Monthly Archives: February 2014
I would encourage any believer seeking to live a life that pleases God (a life of worship) to find a copy of Martin Luther’s small treatise called “The Freedom of a Christian,” or in some translations, “Christian Liberty.” You will find in this writing an excellent source of wisdom in regards to what it means to live a truly Christian life. A short quote will suffice now, which reads:
“This is the truly Christian life. Here faith is truly active through love (Galatians 5:6), that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a man willingly serves another without hope of reward; and for himself he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith.” (Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian” in Martin Luther’s Basic Writings, ed. by Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 617.)
In the context of his treatise Luther is showing how one might serve God and thank Him in life—by serving the neighbor and the person in need. Luther reiterates the concept that worship is a response of thankfulness to God for what He has given us in Christ, and that response works itself out in life as we love God by loving our neighbor.
We can examine the goal for living the Christian life in the worship of God in Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:13. Paul indicates that the point of the lifestyle of worship within the Church is to “attain to the unity of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Although we find this concise phrase describing the results of a healthy Church life in Ephesians, we also find this end goal for our worship described in Romans 15:1-7.
In Romans 15 we discover Paul using worship terminology to discuss the fellowship of Christians loving and serving one another. He is expecting the combined Christian effort of living godly lives to issue forth in a unity of purpose and voice. “That with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6). Obviously, from the perspective of the larger context, our unified “voice” is not necessarily vocal, but a reflection of our daily lives of obedience and service (i.e., faith). As Vigen Guroian observes,
“The word liturgy [i.e., the service of the people] derives from the Greek leitourgia. The Greek connotes an action through which persons come together to become something corporately which they were not as separate individuals. It means a gathering whose unifying purpose is to serve (minister to) the world on behalf of God.” [Vigen Guroian, “Seeing Worship as Ethics: An Orthodox Perspective” in The Journal of Religious Ethics 13 (1985), 334.]
In this pattern of the worship life, we are to be others focused. Paul refers to our “neighbor” (15:2) and his or her needs as that which determines our activity. He even points to Christ as an example of this outward focus (15:3). It is clear here, and in other places, that the life of worship is one of actively serving God by serving others.
Consider this: As the church gathers corporately for “worship” it may be more appropriate to consider it as the primary opportunity for God to communicate Himself to us through His word, the preaching of Christ (“God with us”), and prayer. As we experience His self-revelation we will respond with song and thanksgiving, as we well should, along with many other public expressions. Yet our response should not—cannot—stop at the end of the worship service.
Our response to God’s communicating to us flows out of the “worship service” into our lives. We take His revelation to others in caring for them, serving them and loving those around us. By doing so, we continue our worship activity (see the “present your bodies” idea from Romans 12:1-2) as a thankful expression of love to Him.
In Romans 12, Paul explains some of the basics of the proper functioning of the Body of Christ. There are many members (individual Christians, vs. 4) and yet only one body (the church, vs. 5). Each individual has been given a measure of faith (vs. 3) to serve others (vss. 5 and 6). The grace and faith given, however, is not in equal measure for some have more, some less, but just as much as is necessary for the individual (see vs. 6), and each member has a different function, or a different job to do (vs. 4). With these differing and numerous functions, or gifts, we serve one another, and the gifts Paul lists are set in the context of use within the community of believers, for he uses the phrase “one another” three times before the end of the chapter.
This is the full circle of worship in Romans 12. We are to present our bodies for service to the community of believers based upon our renewed and transformed minds. In so doing, we worship individually by exercising our spiritual gifts, and we worship corporately as the community works together to serve each other and the people around them. When a local representation of the Body of Christ functions in this way it is a marvelous thing—and it is extremely effective. Paul says, in Ephesians 4:16, that “the proper working of each individual part (i.e., the Christian serving in his or her giftedness), causes the growth of the body (i.e., the Church) for the building up of itself in love.” Of course it would be this way: God thought of it after all!
