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Worship: Transcendent and/vs Immanent

When we worship, we come to worship God Who is three times holy. In corporate worship we are in God’s house, and so we should act like it. Reverence is understandable in light of who God is. He is transcendent, He surpasses all our ideas, thoughts and opinions about Him, He is majestic, seated in the heavenlies.  Now while some think that the transcendence of God means that He is ‘unknowable’, and this is misleading. God has been speaking to mankind for a long time, and has revealed Himself in the Holy Scriptures.

What transcendence means is that God is not us. He is infinitely superior to us. He is the Sovereign King, infinitely majestic and glorious (Psalm 36:6; 1 Samuel 2:2). God is God and we are not. This is perhaps the most helpful attitude we can cultivate when we meet in worship.

The correct response to God’s transcendence is reverence, honour and esteem. When people in Scripture found themselves in God’s presence they were never flippant or casual (Exodus 20:18; Isaiah 6:5; Revelation 1:17), and this is vital since “our God is a consuming fire,” we are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Huge beautiful cathedrals help us to grasp this sometimes, with their incredible ceilings, stained-glass windows, and hallowed halls, we here sense a bit of our smallness before the Almighty God. Formal liturgies are also helpful, with their carefully chosen devout words, said in reverence. Hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” impress the reality of God’s transcendence and otherness upon us.

Worship that looses sight of this truth approaches God casually. In our desire to help others see God as more approachable we must never forget that God is wholly unlike us. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isaiah 46:9).

BUT, not only is God transcendent, He is also immanent, which means He is near to us. We are not deists, God does not remain distant and removed from creation, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The incarnation demonstrates this the best, for in the incarnation God took on flesh, Jesus is our brother, shepherd and Savior. His mercies are “new every morning” and He is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses (Lamentations 3:23; Hebrews 4:15). God is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew1:23; Isaiah 7:14).

Cathedrals do not help us to grasp God’s closeness very well. I think of Christ being a friend of sinner and tax collectors…

Many of the contemporary praise songs helps us sing not only about God, but to Him. Songs like “As the Deer”,  “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” and “My Jesus, my Savior” where we get a sense of God’s desire for us to know His nearness.

As a warning, I need to say, some songs make refer to God or Jesus as a friend in a way that makes Him sound like a buddy or sensual lover; this totally misses or skews the biblical idea. The Bible does say we are friend’s of God (John 15:14-15)… But D.A. Carson points out that “not once is Jesus or God ever described in the Bible as our friend. Of course in one sense Jesus is the best friend a poor sinner ever had. Nevertheless, that is not the terminology of Scripture, almost as if the Bible reluctant to descend into the kind of cheap intimacy that brings God or Jesus down to our level”[i].

I think perhaps a contemporary song which really captures the transcendence and yet grasps the nearness of God is “O Sacred Kind” by Matt Redman:

O Sacred King, O Holy King
How can I honour You rightly,
Honour that’s fit for Your name?
O Sacred friend, O Holy friend
I don’t take what You give lightly
Friendship instead of disgrace.

For it’s the mystery of the universe
You’re the God of holiness,
Yet You welcome souls like me
And with the blessing of Your Father’s heart
You disciple the ones You love
There’s kindness in Your majesty

Jesus those who recognize Your power
Know just how wonderful You are
That You draw near

How one does all of this practically will have to be worked out. One way may be to have different Sundays with a different focus, perhaps in line with the sermon, or to consciously make sure that there is a healthy mixture in each service. Perhaps the best way to keep this tension is to constantly remind ourselves of the gospel. In the Gospel we see a Holy, awesome God exacting wrath, and yet forgiveness, mercy, friendship and hope being expressed.

Spurgeon put it well when he said:

“I can admire the solemn and stately language of worship that recognizes the greatness of God, but it will not  warm my heart or express my soul until it has also blended therewith the joyful nearness of that perfect love that casts out fear and ventures to speak with our Father in heaven as a child speaks with its father on earth. My brother, no veil remains.[ii]“

I praise God for good Christians books that are the source of my thinking here.


[i] D.A Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 41

[ii] Charles H Spurgeon, The Power of the Cross of Christ, ed. Lance Wubbels (Lynnwood, WA: Emerald Books, 1995, 66.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2010 in Christianity

 

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Worship #5: Where to From Here?

