Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Conversation of Worship - A Proposed Definition

The entire article entitled "The Conversation of Worship" can be found here.

True biblical worship has primarily to do with a glad and necessary response of life to the truth about God communicated in his Word through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In the first place, biblical worship is inseparably connected with truth about God. Man, by nature, is a worshipper. He has an instinctive awareness of something bigger than himself, and he is therefore always in search of this “something bigger.” It is manifested in daily life in the virtual idol status that is given to athletes, actors or actresses, successful businessmen, and even church leaders, who are seen as possessing one or more characteristics that evoke a sense of awe and amazement. Yet this instinct for worship can only be truly satisfied in God alone. Man worships at the altar of lesser gods—people, pleasures, or ideas—because he has no compelling vision of the greatness of the one true and living God. Until such a vision is gained, man’s instinct to worship will be pursued in these lesser gods.

The instinct to worship derives from the image of God in man. In every human, there is the innate knowledge of the transcendent God. It is a knowledge mediated both internally (through conscience; Rom 2:14-16) and externally (through creation; Psa 19:1-4; Rom 1:18-20). However, this knowledge is only completed and made intelligible through the special revelation of God. In this age, only through Scripture can the truth about God be known in such a way as to call forth genuine worship.

In the second place, biblical worship is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Mankind, by nature and choice, is sinful. Sin has affected every area of his being, including his mind and affections resulting in man’s inability to properly process truth respond to it appropriately. The problem of sin is an insurmountable barrier to the worship of God apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, worship took place in conjunction with the sacrifices in accord with the revelation of God, sacrifices which pictured the coming final sacrifice of Christ. In the New Testament, we recognize that “God…in these last days, has spoken to us in his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The perfection of Christ combined with his work on the cross is the only way to remove the sin problem, and therefore is the sole ground on which we can approach God in true worship. Worship that is not based on the person and work of Jesus Christ is worship that cannot deal with sin. Therefore, sin must be dealt with by the work of Christ in his life and death and by the confession and submission of the worshipper to the lordship of Christ. By doing this, the mind and affections can be prepared to receive the truth of God, wherever it is found in Scripture.

In the third place, biblical worship is a glad and necessary response of man. Having received the cleansing of sin brought by Christ and having received the truth of God brought by Scripture, there is a response drawn forth from the heart of man that employs his whole being—mind, will, and emotions. We first note that the response is drawn forth by the truth, not worked up by manipulation. Many worship services in modern churches depend heavily on the ability of the worship leaders (whether the pastor or the musicians) to manipulate a response from the hearers. Before one jump too heavily on the use of certain types of music or humor, we should not fail to admit that emotional stories and thirty-seven verses of “Just As I Am” with the choir humming softly in the background is scarcely different. When someone comes face to the face with the truth about God from God, the response will not need to be manipulated. It will be drawn forth irresistibly or necessarily. While manipulation can ply on the emotions, only truth can break the heart and the will. The truth about God clearly communicated will compel the tender heart to submission. Only sin (hardheartedness against the truth) can prevent the response.

The response should also be glad. Worship should be joyful. This joyful worship should not be confused with loudness and energy, physical demonstration, or gladness of heart, though it may include all of those things. Glad worship can also take place in times of quiet reflection, in times of mourning over sin and the sweetness of repentance, and in times of struggle with life circumstances. Gladness in worship is the state of the heart overwhelmed with the sovereign control of a loving and just God, no matter the life context. Such a heart may grieve and cry, but it will be glad in God. Gladness in worship is not contrary to sorrow for sin brought on by truth, or sadness for what may be a difficult life circumstance. It is a part of it.

It is sometimes said that “Worship is all about God, not about us.” Such a statement is well-meaning, but is perhaps an overstatement. While worship is driven solely by truth about God and directed solely to God, biblical worship does have effects in the life of the worshipper. Worship is designed by God, not only to bring glory to himself, but to bring confidence and joy to the worshipper. Psalms, the hymnbook of ancient Israel, is filled with references to the effect that truth rejoiced in and reflected back to God has in the life of the worshipper. Singing with joy (Psa 92:4) or gladness (Psa 30:11), or finding comfort (Psa 86:17) or assurance (Psa 118:6) is a legitimate effect of worship on the worshipper. Thus, the pursuit of personal joy through genuine worship is a valid biblical pursuit, provided that the soul finds this joy in the incomparable greatness of God as revealed in Scripture. This pursuit, however, is secondary to praising God for the sake of God himself, both for his character (who he is) and his works (what he does). A theology of worship that removes any benefit for the worshipper seems most assuredly a defective view of worship.

In the fourth and final place, true biblical worship is the response of life. Too often, worship is relegated to an hour on Sunday morning where the church corporately gathers with her guests to sing, pray, give, and hear the Word preached. These services are sometimes considered dead and lifeless. Perhaps the reason why many worship services are considered dead and lifeless is because people have failed to worship God with their life for the previous 167 hours and will leave to return to a life of self-worship rather than God worship. The worship of Sunday morning is, in many respects, a continuation of what has occurred for the past week. A life spent consuming the world for six days will find it hard to hunger for God in true worship on the seventh day. Worship is a time for the readjustment of priorities and realignment of lives, but one hour a week can scarcely undo the disorder brought by the modern consumer mindset.

For worship to be biblical, therefore, it must be a glad and necessary response of life to the truth about God communicated in his Word through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Biblical worship is not about how people feel when they leave the building, nor is it about whether or not emotions were stirred, though genuine worship should result in changed feelings and emotions. Biblical worship is first and foremost about the truth of God, in his person and work through Jesus Christ, communicated to the hearer, drawing forth the response of the spirit to that truth. Simply put, biblical worship is a conversation between man and God, where God speaks and man responds.

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