(Original Post on June 5, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19850-worship-as-serving-others)
The need to be relevant may be at the heart of more difficulties than the modern church realizes. In our day of highly produced Worship Programs, one wonders whether these events really produce worship, or whether it is relevant in spite of the pursuit.
Being relevant is important. We want to speak to people in terms of their real lives, their real struggles and the real world in which we live. If you visit the main site of the Worldview Church at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview (www.colsoncenter.org), you can do a search with the word “relevant” and find many articles dealing with the topic.
The pursuit of relevance, however, by many post-modern churches is a cause for concern. Although many herald their ministries as following the example of Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17), close examination of their message and methods falls short of Paul’s actual ministry there.
Paul used idioms and references of the culture of Athens as a basis for the presentation of Truth: that there is a God that exists and is Creator and Lord of all things; that this God takes no form, yet mankind seeks for Him; that this God will hold mankind accountable and desires their repentance; and, finally, that Jesus Christ, having risen from the dead, is proof of God’s intervention in this world and will judge its inhabitants.
Many modern claimants to this method pursue relevance and cultural connection, but fall short of Paul’s unapologetic declaration of Truth. These churches, and those that lead them, seem to skirt the real issues of Truth and link their success at being “relevant” to positive press reports and large attendance. There is an excellent article at Touchstone Magazine by Russell Moore which articulates some of these thoughts in depth titled, “Retaking Mars Hill: Paul didn’t build bridges to popular culture.” I would encourage you to read it.
I place this pursuit of relevance in the arena of “entertainment” for this reason: It seems to me at the heart of the desire for relevance is simply that many simply want to be popular.
There is something not-quite-right with the image which portrays the average “contemporary” church worship experience. Without much imagination I can see the image in my mind because I’ve seen it so many times in magazines, in advertisements, and in videos of such churches. There are no windows. The lighting focuses all attention on the stage, and the sound system is state of the art. It’s a large auditorium seating several thousand. The seats are set up in some kind of semi-circle. The stage is crowded with variously dressed people – some shabbily, others somewhat nice. Some people are raising their hands, others have their eyes closed. Some guy with a guitar stands in the center in some worship-relevant pose. The audience, as well, is in various postures of “worship.”
When I see these pictures, I wonder. I wonder what would happen if we placed a popular non-Christian artist on the same stage? I wonder if performers on the concert stage often use the same mannerisms as those in a contemporary church (or is it vice versa)? I wonder if the lighting or sound production would be any different in a modern concert compared to one of these church settings? I wonder if the response of the audience would be much different towards the secular music star and the Christian music star, in that the audience shows various postures of worship in both settings? I wonder if we watched a YouTube video of a contemporary church performance with the sound off, if we could really tell the difference between that and the average rock concert with the sound turned off?
I wonder if this is really what Paul intended when he preached on Mars Hill – and became the poster boy for all things “culturally relevant”?
This focus on performance is accentuated by the volume level of modern church settings. I work regularly with many people in the planning and leading of corporate worship services. One of the underlying frustrations of those leading is their feeling of being disconnected with those they are leading. This is often caused by the need for performers to have their sound levels high enough to hear themselves and perform well, thus eliminating (or at least diminishing) their ability to hear the rest of the “community.” If a performer uses ear bud monitors, then they are completely cut off.
That this undermines the “communal” sense of corporate worship is significant. The modern needs of performer require that volumes on stage be loud enough for the musician to both hear their own performance, as well as those of the other musicians (or by using ear buds). Once that monitor level is set, the house speakers must be loud enough to provide a blanket of sound throughout the auditorium (whether it is a sanctuary or a gym) so that the “mix” approaches the quality of what the audience regularly hears in other forms of entertainment (concerts, radio, movies).
Once all of those volumes levels are set, it is often the case that the congregation can no longer be heard over the sound of the monitors and main speakers. In this sense, a communal sense is lost for we are no longer having a common experience of worship. If you pay attention, you will note that this causes some in a congregation to simply stop participating. Not only can they not hear those around them, but they can barely hear themselves. They stop singing and become spectators.