I promised in my last article to write about the apparent short comings on the ‘Baptist Confession of Faith’s’ section on worship, however, the more I have been looking at it and comparing it to other creeds I feel that I would be making a mountain out of a mole hill. The real issue still lies in other places…

I think that a tradition, whether it is 500, 100 or 10 years old, suffers from the same problem; We start with Scripture, but eventually put our final authority in our own traditions or views.  This may be one of the reasons why we have such a hard time figuring out what God wants us to do when we worship.

Every generation of the church is responsible to weigh its tradition and practice against the final authority of God’s word, and to be honest God has not been as specific in this area as some might prefer. The bible doesn’t give an order of service that applies to all cultures at all times. Similarly the Bible commands us to respect one another, but in African culture respect is shown by not looking someone in the eye when talking, in European culture, one should maintain a degree of eye contact, so just as the way respect is shown varies in those two cultures, it will also vary in the way worship is preformed. For example the Old Testament is full of choirs, musicians, processions, priests, robes, annual celebrations and instrument praise; but how relevant are these things since the New Testament doesn’t even mention them? Should we come before God with singing, dancing and instruments like Psalm 149? Or are those things now forbidden in the New Testament command to worship God ‘with reverence and awe’ (Hebrews 12:28)?

I find so ironic, that some of my own reformed brothers would use the ‘regulative principle’ to forbid instruments in Church along with hymns and spiritual songs… and then only sing unaccompanied Psalms which constantly mentions instruments, dancing and the like? AT the same time my Charismatic friends would sing about the holiness of God and His majesty, and then treat worship in a cavalier, superficial and sentimentalist way.

Some Christians think God has said nothing about worship, but the need for me to refute this thinking is useless now since if anyone has read the bible in even a superficial way they will see the folly of this thinking (I pray). God hasn’t told us everything, but He certainly hasn’t been silent on the topic.

PRINCIPLES FOR FORM

I would like to at this point suggest the guiding principles for how the ‘form’ of worship should be decided upon and evaluated. (It is helpful at this point to have read my article on the varies parts of worship). What principles guide, not the ‘elements’ or ‘circumstances’ of worship, but the ‘form’?

  1. Do what God clearly commands (regulative principle without the exclusivity part)
  2. Don’t do what God clearly forbids (Normative principle)
  3. Use SCRIPTURAL wisdom for everything else

We need to recognize that God has not given us a prescribed order of service that defines biblical worship. However we must seek to faithfully apply biblical principles and examples.

Furthermore, we must grasp the vital role that faith plays in corporate worship. Thus we never want ‘our way’ of doing things to replace vibrant real trust in the finished work of Christ to make our worship acceptable.

The next few blogs will be on how I think these principles should be applied in around 9 different tensions (I hope to make these blogs on worship more regular than once a week as we climb to the crescendo now). I also intent of shortly releasing a questionnaire that I trust will cause us to evaluate if indeed we are applying certain principles in our church.

For the growth and maturity of the Church as we all strive for the unity of the faith.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2010 in Christianity, Doctrine, Worship

 

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Worship #2: WHY ARE WE WHERE WE ARE?

If you are starting to read this blog now, I encourage you to start on Worship #1, to get the full gist of the development of my thought. Today I wish to consider what I think we are  three major reasons for why we are where we are in worship… and why the subject is so controversial.

1)      Reactionism: People see an error and assume that the opposite must be truth, so they swing. If the Protestants had done this when they reacted against the heresies in the Roman Catholic Church of the 1500’s we would have abandoned the doctrine of the Trinity. Sometimes people are in a church where there is cold dead orthodox worship, and because they feel no heart there, they assume the opposite must be right, and go to the extreme of pure emotionalism.

On the other hand some people go to a charismatic type church and see people swinging and swaying and dancing and barking like dogs and all manner  of things, or perhaps they just hear endless choruses of empty words that sound no different to contemporary love songs, so they assume the opposite must be right, and go over to the cold dead guys.

