Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thoughts on Worship After A Day Away

Yesterday, Jesse, Peter, and I went away to spend the day in prayer, reflection, reading, and meditation. We try to do this at least once a quarter, and with fall approaching, we decided to steal away for the day. The home of Dan and Kim Arnold was our meeting place, and with their gorgeous pond, beautiful large trees, and the "North Valley" ambiance, it was the perfect place to get away.

I spent most of my day finishing a book I started a while back on worship called, Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship by Ron Man. Ron is the director of worship resources for Greater Europe Mission, and I think this is his doctoral dissertation in book form. It was a daunting read, but the insights I gained from it about the theology of worship are proving to be invaluable. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the elders are on a quest to gain a better understanding of the biblical theology of worship so that we can better lead in this area at The Foothills, and I'm confident that this book will play a major role in our quest. Let me share a couple of insights about worship that I received from the book yesterday.

Worship is to be a true dialog between God and us. Ron refers to this as the rhythm of revelation and response. As God constantly reveals Himself to us through His Word, through the love of other believers, and through His creation, we then are to respond to His revelation. Our response to any of God's revelations in our lives can take the form of a song, a shout, a prayer of thanksgiving, an act of obedience, an act of love, or an act of service. Regardless of the response, the most important thing is that we do in fact respond. As we respond, the dialog of worship between us and God takes place. So, the challenge is to mimic and model this dialog when we gather together on a Sunday morning for "worship." If we are truly going to worship when we gather, then the "relevation and response" rhythm must take place.

The living Christ is present when we gather together for worship. In Hebrews 13:5 we are told that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. Why then do we feel compelled to "invite" Him to join us for worship when we gather together? He's already there! As a matter of fact, He's not just there as a spectator, but He is there as the leader. Hebrews 2:12 records the words of Jesus as He leads His people in worship. He says to God, His Father, "I will proclaim Your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation, I will sing your praise." Jesus is our worship leader, and He is the One who leads us in worship when we gather together.

Our worship is pleasing and acceptable to God not because of its own excellence, but because of (and only because of) the excellence of His Son. God accepts and delights in our worship, not because of our efforts or artistry or even our spirituality, but because of Jesus' continual offering of worship in our place and on our behalf. It is not the excellence of our worship (quality, quantity, or form) which makes it acceptable and pleasing to God (although those things are important and reveal our heart in the effort), but it is the excellence of His Son that is pleasing to Him. This means that regardless of what you feel or don't feel, you can still worship God. You can still respond to His constant revelation in your life, because when you do, you are joining Christ's worship of the Father - which is 100% pure and acceptable to Him...even if your worship is marred by sin and seems unworthy to the Father.

As long as our worship is led and mediated by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, how we do it doesn't matter. Whenever I sit down to talk with people about worship, within the first five minutes, the conversation inevitably plunges into talking about the style of the worship. Hands lifted, knees bent, face up, face down, hymns, praise choruses, loud, soft, with a banjo, without a banjo! In spite of a huge diversity in worship styles and practices in music and dress and architecture and forms and customs, from person to person, church to church, culture to culture, continent to continent, century to century throughout the history of the church - the fact remains that God has been, is, and will be worshipped by true worshippers in countlessly different ways. Every person brings his or her own voice, and every group brings its own voice, but no one person and no one group brings the official voice. We all must understand that style is not the issue. Engaging God in a "revelation and response" dialog through His risen Son, Jesus Christ, is.

It was a good day of reflection for the three of us yesterday, and it seems that understanding the theology of worship is something that God is placing on all of our hearts. That means that there will be more on this topic in the coming days as the three of us - along with the other five elders - continue to wrestle with understanding, believing, living, and then teaching a biblical theology of worship.


Evonne said...

