Worship

“Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!”

bored with books

On boredom, creativity, and the not-so-necessary

There have been a number of articles and books in recent years with this same title. I suppose copy-write laws do not apply to titles. So here is another, though much briefer (for those who get bored).

I have been known to tell my children (three marvelously curious boys) that “boredom is a sin” for those of us who live in God’s endlessly extraordinary universe of people, places, creatures, and things of every size, shape, and color imaginable.  Yet, I have learned a qualification to this sentiment from some of these recent publications, that boredom can actually be a good, since “downtime” with nothing to do is a necessary counter-balance to the frenetic-(fanatical)-fever-pitch over-scheduling of our lives and our childrens’, many of whom have never had the delicious languidity of a summer day laying in the hay or along a brook with a good book, day-dreaming in leisure of very little that may be deemed “matters of consequence” by those  mostly concerned with what-is-necessary. Deprived of the gift of boredom, and tethered to the ever-present-absent, and virtual (not-real), in-iverse of the NET, we lose the moment of imagination and creativity. As Richard Simon quotes Paul Persal, that in worshipping “Nowism” we have “an addiction to technology and the instantaneous response, the disconnection from the natural world, the final triumph of consumerism and the desperate longing for more and more and more.”[1] And as Richard Winter quotes Mary Pipher,

“Most real life is rather quiet and routine. Most pleasures – a hot shower, a sunset, a bowl of good soup or a good book. Television suggests that life is high drama, love, and sex. TV families are radically different from real families. Things happen much faster to them. On television things that are not visually interesting, such as thinking, reading, and talking, are ignored. Activities such as housework, fund-raising and teaching children to read are vastly underreported. Instead of ennobling ordinary experiences, television suggests that they are not of sufficient interest to document.”[2]

Boredom, all the same, can be related to Sloth in its “refusal to delight, a loss of wonder and a worship of numbness.”[3] This is the side of boredom that we parents fear, that it can become a “Slough of Despond” (a swamp of despair). So, we compel them anxiously: “Don’t Just Sit There, Do something!” Yet, we must admit, at that moment we may have killed off their innate ability to imagine in their quietude and solitude, and to begin to create out of their boredom something beautiful and lasting in their God-given drive to respond in wonder and worship of our awesome Creator, in awe at all that is, and at what can and could be . . . at what is still possible.

As Winter says further,

“In God’s creation we can find so much to take an interest in, but it takes effort and self-discipline for us to stop long enough to look and marvel at the structure of a flower or a leaf, to wonder how long it took a mountain to form, to see reflections in the smallest puddle, to watch the wind blowing seeds from a flower, to want to know what each snowflake looks like, to marvel that our nails and hair and skin are constantly growing, to learn the names of birds and trees or to learn to listen to bird songs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, ‘Aurora, Seventh Book,’ expresses something of this:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes–
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.”[4]

And so, to do my part, I will be joining the Slow Food Movement, and, if they will have me, the Slow City Movement . . . to better learn the lessons of discipline in my boredoms, and the gift of leisure in God’s Sabbath design of things that ironically enables us to fulfill our vocations. The days of rest being made for us, and not us for them . . . as Jesus tried repeatedly to convince the Pharisees; always concerned with matters of great consequence they could see nothing good in Jesus feeding his disciples from the fields on a languid summer afternoon, nor with the opening of the eyes of the blind (and the bored) so that they can praise him in wonder at his glory and love.

In contrast to these sentiments, revivalist-mountain-top-experientialist-culture, ever tries to find more exciting and glamorous ways to get the bored, young people “pumped up” and thrilled that they are in the middle of something BIG that God is doing: the larger the crowd the better, the more hip and appealing the speaker the better, the more loud the music and moving the crescendo of noise the more certain God is REALLY present . . . the more exotic the mission . . . Yet, contrarily, “The work of ministry is not so much about finding new, tantalizing ways to make people excited about Jesus, but about the timeless rituals that shape their hearts.”[5]  It is in the seemingly insignificant liturgies of our daily life of loving and serving and praying and learning and working, in leisure and play, with regular folk, that we must walk the talk of faith in the valleys of the ordinary, where Christ is Lord of every (extraordinary) atom that sustains our oftentimes not-so-glamorous and boring lives.

