If Scripture stands against our natural and cultural bent towards innovative worship, it also provides a biblical pattern for the kind of worship God requires. Last week I considered the first problem—namely, the problem(s) with man-made worship. This week, I want to show how a pattern of worship repeats throughout the Bible.
Actually, Jonathan Gibson has provided this biblical-theological survey already. In his chapter “Worship On Earth as It Is in Heaven,” in Reformation Worship, he traces a basic pattern of worship from Genesis to Revelation. In what follows, I’ll employ some of his findings to help us see what “biblical” worship looks like.
Worship in Eden: The Basic Pattern
The basic pattern of worship begins even before the Fall. In Genesis 2:15–17 Adam is commanded to “serve” and “guard” in the garden-temple of Eden. These verbs are used later to speak of the priestly service of Levites. From the light of later revelation, we can see worship is not something that emerged after redemption. It was the reason why God made humanity in the first place.
And thus, Jonathan Gibson lists the basic elements of worship like this:
- Call to Worship (through God’s Word)
- Response (by faith and obedience, love and devotion)
- Fellowship meal (union and communion with God)
Reflecting on this prelapsarian (i.e., before the Fall) worship, he states,
Adam was commanded to fast from one tree in order that he might feast at another three, and thus enjoy consummate union and communion with God—everlasting life. And so, for Adam and all his descendants, a liturgy was fixed, stitched into the very order and fabric of human life on earth: call–response–meal. (4) Continue reading
On Sunday we began a new sermon series considering what Scripture teaches about worship. Over the summer we will learn from Moses, David, and Paul, but this first Sunday we began by hearing what Moses said about God’s pattern for worship at Sinai.
While our worship is not at Mount Sinai, but Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22–24), the pattern of worship revealed to Israel teaches us about the worship God desires for those who have been saved by Christ. From the revealed worship at Sinai, we begin to see what God has in store for his church.
This week’s sermon considers this “revealed worship” and what it means for us today. You can listen online. Below are response questions and additional resources for studying what Scripture says about worship. Continue reading
In his illuminating book, A Secular Age (summarized here), Charles Taylor argued the unbelief handed down to us from the Enlightenment, coupled with new religious expressions in the 19th century, and accelerated by the sexual revolution of the “Sixties,” has resulted in many and competing spiritual longings that live somewhere between belief and unbelief.
In short, we are living in an “age of authenticity,” where expressive individualism seeks to satisfy personal appetites in quasi-spiritual ways. On one hand, our age eschews organized religion and the constraints of any spiritual authority—be it a codified text or clerical leaders. Whereas faith in the divine was nearly impossible at the Middle Ages, in our day unbelief is becoming increasingly normative. On the other hand, our age is not satisfied with nihilistic unbelief. Spirituality abounds, even when such spiritual longings and beliefs are left undefined. In short,
People are increasingly looking for a life of greater immediacy, spontaneity and spiritual depth than can be provided for them in the immanent order of unbelief, while on the other hand many do not find the authenticity and wholeness that they desire in the established (mobilised) forms of religion. (From a summary of A Secular Age)
In this space, individuals and affinity groups continue to create new ways of spiritual living and corporate (read: customized) worship. As a result, it is hardly surprising that sincerity, not truth, is considered to be the greatest good for worship today. What defines spiritual worship is an interior experience, not conformity to a moral standard or faithfulness to God’s revealed will.
How far we have fallen! Even in the church, where people and pastors know and want to know God (or do they?), this all-consuming desire for spiritual authenticity authorizes worship leaders to invent new ways of worship. Yet, when we go back to the Bible, we learn that sincerity is never enough for true worship. Rather, worship that pleases God is patterned after God’s revelation itself. And we who long to worship God in Spirit and Truth must learn again from God how he wants to be worshiped. Continue reading
I suggest that, on one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry—which promises an erotically charge transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination—is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology then much of the (evangelical) church. In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures whose being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they ‘get it’: they rightly understand that, at root, we our erotic creatures—creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret.