How always matters. Failure to attend to the how can result in individualism and even laziness. True creativity springs from the structure of discipline in the arts, in business, in all of life. I don't presume to dictate the how, but even in penecostal and charismatic worship services (of which I know first hand) there is a how. The Old Testament is full of how. Corporate worship must be attended by how. Corporate worship is the real thing not just a shadow, rehearsal, or mimic of what goes on in our private lives the rest of the week. It is the foundation from which we can then creatively express our adoration, allegiance, and grateful love. How, however, is not about whether or not the mood has been set emotionally so that we can worship. Believers are to arrive prepared for worship. While individuals may have their style preferences none of us are entitled to be worship fussbudgets. A real worship experience is not to be defined by the presence or absence of emotional experience. Too often when we think about the rhythm of revelation and response we judge response by "what did I get out of it". So that if someone is emotional we assume they are "really worshiping". Response has more to do with responding to the reality of the glorious triune God. So, did we come prepared to worship together? Or are we waiting for the mood to be set and, "hey, some days, they just didn't do it for me..." thereby creating a dead spot in the flow, quenching the Spirit with an attitude of entitlement to be "moved". Aspects of how we worship can facilitate our response, but our response must not be dependent upon the how or upon our emotions. Nevertheless, we are embodied and what we do with our bodies matters. Standing, kneeling, arms lifted, head bowed, head covered, genuflecting, crossing oneself, the bitter bite of real wine on our tongue, the recitation of the creeds, spontaneous praise, the rhythm of drums, the haunting sweet joy of the banjo, the raw passion of the guitar, the nearly human voice of the violin, the depth of the doctrine found in good hymns, the spontaneity of expression in some choruses, it all matters...and when it matters rightly it is good...and when it matters wrongly, we are all the worse for it.

Mike Potter said...

My point is that the "how" is not the first thing God looks at when we respond to His revelation. He looks first at our hearts, and He is much more - exponentially more - concerned with our hearts than with our how. Are we coming to Him in humility, recognizing that He is God and we are not?

Unfortunately, the "how" is usually the first thing we look at. We get hung up on the style of our worship while God is hung up on the heart of our worship.

I agree that our worship - our response to God's revelation - both individually and corporately ought to be done with all the creativity and passion we can muster. However, I still stick with my original premise that how we do it can be as diverse as diversity will allow as long as our hearts are set on Him and as long as we are worshipping the Lord in and through Jesus, our worship leader. Therefore, the how - that so many of us get so hung up on - is not what matters to the Lord. It's the heart.

By the way, I believe that an understanding of this truth ought to motivate us to make the "how" as excellent, relevant, and passionate as possible. Knowing that God is concerned with the condition of our hearts, and knowing that as embodied souls, the "how" helps pave the way for us respond to the Lord with humble hearts, I believe that we ought to make the "how" (the style of our worship) as excellent, creative, and engaging as possible.

Jesse said...

I'm not sure that within the category of the "how" of worship such expressions as kneeling, raising hands, bowing, and clapping should be included. I also do not consider these expressions merely stylistic or dismissable. These things are biblically described and it seems that each believer, regardless of background, ought to be challenging themselves to express worship within these biblically described expressions of worship. Granted each of us will have comfort zones through which to break whether it be clapping or bowing etc. But I do believe it is important to participate in biblically described forms of worship even if it means breaking out of our comfort levels.
Therefore, I think style is different from the forms of expression mentioned above.
I think style has to do with the manner in which you carry out these expressions of worship and Style/how may or may not be negotiable on biblical grounds.

Evonne said...

So, Mike? Does it seem that I am disagreeing with you? Biblical diversity within each culture's expression of worship is beautiful and good. Yes, the Lord is concerned with our hearts and one thing is reflected by another.

I am also frustrated by songs that invite the Lord Jesus or the Holy Spirit to join us, as if we arrive anywhere before Him. Perhaps this attitude is a key to the seeming lack of reverence in the evangelical church today.

The how of worship encompasses so much more than style. What we do and say springs from within our hearts and reveals much. The worship service in all its components, especially culminating in Communion, should be the climax of each week. I am not pretending that I am yet observing rightly. I know that I am not. I want to get there. Yes, humility is the way and then like Mary Magdalene, who in extreme humility knelt at the feet of Jesus, we must give all that we have, all that is most precious to us. A broken and contrite spirit is what the Lord desires. C.S. Lewis said that the precious alabaster box that one must break over the Lord's feet is our heart. Then the contents, our fragrant prayers and praises, will be released in worship. Worship is what the entire service is about in all the diversity that Scripture allows.

ETS Biblical Worship said...


Many thanks for making your way through the book! I am really glad that it impacted you as it did. The things I write about have impacted me as well, so it is a delight to share them.

Blessings in your ministry,
Ron Man