Category Archives: Worship

If Your Worship Isn’t Exciting, It’s My Fault

Well…apparently, it’s my responsibility to make sure our worship services are exciting.  If the tenor of the service is flat, monotonous, or boring, then I haven’t done a good job.  I suppose I must be a cheerleader for Jesus, and shout performance commands to the audience.

Yep, the audience.  Because, if our worship service doesn’t resemble a Rolling Stones concert, then it just ain’t getting it done.  The music, the lights, the subwoofer, a bit of smoke, the house lights down…these are ways to generate excitement, and they’re all to be used to manipulate a feeling of excitement.

And, here I am, thinking that the response of redeemed sinners is what worship is all about.  Silly me.  I should have known that manipulating emotions in worship to present the facade that we’re happy being Christians is what is required of me.  Go figure.

Bob Kauflin writes an excellent response to someone who has been asked to make the worship at his church “more exciting.”  In “How Exciting Should Our Sunday Meetings Be?”, Kauflin gives scriptural direction to what our worship gatherings should be.  He says,

Our greatest need when we gather is not simply to feel excited, but to encounter God: to engage with the certainty of his sovereignty, the reality of his authority, the comfort of his mercy in Christ, and the promise of his grace. We need to be strengthened for the battles against the world, our flesh, and the devil that will confront us the moment we wake up Monday morning, if not before. Mere emotional excitement, however it might be produced, won’t be sufficient. We need God’s Word clearly expounded, God’s gospel clearly presented, and God’s presence clearly experienced…Our efforts to make our meetings exciting can actually end up obscuring what our congregations need the most.

I agree with Kauflin.  I encourage you to read the entire article, because Kauflin states that our gatherings on Sunday should be exciting.  That excitement should be a natural response to what God has done through Jesus Christ.  Don’t rely on me to create the joy of your salvation.  Look to your own heart, your own soul, and your own mind for the response to the One who saved you.

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The Correct Way to Worship in the Church

The correct way to worship in the church.

That’s a loaded statement.  And, it’s one we need to discuss.  While the answer may elude us, and more questions may arise than answers, the way we worship in our various churches is a serious matter that needs to be part of a larger conversation that includes culture, society, and the rise of secularism we’re witnessing right now.

Our ship is taking on water, and some, instead of bailing, are filling up the boat by the bucketfuls.

Identifying the Problem

In our worship meetings, it is often difficult to distinguish between worship of an almighty God and the concert arena.  All manner of elements have become part of our worship, and it is difficult to distinguish between the sacred and secular.  What is part of one can easily be imported from the other.  Music, with it’s performance cousins sound and lighting, are at times indistinguishable from the concert in the arena.  Preaching, too, can resemble a self-help book or an afternoon “fix-your-life” TV show.  The line between sacred and profane is, at times, blurred at best.

If you’re an 80 year-old, don’t blame me.  It’s not my fault.  And, I (a 53 year-old), will certainly not place blame on those 20-something year-old worship leaders.  We – all of us – have simply repeated history.

It’s His Fault

The line between sacred and secular in our worship services was blurred a long time ago by a guy named Constantine.  In the early 4th century, Constantine, the emperor of the Roman world, legalized Christianity.  No longer were Christians persecuted for their beliefs.  No longer were they seen as a problem in the empire.  Instead, Christians, who had to make a deliberate decision to follow in The Way, could come out into the open and live their faith.  They were free…and free to worship.

What once was done in secret in a believer’s house, could now be done in the middle of the city in the temple.  Preachers could wear their robes, singers could sing louder, and everyone could attend the weekly gathering of saints.  From the catacombs to the city square, believers made the joyous procession to worship God.

However, the gatherings that once focused on the “writings of the Apostles”, to praying, to giving alms, to caring for the widow and orphan, and breaking bread to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus, became infected from the outside.  All those who now freely came brought with them their previous pagan practices and slowly, surely incorporated them into Christian worship.  What was once a singular expression of believers was now being corrupted by a pagan, or secular, society.

The Liturgy

In the book Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views, Timothy Quill, a Lutheran pastor, proposes a focus on the historic Liturgy of the church.  The liturgy is simply the elements included in worship, and may be a word many are unfamiliar with.

Liturgy – from the Greek leitourgia – is used in the New Testament man times whenever worship is discussed.  The word literally means public service, and in the early church referred to the acts of worship.  It’s from that Greek word that we get ‘liturgy’, and it is used to describe what we do as a church when we worship.

Before you dismiss the word, thinking that your church doesn’t incorporate a liturgy in its Sunday gatherings, know that your church does indeed have a liturgy.  It may be an unintentional liturgy, but it’s a liturgy, nonetheless.

