WHAT PRACTICES APPLY TODAY?
In the Old Testament…
Lets start by verifying what practices of worship (liturgical and charismatic) in the Old Testament are still relevant for today’s worship gathering. Several months ago in a blog post Bob Kauflin shared Iain Duguid’s statements that should be considered to determine if specific Old Testament practices and commands still apply today.
- It’s a command that points forward to fulfillment in Jesus, so it no longer applies. Animal sacrifices would be the most obvious example.
- It’s a command that applies enduringly and universally to all of God’s people and should be obeyed. For instance we are never to worship idols nor worship God in a merely external manner.
- It’s a command that reflects cultural and local practices given to ethnic Israel, which do not govern us directly but merely in “their general equity.”
In the New Testament…
In the New Testament the three elements of participation that are commanded for the worship gathering are baptism, the Lord’s Table, and singing (Eph 5:19). Both Biblically and historically it is clear that these elements are still relevant practices that must be observed in today’s worship gatherings.
This New Testament category that requires some grappling is the manifest gifts of the Holy Spirit we see first modeled in Acts 2. For the sake of time I am only going to highlight a few of the theological perspectives regarding gifts of the Spirit.
- The “cessationist” position teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only manifest in a limited era and are no longer expressed in today’s church age. In my observation the “hard-cessationist” perspective is very difficult to defend Biblically and is embraced by a minority of today’s Evangelical scholars.
- The “open but cautious” position teaches that the Spirit may still be operating in ways manifest in the New Testament, but a great deal of caution must be used to insure these manifestations fit within Biblical boundaries. Some who hold this position feel that the gifts of the Spirit are applied too recklessly by some believers and that the NT manifestations may be operating today, only at a different frequency, intensity, or nature than in the apostolic era. This views spectrum may include those classified as soft-cessationists or soft-charismatics. Most Evangelicals would fit somewhere in this camp.
- The “charismatic” position teaches that the miracles and signs of the New Testament are still fully functioning. This would include practices such as prophesy and speaking in tongues that we read about in 1 Corinthians 14. A progressive or “hard charismatic” position advocates practices that could be considered out of Biblical bounds including chaotic unorderly behaviors, tongues without an interpreter, and in some camps even a complete rejection of orthodox Trinitarian doctrines.
There is little to no debate among churches and Biblical scholars that today’s church is to regularly observe the Lord’s Supper, Baptize believers, and sing songs to the Lord; however, the other Biblical practices of worship that are spontaneous in nature, such as raising hands or speaking prophesy, are not as easily accepted or understood.
This diagram may guide us to better understand as to how we can assimilate and apply these seemingly permissible forms of worship in today’s worship gatherings.
The lower line represents the spectrum of theological perspectives I defined in the previous segment of this post. The Biblical margin represents acceptable Biblical worship practices. Obviously, every individual and church will place these lines in different places, but I do believe that the scriptures promote and model a vast array of worship practices that fit within this margin.
To discern practices for application within the worship gathering we must now “go vertical” and answer the following three questions:
- Is this form of worship being done with a humble heart? In other words, am I raising my hands because I like the attention it brings me, or am I doing it as an expression of love and surrender to the Lord?
- Is the physical form of worship decent and orderly? In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul makes it clear that worship must be orderly so that there is no confusion and so that all people are edified. Interestingly, Paul teaches much of this out of consideration for the unbeliever who could easily become confused by certain spiritual gifts being practiced in the public gathering.
- Is the physical form of worship sensitive to the weaker conscience? In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul teaches that there are practices that are permissible, but not beneficial. For example, if you fellowship in a church filled with well meaning cessationists, it would not be right for you to spontaneously break out in a dance before the Lord. Thought it may be Biblically permissible for you to do so, it would cause all the others in your midst to sin by viewing what you do as an improper (or even sinful) act of worship. It is important to be sensitive to a weaker conscience, but it is also important to strengthen the weaker conscience through Biblical instruction.
In closing, I want to make it clear that my ultimate goal of this series is to encourage all believers to participate in the worship gathering with great freedom and enthusiasm. Experiencing and enjoying God in worship is our chief end on earth and will be our perpetual state for all eternity. Too often we reserve our greatest statements of affection and excitement for our favorite sports teams or following a great job promotion. I often wonder how I would have felt worshiping God with David or being present to experience the unique manifestations of the Spirit in the early church. Would I cringe and say “I don’t know about this!?!?!” I am not suggesting we must all become charismaniacs; however, these expressions of worship are part of our Christian heritage and we need to be as careful that we NOT fear expressing love and enthusiasm for God out of intellectual pride or an improper sense of propriety, on the other hand we must not make the worship of God a circus of emotions that draws more attention and focus to the ourselves then our great God.