129 - Understanding Worship [c]
What does it mean to genuinely worship God in our church services? Listen to this message to see that the New Testament does not lay out rules or specify what we must do like the Old Testament did for the Jews. Hear several definitions of worship and see that they have common ground in expressing reverence and adoration for God. Find out that these services can include music, scripture reading, prayer, and Bible study and should leave us more aware of God’s incomprehensible greatness after we have attended. Learn that we should prepare ourselves for worship and have a mental attitude that expresses respect for God.
During this class Dr. Dean referenced a book by Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory.
2 Samuel 6:9–12; 1 Chronicles 15:1–16
Samuel Lesson #129
April 24, 2018
“Father, it’s a great privilege to come together tonight to think about Your Word, to think about You. To reflect upon just who You are, beyond our comprehension except much of what You have revealed is to make Yourself comprehensible to us in a finite way. Father, we pray that as we handle Your Word, and think about Your Word and especially this topic of worship, that You may challenge us and help us to think a little more deeply and a little more profoundly about what it means to worship You, to give You reverence and respect and to adore You, and all that that entails.
“So often, we get into certain modes of operation and stay within that little comfort zone and do not go beyond that. And yet, when we look at the Scripture, there is so much more that is a part of this concept of worship that should be part of our spiritual life. We pray that we may be responsive to that and that God the Holy Spirit will open Your Word to us that we may understand this more fully. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
We’re working our way through this section in 1 Chronicles 15 and in 2 Samuel 6:9–12 where David is taking the ark, and he’s bringing it into Jerusalem. Of course, in the first episode, they did a lot that was wrong. Their goal, their intent, their desire was to glorify God, but they did it the wrong way. A right thing done in a wrong way is wrong, and there were serious consequences to that.
Later on, there will be a king in the Southern Kingdom named Uzziah, and he gets a little impatient. He’s one of the better kings in the Southern Kingdom, and he gets impatient and wants to virtually take over the responsibility of the priests. As a result, God disciplines him, and he gets leprosy. He becomes, therefore, ritually unclean and can’t go into the temple.
This is all to reinforce the idea that there are right ways to worship God and wrong ways to worship God, and how we feel really isn’t the point. We have to conform to the righteousness of God. So, we’ve been studying this, and we need to probe this concept of understanding worship a little more.
We’re in our study of 2 Samuel, we’re in the first division, the first ten chapters, and we’re down to 2 Samuel 6, when God becomes enthroned in Jerusalem. One of the things we ought to think about this is why is this (God enthroned in Jerusalem) important. Because God’s relationship to Israel as set forth in the Mosaic Covenant is that God is the true King of Israel. That’s why it’s called a theocracy, the rule of God. God is the true King of Israel, and even when there is a human king—which is envisioned under the Mosaic Law—and it’s David, that human king is really under the authority of God.
Saul didn’t catch that concept. He thought he was the one who was the true king of Israel and was disobedient to God. But David understands his position and his responsibility. He is under the authority and responsibility of the sovereign King over Israel, and that’s God. So, he wants God to have His place. He understands the significance of putting God at the center of the community life of Israel and for God to be truly worshiped there. He has a vision that is going to transform Israel as it was set forth on Mt. Sinai, where it was focused on the tabernacle, and to expand that and create a more glorious setting for the worship of God in the temple.
God is not going to allow David to build the temple. Solomon will build that temple, but David is setting the stage for that and a lot that happens that is described—this is why we’re going over 1 Chronicles 15 and 16—is that we see David’s organization for worship, and, we can learn from this.
There’s a progress that takes place, and as I’m getting into this, one of the things that hit me, as I was talking to someone today, is that well, I think I’ve opened a can of worms. That is, I really didn’t intend, when I made this shift, to take the time to drill down into a study on worship. But you can’t avoid that; it’s important for a couple of reasons. It’s important because it’s a major topic in Scripture. Secondly, people don’t understand it very well, and third, we live in a generation that has shifted worship from what it has been in many denominations and groups for hundreds of years to something different. They’ve sort of cut the anchor to the past.
Their reasoning behind that is because they’ve found something wanting; they’ve felt like their worship was empty, not as significant. It didn’t do anything for them emotionally. Now that’s part of the shift that occurs under a post-modern worldview; this shift to where reason and experience are minimized and emotion is elevated and emphasized. That always attacks the church.
You go through church history from the early years when it is expanding before it is legalized under Constantine. You see the problems that they had, the problems that reflected the culture that the people came from and the ideas, especially the Greek ideas that influenced the church, especially the view of Neo-Platonism. You can see all the way through church history that the church tends to reflect the culture out of which the people come because that’s the world baggage that they bring with them into the church. So, we need to think about this.