This, in part, is why the modern worship band often appears more as entertainers than worship leaders. The community of worshipers may not be actually having a communal experience, but play the part of an audience at a show.
We must rethink these things. The initial impetus for relevance has spiraled downward into a church culture that experiences little of real corporate worship, but excellent examples of how to entertain the masses that come to see them perform.
(Original Post on July 31, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20136-does-worship-production-really-produce-worship)
In the beginning, God… (Genesis 1:1)
One of the purposes of the Worldview Church is to help those in church leadership think clearly about the worldview implications. What the church teaches and how the people live out this teaching is to reflect the redemptive activity of Christ in the world. In particular, the Worship Arts pages focus upon themes that help us toward this ends.
We turn again to A.W. Tozer’s writings, a Christian thinker and theologian whose observations are as applicable today as they were in the mid-20th Century. In his unique way, Tozer reminds us that the focus—no matter what kind of artistic expression is used—ought to draw our attention to a broader perspective. Tozer’s words strike of both observation and warning.
“It is characteristic of the unregenerate man that he sees God only in nature, and of the immature Christian that he can see God only in grace!
Because sin has injured us so deeply and because the whole transaction of repentance and deliverance from the guilt and power of iniquity makes such a mighty impression upon us emotionally, we naturally tend to appreciate the work of God in redemption more than in nature.”
That we “naturally tend to appreciate the work of God in redemption more than in nature” reveals a misunderstanding of the importance of creation in the redemptive story. In fact, one could say that redemption is pointless without a “good” creation fashioned by a good God, one that was subsequently plunged into darkness because of Adam’s sin. It was because God loved mankind, as well as His whole created order, that He sent Christ to repair the damage of sin.
“But everything God does is praiseworthy and deserves our deepest admiration. Whether He is redeeming mankind or creating a world, He is perfect in all His doings and glorious in all His goings forth.”
Tozer does not ignore the reality of the great salvation that comes to us through faith in the Lord Jesus. He recognizes that our hearts naturally are drawn to this demonstration of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8).
“Yet the long, long ages, however far they may carry us into the mysteries of God, will still find us singing the praises of the Lamb that was slain. For it is hardly conceivable that we sinners can ever forget the wormwood and the gall.
We human sinners above all other creatures have benefited by His grace, so it is altogether natural that we above all others should magnify the blood that bought us and the mercy that pardons our sins.”
So it is proper and right for our hymnals and song books to be filled with praises for the redemptive work of Christ on our behalf. Although all of creation was infected with sin, and succumbs to its effects, it is Adam’s race into which Christ entered. As it was on this earth that sin’s corrupting influence began, so it was here, as a Man, that Christ’s redemptive work began.
Therefore, Tozer draws our thoughts back to creation itself.
“Yet we glorify God’s redeeming grace no less when we glorify His creating and sustaining power. If we miss seeing God in His works we deprive ourselves of the sight of a royal display of wisdom and power so elevating, so ennobling, so awe-inspiring as to make all attempts at description futile. Such a sight the angels behold day and night forever and ask nothing more to make them perpetually satisfied!”
With this grand vision, Tozer paints a broad stroke by associating meaningful worship with God’s grace in His work of creation.
It was by grace that God created the world out of His infinite love. Nothing in God’s created order deserved to be created. In other words, within the Godhead, all things were done by His unmerited favor (grace). He loved, He spoke, He created.
Ultimately, He created man in His own image to rule the earth as His representative. Again, this was an act of grace, for Adam had done nothing to deserve such a great honor. He was granted this honor by God solely because He desired to do so, and He enlisted man and woman as part of the means to do so.
After Adam’s sin and disobedience, we immediately see God’s grace continue to favor mankind in His planning and preparation for the redemption to be found in Christ, the One who would “bruise His heal” on the serpent’s head.