[1] Richard Simon, “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There,” Family therapy Networker 23, no 1 (1999): 36.

[2] Richard Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion & Wonder, Downers Grove: IVP, 2002, p. 116.

[3] Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, p. 120.

[4] Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, p. 124.

[5] Daniel Darling, “Boring Church Services Changed My Life,” Christianity Today Pastors, February 2017, accessed on July 18, 2017 at http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/channel/utilities/print.html?type=article&id=137763 .

 

“Before YHWH”

To read the entire essay, click here: Before the LORD

“Before the LORD” (liphne YHWH) — The meeting/dwelling presence of YHWH[1]Tribes and tabernacle

Abstract: A brief survey of a major historical-critical issue in biblical studies, and the subject of my doctoral dissertation, is that of the OT theology of the presence of YHWH in the sanctuary, and the supposed “tensions” and polarizations assumed “behind” the formation of the Pentateuchal narrative. The prevailing critical view is one which assumes theological polarizations/tensions between “Deuteronomistic” and “Priestly” traditions (that is, between name-theology and glory-theology) which serve as a compass for exegesis of presence passages. Within tradition-historical analyses, polarization of transcendent meeting-dwelling from immanent abiding-dwelling reflects tradition pre-histories which are coalesced to serve the ideology of the priestly viewpoint of a lost sanctuary during the exile. Underlying this dialectical polarization and synthesis idea are notions of YHWH’s enthronement (ancient ark ideas and later D “name-theology”), while manifestation notions correspond to the tent of meeting (later priestly “glory-manifestation theology”): that is, such polarities are considered by tradition-historical critics as “mutually repellent” motifs until coalesced in the so-called “Priestly” redaction.

The complete lack of consensus about this supposed “priestly” interpretation of the presence in the tabernacle (abiding or temporary), as well as the relationship of “deuteronomistic” notions to Exodus, has made room for alternative, and much more positive, proposals. Indeed, a closer consideration of some of the relevant texts indicates a remarkable theological/textual unity (coherence and cohesion) that supports the view that the presence theology of the OT is a unified one with many complementary and congruent motifs that convey the expected complexities and dynamics of an infinite and personal Creator who manifested himself in various profoundly creative ways to the ancient people called Israel. This presence theology is best understood from the Mosaic period of the tabernacle, and not from the post-exilic period priests of the returning nation.

[1] Stephen T. Hague, adapted selection from YHWH’s Glorious Presence: Covenantal and Cultic Presence in Exodus 25-40 [unpublished dissertation, 2001].

To read the entire essay, click here: Before the LORD

TRACTS FOR CHRISTIANS ~ The Worship-War: hymnbooks, pipe organs, and Bach banned

ImageTe read/print pdf, click here: Tracts for Christians #3.Worship wars

By Stephen T. Hague for Gloria
The “war” over worship and worship styles has affected practically every church in America, characterized as traditional (formal) versus contemporary (informal). I will address some of the main issues and propose some guiding principles derivable from scripture.


The big question: are there biblical imperatives for the Christian church in regards to worship?


Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.  Hebrews 12:28-29


If God has created us in his image, and he is the only Creator, then must we model him in some way in our worship? If so, does that relate to all forms of aesthetic expression, whether in music or art, architecture, food or clothing? If there are any imperatives, do they carry moral weight (and thus potential problems), especially in the area of differing tastes. The question is, are there any standards that we can consider within the parameters of which we can have freedom? There may be differing tastes from person to person, culture to culture, but are “all things equal,” as many multiculturalists today would have us believe?

These are questions worth asking, but not easy to answer. In the following, I have briefly considered some of these issues in relation to worship. I have first attempted to describe some of the major polarizing, and overlapping, viewpoints in the controversy (admittedly, I have “characterized” them for argument’s sake). Secondly, I have proposed some principles that can be derived from the Bible concerning worship and aesthetics in an attempt to find some acceptable guidelines (not rules).