Over history, there’ve been a lot of changes. There’s been the liturgy in the liturgical form or worship that developed in the Roman Catholic Church—a lot of which is grounded in the early apostolic tradition that is pre-Roman Catholic. It’s what is called the old part of the Catholic Church. “Catholic” is just a word that means universal. So, you don’t really have a Roman church until you get to about 600. Different historians will identify different time periods, but that’s generally the time that you see more of a Roman authority in the church coming from the Bishop of Rome, who’s called Leo the Great.
It’s liturgical in that it’s in a society where to some degree, there’s a lot of illiteracy. They don’t have Barbara Bush coming along promoting literacy programs, and a lot of people don’t have the Scripture. They’re poor, many are slaves, many are in the lower socio-economic strata in Rome; lots of them aren’t, but they don’t have the resources to go and buy a Bible or 15.
I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many people have more than 15 Bibles in their house? How many people have more than 10 Bibles in their house? This is true for most Americans that are involved in church, not those who aren’t, but those who are really involved in church probably have 10 to 15 Bibles in their house. At that time in the early church, there were many people who may have had a scroll of one or two books, if they had that. Many of them didn’t, so as a result of that, there is the need to recite creeds.
If you come from a Baptist background, some of you may not realize—I know a lot of us came out of Berachah Church—that Berachah Church had a strong background in two traditions. One was a Baptist background because Pastor Thieme (R.B. Thieme, Jr.) was ordained as a Conservative Baptist. His father-in-law, who pastored a church in Tucson, Arizona, where he went to the University of Arizona as an undergraduate, his father-in-law was one of the men who founded the Conservative Baptist denomination, and he (Pastor Thieme) was ordained a Conservative Baptist. A lot of people don’t know that. So, the structures and format of what was done in that church on Sunday morning was heavily influenced by Southern Baptist liturgy.
A lot of people say, “How do you say Southern Baptists have a liturgy?” A liturgy or Sunday morning ritual for a low church or Baptist denomination is two hymns, an offering and a sermon. That’s the ritual every Sunday. You have announcements, prayer, two hymns, offering, sermon, closing prayer. It may not be the kind of ritual that you see in high church, but think about it, it’s the same order; it’s the same structure every single Sunday.
I’ll tell you a story. Today, we live in a world where—and I think it’s right and wrong, and I go back and forth on this—one of the problems with doing it the same way every Sunday is it becomes stayed, it becomes so regular a habit that people come in and go through the motions, and their mind is somewhere else. They’re not thinking about this incomprehensible, holy, personal, infinite God that has reached down to these miniscule creatures that He created in His image and has entered into their history in order to redeem each and every one of them.
That incomprehensibility, the infinity of God, is something that we cannot grasp. We come on Sunday morning, and it’s such a routine that we slip into what we do without thinking about it, and all of a sudden, God really isn’t at the center of what we’re doing on Sunday morning. Because that is so true for all of us, what you see—we always see the pendulum swing from one thing to another—what you’ve seen in the last 40 years is this sort of reaction: “Let’s try to do something different every Sunday.”
So, you’ll go to some churches, and you don’t know what to expect that Sunday because there may be praise dancers, or there may be some drama or a skit; there may be this or there may be that. What they’re trying to do is to make it fresh—make our worship of God somehow fresh and significant every Sunday. There’s a problem with that.
From my own experience, when I went through various years at seminary I went to different churches. I never went to an Episcopal or high church, but I went to some that were much more formal. I went to some that were much more informal. I went to a couple of small start-up churches that just met in somebody’s home. I had a lot of different experiences, and because I’d been away at college, and I’d been at seminary and I’d been pastoring different churches, it had been 14 years before I went back to Berachah Church when in 1988, they had a pastors’ conference.
I went back to Berachah Church, and I sat down where I had sat as a kid growing up. It smelled the same, it looked the same; everything was the same, and there was a level of comfort and stability. You had the same voice in the pulpit. It felt stable because everything was the same. And I think that a lot of people who come along and say, “Okay, we need something new and fresh every week,” forget the fact that in a world in which we live that changes so very much, every single day where there is so much flex, and chaos and uncertainty, that to go and sit in the same pew every Sunday, hear the same voice, and go through the same thing, whether it’s high church ritual and liturgy, or whether it’s two or three hymns and the offering and the sermon, what you do provides a sense of certainty and stability that there’s something that doesn’t change, something that I can rely on. And that is really important. That should also be factored in when we talk about worship.
You don’t see in the Old Testament, a lot of this kind of thinking that we see in our contemporary world where, “Oh, we just keep doing the same thing and saying the same thing every Yom Kippur. Let’s do something different. We keep saying the same story and going through the same Haggadah every single Passover. Let’s change it up a little bit.”