We see the fulfillment of God’s grace poured out upon us through the person and work of Jesus Christ. His redemption flows not only to His chosen but also to all of creation. In other words, God’s grace comes full circle as we—those He has redeemed—join Him in this redemptive work. It is in the midst of His work through us that we find ourselves praising Him for all of His grace, both in creation and redemption!
*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day: A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).
(Original Post on June 19, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19917-worship-begins-at-creation-)
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
From him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)
The concept of silence in the spiritual life of the Christian has always intrigued me. This may be a result of my natural disposition to read, learn, study and think – all of which are internally motivating and satisfying. Yet, as I continue to consider ideas of worship, both personal and corporate, I see more and more the need for the deliberate practice of silence. We live in a noisy world, and even to find a quiet space is difficult.
A.W. Tozer wrote about this idea of silence, but not in a way that I had expected when I came across this passage regarding music:
“There is a notion widely held among Christians that song is the highest possible expression of joy of the Lord in the soul of a man or woman. That idea is so near to being true that it may seem spiritually rude to challenge it. However, it does need to be brought to the test of Scriptures and Christian testimony.”*
As you can imagine, Tozer certainly got my attention with that comment. Having been involved in Worship and Music Ministry for the last 30+ years, he was challenging something that I had not considered carefully. (This is why I like Tozer as an author and thinker, in that he requires that you think through your assumptions and hold them to the light of Scripture!) Why do we assume that a song is the highest form of praise or joy?
“Both the Bible and the testimony of a thousand saints show that there is experience beyond song. There are delights which the heart may enjoy in the awesome presence of God which cannot find expression in language: they belong to the unutterable elements in Christian experience. Not many enjoy them because not many know that they can.”
The phrase, “not many know they can,” is instructive. Have we thought this way about the presence of God that might leave us speechless and songless? Have we experienced the presence of God that would leave us without words?
In answering these questions, many of might say that we have had these experiences. We often spend our devotional time alone and in a quiet atmosphere that lends itself to such things. The recliner in my office could speak of many hours of quiet reading, study and reflection upon God’s word, as well as intimate time with Him in prayer.
This transcendence of the soul into communion with God, however, seems to be more of an occasional occurrence rather than a normal part of Christian spirituality. Some write off Tozer as a “mystic” for comments such as this, yet I wonder if he is so much a mystic or whether his critics have fallen into a secularized, rational Christian life that lacks the power and real communion with Christ that Tozer often reflects in his writings. He makes it clear that this kind of spiritual reality is accessible to all Christians who would desire to know God in such a way.
And beyond the personal experience of worship, what do we make of the practice of silence in a corporate worship setting? Can you identify the last time of silence, whether planned or unplanned, that you experienced in a corporate worship service? I don’t mean those times when the piano plays softly while the people pray silently, but a real silence. A realization by the gathered people of God that God is real and really in their presence.
I can think of few examples of this in my own experience. Corporate worship is a noisy gathering and one that includes lots of talking and music. Silence is uncomfortable, so we avoid it. We include songs to sing together, welcoming comments and announcements, more music for all of us or some kind of performance piece, prayers and the preaching of the pastor. It all flows together, one to the other, with little time for a break in the action to be silent or experience the presence of God that would lead us to a place of silence. What would it be like? What would the church be like if this was a regular part of its worship?
I have written at other times regarding planned silence in worship and that is outside the scope of this article. My intent here is to remind us all that even the greatest expressions of joy, thanksgiving, praise and worship that we can muster may still be insufficient as we really experience the presence and glory of God. I will allow Tozer to summarize and encourage us toward this end.
“Far be it from me to discourage the art of singing. Creation itself took its rise in a burst of song; Christ rose from the dead and sang among His brethren. But still there is something beyond song!
When the Holy Spirit is permitted to exercise His full sway in a redeemed heart there will likely be voluble praise first; then, when the crescendo rises beyond the ability of studied speech to express, comes song. When song breaks down under the weight of glory, then comes silence where the soul, held in deep fascination, feels itself blessed with an unutterable beatitude!”
*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day: A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).
(Original Post on January 6, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19105-worship-and-silence)