There will be a moment when the minister steps up to the lectern. The minister may be a bishop, a priest, a vicar, a pastor or an elder but his role will be exactly the same. He is a lecturer and it is his job to explain Christ through lectures or sermons. The minister will speak and you, the audience, will listen.
When the minister has finished he will pray. He will pray that you will put his lecture into practice. At the end of his prayer the music group returns and plays the final song that they have chosen. Finally, the service is over. It lasted as long as last week’s service and as long as next week’s. This is the modern Christian service and it is completely non-denominational. With minor adjustments every believer who attended a church meeting last weekend had this experience.
The early church in Corinth did not meet this way. The church he knew expected believers to function. It expected to hear Christ from many voices. The meetings varied from week to week. Some were short. Others lasted for hours. The body of Christ functioned. And if Corinth met openly were the churches in Galatia, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus, Colossae or Antioch any different? Paul would not have recognised the modern church service.
The Service in the Temple
Meeting in rows was once a requirement. The services of the Old Testament were formal and precise. The priests followed an elaborate ritual exactly as sat out in the Law of Moses. God designed the Temple and the Tabernacle in great detail, even down to the wall hangings and the door knobs. He laid out an equally precise set of rituals. Fallen Israel had no choice. Their worship was routine.
When they came together the children of Israel could not come close to their God. He lived amongst them but they could only see him at a distance. Foreigners were kept behind one wall, women behind another, men behind a third barrier and even the priests could come no closer than the Holy place. The High Priest himself could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year. The Lord experienced a restricted relationship with his people and he hated it.
The children of Israel were unable to function freely before the Lord. They needed intermediaries, priests and prophets to speak for them. As a people they could be close to their God but as individuals they were remote and separate from him. Only through the priests could the Lord minister to his people and when they came before their lord they needed to bring sacrifice after sacrifice to escape the anger of God.
Change through Calvary
All of that changed once and for all at the cross of Calvary. Jesus Christ, in the greatest act of love the world has ever known, took the law, the ritual, took the need for sacrifice and finished it all. The need for constant sacrifice and appeasement ended once and for all. The wrath of God was satisfied. The price was paid for all men, for all time. Death and hell were cast down and we, the Lord’s people were forgiven. We were saved.
We no longer have to fear death or judgement. We were saved from destruction. And there we could stop, rejoicing in the wonder of our salvation. The glory of our salvation could fill eternity but the Lord did not end with salvation. For him salvation is the beginning. His plan, his eternal desire began before sin and his desire did not lessen with the fall.
The Lord is not looking for tired refugees to live on the less desirable outskirts of heaven. We are not freed from sin just to be barely welcomed into his kingdom. He saved us for a reason, for a relationship. He wants friends and companions, men and women to share his life with. He has made us kings, priest and joint heirs to his kingdom, fellow rulers, pure and holy in his sight.
The death of Christ did not just pay the price for our sin. It also removed the need for a separation between us and the father. We tend to think of the father as strict and forbidding, concerned with vengeance and smiting. He is the God of the Old Testament full of justice and judgement.