Now in the modern world, you can get online and you can buy something called the Thirty Minute Seder, and you can rip right through it very quickly, and not take the time to go through the ritual questions and answers that are part of it. A lot of people do that because it doesn’t mean anything to them. See, that’s the other side of the spectrum; we do the same thing over and over again, and we lose its reality.
The flaw that comes up is that pastors and church leaders think that it’s their job to change that. It’s not a problem of the regularity and the order; see, that’s what they say, “We keep doing the same thing, and the people get bored.” They think it’s their job to change that, to prevent people from getting bored or in a rut. The problem with that is that what they do to change it becomes manipulation. And it gets away from the Scripture. They say, “We need to set the tone; we need to set the mood.”
Then they have defined worship in terms of a certain mental attitude, a certain framework that you just feel sort of in this quasi-mystical kind of stance. “Oh, I’ve just been lifted up.” They dim the lights, soften the music, paint the walls black, put candles up, and do all of these things. It’s artificial. It’s all designed to create this mood instead of recognizing that the problem is between the ears of the people in the congregation.
They’re not thinking about what they’re doing on Sunday morning. It’s been a routine, a habit, and we’re all that way. We go through our Sunday morning routine, we have our little schedules: It’s 8 o’clock; I need to eat breakfast. It’s 8:30; I have to get into the shower. And we go through the whole thing. But we’re not bringing our focus on the fact that what we are doing, and what we’re supposed to be doing in a corporate worship service is rejoicing, celebrating, being reminded of the fact that this incredibly ineffable God has lowered Himself to communicate to us and to save us and to bring us into eternal fellowship with Him. We should always be rejoicing about that. It’s our problem because we let all the little details of life, all the problems, all the people issues, getting the kids ready to go, and everything else, get in the way of our thought and focus.
In America, especially, we’ve got worship down to, “Okay it’s an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes maybe, but if you’re going to do something for five hours, I’m out of here.” But you go to many places in the world, and you go to some denominations where they still have, even though it’s high church—it’s liturgical, they quote a lot of creeds—and there may not be a genuine spiritual life there. They do recognize that they’re worshiping the incredible, infinite God of the universe, who created and redeemed them. And He’s worthy of praise, and we’re here for five hours. It has a significance and a weight to it that is at least historically there because they realize how great God is. The problem is, that becomes a rut too, and they go through that and don’t really understand what’s going on.
I’ve gone back and thought about things because I went to one Episcopal funeral a few weeks ago, I watched the Barbara Bush ceremony at St. Michael’s Episcopal the other day, and it made me think about this. When we recite the creeds—there’s nothing wrong with reciting creeds—Baptists don’t like it because they say, “We’re a non-creedal people; we believe the Bible.” That would be great if people in the pews actually knew the Bible. You need to have creeds in order to break it down and synthesize the basic doctrines that are in the Bible, so that when the people recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Chalcedonian Creed, it’s just a summary of what our basic beliefs are.
When they recite those over and over again it’s always the same thing again. In my first church, it had this emphasis that every Sunday morning, it was the Apostles’ Creed, then the Lord’s Prayer, and then we sang the same hymn. It went in that order every week, but it gets stale. And you just go through it and people are never taught. So, there needs to be a way to teach people this.
I remember the first time I went to a more liturgical, Presbyterian worship service on a Sunday morning after I had been through seminary, and it was Grace Presbyterian down here on the Beltway. I knew some people who went there, and they invited me to church. So I went over there and I thought, “Wow, this is so great!” They were reciting creeds, they did this, and they did that. But I had had a heavy curriculum on church history even when I was in my masters’ program, and all of this made great sense because I brought all that church history to bear, and it was significant. But the people who were sitting with me had no clue about any of this.
They didn’t know where the Nicene Creed came from. They didn’t understand the fights and the theological division that was behind it, and the important theological nuances of every phrase. For them, it was just something they recited every Sunday, and they could think about whatever it was they were going to do on Monday, and just recite it without thinking about it. Those are just some things that we have to think about. So, I’ve decided that we need to take a little time to get into thinking about worship again.
So, we talked about 1 Chronicles 15 and the structure there that David failed to bring the ark in the first time because he did it the wrong way, so he had to go back to the Scripture for correction. 2 Timothy 3:16–17, the Scripture is breathed out by God, so that we can be taught, we can be reproved—God’s going to say, “you’re wrong,”—that doesn’t fly with the Snowflake generation.
A lot of people don’t like to be told by the pastor, by Scripture, that their thinking is wrong. They want to go to a church that’s going to affirm everything that they believe, and everything they do because they’re pretty superficial in their thinking. We have a whole culture like that.
