When studying David Peterson’s book, “Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship”, there was a moment when I took pause and verbally exclaimed, “Yes!” as Peterson addressed the age-old question: “What is acceptable and genuine worship to God?” This is the key question for worship leaders, as what often seems appropriate to us may in fact be offensive to God. In reviewing that question, we’ll refer to Hebrews 12:28 – 29: “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.’”
Analyzing the acceptable worship referred to in Hebrews 12:28 – 29 we learn that, thanks to the work of Christ on the cross, true Christian worship is the service of those who have responded to God’s initiation and received Christ by faith through God’s grace. Worship is only possible with God’s invitation and as we are made holy through the blood of Christ and his sanctifying death on the cross. (Hebrews 12:28) ‘…let us be thankful…” Our natural response to Christ’s sacrificial act of grace is to approach the Lord in worship with a spirit of gratitude for his work on the cross.
“…and so worship God acceptably….” (Hebrews 12: 29). Acceptable worship is a total life orientation, a complete surrender to the true and living God. In all things, abiding in His presence and offering our lives fully to Him, our total existence. Acceptable worship under both covenants involves a total life pattern of service. Living under the direct rule or reign of God is the biblical aim for the entire world, from Adam to present day. Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The presentation of believers as a “living sacrifice” involves a range of responsibilities and relationships - it involves the service of the everyday life.
“…with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12:29). From this passage we are reminded of the numerous passages in the prophets condemning the people or priests for their claim to serve the Lord while engaging in idolatry without genuine repentance or a desire to live in obedience to God’s moral law. To fear God involves keeping his commands, walking in His ways, turning from evil, and serving Him. The Old Testament use of ‘reverence and awe’ referred to faithfulness and obedience to his will, or ‘reverent submission’. The reference to ‘consuming fire’ refers to the coming judgment of God awaiting the enemies of God. The description of God, ‘consuming fire,’ was used in Deuteronomy 4:24 as Moses warned Israel against idolatry, encouraging the Israelites to remain faithful to the Lord and serve Him exclusively.
Worship is everyday, “24/7/365”, as we offer ourselves to the Lord as a “living sacrifice.” Worship, commonly referred to as singing time on Sundays sometime between 10:00 and 10:30 a.m. is a gross misunderstanding of the true meaning. Worship, as we have learned through scripture and have been reminded in Peterson’s resource, involves total life surrender to the Lordship of Christ through faith and repentance. Only through Christ’s sanctifying work on the cross may we enter into acceptable worship with Holy God.
What is worship? How do you know that you have worshipped? “You know that you have worshiped if there is an increase in the desire to live in obedience to God, under the Lordship of Christ” (Worship Old & New, Robert Webber). As a result of worship, no matter what the style, does it result in a surrendered and changed life? Perhaps the answer to our stylistic issues lies in our understanding of the true purpose of worship.
From a historical perspective, in approaching the Almighty, the people of Israel removed their shoes (holy ground); fell flat on their faces; would not look upon God's face, nor would they, out of deep reverence, call God by name. Early Christians in the first through fourth centuries wept during worship, studied Scripture deeply, met daily, and fasted weekly (“Walking Where Jesus Walked” by Lester Ruth).
Today is there still a place for reverence as we approach the throne, true reverence and awe for our most Holy God? Or are we such a narcissistic culture that even our worship has to be focused on our ease and comfort, right down to preferred worship styles, cushy seats, familiar tunes, and our beverage of choice? As worship leaders, what can we do to create a sense of awe and reverence, just as the angels sing and proclaim around the throne day and night, "Holy, holy, holy God"?
How is it that so many of our congregations have negated our rich heritage, the "sacred greats" that have withstood the test of time, with solid doctrine declaring the praises of our Almighty Triune God? There are forms of worship that have stood the test of time (decades and centuries) for reasons that must have been God-breathed. As we privately or corporately worship, we can cultivate an atmosphere that both recognizes where we have come from and that also affirms the heart of the contemporary worshiper.
Is this shift rooted in a lack of faith in the Almighty to provide? If so, we must also re-visit Commandment #1: "Have no other gods before me." As worship leaders, we must be very careful to do a "heart check": what is our goal in worship today? Who are we trying to please? Today do we expect worship to reflect a specific style or an audio-visual experience, rather than the goal of a surrendered heart and life?
The “Uselesness” of the Arts
Articles by Heidi Truitt
Worship Considerations for the 21st Century
By Heidi Truitt
Acceptable Worship: Total Life Surrender to the Lordship of Christ
By Heidi Truitt
It is through our senses that we worship. Our imagination is formed in large part through what we see, hear, taste and touch. Jesus, the greatest teacher of all time, knew the importance of engaging the senses first and explaining the meaning last. Through the senses the sacraments were introduced. It is through aesthetic forms of worship that people engage with God.
To illustrate a point, my pastor recently began his sermon, “How many of you can recount a title from one my previous sermons?” No one volunteered an answer. He continued, “Now, how many of you can identify a worship song that we have recently sung?” Many congregants raised their hands. Clearly the arts are an effective “carrier” through which we worship, learn about God and respond to his presence.
In order to experience God, we must engage symbolic, musical, dramatic, visual, and architectural forms. Worship does not happen in isolation from our interaction with this world. These art forms can serve to draw us closer to God, evoking his holy presence, or divert our attention. Aesthetics and religious experience are completely intertwined – the study of one necessitates the study of the other.
Worship renewal requires us to increasingly incorporate the talents of artists and their artistry into church and ministry settings. Not since the Middle Ages have Christians embraced the arts in all its forms as many ministry settings do today. Society is increasingly aware of the connection between the arts and spirituality. As we have learned, the practices of worship are essential “carriers” of spiritual meaning, required for worship to take shape.
William Dyrness from his book, A Primer on Christian Worship, reports: “For this connection to be appropriately and fruitfully made, churches must be open to the artistic gifts in their midst – indeed, they must determine to nurture these gifts. I am amazed at how churches find ways to use some gifts and not others. Business, technical, and catering skills are particularly in demand in many churches, while the artists in their midst are mostly overlooked.”
The founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy, declared: “Food is essential for life, therefore make it good.” And to this I draw a parallel: Aesthetic forms are essential for worship, therefore make them effective. David, the Psalmist, declares (Psalm 33:3 NIV) “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
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Worship Renewal: Aesthetics and Spirituality
By Heidi Truitt
Last weekend we hosted "Festival" at The Harmony House for approximately sixty students, an adjudicated event - an opportunity for students to present two memorized selections and learn from the judge's comments. As a reaction to her experience with Festival, one of the students said: "When I got home from Festival, my older brother took my comment sheet (she had achieved a Superior) and slapped it on the table and said to my Mom, 'Now how is this going to help her future!?'"
Music, in fact all of the arts, are commonly regarded as "useless." Taylor, "For the Beauty of the Church" addresses the "uselessness" of art, reminding us that "life is a gift, not an achievement." Artists, in all of the "uselessness" remind us to: 1) Play (serious play, but it is in fact, play). As artists, our play reminds others that the fallen world is still a place of grace. 2) Assist humanity in entering into their pain.
Play and pain -- a calling for the Church, much like feasting and fasting. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us "There is a purpose, a time for every season under Heaven..." Our artistic gifts serve as a reminder: there is a place for grace in this fallen world. And in this fallen world, there is an outlet or expression for the pain. The arts are beautifully "useless" to God.