– James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 76 –
What is Augustine’s secret?
In my first post on this subject, I traced James K. A. Smith’s argument that we are more than just thinking beings. We are loving beings, people of deep desires, who are powerfully shaped by our habits and practices (hence homo liturgicus). As Augustine put it, there exists within humanity, two kinds of cities—the City of God and the City of Man. And each city is driven by a particular kind of love; one ordered by the kingdom of God, the other by the kingdom of this age. This is (part of) Augustine’s secret, one that he discovered himself as he came out of a lifestyle of deep sexual sin.
In truth, made in the image of a God who exults over his people with loud singing (Zechariah 3:17) and burns with fire in his righteous jealousy (Exodus 20:5; Hebrews 12:29), we are a people of great passion. Passions are what drive us, and our bodies (with their faculties of thinking or acting) serve as instrument to express and carry out these passions. Accordingly, it is impossible cultivate virtue or eradicate vice with mental effort alone. We must “learn to control our bodies” (1 Thessalonians 4:4) and use our bodies as instruments which bring God glory (1 Corinthians 6:18–19).
But how? Continue reading
In the Bible, the word “election” is used in a number of ways. For instance, in Matthew 24 Jesus speaks of “the elect” (vv. 22, 24, 31); in Romans 9 Paul explains “God’s purpose of election” (v. 11); and in Ephesians 1:4–6, Paul says the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world,” and “in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” These are but three examples that undergird the doctrine of election.
While debated, the doctrine is plainly biblical. ‘Chose,’ ‘elect,’ ‘election,’ and ‘predestined’ are Bible words. And when they are read in conjunction with passages that speak of God’s unique relationship with his sheep (John 10:26), his children (John 11:51–52), the ones given to the Son before the foundation of the world (John 17), and his appointment of some to believe (Acts 13:48), the evidence for unconditional election is incredibly strong. As George Mueller said of the doctrines that he once thought “devilish,”
Being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said, I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths. To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.
That being said, my point is not so much to advance a theological argument for the doctrine of election, but to observe more plainly how the Bible speaks of election. As Mueller stated, the New Testament authors assumed election was true. It was, in fact, part of their cultural heritage. The Jewish people were the covenant people because God chose them from among the nations (Deut 7:7). Yahweh blessed apart from the Gentiles (Rom 9:1–3). Accordingly, the doctrine of election is commonplace in the New Testament. Continue reading
Could it be that Christ-centered Christians can all too easily forget that the God of the cross is also the God of creation?
Not long ago I was visiting with some church leaders and the topic of transgender persons came up. While a number of good strategies were mentioned about sharing the gospel with them (and all people who sinfully rejected God’s moral norms for their sex lives) there were questions about what is wrong with a man desiring to be a woman, or the reverse. “Which verse does a transgender person violate?” was the question.
The short answer (and this again goes for all persons) is “all of them.” In Adam, all of us are guilty before our maker (Rom 5:12, 18–19). By nature, we are inveterate rebels. We don’t need a verse addressing our specific manifestation of sin, although there are plenty. The whole Bible speaks to the sinful condition of mankind—transgender persons included. Just read Romans 1:18–32 or Albert Mohler’s insightful “Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis.” Sexual morality is far more than keeping all the laws.
But specific answers aside, I think there is a larger need in evangelical churches—namely, the remembrance that we do not worship God as Redeemer only, but also as Creator. In fact, in biblical revelation he is first Creator first, then Redeemer. And even in redemption, the goal is new creation—personal (2 Cor 5:17) and cosmic (Matt 19:28; Revelation 21–22).
In sharing the gospel, we must not forget that sin is not just law-breaking; it is anything that opposes or deviates from God’s created design. But we will only remember this doctrine of creation, if we give ourselves to worship God as Creator.
And for that reason, I offer give you six ways God’s creation should move you to worship and evangelize. Continue reading
Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen,
but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.