But Scripture is to reprove us, to tell us you’re wrong, and then to correct us—to say, “This is the wrong way; this is the right way,” so that we can be instructed in righteousness and grow and mature spiritually, and we can serve the Lord.
Well, this is what David does. He goes back to the Scriptures for correction, and then he realizes his failings, and he makes adjustments. As part of that, he organizes the Levites for the movement of the ark. He realizes they have to carry it by poles, that nobody can touch it. It’s carried by Levites and they take it to their location. He prepares them also spiritually as well as organizationally, and then he goes a step further, and what we see here as you go through the progress of Scripture that there is progress in understanding worship.
You have the singing of hymns before at the time of the Exodus with Miriam’s song of victory [Exodus 15], after Deborah and Barack defeat Sisera, the Canaanite King of Hazor, you have in Judges 5, Deborah’s song of praise. So, these hymns are already present. But David’s going to take it to a new level. This is then going to be part of recognizing the significance of the central role of God in the temple. God is dwelling in their midst.
I don’t think we comprehend what that meant. God was dwelling in the midst; He’s right there. You could be in Jerusalem, and you could point to the Temple Mount, and God is right there. He is enthroned between the cherubs in the holy of holies, and that is part of their central identity until the ark is taken or disappears at the time of the Babylonian captivity.
So that just took us up to some introductory principles of corporate worship. I’ll just go through these really quickly:
1. God defines worship; He defines how we worship, and the conditions of worship. It’s not based on what we think He would like. That’s the mistake that Cain made. God rejected his offering; He accepted Abel’s because Abel did it according to standard. We see this is why God disciplined Uzzah in such a way, because he violated the principle of the way the ark was carried and when it stumbled, he treats the ark in a profane or irreverent manner. So, God defines worship.
2. Worship is not determined by how we feel. It’s not subjective but by our conformity to God’s righteousness and His revelation, which means we need to think a lot about who God is: His character, His righteousness, His justice. We need to think about what He’s revealed, and we need to know that’s why David went back to the Scriptures.
3. Worship, in its basic core meaning of the term, means to “bow down to God”. Thus, it signifies sort of a core meaning, the idea of submission to God’s will because He is God. It is recognition of His authority, His sovereignty, of what He has done in our lives.
4. Worship has order, and it has structure because God is a God of order and structure according to 1 Corinthians 14:33.
All four of those principles were violated by the way David had the ark taken into Jerusalem. So, he has to rethink based on Scripture, which is exactly what we do. We can’t worship according to our ideas. We need to go back to Scripture.
What’s interesting is where does Scripture tell you how to worship? Where does Scripture tell you that this is what you should do on Sunday morning? Does it even tell you should do it on Sunday morning? Does it say you should do this for an hour? An hour and a half is getting a little long—two hours, three hours. Or wait a minute, an hour or two hours is too shallow, and you need to spend more time. Where does it say that you need to sing two hymns or three hymns, or you need to come in and there’s a procession of those who are involved in leading the service? There’s a procession as they come down forward.
You notice as you saw the Barbara Bush service the other day, you have the candles bearers coming in and they’re carrying a cross, and they have various things that they do. They wear certain robes, etcetera.
Where do you find that in Scripture? Where do you find that it’s the right thing to do in Scripture? Where do you find that it’s the wrong thing to do in Scripture? See Scripture doesn’t tell us those kinds of specifics in the New Testament, but the Scripture does give us a specific framework within which we should design a worship service. I think part of the reason that God does it that way is as you go from culture to culture, people are going to apply those in slightly different ways—some in ways that are perhaps not appropriate at all, some in ways that are legalistic, some in ways that are more grace-oriented. Some are going to be impacted by education factors, income/economic factors and things of that nature.
What we need to do is to determine what the Bible teaches about worship. What are the elements? We’re going to go through that. So, this may take us more than a week or two to go through the whole thing.
I pointed out last time that the English word “worship” comes from an Old English word, “weorthscipe,” which means “worthiness or to acknowledge worth.” I pointed out that this is essentially the core idea that because God is God, He is to be obeyed, He is to be revered, He is to be adored because of His intrinsic worth because He is the Creator God of the universe, and He has redeemed us. That gets at some of the core ideas, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
And I pointed out just definitions—I did this today going through a lot of dictionaries looking at the meaning of words—and we’ll get there in just a minute. There are a lot of, let’s just say, circular definitions.
So, how do we define worship?
Walter Elwell’s got a dictionary of theology that’s quite popular among theologians and seminaries. He states Webster’s Dictionary for the precise meaning of worship, and he has in parenthesis synonyms—adore, idolize, esteem worthy, reverence, homage. He says, “yet truly defining worship proves more difficult because it is both an attitude and an act.” I think he makes a good point there, and when you read through a lot of literature, and I went through Bible dictionary after Bible dictionary and theologies looking at definitions to see that there are these differences.
