Years ago I had the experience of being involved with some groups of churches who approached church gatherings as a time to “fill up” with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t the only things they saw these gatherings as useful for, but the “filling up” idea was a dominant feature and it was expressed most crudely in a particular phrase: “belly up to the bar”. As if one was to become quite literally “drunk”, inebriated by the Spirit. A gross misunderstanding and misuse of Ephesians 5:18.
Now, I have my own feelings about this particular statement and idea, which I won’t express fully here, but I have always thought about an understanding of corporate worship as a Sunday morning (or Sunday evening or Wednesday mid-week or…) “fill up” and how that affects some of us in our personal worship of Jesus, and how that effect then rolls out from the personal to the corporate in our churches, and into the public spheres of our lives.
Now, I don’t think that many of us have a “belly up to the bar” mentality about worship. I think that is an extreme expression of one particular segment of the charismatic/pentecostal population, but I do wonder if, in practice, many of us take for granted our Sunday gathering of worship and fellowship, and somehow think that we are, like a car, filling the tank for the week. We may stop to drop a couple bucks in at some point during the week if the tank runs low, but we may rely mostly on the fill-up once a week to get us through.
A friend and I were discussing years ago whether Sunday gatherings are meant to be an overflow of worship and gratitude as a result of the previous week’s work and experience, or whether our experiences of the week were to be an overflow from the Sunday gathering. What kind of mentality should we approach Sunday with? Is it right to even ask the question? We know the Sunday gathering is important, that’s for certain. The corporate gathering of God’s congregation has been a central influence on the people of God for millennia. But, yet, Jesus has this to say in John’s gospel:
The woman said to him, “…Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
Did you catch it? Historically, worship has been tied to a time and a place. In this case, Jerusalem at particular times of the year. If it is still true that tying worship to a time and place somehow causes the worship to have more meaning, or be more right, or have more effect, then you and I should be travelling to Jerusalem.
But Jesus says that true worship has nothing to do with time and place. John’s gospel is the one which features the symbolic transmission of the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 20:22-23), and the one which has the greatest passages about who the Holy Spirit is and what He will do (John 16). Jesus seems to be purposefully contrasting time/place worship with spirit/truth worship. He literally says that the day is coming when you will no longer worship in Jerusalem, but you will worship in spirit and truth. Time/place is antithetical to spirit/truth. That’s a huge statement. The centrality of Jerusalem to right and proper expression of worship, as far as the Biblical narrative is concerned, simply cannot be overstated. But then, Jesus is kinda known for making flip-the-world-on-its-head sorts of statements. He doesn’t seem to be bothered one wit that he’s just said something which could be considered blasphemous had he been talking to a committed and faithful Jew.
Jesus is dismantling the entire debate of location, style, accoutrements, time, etc. by throwing a trump card. It’s not about a special time and special place with special things and special people. In fact, any place is as holy and pregnant with the potential outpouring of the Spirit as his people worship him as any other place. Any other time is as good a time for God to be truly worshiped and to manifest himself and inhabit the praises of his people as any other time.
Here’s the deal. Acts 2 didn’t happen at the temple. It happened in the home, spilled out of the home and into the streets where no one expected anything to happen. This is Biblical symbolism at its clearest and best.
Remember the veil in the temple? Remember it was torn at the moment Jesus exhaled his last breath on the cross? A great missional transaction occurred in that moment; a great transaction which made possible two great realities.
- God himself destroyed the wall of separation which kept us from his presence. Glory to God!
- God left the building, so-to-speak. And so every moment of every day, no matter where you and I are, no matter what you and I are doing can now be transformed into a moment of indescribable potential for true worship to occur and for the Spirit to break through.
Jesus paid for it on the cross. On a hill outside Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12) where people were executed. It’s where he displayed the greatest single act of worship in history. Don’t let his purchase go to waste today.