Audience of One?

We must get out of our minds the warped idea that our corporate worship assemblies are human performances for our Creator. We must rid our brains of the distorted notion that our Father sits back on Sunday mornings to soak up our praise as we sing and pray, that he just watches and smiles as we commune around his table. We should work to remove from our vocabulary the damaging phrase “audience of one.”

Ever since the emergence of sin and death stained our God’s perfect creation, he has sought to redeem that creation by dwelling with them, by being fully present with them. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us the Father dwelt in the temple in Israel. John says the Son dwelt with us in the flesh. Paul says the Spirit dwells inside redeemed saints. And we know from Revelation that the mission of the Triune God is to live with his people, for his people to be in his holy presence, for ever and ever.

This is what happens when we assemble.

As children of God and followers of Jesus, our Christian gatherings take place in the presence of the Father, in the name of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we come together we draw near to God, we enjoy his presence with us. The writer of Hebrews says our assemblies are done in the presence of God. It’s God with us. Us with God. A mutual, communal event. Our assemblies are sacramental events, sacramental encounters with the true and living God.

Our God is active during our worship. He is working. Working. Working. He is placing his holy Word exactly where it needs to go; convicting, challenging, encouraging, motivating, comforting. He is giving us the hearts and the breath to sing songs of praise to him and edification to one another. He is inspiring us with the right sentences and paragraphs. He is changing us in the meal. He is shaping us through prayer. His Spirit groans with us. His Son intercedes for us. He is mediating his grace in the water and the bread and the wine. He makes our meager and shallow offerings worthy of his eternal glory. He is present in every handshake and hug. God is moving and doing. He is removing scales from our eyes in worship. He is revealing himself to us in brand new ways. He is reminding us of his wondrous love and matchless grace. He serves us and eats with us at the table. He molds us and forms us more and more into the perfect image of his Son.

Our Father is no audience during our worship. He is the instigator, the inviter, the host, the blesser, the giver, the sustainer, and the finisher.

There is no audience in worship. There is holy community and redemption. There is salvation work. There is God with us. But no audience.

Peace,

Allan

P.S. This is my first P.S. in almost five years of regular blogging: YOU are definitely not the audience in worship, either. I know you already know that. But it probably still needs to be said.

8 Comments

  1. dbbyrnes

    P.S. – agree and disagree. We should never come to worship planning to be the audience. But we should be prepared to be an audience. Isn’t that the point of the final paragraph? “God is working…convicting, challenging, encouraging, motivating and comforting.” If we’re going to accept the fact that God is with us and doing these things then maybe the phrase ‘an audience of one’ isn’t damaging – we just have it backwards. I need to be the one. Ready, receptive, and willing to accept what God is trying to do to me.

    “Washington has no plans to shuffle the deck for game 1 against Cards.”

  2. Allan

    Ah, you knew I would take exception to that. Yet, you still wrote it.
    The point of the final paragraph is that God is doing with us. Us and God. God and us. Emmanuel means God with us, not God instead of us. Audience implies passivity. Never in worship.
    Then you topped it off by writing “I need to be the one.” No, not in the corporate worship setting. You are never one, never alone, never just you and God on Sundays. There is certainly a time for you and God to be alone together. But not then.

    Here’s hoping C.J. turns out to be the Rangers’ ace, not the joker.

  3. dbbyrnes

    I would say audience can imply passivity but it doesn’t have to. If I’m watching a movie I’m passive. But in this context I think audience implies listening, absorbing, experiencing.

    We’ve been told to come to worship and clear our mind – leave everything else in the parking lot. But you said we can’t and I agree. We come to worship with our baggage – both good and bad. My baggage is different than yours. I may come needing conviction (likely) or motivation. You come yearning for comfort or encouragement. God provides both, he provides all.

    It may be through the meal, a song, a prayer. It may come in the form of a hug or handshake. Who knows? It could even come from a sermon (smart aleck comment intentionally omitted).

    But what convicts me or motivates me will be different than what comforts or encourages you. God may want, or need, to mold me in a different way than you. We’re all individuals with different experiences and baggage. So we each effectively become an audience of one – while at the same time being part of a holy community worshipping in, and with, the presence of God.

  4. Rob's Dad

    Good stuff gentlemen. So if it’s a bad service can I blame God if he’s a part of it?

    Had to try the hard count. Leonard – have to go with Byrnes on the audience comment. And sometimes it is very much just me and God on a Sunday. If I’m in a really dark, black, painful place it may just be the two of us. There may be a hundred people around me but it’s just me and God And that’s a start. And then maybe we can work on the ministry of presence.

    Let’s hope OSB has it figured out tomorrow night.

  5. jason reeves

    Both/And not Either/Or. Communion with God. Communion with His church.

    Glory to God!

    Jason

  6. Allan

    It’s a corporate communion. Your communion with God is practiced and experienced in community with the Church. Even in your dark, black, painful place you may feel alone in a crowded worship center; but you’re not. You may feel like it’s just you and God; but it’s not. The Church reflects the glory of our God and his eternal nature, right? That nature is relational, communal. Never individual.

    Again, there is a time for you to be alone with God. There is a time for prayer in your closet, for quiet meditation on his Word, for inward reflection. But not with your brothers and sisters at the Sunday meal.

    I’m fairly certain if we four were eating together and I was detached, distant, or staring at the floor or out into space, alone in my own thoughts, you’d intervene. You wouldn’t allow it to continue. That’s the way it is at the table. Whether we’re at Cheddar’s chowing down on buffalo chicken strips or sharing the body and blood of Christ with our Father’s family. Especially then.

    Not as worried tonight about Wash as I am about Ceej. Is the Rangers bullpen going to start warming up during the national anthem? That guy scares me.

  7. dbbyrnes

    Ok. Stalemate for now – TV timeout. Let’s pick this up again at that burger place you’re raving about. I’ll show you that your Cheddars’s example actually works to my point. We can argue and cause a scene and throw fries and spill drinks.

    You’re paying.

  8. Allan

    Why are all my best friends so stinkin’ stubborn?!?

    Blue Sky Burgers. Bring it, brother.

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