You have Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible that says worship is, “an expression of reverence and adoration of God.” It went on to say that one aspect of this would involve meditation, that is, thinking about the Word of God. So it’s a recognition that part of worship would involve the study of God’s Word. Now, it uses these two words: reverence and adoration.
What does it mean to have reverence for God? Have you thought about that? You’re going to come into church on Sunday morning and you’re going to revere God, you’re going to respect Him. See, that’s the idea of reverence. You can look it up in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED); it means, “to show respect for God.”
The other word, “adoration,” “to adore,” means to venerate. What does venerate mean? It means, “to show respect.” You get the idea that you define word “a” with word “b;” you define “b” with “c;” you define “c” with “a.” You’re going in a circle because defining these words is difficult. It’s somewhat abstract, but we understand that certain elements should be there and that we should be thinking through just what it means when we say, “I’m going to worship, and I’m going to the worship service on Sunday morning.”
In Elwell’s dictionary, he goes on to say, “Both the Old and New Testaments admit the possibility of false worship, usually associated with idolatrous cults and gross misconduct. For example, the Canaanites practiced ritual prostitution and infant sacrifice under the guise of worship to gods like Moloch and Baal.”
Now we think that’s not a problem anymore, but we would be wrong. There is an Episcopal Church in San Francisco that has a Buddha at the front of the church. There are many liberal, protestant churches that also have included Muslim prayer rugs in their churches, so Muslims can come and feel comfortable worshiping at their church.
When I was in seminary, there was a bit of a scandal that took place at Perkins School of Theology over at Southern Methodist University. This was in the late 1980s. They were having a chapel week, and they would do this every year. They would give it [the chapel] to a group of students in the seminary. And they were in charge of chapel for the week. These students, coming from their liberal background, decided, “We’re going to worship ‘the divine.’ ” Part of the theme that year was on women in ministry, and so they brought in an idol of Artemis of the Ephesians, the many-breasted goddess right out of Acts 19. The seminary almost got kicked out of the Methodist denomination over that, but they finally decided not to do it. But it created quite a little scandal there.
You can go to almost any major city in this country, and you can buy various cultic idols that you would think are no longer to be an influence or around. You look at the Allah, it’s not a physical idol, but it’s idolatress worship; it’s the worship of a false god. So, this is very much a problem that we still have in our world today, and it’s becoming more and more so. There’s more overt idolatry. There are the Wiccans and the various other groups that are anti-Christian. So, this is all part of what’s going on in terms of false worship today.
New Bible Dictionary, after citing the background for the word “worship,” says that, “originally [it] referred to the action of human beings in expressing homage to God because He is worthy of it. It covers such activities as adoration or praise to God, thanksgiving, prayers of all kinds, the offering of sacrifice and the making of vows.” All of that would be included in the idea of worship in New Bible Dictionary.
How do we define worship? In the Pocket Dictionary of Theology, it’s a little better. The Pocket Dictionary of Theology says, “It’s the act of adoring and praising God, that is, ascribing worth to God as the one who deserves homage and service.” Now if it stopped there, it’d be weak because worship is much more than praise. That’s the problem that we’ve gotten into in the last 30 years. You go to churches—many, many churches today—and they have a pastor, and they have a worship leader. And then there’s the worship team, and that’s the musicians. They’re the ones who are doing worship. That’s what that language communicates, that they’re the ones who are involved in worship. But that’s very dangerous because what do you do with communion? Isn’t that worship? What do you do with baptism? Isn’t that worship? What do you do with giving? Isn’t that worship? What do you do with the sermon and the study of God’s Word? Isn’t that worship?
So, it limits worship to one thing. Then, all of a sudden, everything else isn’t worship, and so why is it important? It eventually leads to where what is emphasized—and this is what’s happened in many churches-—is the singing. Actually, the worship leader of the church is the pastor because he’s the one that’s overseeing the entire service and directing it. He’s the one that brings the Word of God to the people so that they know what God’s will is.
This definition goes on to say, “The church, which is to be a worshiping community expresses its worship corporately and publicly (liturgically) through prayer; through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; through the reading and exposition of Scripture; through observance of the sacraments; and through individual and corporate living in holiness and service.” So that’s a much more robust definition. It involves the idea of the different elements. It doesn’t talk about giving, unless that’s included in the sacraments. It talks about prayer, corporate prayer, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and reading of Scripture, exposition of Scripture, and the observance of the sacraments. For Protestants, that’s baptism and the Lord’s Table, and then [the definition includes] individual and corporate living in holiness and service.