Think about your Sunday morning service.  How does it usually begin? An upbeat song?  And then, what usually follows that? A prayer? And then, some more songs, and so on?  That pattern, that weekly way of doing worship at your church is a liturgy.  It’s the accepted way and followed by your congregation weekly, and it says a lot about your church.

Quill tells us that “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church.  Liturgy articulates doctrine.”  That means how you worship says much about what you believe.  Some churches observe communion every Sunday.  Others will have a time set aside for manifestation of spiritual gifts.  Others will sing a few songs, then hear an hour-long sermon.  Still, others will read scripture from a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel.  All of it says much about what is important to you and your church.

What Liturgy Should Do

In his article, Quill clearly states that liturgy is not style.  Music is not limited by preferences.  Preaching, too, is not a stylistic issue.  While we all have preferences, we can’t equate those to liturgy.  Liturgy has one purpose, and that is to reflect the gospel.

In some churches, the liturgy will be divided into the liturgy of the Word (preaching and scripture) and the liturgy of the Table (the Lord’s Supper).  Within these two parts is the opportunity to express the gospel – who God is, who man is, what Christ has done, and how we respond.

Quill goes on to say that the liturgy provides “a common biblical and theological understanding of how man acts in God’s presence and, more importantly, how God has chosen to be present and how God acts towards those gathered in his name.”

My Conclusion

A liturgy will help us stayed focused on God and the gospel.  It will help us, too, keep the secular influences out of our worship, an act of public service that is unique to believers who celebrate the gospel.  If we are to be an influence in our society, then we must focus on what makes us different and what gives us hope – God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Focusing on the gospel in our worship is the correct way to worship.  Any time we stray from that, and allow something other than the gospel to be proclaimed and lived, we become no different from the pagans.

Let our liturgy proclaim the gospel.

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Church History: Has our worship strayed too far?

Throughout ecclesiastical history, there have always existed those who sought purity in the church.  The aim, of course, was to worship correctly, and in accord with scripture.  Whenever the Church has veered off course, corrections were attempted to supposedly make things right.  The Reformation, among other things, marked a return to the centrality of preaching in worship.  The American Restoration Movement,  which grew out of the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century, sought to unify all Christians and return the Church to its New Testament form, especially in regard to worship.

If we want to know if we’ve corrupted worship in the Church, we need to return to the beginning.  While the New Testament gives us bits and pieces of direction for worship, the scriptures are silent regarding a complete liturgy.  Many would expand on this, discussing old covenant and new covenant comparisons; still others would point us to the belief that New Testament worship points to a lifestyle and less to a form (a view I would hold to).  Regardless, while that discussion is beyond the scope of this history lesson, it serves us well to return to the early New Testament Church.

In A.D. 150, Justin Martyr, a defender of the Christian who lived during Christian persecutions and was himself persecuted by Roman authorities, gives us the earliest account of what the actually did when they gathered to worship.  In his First Apology, he writes,

On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the “Amen.” A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.

We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun) he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught these things, which we have offered for your consideration.

Dr. Everett Ferguson, professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University, gives us a line-by-line explanation of Justin Martyr’s account in How We Christians Worship (Christian History Institute, issue 37).  It’s a thorough explanation of the practice of Christians not far removed from lives of the first Christians.

Has our worship strayed too far from the early Church? One thing is clear – the early Church was focused on several things: reading scripture, applying it to life, celebrating their salvation by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, and taking care of those in the church.  The other thing is this: in today’s church, we may be more concerned about what we get from worship rather than what we give.

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Lighting in Worship: Bright or Dim?

31zch6QiheL._SY300_In Christianity Todaythere is a monthly feature titled “Under Discussion,” where one of the magazine’s writers poses a question – always a bit controversial – and then lists the responses in descending order from ‘yes’ to ‘maybe’ to ‘no.’  The responses are usually from well-known experts in the topic.  Obviously, the magazine feature is designed to elicit discussion beyond those of the experts, so the comments which follow the online article are numerous and varied.

Dim the Lights

One such article in last month’s issue centered on worship.  The title of the feature was “Under Discussion: Should Churches Dim the Lights for Worship?”  The answers from the experts were interesting.  Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship at Hope College, who is much in favor of dimming the lights, stated,

The ability to ‘turn down’ the lights probably best encapsulates the lighting levels for Christian worship for centuries, when the ‘brightness’ of modern lights was not a possibility. Lights that are too bright can make it difficult to experience a gathered sense of corporate worship.

If we follow this logic, then to really encapsulate the feeling of worship centuries ago, we’ll need to shut off the A/C, throw out the pews, and do away with our modern texts and hymnals.

