Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Corporate Worship: Spirit Led, Truth Driven, and God Revering

There is a tension, even to the point of conflict, between many in the church as to what constitutes proper praise and worship. You could generally divide these folks into two camps, those who follow the regulative principle and those who follow the normative principle. The regulative folks prescribing that God has laid out in Scripture what He requires and will accept in worship, and everything that is not in Scripture is forbidden. The normative folks prescribe that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permissible in worship. The are extremists in both camps from those who will only sing acapella from the Psalter to those who have a solo guitar riff with strobe lights and smoke, singing the Doobie Brothers as part of their worship. You go from the legalists to the libertines with all staunchly defending their position. So how do you determine what is permissible, what is pleasing to God, what brings Him satisfaction?

First, I think we need to take a step back to look at the whole of the landscape to determine what is the proper attitude we should have about this. There is a principle regarding Christian liberty in the practice of our faith in Romans 14:1-15:6, that is summed up in Romans 14:23...and whatever is not from faith is sin. I believe that God gave us this principle because for all of us, our definition of correct, or right, or proper is the way that we would do it. So there is some leeway, some room, and some forbearance to be given to one another in worship styles, music, and methodology. A good example of this is my friend, pastor Andrei, of Vision of Christ Church in Lviv, Ukraine. I preached at his church twice, once for a week on Covenant, and again over a long weekend on The Spiritual Life of the Church. This is a Charismatic church, and they speak in tongues during the prayer time in the service, and I am anything but Charismatic. At the end of my second time with them, as we were having dinner together at his home, Andrei turned to me and asked, "Does it bother you that we speak in tongues?" And I told him no, it did not bother me. To which he replied, "Good, because it doesn't bother us that you don't." So let us not look with contempt at one another, or judge one another because of differences in worship styles or methodology (Romans 14:3).

Secondly, let us acknowledge that there are guidelines for our worship of God, and God has been consistent with those guidelines through the ages. We can find these guidelines summed up in John 4:23-24 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. (Italics mine) So we have defined for us who a true worshiper is, and how a true worshiper worships; and we see that God Himself seeks such people to be His worshipers. So worshiping in spirit and truth is how God wants us to worship and is His parameter of what He considers proper. 

In Isaiah 29:13 God condemns the Israelites for their rote reverence of Him.  They were going through the motions but were devoid of the Spirit.  So even though what they practiced was according to truth, it was spiritually empty.  In Job 42:8 we see that worship that is acceptable to God is based on saying what is true about Him.  So proper worship must be both from and through the Spirit, and must be based upon what is true and right.  There are many hymns and praise songs/choruses that are filled with incorrect theology that do not meet this criteria.

Thirdly, we see another guideline in Leviticus 10:1-4. God only accepts worship that treats Him as holy and honors Him as God.  Worshiping in Spirit and in truth will always approach God as holy and honor Him as God.  Proper worship always pictures God as set apart, as holy, and properly reveres Him as God.  We see how a cavalier attitude and lack of reverence towards God in the Corinthian church led to many being weak, sick, and number of them sleeping (dead).  Yes, I know it was for taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, but the partaking of the Lord's Supper is part of our worship.  This shows us that God is just as serious about being treated as holy and being honored by the church as He was with the Jews in Leviticus 10.  This is what He expects from His people; and it makes me wonder if there are many in the church today who are weak, sick, or even sleeping because they worshiped (approached) God in an unworthy manner.

Fourthly, we see five principles at work in Colossians 3:16.  One, it should be word based.  Two, worship should be participatory.  Three, worship should be more than one dimensional, containing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Four, it should be jointly edifying.  Five, it should be God directed.

On being word based, the word of God is the truth, so if we want to worship God in truth, the foundation of our worship should be His word.  It should dwell richly in us and be sung in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

On being participatory, the pronouns you and your in this verse are plural, so this is something that all that are gathered together should be doing. So it should not be observatory, but participatory.  Any style or methodology of worship that prevents or hinders the joint participation of the gathered believers should be eliminated.  Now this does not rule out solos, etc., but corporate worship is just that, corporate worship; and the style and methodology should promote and encourage corporate participation.

On being more than one dimensional, there is a richness and balance in the types and styles of songs, and this balance should be part of the corporate worship experience.  It will cover all aspects from the richness of deep theology to soul stirring melodies.  It should take us from the depths of love to the heights of joy while covering everything in between. 

On being jointly edifying, as we sing His word together we are teaching and admonishing one another.  There is an edifying power, and edifying effect on each other as we sing together or are sung to by soloists, etc.  The word put to music will not return empty or void, without accomplishing all that God desires, and He desires for us to play our part in the dissemination of His word.

On being God directed, as this is the most important of all the principles.  All worship should be God directed.  It should be about God, focused on God, taking our attention away from ourselves and focusing it on God...His greatness, His majesty, His power, His love, His care, His grace, His provision, His faithfulness, His mercy,  and all that He is and all that He does.  I am reminded of the song, "It Is Well With My Soul", this song is so God focused and was written at a time of great tragedy in the life of the writer.  Much like the Psalms, in the middle of lament the focus is still on the Lord.  Our coming together for worship is a time for us to corporately present ourselves and our sacrifice of praise to God Himself before His throne in midst of what is happening in our life.  It should be a transcendent time in the presence of God for all who are gathered together no matter their circumstances.

We obviously have guidelines, but within the guidelines we have freedom, Spirit directed freedom which will always have the truth for both its anchor and its guide.