There’s a book that I found helpful. I’m going to mention it, and I’m also going to qualify it. It’s by Allen Ross; Allen Ross wrote a book on worship called Recalling the Hope of Glory that came out several years ago. Allen is going to be one of our speakers next year at the 2019 Chafer Conference. He’s not going to be getting into this topic, but I’ve known him since 1976 as a professor when I was at Dallas [Theological Seminary]. He’s always—for as many years as I’ve known him, and that’s over 40 years—been very interested in, “what is worship?” This man has thought profoundly and deeply. He’s got his Th.D. from Dallas [Theological Seminary] then he went to Cambridge. When he was at Cambridge, he would go to conservative Anglican churches where he basically became an Episcopal because he brought to that tradition his rich understanding of all the creeds and the entire liturgy. And he and I had some conversations about that back when I was a student and also a pastor in the 1980s.
What I like about reading his book, it’s called Recalling the Hope of Glory, I don’t always agree with where he’s going, but he’s thought more profoundly and deeply and biblically about this topic than just about anybody. He would be close to us in many of his ideas. He is not a fan of anything of the contemporary worship low-church type order that’s going on today. But he recognizes that we need to think about all of these issues biblically, and that’s what he does. He brings this out, and he’s always thought well about this.
When I read a book like this, when I say it’s a good book, I mean that it creates good thoughts; it challenges my thinking, it helps me to understand things. I have commentaries and theologians I read because of what they make me think, not because I agree with anything they say. That, to me, is a good book because it helps me think more clearly about what it is that I’m thinking about and what I’m teaching.
That doesn’t mean I heartily agree with anything that the guy says, but some commentaries are really, really good because they tell you all the different positions that are known to man about something. In the process, they talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and that helps me think through the issues without having to go read 30 books. So, when I say it’s good, it’s not probably for the same reasons that you might think it’s good.
So, I have found Allen to be a very profound thinker in many, many ways. He’s got one of the foremost educational backgrounds. He came out of a German Baptist background. He grew up listening to his father preach in German in Canada. Then, they moved to southern California, and he went through kind of the Jesus, hippy, low church, very informal stuff in southern California. He’s been in Bible churches; he’s pastored Presbyterian churches; he’s been in just about any kind of environment, so he brings a lot of experience and understanding to the topic.
It’s really interesting to read him, and we would quibble with some of his theologies I’m going to point out in just a minute. But he’s thought more thoroughly about this than anybody else I’ve read. That doesn’t mean he’s right, it just means he brings more to the table.
So, this is how he defines worship. He says, “it’s the celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the sovereign and holy triune God by means of”—so his basic idea is celebration. Now what you’re thinking is wrong. The word “celebration” has different meanings. What we normally think of as celebration is, “Let’s go have a party. Let’s celebrate.”
We celebrated the Astros winning the World Series last year. Right? That was a great time. I celebrated with a lot of people out in the parking lot of Academy waiting for them to open to buy t-shirts. You know, it’s a great time, but that’s not how we’re using the term “celebrate” here.
It’s “the celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the sovereign, holy, triune God by means of the reverent adoration and spontaneous praise of God’s nature and works, the expressed commitment of trust and obedience to the covenant and responsibilities, and the memorial reenactment of entering into covenant through ritual acts, all with the confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in glory.”
Let’s think about this a minute. He’s got a lot there, but worship isn’t something you can just say, okay here’s a little bumper sticker definition. It’s much more complex than that.
In his opening line, and several times through here, he uses the word covenant. Now I know Allen’s theology pretty well, and he’s one of these guys who thinks that in some sense the New Covenant began on the day of Pentecost. So he would see the church in a New Covenant relationship with God. We don’t. We don’t agree with that, but that’s not inherent to what he’s trying to say here. I would change the terminology and say, “it’s the celebration of being in an eternal fellowship with God.” God has brought us into a union with Him that will last for all eternity. That’s just profound. We can’t even get our arms around that.
Another term we need to look at is down in the third bullet point: “Entering into covenant through ritual acts.” I would say, “It’s the memorial reenactment of enjoying our fellowship.” I’m not sure I would use the term ritual here; to people from our background, that doesn’t communicate. We do have ritual, as I pointed out earlier. We have ritual such that we have the Lord’s Table. We have baptism on occasion. What we do, even though we’re a more informal-type worship service, we do the same thing every week, and that is our form of ritual.
But as we go through that, and we focus on the Lord, we are reenacting in our minds, remembering what has been accomplished for us in terms of salvation, and when you, as a believer, here me give the gospel, you reaffirm in your mind that you have believed that. It doesn’t make you more saved or less saved, but the more I say it, the more you get that vocabulary engrained in your thinking, so when you try to the explain the gospel, the words come to your mind because you’ve heard me say it so much. That’s part of worship.