Don’t Dim the Lights

At the opposite end of the discussion, Bob Kauflin, director, Sovereign Grace Music, took the position that we should never dim the lights in our worship.  He states,

No. Aesthetic elements should support and complement our response to God’s Word and the gospel, not overpower it, distract from it, or be the foundation for it. Every time in history the church has overly emphasized aesthetic and artistic elements, the gospel has suffered.

As a worship leader, I’ll land squarely on the “don’t dim the lights” side of this argument.  Kauflin addressed this same issue on his website, Worship Mattersin February.  While Kauflin does understand the reasons for turning the lights down, he majors on four reasons to leave the lights up.  You can read his article here.

As I’ve led worship in the Church for the past 25 years, I’ve experienced both lighted and dimmed worship, and I’ve made the decision to dim the lights or leave them bright in worship gatherings.  In some situations, such as a Christmas program, I’ve called for the house lights to be dimmed.  This situation is more ‘presentation’ than worship.  In our Tenebrae service, we’ll dim the lights as candles are extinguished to convey the feeling of darkness – that the light of the world has been put to death.  Needless to say, lights are full on Easter Sunday morning.

The Church Gathered

I think the main thing we all have to consider is as we think about this is the congregation.  The Church gathered is meant to experience fellowship and encouragement as we sing about and proclaim the gospel.  We gather strength from knowing that we all are sinners saved by the grace of God, and that our hope is in a sovereign, almighty God.

Kauflin sums up the issue clearly when he says,

When we start quantifying worship by the lighting and mood, we’re already in trouble. We’ve slipped from viewing worship as a Spirit-enabled response to God’s self-revelation in the gospel to seeing it as an emotional experience that can be humanly produced and manipulated. Worship is not simply a mood. Aesthetic elements should support and complement our response to God’s Word and the gospel, not overpower it, distract from it, or be the foundation for it.

God has given us means to motivate and affect people – the Word, prayer, the gospel. He’s given us the Lord’s Supper and baptism as visual and sensory ways to remember the gospel and its implications. Aesthetics are important, but secondary. Every time in history the church has overly emphasized aesthetic and artistic elements the gospel has suffered.

So, what do you think?  Should our worship gatherings be brightly lit, or should we dim the lights?

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Perseverance: a faith that endures to the end

london confessionOne of the benefits of studying history is that we discover the commonality we have with those who’ve gone before us.  As believers, this is especially good because, as the writer of Hebrews says, we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” and this bolsters our faith.

The Second London Confession of 1689 was a statement of beliefs written by the English (Particular) Baptists in 1689 (the first one written in 1644).  It follows closely to The Westminster Confession (1646), though in its original title, the Baptists are clear that the confession is for and by those who are “baptized upon profession of their faith.”  In the 18th century, the Philadelphia Association of Baptist Churches (1707) adopted it as their confession.

Regarding perseverance, the Second London Confession states,

Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved…This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

There is comfort in knowing, like our brothers and sisters in Christ in 17th century London and 18th century Philadelphia, that the God who accepts us in Jesus Christ, and who calls us, sanctifies us, and empowers us with faith, will keep us to the end.

The salvation that God begins in us, He will keep to the end.  Hallelujah!

Soli Deo gloria.

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Forgiveness, Mercy, and Forgetfulness

Good words, here. Something we all have trouble with, and need to correct. Thank you Ricky, for reminding us.

The Crabtrees

It’s  been a while, eh?

Forgiveness has been on my mind lately.  I’ve asked for forgiveness from more individuals than I’d like to admit, and usually received it.  However if I wrong someone, by either intentional or unintentional circumstances, the thought always crosses my mind if they’ve completely forgiven me or if some residual malcontent still exists toward me.  Forgiveness can’t be obtained without forgetfulness.  Obviously it’s unrealistic to think the memory of any wrongdoing can simply be extracted from the brain with no recollection at all.  Memories remain.  It’s what we choose to do with those memories that defines our character.  “Forgive and forget” means showing mercy.  If I know one of my closest friends couldn’t show mercy toward me, it would affect our relationship.  But…  the friends who love me enough to push aside any animosity after forgiveness are the closest relationships I have.  Admittedly, this is something…

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A Worship Checklist

GivingHandsIn his book True WorshipVaughan Roberts provides a checklist for us as we approach worship.  This is helpful not only on this Sunday morning, but is meant to be checked every other day of the week as well.

As you prepare to worship, check…

1.  Your relationship with yourself.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8 ESV)

2.  Your relationship with other Christians.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:9-16 ESV)

3.  Your relationship with your enemies.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:16-21 ESV)

4.  Your relationship to authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

5.  Your relationship to God’s standards.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:8-14 ESV)

 

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