"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Worship and Belief: Worshipping the way I want to

The typical modern conception of worship likely has more to do with emotions and the will than with what one believes. This, in some ways, has more to do with the denigration of beliefs than with worship. To this point I have said “beliefs” for that very reason, because when synonyms like doctrine, theology or dogma are used, the modern person immediately recoils. These are not the terms they first associate with Christianity. They prefer other, admittedly good terms such as joy and relationship.

Still, when the question is put forward: “Does it matter what you believe?” The majority will (probably still?) answer: yes. If you deny the existence of God, there may be a problem. If you say Jesus is not God, there may be some concern. Even if you deny grace, there may be some taking of a person aside for a talking to. Yet, if we begin to apply what it is we believe that God tells us to any area, a typical reaction is to accuse one of quenching the Spirit or of getting in the way of relationship and joy.

Don't believe me? The next time someone tells you they have shared their faith with someone, ask them what they said. Then, if something is off in the doctrine, criticize their wording. This is a sure way to get an ear full of the Spirit providing words and that the important thing that was said was that God wants a relationship. We think what we believe is important...just not in evangelizing.

Still don't believe me? The next time someone says they had a wonderful time of worship, ask what they learned. If nothing, ask what they were reminded of as a great doctrine of the gospel. Ask if Christ was mentioned. If not, tell them they may have done something, but they did not engage in Christian worship. See if they really believe it matters what one believes, or just what one feels. Typically saying that one had a “good time” of worship is saying something about the style or selection of music rather than having anything to do with what Christians believe, or particularly having something to do with Who Christ is and what He has done. Yet, Scripture mentions confession (what we believe) along with gathering together:

Heb 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
What might happen if we let our beliefs...our confession/doctrine/dogma inform our worship?

1) We would see worship as at the invitation of God, not our own wills.

We worship at the invitation of God. The Psalms continually repeat a call to worship God. “Let us worship God, our light and our salvation.” (Psalm 27) “Praise the Lord.” (Psalm 34) “Shout for joy to the Lord.” (Psalm 100) “Come let us bow down in worship” (Psalm 95).

If we believe that God invites us to worship Him at His pleasure, then we will not see worship as our self-expression or emotion, but at its core: prayer (Ps 116:4, Acts 1:14) and confession (Heb 3:1, 4:14, 10:23, 1 Tim 6:12-13), praying to God a confession of Who He is. Not by the functions of our autonomous wills (Col 2:23) but in accordance to His Will (Matt 26:42).

2)We will confess Who Christ is, every time we worship.

Not only is Christianity a confessional faith, Christianity's Saviour is confessional. His confession is the object of our emulation in Heb 3:1 and 1 Tim 6:12-13. As Peter confessed (Matt 16:16) and as Israel confessed (Deut 6:4) or as Nathaniel (John 1:50), Thomas (John 20:28), and the Baptismal formula (Matt 28:19) confesses. Any of these would be acceptable in worship if the Apostles' Creed, Nicene or other creeds scare “Biblical” Christians.

3) We will pray. (Ps 116:4, Acts 1:14)

Prayer is often a filler in worship. Something to do as the band sets up or as a transition to let the pastor make his way to the pulpit. They are rarely intentional or Scriptural. This is sinful.

4) We will confess who we are.

In other words, we will confess our sins. We may use the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 51 to acknowledge that sin is not being unhappy or doing something frowned on, but something that is a personal offense against God alone. But we are assured that if we confess our sins, we are forgiven by a gracious God. (John 1:8-9). We should also be absolved of our sins. This is a fancy way of saying we should be assured of the forgiveness won by Christ's work (John 3:16, Romans 5:1, Romans 8:1).

5)We will read the Word publicly.

Paul gives this specific instruction to Timothy as part of his duties as a minister. To obey Scripture, we ought not to ignore or neglect this command. (1 Tim 4:13) It might also be nice to hear more Scripture than merely what the pastor has chosen to preach from, but also to hear something from both testaments, Old and New, in the context of worship.

6)We will administer the sacraments

Christ's final command includes baptizing. (Matt 28:19) Christ also commanded the observance of the Supper until he returns. (1 Cor 11:26) Not to do these things occasionally at an evening service or a non-worship service. They are the commands of God not to be trifled with by mere human preference for other more exciting things. They are not done infrequently because they are important to us, but because they are unimportant to us.

7) We will do what is commanded.

Nadab and Abihu, the sons of the high priest Aaron in that happy picture above, tried their hand at innovative and exciting worship by their own preferences. God killed them for it. (Lev 10, Num 26). Today, we think God has changed his mind. Today, God does not care how we personally choose to worship Him. Let us hope that the Church does not need the severity of the lesson of Nadab and Abihu to change our minds. Perhaps only the severity of God causing sickness among the Corinthians when they abused the Supper in worship (1 Cor 11). God gave His Scriptures to teach and guide His people (2 Tim 3:16). We ignore it at our peril. Therefore, if our preferences contradict what God commands, then we worship at our peril and in our sin.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Great post Jared!

The more I study historical Reformed theology and worship practices, the more I loathe the pietistic tradition from which I've come.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Ironically, I think it is pietism that sucks the life right out of a church by focusing too much attention on the personal, individual experience. If we are over concerned with what we are doing, we will be under concerned with what God has done once for all in the person and work of Christ, which is the basis for what he is doing now in his church.