Then his last point, I think, is a great point: “All with the confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in glory.” There is a past, present, and future aspect to his definition on worship. We’re celebrating the fact that in the past, we have trusted in Christ and God has, for the Church Age believer, placed us in union with Christ. We are in union in an eternal fellowship and partnership—that’s part of the meaning of the word KOINONIA—with the eternal, infinite, holy God, the Creator God of the universe. That should blow our minds every time we think about that. That’s past, that’s phase one.
Phase two is part of the next part of it. We do it [worship] by means of reverent adoration and spontaneous praise of God. Now, spontaneous praise, unfortunately, in many churches, that’s all they do. There’s no planning, there’s no order, there’s no organization; there’s an over-emphasis on spontaneity. But it’s reverent, it’s respectful; that means there’s order there. That should tell us that whatever else we do in life, whatever we do when we come together in any kind of group meetings—whether it’s some kind of service club or community organization, or sports events or going to the theater—whatever we do in those types of environments, that is and should be qualitatively different from coming into the presence of the eternal, Creator God of the universe on a Sunday morning.
Think about that. What we see in so many churches is that the attitude that takes place on Sunday morning in the local church isn’t any different than going to some theatrical event, entertainment event, or some college classroom at the university. It loses the sense of focus on this God that the Bible tells us about.
Now that’s a pretty profound concept that we all have to think about a lot. I have to think about it a lot because we get into our little ruts that are very comfortable for us. But this is what this is focusing upon is that our worship of God is something that should have an impact on how we live.
When we leave a worship service we should be thinking a little bit differently about who we are and who God is, than when we came. It should be elevating our focus in life to the eternal plane of God’s character and God’s plan of action. It should not be something where we leave, and all of a sudden, we’re just like we were when we came—just another thing that we do—and we say, “Let’s go to a ball game,” or we go home and watch, or go and eat.
There’s nothing wrong with these things, but worship is something that is much more reverent than that. So, this isn’t coming together to just have a “good old boy time with Jesus and God,” which is what happens a lot in informal churches—that treat God like this
We have the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” that emphasizes an important truth: that Jesus, because He’s a man, and has a compassion for us and an understanding we can’t even fathom. But He’s the God that created everything. I think something like 60 percent of American Christians don’t believe in the full deity of Jesus.
We’ve brought God down to our level instead of contemplating God in such a way that we’re elevated in our understanding of who the Creator is, and what He has done to reach down and elevate the creature. So this is part of worship. It should challenge us when we worship, when we study the Word, and when we sing good hymns. It should challenge us to think about God in a more significant way.
A lot of churches have only 12 to 15 hymns. That’s why I like to sing more and more [hymns]. Over the course of time that I’ve been here, we’ve gone from initially about 15 hymns—everybody should get familiar with those—and then expanded it and expanded it. I would hope that we should have 35 to 40, and then 45 and press on to 60 or 70 [hymns]. There are so many great hymns, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that which we’ve heard before because part of the purpose for a hymn is to reorient our focus onto God.
In so many churches, that’s not what the singing does. It’s emotional; it brings the focus back to who we are; it’s all about us and not all about God. That’s one of the things we’re going to see here. For worship to be biblical worship, it has to be all about God. Now all of that brings us back to where I stopped last time.
When we think about worship, we think especially about music, there are two major mistakes that people make. One is that we interpret what we read in the Scripture about worship and music in terms of what we’ve seen in our own experience. In other words, we’ve seen people sing a certain way, and we’ve seen—I don’t want to take a show of hands, but I really do—praise dancing. If you’ve ever been at a church and seen praise dancing you won’t forget it. I’ll never forget the first time I saw praise dancing. I thought, what in the world is that all about? If you haven’t seen praise dancing, you’re really missing out, and are sheltered. I mean, wow. That gets into a whole new thing—the stories I could tell.
If you’ve seen that, and you come out of a church that does that, then when you read about David dancing before the Lord, you’re taking your experience and you’re reading that into what David did. That’s not good. That’s what we call interpreting Scripture on the basis of our experience. That’s always going to make you end up on the wrong side of biblical hermeneutics. So, that’s the first problem, dangerous presupposition, that we can interpret that in terms of our background.
The other [second mistake] is that, and this relates to dancing, is that this is ecstasy. That term comes up quite a bit in literature as I read it. This is a failure to understand the dynamic and the role of the Holy Spirit. Ecstasy expresses the modus operandi of the pagans and what they did, and how they tried to stimulate God. It’s what the prophets of Baal and Asherah were doing on Mt. Carmel.