Five polarizing viewpoints in the church:

1. We must only sing the Psalms: “pure” (but remetered) as hymns without accompaniment

This viewpoint holds to the principle of preservation of “purity” (regulative principle) of some long-lost era of “psalm-singers.” This position is generally unyielding, and certainly denies any musical precedent for worship derivable from Israel for the church (Ps 150). One can not really object to the singing of Psalms in itself, for they are the most beautiful of such in all literature. Also, many of our hymns are based in part or entirely on a psalm, as is much of our greatest Jewish, Christian, and European choral tradition. The problem here is the apparent historical uniqueness of such a viewpoint, as well as a denial of the biblical precedents for music accompaniment in both the OT and the NT.

Theologically, exclusive Psalm singing does not take fully into account the further NT revelation of redemption in Christ. In the least, it adds an extra “burden” to Christian worship that has no biblical foundation, appears at times to be an overreaction to Roman Catholic forms, and also denies the principle of adaptability of human worship and artistic forms done to God’s glory. Although it claims to derive its precedent from some factions of Protestantism, it has only a small representation since the Reformation, and certainly not with Martin Luther or John Calvin.

2. We must follow tradition only, whatever it is: the hymnbook “of our fathers”

This view holds that we must use only the hymnbook and hymns of our great grandparents. This perspective is often the refuge of those disgusted with the common, flippant attitude about anything written or done before 1960 in those who would happily burn all bridges (i.e., all hymnbooks) to the past.

There is a certain comfort in an untenable position, for by its very inflexibility it serves to confirm that everyone else is wrong (as in #1 above). Alienating themselves from all modern expressions, or even from those who are open to adaptation and creativity, they find consolation that at least they have not sold out. Many folks over forty can sympathize with this. There is the problem, as in the previous example, that creativity by its very nature demands adaptability as well as imitation. There is no real security in our worship or aesthetics in preservation for preservation sake, conservatism for conservatism sake, as there is nothing deader than “dead orthodoxy.” We simply need much higher principles than this to guide our standards.

3. We must contextualize (dumb-down) worship and music for the rock generation: “enjoying ourselves” in a limited comfort zone

This perspective involves the consequence of bringing creativity and worship to the level of TV commercials and Hollywood soundtracks. Though it may seem a pejorative characterization, I suggest it can be found in practice, if not in principle. This is undoubtedly the happy face of the “psalms only” group, for each is unyielding in its zones of tolerance (i.e., read: “personal tastes”). In fact, this category is the flip-side, for it wants primarily to do away with stuffy tradition and “singing old songs” that “do nothing for me.” I have observed here such a low level of sympathy for anything pre-1980 that I am unsure what forms and creativity are to be allowed. This is the serious downside of paths to escape our history and its creative expressions: we may find that we have no past to draw from and even less creative expression.

We build and we create. These are two fundamental aesthetic principles. We can not create without the foundations, nor can we build without creativity. Thus, worship that is primarily self-serving and divorced from history will be more about self-expression than worship.

This is to say that most of us need some ‘educatin’ in regards to our great heritage and the purpose of worship, since many of our generation do not even know how to sing a hymn or follow a Bach Cantata. That is, the principle of raising our standards, I suggest, is a biblical one (see p. 3).

4. “Contemporary” only: principle of “relevance” and condescension

The latter category leads right into this one, as a generation thought incapable of better taste, they have unabashedly said NO to anything (except over-head projectors) pre-1990. That is, we who attend church are all “seekers” who are basically “unchurched” (read: “uncultured”) and we must all be welcome (i.e., read: “not offended by your traditions”). It is not relevant if it was not written by an uneducated, guitar-pickin’ ex-hippie who can not (nor wants to) read (nor write) music, but has somehow laced together some ditties with a Christian theme and a few guitar chords. This would be me, if not for merciful friends and spouse. I think there is a place for appealing to this generation in their “art forms” and tastes, or at least not scaring them into flight by our own. Nevertheless, it is no compliment to them if we burn our Bach and Handel as they traded their Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin for “Christian” Heavy Metal.

