Monday, May 14, 2007

Is Your Worship Service Preparing You to Die?

Sanctuary or Spectacle?

I was recently asked by a group of women in our church to speak to them about the Bible: its reliability and its relevance. I began by sharing the historic Christian conviction that the Bible is both inerrant and infallible. This means that the Bible contains no errors. “All Scripture is breathed out by God”, says the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16. This means that even though God employed various human writers (Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul) God is the Bible’s ultimate author. God-selected human writers, in other words, wrote precisely what God wanted them to write. So, because the author of the Bible (God) is perfect, the content of the Bible is perfect. However, when I was talking with the women I acknowledged that the reliability of the Bible is not where people typically struggle the most. As modern men and women, our struggle revolves around the relevance of the Bible for today. Does the Bible really speak to life in the 21st century? Our suspicions concerning the Bible are not so much geared toward its integrity but its sufficiency. This is perhaps most obvious when it comes to the way some Christian leaders determine how they’re going to “do” their worship services. Let me explain what I mean.

Many Christians tend to believe that in order to reach the world they must become just like the world. So with good intentions, they strive to look like the world, talk like the world, sound like the world, and act like the world. Sadly, cultural trends rather than God’s truth are what guide and shape the labors of some well-meaning Christians these days. Many ministries have orchestrated their efforts according to the tastes of this world, asking the world what they like and then giving the world what they want. The question, however, ought to be, “Does the Bible have anything to say about how we worship? Is the Bible a sufficient guide, a relevant manual, regarding how we worship?” The answer is: yes!

For example, Isaiah 6 teaches us something foundational about public worship. If you read the first few verses you’ll notice the first thing Isaiah encounters in the house of God is the glory of God. It doesn’t first say he encountered friendly faces or hot coffee, or soft bagels or a booming sound system. It says he encountered the glory of God. In the Bible, the glory of God is God’s “heaviness”, his powerful presence. It is God’s prevailing excellence on display. In God’s house, Isaiah meets a God who is majestically in command.

What does this mean for our worship services? It means we ought to come expecting to encounter the glory of God, his powerful presence, first and foremost. We want to sing of who he is and hear of what he’s done. We come to feel the grief of our sin so that we can feel the glory of his salvation. We come, in other words, to see God on display, not preachers or musicians. A worship service is not the place to showcase human talent. It’s the place for God to showcase his Divine treasure. A worship service that contains the power to change you is a worship service that leaves you with grand impressions of Divine personality, not grand impressions of human personality. Isaiah did not leave the temple thinking, “What great music, what a great building, what a great preacher.” He left thinking, “What a great God.” This is why songs and sermons need to be about God first. Everything done in worship ought to communicate God because it is God and God alone who can transform your life and mine. Seeing me will not help you. Seeing God is the only thing truly capable of moving you from one place to another. This is the truth that led Dr. John Piper to ask, “How shall entertaining worship services – with the aim of feeling light hearted and friendly – help a person prepare to suffer, let alone prepare to die?" Amen!

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