They’re trying to get Baal’s attention and they’re dancing and they’re whirling around and they’re getting all worked up emotionally, and they’re cutting themselves and doing all of these things to try to get their god’s attention. And the contrast—we rarely think about what Elijah is doing there as worship, but notice the simplicity of it. He puts the wood down; he’s going to show that God is truly God, so he just soaks it in water and then he just steps back and calls upon God to accept the offering. It’s immediately incinerated. It shows how false their worship [pagan worship] is; it shows a contrast in the methodology of the pagans and the methodology of Elijah. There’s no mysticism going on there; there’s no ecstasy, there are no ecstatics with Elijah. So, these are the presuppositions.
Another part of the problem we see today, and it’s become very popular since the late 1980s, is for churches to get involved in something called spiritual formation. Among Protestants, it’s been given more of an acceptable definition, but this grew out of a return to Roman Catholic Medieval mysticism. You can’t separate the root from the fruit. It’s in every major seminary. They have these spiritual formation groups, and everybody sits around, and they’re supposed to confess their sins, but they never do. Nobody’s going to really get open and tell about all of their really dirty laundry to other people, especially if they think that it might get them kicked out of seminary. It’s superficial, but it’s this idea that that’s essential to spiritual growth. It goes on in a lot of churches today, and you’d be amazed at how many people get caught up in this.
There have been some noted situations where leaders like Francis Beckwith, who at the time he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, converted back to Roman Catholicism, which he had grown up with as a child. At the same time, he was a professor at Baylor University, which is a Baptist school. This is just absurd, but there are a lot of instances in the last 30 or 40 years.
When I went up to Connecticut, I was looking at some different evangelical schools up there thinking that, “well, I may go get my doctorate or finish my doctorate at one of them.” I looked at Gordon-Conwell, and I ran across an article somewhere on the Internet talking about the fact that the greatest problem Gordon-Conwell had faced the past 20 years, which would be from 1980 to 2000, was that like 14 to 15 percent of their students had gone Roman Catholic.
What’s going on here? You have people like Franky Schaeffer, the son of Francis Schaeffer, who went Greek Orthodox, then atheist; and who knows what he is today? These are noted issues that are going on in evangelicalism. What’s happened?
Then you have two or three Dallas [Theological] Seminary professors who went charismatic with the Wimber Movement back in the mid-1980s. I think it’s because they’re not walking with God. They’ve lost the whole concept of what it means to walk by means of the Spirit. Especially the intellectuals, the academics, they have made Christianity very academic, and they have lost their walk with the Lord. And then they try to recover this idea of godliness, and it’s like what Paul says, is they talk about godliness, but they deny the power of it. Then they start looking for experience.
Once you start looking for experience, if you’re an academic, you’ve got two directions you can go. You can go Pentecostal, which is what a couple of those guys did from Dallas [Theological] Seminary, or you go back to an ancient church tradition like Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic. It’s mystical, but it has a high value of intellectual development. You have Aquinas and Augustine, and Bonaventure, and you can challenge your mind and intellect at the same time. So, you don’t have to lower yourself to those Pentecostals, and you can maintain an intellectual respectability.
This is the kind of thing that is the result of carnality. So, the bottom line I said last week is that nothing that we have read indicates that anything in David’s structure is left unplanned, unrehearsed or impromptu, extemporaneous or spontaneous.
This takes us right back to “Introductory Comments on Worship and Music,” which is where I ended last time, but I wanted to go back and talk about this idea of what worship is to get you to think about that and be thinking about what that means for you when you come to church at any time. What is your mental attitude supposed to be?
In preparation, we often go through a time of silent prayer and confession, but that’s not when you and I should start preparing for worship on Sunday morning. We’ve lost this in our modern families, but if you go back 100 years, on Sunday morning, the family would gather together and eat breakfast and the father would read Scripture, and they would know what was going to happen at church that day. They would set the stage at that point, and then when they came home, whatever else they did on a Sunday, which was usually in many cases, you didn’t work. Nobody worked. You might have some chores on a farm to do, but it was treated as a special day. They would talk about what the message was, and Sunday was a set apart day because that was the Lord’s Day. That was a day to focus attention.
It’s not the Lord’s Day because we’re going to give Him an hour and a half out of the morning. It became a focal point for the whole day. But that’s really hard to do in today’s world—you’ve got your smart phones, your tablet, computers, music, and all the different activities and everything to—to just stop it all and focus and bring God back as a central focus on what is happening on Sunday morning. These are some things for all of us to be challenged to think about.
“Father thank You for this opportunity to study, to reflect, to think about what it means to genuinely worship You, in what we do when we come to church, when we sing, when we are involved in communion and other aspects of our corporate worship. Help us to think about these things and to reflect upon what the Scripture teaches that we may appropriately and truly honor and reverence You in our services. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”