Condescension is the ironic reverse of zealously seeking to avoid “high-brow” cultural snobbery. That is, it is a full circle, for to communicate to this generation that previous forms and creations are utterly beyond their comprehension and appreciation is to condescend in a bitterly ironic fashion. On the other hand, for “contemporary only” folks, they may proudly be asserting that what came before them is unworthy, their modern tastes prohibiting them from appreciating the artistry of former generations. Yet, such a position sits on the precipice of impending irrelevancy as the clock ticks them into the past. Balance is a tenuous thing.

5. “Seeker services” are the only “user-friendly” services: condescension in practice

So as not to offend the sensibilities of the ignorant masses, this view believes we must eliminate everything that the “unchurched” can not identify, or identify with: the principle of condescension in practice. This often has good, underlying motives, and often genuinely works to draw in large numbers of post-moderns. So, pragmatically, it often works to get a crowd. (The pejorative portrayal of this viewpoint would have us believe that even seeking to attract unbelievers to Christ is worldly, for worship that turns off unbelievers is considered as proof that we are not worldly in our worship-tastes). The downside of seeker-service worship is that the seeker-focused perspective concedes too much to perspectives #3 and #4. Indeed, as one theologian has remarked: “There are no seekers, only rebels.” The idea that church is largely for the “unchurched” is a peculiar ecclesiology, for indeed the church is comprised of God’s people focusing on God himself in their worship, sacraments, and the Word.

All the same, as a church of true believers we seek to reach the “unchurched” unbelievers in our communities. If we combine in our worship, tradition (educating), innovation (creative adaptability), and compassion, we will by default create something beautiful and attractive. Unbelievers may still then reject our message and worship, but they cannot deny that it was presented intelligently, beautifully, and compassionately by believers for God. As God wills, it can also be pleasing to him.


Ten (proposed) principles for praising/worshipping God:

     1. Worship is sincere, adoration of, and humbling before the Lord by true believers

True worship must be centrally about God, and thus it is Trinitarian. Worship conveys a balanced and biblical theology of God’s Triune nature and creation-redemption-works. Worship is thus a celebration of what God has done in history towards our redemption! Worship humbly acknowledges and thanks God for bringing redemption. Worship is true communication, as prayer set to music. Even poorly done, music and worship undoubtedly can bring God honor and glory when done in the spirit of truth. Yet, sincerity alone can never be the final criterion by which we evaluate ourselves nor our expressions of faith and worship.

     2. Worship is truthful content intelligently and faithfully conveyed: theologically sound and linguistically balanced

As such, worship is a challenge to the mind and a balm to the soul. Therefore, form must adequately match the content for worship to be aesthetically pleasing.

Accomplishing this is partly a matter of technical skill, but we all know when something feels forced (e.g., hymns and choruses that have forced meter or rhythm). Yet, we trudge on in hope it will end! The principle of truth communicated faithfully should be foremost. The word of our Triune God is to be unveiled in our worship. We would do well to reflect on the wonder and the sobriety of this in our worship. Further, that truth is beautiful (beyond words), and we must attempt to exemplify this when we worship God.

     3. Worship is adaptable: human creativity and culture vary, as does the movement of the Spirit of God

It can be affirmed that artistic expressions in life and worship do not need to follow rigidly in the footsteps of another time or place. Although, this is not to say that the modern arrogance of rejecting the past is in order. There can be creative implementation of forms old and new. There is no biblical precedent for fear of change or fear of innovation, any more than there is precedent for despising the creations and forms of our predecessors. The Spirit moves as the Spirit wills, using many cultural forms in many diverse places.

I would add, that refusing to use certain instruments simply because pagan unbelievers use them is not a valid reason. Although, if the use of any given instrument or form undermines our affirmed standards of biblical truth, morals, and aesthetics, then we must either modify or discharge them. The same can be said for those forms that clearly represent immoral or godless culture, although this may vary from generation to generation.