— Romans 11:22 —
When God created Adam and Eve, he endowed them with a holy calling to worship Him. In fact, made for God’s glory, it was the chief design of humanity to worship and serve the Creator—not only in holy assembly but in every human endeavor (cf. Col 3:17, 23).
Sadly, this original design was lost when the first couple rebelled against God (Gen 3:1–6). Seeking to be like God, they spurned their Creator. As Paul puts it, “For although they knew God, they did no honor him as God or give thanks to him, . . . Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” of created things (Rom 1:21–23).
The Idolatry of Self
In context, Paul is speaking about Gentiles, but indeed, he is using the backdrop of the Garden to explain the source of humanity’s sin. In a word, sin finds its source in idolatry (cf. Jer 2:13). Human hearts are compelled to worship, but after Eden, the Adam’s offspring worship what their hands can make, what their minds can imagine. Even the most avowed atheist cannot stop worshiping—even if he only worships himself. Continue reading
Yesterday, I raised concerns with the popular song “Above All” by Michael W. Smith. For some time, I have taken theological issue with the central lyric of the song:
Like a rose / Trampled on the ground
You took the fall / And thought of me
Those last two lines have always made me stumble because of the way they seem to eclipse God with humanity. I’ve always heard them as making the claim that Christ thought more of me than he did of God—which I argued reverses the God-centered nature of the universe and the cross.
For that reason, I was theologically opposed to the song. While I could sing the rest of the song with delight, I always cringed as the chorus neared. Hence, I set out to write these reflections so as to expose the errant chorus. However, a funny thing happened along the way—I read the lyrics again (and again) and this time in context.
Unlike any time before, I read the chorus in light of the whole song. Not surprisingly, reading it context provided greater light. But surprisingly, I had to adjust my thinking for I realized that if I (or we) let the song define its own terms—a principle of general hermeneutics—it does not ascribe humanity to a place higher than God. In fact, the song rightly retains a high view of God’s sovereignty and the dignity assigned to humanity, as the pinnacle of creation. Continue reading
Crucified / Laid behind a stone
You lived to die/ Rejected and alone
Like a rose / Trampled on the ground
You took the fall/ And thought of me
These words, the chorus of the song “Above All,” have echoed in evangelical churches far and wide. On the whole I like the song, it’s first two stanzas testify to the universal sovereignty of God. However, as it enters the chorus, the sweeping sovereignty of God appears to be displaced by a form of sentimentalized love that is all too common in our self-exalting century.
The theological problem that some have with this song comes at its climax, the point that the whole song drives towards. In that final line, “Above All” ostensibly leaves the high ground of God’s sovereignty (“above all kingdoms / above all thrones / above all wonders the world has ever known”) to frolic in the marshes of ego-boosting self-esteem (God “thought of me above all”).
Intended to express breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s unfathomable love, Michael W. Smith’s lyrics come close to severing the root of God’s love by leading the chorus to sing that God in his love thought about me “above all.” I say close, instead of actually committing the act, because I think upon closer inspection “above all” in the chorus should be delimited by the earlier “all” statements.
Tomorrow, I will show how I think “Above All” can serve as a God-exalting worship song, but today let me unpack the theological truth that has led many to take issue with this song, namely that the highest purpose of the cross is not directed towards man, but towards God himself. Continue reading
Performing in the flesh is shorthand for doing work unto the Lord in your own strength, by your own wisdom, and with your own will power. In short, it is service without spiritual grace, and Satan loves to seduce you with it. Such Spirit-less service may be outwardly beautiful, relationally effective, or even successful, but because it is done without faith, it displeases God (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6) and bears no lasting fruit. Sadly because our hearts are deceitful we may even call such unbelieving service good, when God does not. For that reason, it is always right to return to the Word and ask: What does God say?
What service does God find pleasing? What counterfeit performances originate in unbelief? And how can we tell the difference? Continue reading