Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Worship: In Spirit and in Truth?

The desire in the North American church for experiential worship is alive. One example is the wide audience and use of “Praise and Worship” music with its somewhat faulty attempts to express gratitude to the Most High. Others include interest in walking a prayer maze, meditative practices, and “Walk to Emmaus” weekends to name a few. Without judging the correctness of these activities, we can appreciate the recognition that something is missing in the Christian life and worship that needs to be addressed. Believers find themselves desiring more but without turning to Scripture for answers. Seeking to escape the shallowness of “bumper sticker” theology, they pursue a relationship with God to deepen their experience without attempting to more fully know or understand the person and work of the triune God.

I was amongst those who call themselves Plymouth Brethren, who are arguably the closest I have encountered in Biblical corporate worship. One might think they should be immune to this thinking because of the continual practice of breaking bread each week with active participation of any man being led by the Holy Spirit, but even there the corrupting elements have made an impact because those in fellowship do not understand what Scriptures says on the subject. If I may be so bold, Christian teaching on worship is nonchalant. Certainly, all the pertinent facts are presented definition of worship, example of Abraham, offering of Isaac; sacrifice of Christ, lordship of Christ, example of first believers in Acts, etc.¹—with exhortations concerning the Christian's obligation to offer worship. But there are limitations inadvertently being imposed in the local church.

The first limitation deals with practice. After the standard teaching mentioned above, there is little or no application. The believer is left to form his own conclusion on the proper practice of worship in the local church. Somehow the believer is expected to know what the Lord desires and how to offer it. Someone may ask, “Can one teach how to worship?” Of course. We teach how to study the Bible. The apostles asked Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1). Why would we not teach how to engage in so wonderful an activity? In Exodus through Deuteronomy, the Lord gives a myriad number of detailed instructions on proper worship. Why should the church be any less careful? Somehow the church today sees worship as a very private matter: how I do it is between God and me. This is not so, but even if it were, we would be doing the fellow Christian a great service by helping to do so better.

One way for the local church leadership to address this limitation is to work with a brother as soon as conveniently possible after he has shared at the worship meeting.² Gently instruct on what is yet lacking or could enhance. Another way is through a practicum. Have the brothers put together thoughts on paper of what they would share if the worship meeting was right then or later that day or next morning. Go through the presentation to ask questions of why the particular thoughts are being expressed and to help in placing focus on where it properly belongs.

The second limitation has to do with the breadth of teaching on worship. Generally, the teaching has a Christocentric focus and is therefore limited in scope to the New Testament and those Old Testament passages that are Messianic. This deprives the learner of a great deal of solid teaching that can be garnered from Israel's worship of God. For example, the psalms are a treasure trove of examples. What is the circumstance of the psalmist? What is he presenting to cause focus on the one true God in praise and worship? Is there a specific attribute or work? Not directly related to worship but integral to its proper use is the Biblical theology of God. How is it being addressed in the local church? Do believers need to better understand who He is and what He does and why? Another useful section is the Levitical offerings found in the first chapters of the book. How was the presenter worshiping? What were the elements that made the sacrifice worthy of acceptance? What made the worshiper worthy to come? These are just the beginnings of what is neglected in the Old Testament concerning worship.

Lastly, both of these limitations come from incorrect assumptions stemming from dispensational teaching.³ Not that dispensationalism is incorrect, but there tends to be an artificial boundary set between the Old and New Testaments that is not there. The fullness of God's revelation is in the Lord Jesus Christ to whom belongs all worship, but the bulk of teaching on worship is in the Mosaic Law. Use it to understand more fully who is being worshiped and how. It has its own issues. Multiple times the psalmist writes Praise the Lord! or Hallelujah! depending on the translation. This phrase is more than an exclamation of joy. It is a command—a command to be followed. Let us do so thoroughly and abundantly.

¹ An excellent resource on these and other points is A. P. Gibbs' book Worship: The Christian's Highest Occupation.
² This assumes any group with participative worship similar to the Plymouth Brethren meetings mentioned previously.

³ Other theological systems are not off the hook. I am addressing the issues of only this one.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How's Your Aim?

In 1 Timothy 1:3b-4, Paul tells writes to "charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies." Paul does this because these things "promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith." People get off-track in myriad ways. Whether on one hand we pursue some questionable doctrine or on the other hand chase after speculative reasoning, we have missed what is important and promotes order in our Christian walk. The proper aim is love.

Right here, I have to admit that my mind automatically switched gears and started playing "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles. After all, that was my generation.

May I submit that sappy sentimentalism is nothing similar to the apostolic desire? We are given three attributes of the proper love to express.
  • Pure Heart (καθαρᾶς καρδίας) – In Scripture, the word heart has to do with the will. It is the conscious decision from planning a course of action and determining to stand in it. The heart Paul references is clean from sin or sinful intent. Such cleansing can be only from the work of God who promised to "sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses" and "give you a new heart, and a new spirit" (Ezekiel 36:25-26).
  • Good Conscience(συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς) – When the will is set, the mind is harnessed in such a fashion that arising thoughts and rational processes are brought into line with that underlying purpose. Our thoughts are for the good of others toward the building up of another for his benefit.
  • Sincere Faith (πίστεως ἀνυποκρίτου) – It seems incongruous to speak of faith as anything but sincere, however it can be hypocritical when placed on the wrong object. The believer has his set upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
When these attributes are fully functioning, the love expressed can be nothing but that which demonstrates our great God and Savior and brings praise to his name.