     4. Worship is quality reverence: skilled and supported (whenever possible) musicians and quality music reverently performed

This should be self-explanatory, but is it? A widespread view in evangelical circles is that it is not very spiritual to pay musicians for their labors, and I must ask why this persists. It is one thing for a musician to give their skills and training to the worship of the congregation willingly, as any professional skill can be given. It is quite another to refuse in principle the wages due to any workman or woman. Needless to say, the shabby quality of much of our worship and music reflects this attitude about our musicians. Those who share this view may take false comfort that we do not appear to be mainline (“liberal”) entertainers in our “professionalism” of musicianship, while failing to pay our employees their due.

Skill and artistry are intrinsic to the nature of God and his creation. He has made us in his image, and thus we do well to bring well-trained skill and artistry to our worship of God, in so far as we are able. In the worship war over traditional (or formal) versus contemporary (or informal) worship, it is often said that God accepts all genuine worship. This is undoubtedly true as it stands, because although no worship is worthy of him, he accepts what is given in true faith. Nevertheless, it derails the debate by shifting the question: in the matter of most forms, we cannot successfully argue about their “acceptability,” but we can, and must, discuss their quality. Open discussion of the quality of our worship should not be negated quickly and defensively by saying that all forms are acceptable to God. In fact, the matter of the acceptability of all forms is itself an open question (forms and traditions are not neutral), but what concerns me here is the question of what makes for the best quality of worship.

     5. Worship is beautiful: aesthetically, emotionally edifying

Harmony in the arts satisfies our aesthetic sensibilities, while dissonance is effective only in so far as we have some consensus on harmony. This issue regards the matter of taste, since cultures and people vary greatly. I propose, however, that we can easily derive a principle from the scripture that beauty is a fundamental facet of God’s creation and character and work of redemption. Beauty characterizes the way he has dealt with us, and consequently the way we are called to deal with him and others. This is the path of edification, whereas “uglification” created by sin is the path to denigration. It is not just a matter of taste to say that some forms and their contents demoralize and denigrate our humanity, and God’s divinity, by reflecting the perverse, angry, hate-filled expressions of the sinful heart.

Since God is beautiful beyond measure, we must strive to worship him in beauty and the beauty of holiness.

     6. Worship is morally and spiritually edifying: it honors God and neighbor

Whatever denigrates God, humanity, life, or our music/art threatens the proper order of God’s design for us as his creatures. This is not to say that all artistic expressions have to appear “beautiful” to all people at all times. Nor that the discordant themes (the minor key) of the fallenness or evil of humanity are not appropriate. Indeed, our worship must address the realities of sin, evil, death, sorrow, and suffering to be complete in order to point us to redemption and life. Yet, our expressions should not be determined or weighed by their “shock value.” There is a moral responsibility attached to all such expressions, and thus the need to be as biblically edifying as possible: that is, honoring God and loving our neighbor. Our worship should, to be biblical, excite us to do just that: to morally and spiritually edify worshippers, while exalting God.

     7. Worship is about reality: it honestly addresses the vicissitudes of human life

This principle derives from the Bible as a whole, since it always speaks clearly and truthfully to the realities of life. Our engaging with the scriptures should elicit worship that is honest and in touch with that reality. “Reality” is not meant in a trite sense, but in the most comprehensive sense imaginable. When we worship God aright, we are acting according to what is really true to reality: i.e., reality itself in God’s presence. Thus, such worship is intrinsically “practical” to our life in this world as it speaks to the diverse aspects of living life by grace in a fallen world. Such worship can never be “shallow.”

     8. Worship has a practical goal: to raise us up to God’s glory and presence, to raise us up intellectually, spiritually, culturally, and emotionally in the process of pleasing him with our humble and imperfect adoration

This is indeed a controversial suggestion, but I affirm it can be derived from the Bible. Indeed, the psalms alone have done just that for all who have read or sung them throughout history. The idea that we need “raising up,” that we all could stand to have our standards raised is the controversial part. But having already argued that all things are not equal (as most multiculturalists claim), I think it can be said that we all have much to learn, and so there is always room for improvement. Yes, the Bible has more than any other literature in the world raised people up intellectually, spiritually, culturally, and emotionally. For that, we give God praise. Moreover, this elevating us should be, in part, our ideal for worship.

