To Every Generation: The Mandate of Intergenerational Worship Part II- New Signs

ImageWe’ve seen from a peculiar Old Testament example how God is concerned with the proclamation of his greatness from one generation to the next as they worship together as a “congregation.” “But that was the Old Testament, that was a different time… what could that possibly have to do with New Testament Church?” You may be asking these questions, but let me pose one back. If these things were true of the Old Covenant people of God, how much more true are they of the fulfillment of that type in the New Covenant people of God, the Church?

As we continue into what we might call the “Church Age,” we see the continued importance of coming together as an “assembly.” In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), the Greek word, “ἐκκλησία,” “ecclesia,” was given as the Greek rendering of the Hebrew “קָהַל,” or “assembly” that we discussed before. Does that word sound familiar? It should, as “ἐκκλησία” is also the Greek word that most English versions have translated as, “the church.” It means the same thing, an “assembly,” a “gathering,” or a “congregation” of people.  We therefore see a continuation of the one people of God in the Old Testament, the Hebrews, fulfilled in the one people of God in the New Testament, the Church (Eph. 2:18-22). But what does this have to do with our worship?

Just as God gave signs of remembrance in the Old Testament, God has also given us signs and seals of the New Covenant that not only correlate to, but also complete those signs of the Old Covenant. Just like the Old Covenant people of God, the Church is an “assembly,” a “congregation,” a “gathering” of people. It is quite obvious that this gathering will include people from every nation, language, and walk of life. But we do not often stop to consider that this great assembly includes people from every generation. While the Church universal is the whole of the Body of Christ worldwide, the local church is to be a microcosm, a part of the whole of that entity. In the local church, we come together to worship God with all the saints who have gone before, to glorify the risen Christ with all the hosts of Heaven, and to lift up the Triune deity with all the believers on earth (Heb. 12:18-29). This is an immense and cosmological sign of the importance of togetherness.

But what are the “signs,” the “memorial stones,” of the New Covenant? Well, they are two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both of these signify the immensity of the gospel and both also speak to the importance of the unity of the local church in togetherness. Baptism is spoken of in terms of unity in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In a section dedicated to the importance of the unity of the Body, Paul cites our common baptism as a means of that unity, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4). In Baptism, we publicly identify with our profession of faith and repentance in Jesus, we identify ourselves with the local church, and we pledge our “vows” not only to God in faithfulness to the gospel, but to our witnesses in faithfulness to the Body. In this way, Baptism makes public and corporate the conversion of the individual, which by nature is private and personal. Though both are vitally important individually, they should never be separated.

Likewise, the Lord’s Supper or the “Eucharist,” speaks a great deal concerning the unity of the Body of Christ. In a direct conversation about unity in the Body, Paul cites the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as an illustration saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). By it’s very nature, as one meal with one bread and one cup, the Lord’s Table goes beyond a mere individual sign of faith and devotion and points to something deeper, the unity of the Body through the sacrifice of Christ.

But these signs are not to be separated from the central aspect of the corporate worship gathering, the preaching of the Word. Just as the story of Joshua and the memorial stone makes clear, the physical signs are to be accompanied by the teaching or preaching of the Word. Joshua does not establish the memorial stones nor is any other sign of worship in the Old Testament established as ends in themselves. The purpose of the signs, both Old and New, is to cause people to ask, “what do these stones (signs) mean to you?” In other words, the signs of the New Covenant, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, rightly accompanied by the preaching of the Word, are to serve as means of communicating God’s faithfulness from one generation to the next. These signs are the sine qua non of New Testament worship, without them, there is no true church and hence, no true worship. If these signs are intended to communicate God’s truth to God’s people across generational lines, then we must see that intention as indispensable to New Testament worship.

I read a recent entry at Relevant Magazine that speaks very clearly to this topic, you can read Tyler Braun’s article, A Church for All Generations, here.

Stay in touch for the Part III of this series of articles as we discuss how all of these concepts from Old and New Covenant worship relate to music, style, and preferences within the modern Church.

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2 thoughts on “To Every Generation: The Mandate of Intergenerational Worship Part II- New Signs

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading these articles on intergenerational worship. In your opinion, how does the church effectively teach Deuteronomy 6 principles as the basis for intergenerational worship? Meaning- discipleship begins in the home. The church has tried to “pick up the ball” that was dropped in many Christian homes by providing programs to disciple every member of the family. This is a problem that we see now, but haven’t begun to see the consequences that will affect generations to come. In my opinion, this is crippling the church. Thoughts?

    Thanks for spending time with this topic.

  2. Hey Darin, so glad to hear form you and I’m glad you’re enjoying these. As you suggest, Deuteronomy 6 principles begin in the home. I do reference Deuteronomy 6 in Part I of this series as a means of supporting a call for togetherness via parents (older generation) teaching their children (newer children). Even with my Joshua 4 references there, I admit the context is explicitly familial. But I don’t believe God means to leave it there, it seems to be an ongoing thing (to your children and your children’s children and so on). Now on to your main question. This means for the Church that we ought to be intentionally instructing fathers (or the head of the house) to be the “pastor” of their own families. Just like the local church is a microcosm of the universal Church and that a microcosm of God’s people from all time, the family unit is a smaller portion, a close representation of that body to which the husband is “head.” While the offices and ministries of the church (ministry of the Word and Sacrament) cannot be replaced by the family unit, neither can familial discipleship be replaced by the church. I’d say the first and most important step to teach Deuteronomy 6 principles as the basis for intergenerational worship is to encourage and teach families how to worship together. This might include singing hymns or songs together, and must include reading and teaching the Bible. It’s also a great idea to build home discussions around the sermon(s) from Sunday morning so as to discuss and work through though those issues together. That might even be something the local church can provide materials for such as notes, outlines etc. Singing the songs of your church would also bring that whole sense of unity home and then back to the local church again… a great cycle. I agree whole-heartedly that the church has attempted to make up for the lack of family discipleship via endless programs and church-based events. This has indeed crippled the church and the family and we are already seeing the consequences in the vast amount of those who leave for college never to return to the church; the faith has never been theirs, it’s just been something they were brought to every Sunday and maybe Wednesday, in many cases, it’s been something they were force into. This is forcing the church to try and cater to any number of “felt needs,” to try and grasp onto some kind of relevance for a lost generation… something that has ultimately simply resulted in division and further irrelevancy. The real relevance is cultivated in a home that cherishes the gospel together and in a church that is an overflow of that experience. We can’t cultivate family worship if everyone is in separate rooms any more than we can cultivate “corporate” worship where everyone is separated. Any further thoughts on that?

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