11: 15-32).

Maicol Umana is currently helping set up a church in Valencia, Spain. He graduated from Spurgeon's College, London.

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