     9. Worship is witness: the glorious gospel of God in Christ

The angels worship because of what they know and of where they are, but often we worship because of what we want. There is today much that is called worship that is centered on experience and not on the glory of God. True worship is a fruit of seeing God, the result of knowing him. It brings praise for (not just palms forward to receive some greater feeling of worship). It bows on earth before its majesty in heaven, acknowledging its own unworthiness before Christ on the Cross. Our worship is, after all, part of God’s present witness to the world, part of our gift to God as his “martyrs.” This aspect of God’s testimony/witness is largely our expression, creating a worship of praise to God and a proclamation of God’s glory in his plan of redemption through Christ.

     10. Worship is sustained and reformed by critical evaluation:

Does it present a Trinitarian view of God?

  • Does it adequately honor God and man?
  • Is it sufficiently reverent, pointing centrally to God not humanity?
  • Is it joyful or somber, edifying or discouraging, realistic or romantic, presenting a balanced view of life or selective?
  • Does it reflect any evils of our present society and/or its forms?
  • Does it include quality music and presentation?
  • Does it incorporate trained, believing musicians?
  • Does it avoid mundane repetitions (negation or engagement of the rational mind)?
  • Does it avoid appeals to the supra-rational or strictly emotional (subjectivism)?
  • Does it avoid musicality that is reduced to a lowest common denominator?
  • Does it attempt to raise everyone’s standards morally, spiritually, and aesthetically?
  • The important questions are not about whether music or worship is “contemporary” or “traditional,” but rather what does God require?

Psalm 150

1     Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
2     Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3     Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
4     praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and flute,
5     praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
6     Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.


In conclusion, what is “biblical” worship?

There is so much controversy today in defining “worship” (usually means “styles” and “tastes”) that some comments may be in order to conclude here.

In relation to forms of worship, as important as it is to worship God rightly, I think some of the contemporary worship-conflicts in the church miss the point, going towards the extremes of either strictly requiring what are considered “biblical forms” or emphasizing worship as outreach to the world through contemporary forms. In both cases, the concept of “worship” is often dramatically reduced (from the biblical framework) to externalism and formalism (whether conservative and traditional or contemporary). One of the beauties of the Reformation was its return to the biblical understanding of worship as our calling, our life, as intrinsic to our vocation. That is, there is no secular/sacred divide in life and worship; worship is our entire “reasonable service” to God in all that we do, whether it is the dishes or a solo in church. Sunday “worship” is the overflow, at the start of the week, of the daily life of worship and witness of those living for the risen Lord. The pinnacle of worship is not how “well we do church” on Sunday, but rather how well we live and demonstrate the living and liberating gospel. This emphasis liberates the church from slavery to external forms that so easily replace the heart of true biblical faith that seeks to live under the Lordship of Christ over all of life.

Jesus often dealt with the legalistic formalism of the first century in such a pointed way that I believe He meant for us to have a bigger view than the Pharisees who worked so diligently at being right before God in their external “forms of worship” (“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees . . .”). Having said this, I do not believe that what we do in our hour (or two) on Sunday is unimportant, nor that we should not seek to honor God therein. The point is that worship left out of the rest of the week renders the hour on Sunday rather pointless. Indeed, it can become a self-righteous stench to God. That is stating the obvious, but I feel strongly that the pervasive division in the Evangelical church over worship styles is not only the result of a misunderstanding of biblical worship, it has altogether misplaced our proper focus for the church of Christ. It also dishonors Christ. I do not know if there is solution, all the same, since these problems are so widespread today.

In my personal “tastes” I am more traditional than contemporary, more inclined to hymns than praise songs, favoring Reformed theology in the hymns, appreciating serious exposition from someone dressed well (instead of sockless in t-shirts), etc. etc. . . . So, when we all “shop” for the church to suit our consumer preferences, we list in our minds all these largely superfluous(?) things before having at the top of the list the many more important things that God requires of us.