2)      Ignorance of History: Some people enter the whole realm of dealing with worship as if they are the first people in history to get into the debate, they often end up trying to re-invent the wheel so to speak, but never really get anywhere. Imagine every scientist began his/her study, starting off with trying to work out the table of elements! There are confessions of faith and major articles written by godly men in history who have thought deeply on some issues we don’t even know are applicable to the subject. Works like the 1689 Baptist confession of Faith chapter 22, or the Westminster Confession of Faith

3)      Ancientariansim: This is the word I assign to those who think that, because we have always done things like this, it must be the right way to do it. Because we have always understood this way of doing worship to be biblical , our older understanding must be right. This is also a major error, praise God that Luther didn’t think like that when he started challenging the Romanists on their ‘old’ errors. Really what often happens in this case is that peoples ‘older style’ (which exists due to limitations of the time) become equal with Scripture or at least the supposed sole application of Scripture.

Let me say that perhaps the major issue relating to worship, which summarizes the three mentioned above, is a lack of going back to the Scriptures, as well as a lack of love and understanding. Till next time, mull these things over

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Christianity, Worship

 

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Worship #1: Where is the Church?

I have been in Christian churches long enough to know there is much debate about worship, worship styles and such things. The spectrum ranges from people who say that Biblical worship must be boring and cause you to long for the 2nd coming, or the other group that says worship should be like what we all did in Sunday school, just a wish-washy of good feelings and fun. Have you ever wondered about what is God honoring worship? Has it even crossed your mind that the way you practice worship may be displeasing to God?

I think most of us (though by grace not all) would not be able to say we have thought about it. Because we are in the ‘worship-culture’ that we are in, and we have given ourselves the’ necessary proofs’, we feel we are okay, all the others must be wrong. This is a natural problem, and when looking at people in history we often remark that ‘they are a product of their time’. It is with this in mind that I wish to write about worship for the next little while and add my 50c to the discussion as we all strive to the unity of the faith. I will attempt to be brief and yet simple so that I don’t lose people who are new to the historic aspect of the debate, or who are not familiar with tons of theological jargon.

There are two extremes of people who are reading this, and both are coming at it from different angles, I wish to address the extremes, and hope that I hit every one who is in the middle as well.

Moving Along

There are people who say, “It doesn’t matter how you worship, as long as your heart is in the right place”, “It’s all about sincerity” etc. Have you ever thought that way? I mean surly we must not worship God with insincere hearts right? I agree that we must worship with our heart, we must worship with sincerity, and in Spirit, Scripture teaches this:

Psalm 24:3-6 gives us a picture of true worshippers, and the repeated phrase are those who have a clean pure heart and clean hands.

• Back in John 4:22b Jesus says, “We [Jews] know what we worship; for salvation is of the Jews.” Now the Jews were just the opposite of the Samaritans. They accepted all thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and had the whole revelation of the teaching of salvation. They had the truth – but they lacked the spirit. Just read Matthew 6:1-8, and you’ll see that they were cold, legalistic, and hypocritical. They went through the motions, but their hearts weren’t in it. Now I admit that there were some Jews who had a zeal for God, but the basic existing religion of Jerusalem was lifeless. They had the truth, but their hearts were empty.

However, we also must avoid the danger of reacting against cold clinical worship and thus end up saying, only the heart matters and not practice. But the Bible warns of that extreme as well:

• In John 4:22a, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “Ye worship ye know not what.” Now, what did He mean by that? Well, He acknowledged that the Samaritans were worshipping, they just didn’t know what they were worshipping.You see, the Samaritans only accepted the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) as coming from God. So their knowledge was limited.They had enough to know some of the truths about God, but not enough to have the full salvation revelation. They were worshipping, but the didn’t know the fullness of what they were worshipping.Samaritan worship, then was enthusiastic worship without proper information. Their worship was aggressive, enthusiastic, excited, and faithful, but they didn’t have the right content. In other words, they worshipped in spirit but not in truth.

2 Samuel 6:1-9 tell of how Uzzah tried to stop the Arc of the Covenant from falling to the ground, and God struck him dead because God had instituted a way for the Arc to be handled, and it was part of that was no one was allowed to touch it. Now we can see Uzzah’s heart, but it seems like the sincere thing to do, yet God was not pleased.

Leviticus 10:1-2, shows God consuming the two sons of Aaron because the may fire which was to be used for incense in a way “which He commanded them not”.

For sake of time let me summarize what I am trying to say. God desires to be worship, with our hearts in the right place, part of having our hearts in the right place is desiring to do things the way God commanded us to. So two things need to be in place: Heart and Hand, right attitude and right action. To exclude either one is to make false worship.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2010 in Christianity, Worship

 

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