In reality, debates about what are “God ordained” forms of worship quickly get difficult (and divisive), since we have so very little on this in the NT. Beyond celebrating the sacraments, preaching/evangelizing with the Word, administering discipline, caring for the poor, and singing praises there is precious little to claim as God-ordained, in terms of external forms and expressions. Even all of these things can take diverse forms of expression, whether the celebration of bread and wine/juice communion, the sermon form, how we minister to one another, etc. For example, I do not know where in scripture we can claim our typical, present sermon form, since three points and a poem (or punch & application), coming exclusively week after week from one person standing (above) everyone else (with no interaction whatsoever), is probably fairly recent, historically speaking. In this case, assumptions that preaching and teaching are different activities may be at the root, but this is an erroneous distinction. That is, teaching Sunday School is often considered a lower order aspect of Sunday services, and preaching a higher order. (Also at work is the notion that preachers are the paid “professionals.”) Preachers are thus treated as speaking “God’s Word” when they speak in the pulpit but sharing their thoughts/understanding in SS. It makes me wonder what people mean when they suggest (usually inadvertently), or imply, that the preacher’s words are somehow equated with the Word of God. When we preach, our words are not the Word of God, they are exposition and interpretation of the Word, nothing more. If we all shared this perspective, preachers and teachers would be far more careful in what they say, but also people would be far more responsible to evaluate all that is taught. They would also be free to ASK MORE QUESTIONS and to study the Word for themselves more diligently. Of course we need people intensively trained in seminaries (if the local churches are not doing it), but where did the notion that we must depend entirely on such men arise? This has led to much abrogation of responsibly searching the scriptures by all.

I do, however, think that there are a number of good principles we can derive from the OT (and NT), as well (see above, p. 2) about beauty and reverence and quality, but much of that is relative to cultural understandings and standards in terms of application. Indeed, when we turn to the OT for our external forms we find that they have little correlation to what we do in contemporary Protestant churches. OT Israel did not have weekly in-the-sanctuary “services” like ours. It was not until the exile that the synagogue forms developed, when they lost the temple, and this is the service form we use today along with modern Jews. This is evident in contemporary synagogues and their services.

I am also concerned about the rise of interest in “Reformed liturgy,” where they seek to have “biblical worship forms” (liturgy) based on Reformed church history. Unfortunately, there are countless variations in Reformation history to chose from, since even Calvin and Luther departed dramatically in their emphasis on these matters. For example, there are many scholars who write about Calvin’s total rejection of hymns, and Luther’s improper use of drinking tunes, in order to fortify their preference for one or the other. I am convinced that neither view of Calvin or Luther is accurate. Of course Calvinistic and Lutheran churches both have many variations in their forms of worship.

It is surprising to learn that there is nothing in the NT to require Sunday “worship,” since in fact the early church usually met on the Sabbath at least until the third century.[1] (And churches that require two services, or more, on a Sunday must base this on historical precedents not the NT. This is a preference of the local church not a biblical mandate, in my view.) Yes, it makes good sense for many reasons to meet on Sunday, especially in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet, Christians in Israel today still meet on the Sabbath. So, I believe that multiplying strict rules governing all the minutia of Sunday gatherings can quickly go beyond the Word, and add an unwarranted burden to the church.


Witmer: “At the time this command was given, the day of rest was exactly that. It wasn’t meant to be a disinctive day of worship. While priests would offer additional sacrifices on the Sabbath, there is not evidence that the average Israelite performed any religious tasks. They didn’t necessarily come to the tabernacle, offer sacrifices, or read long passages from the Law. Instead, the people used it as a day of rest, period.”[2]


ImageWhat is true worship in spirit and truth?

Jn 4:22-23 (NASB) — You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

 “Paul says that we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 3:17). All we do is to be done under the lordship of Christ – even washing floors. Everything we do as human beings is spiritually important, as worship. There is no sacred and secular.

This does not merely mean that we see practical value in ‘secular’ tasks like peeling potatoes and washing the floor. It means far more: God himself delights in them because he has created the realm of the physical. Therefore, we are to value every aspect of our lives as worship just as he does. In fact, spirituality is expressed primarily in the ordinary everyday affairs and relationships of our lives. God will reward his servants both for their work in everyday tasks (even if in slavery – Col 3:22-24), and for their work in proclaiming the gospel (1 Thess 2:29). “Anything done well on the foundation of Christ will be approved by God on the day of the believer’s judgment.”[3]

In conclusion, true worship is our “reasonable service” (“spiritual service” NASB). Worship is “be holy as I am holy,” and therefore has to do with the whole life lived under the Lordship of Christ.

Rom 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.[4]

A summary of Rom 12, where Paul outlines true, reasonable worship as comprising the following:

  • Transformed mind, renewed
  • Will of God
  • Right self-assessment
  • Gifts properly used
  • Serving
  • Teaching
  • Exhorting
  • Leading
  • Loving
  • Devoted
  • Rejoicing
  • Humble
  • Righteous
  • Peacable

In sum,
BLESS
REJOICE
SHOW HOSPITALITY
OVERCOME EVIL

This dramatically broadens our definition of worship, since it involves the reality of the Lordship of Christ over all of life. This involves living and demonstrating the implications of the gospel of Christ; it means that there is nothing outside the scope of the gospel and the kingdom of the glory of God. Thus, all that we do is our worship, since we live and walk by faith in the Son. Singing and praising him is an important aspect of our worship, but in reality it is only the overflow of our joy and thanksgiving, not the heart of worship.[5]


Proposed aesthetic standards and biblical principles from Francis Schaeffer

     Standards for aesthetic judgment:
  1. technical excellence: use of color, form, balance, medium, textures
  2. validity: honesty, art is not to please the “patron”
  3. intellectual content: adequately conveying one’s world view
  4. integration of content and vehicle[6]

 Two fundamental biblical principles:

 1. God is creator
As a Christian we know why a work of art has value. Why? First, because a work of art is a work of creativity, and creativity has value because God is the Creator.[7]

2. Man is imitator
Second, an art work has value as a creation because man is made in the image of God, and therefore man not only can love and think and feel emotion, but also has the capacity to create. Being in the image of the Creator, we are called upon to have creativity. In fact, it is part of the image of God to be creative, or to have creativity. On the other hand, we never find men anywhere in the world or in any culture in the world who do not produce art. Creativity is a part of our distinction between man and non-man. All people are to some degree creative. Creativity is intrinsic to our mannishness.[8]

So the man who really loves God, who is working under the Lordship of Christ, could write his poetry, compose his music, construct his musical instruments, fashion his statues, paint his pictures, even if no man ever saw them. He knows God looks upon them.[9]


For further reading: Best, Harold M. “Christian Responsibility in Music.” The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts. Edited by Leland Ryken. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981, pp. 401-414. Clarkson, Margaret E. “Christian Hymnody.” The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts. Edited by Leland Ryken. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981, pp. 415-428. Gaebelein, Frank E. The Christian, The Arts, And The Truth: Regaining The Vision of Greatness. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985. —–. “Toward a Biblical View of Aesthetics. The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts. . Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981. Leland Ryken, editor, pp. 47-54. Schaeffer, Edith. Hidden Art. London: Norfolk Press, 1977. Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. State of the Arts from Bezalel to Mappelthorpe. Wheaton, Ill, 1991. Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980.

[1] See Carson, From Sabbath to Sunday.

[2] Witmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth, p. 143-144

[3] See Macaulay and Barrs, Being Human, p. 55.

[4]“Reasonable service” or “true worship” (τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν).

[5] Worship as our “reasonable service” under the Lordship of Christ over all of life is especially linked with our biblical theology of vocation and work.

[6] F. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, pp. 41-48.

[7] F.A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible: Two essays. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973, p. 34.

[8] F. Schaeffer, Art, p. 34.

[9] F. Schaeffer, Art, p.23.