Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Worship is a Verb: Part 3

In the last post (Worship is a Verb: Part 2) I gave a brief survey of physical worship practices all throughout the Bible and classified them according to liturgical and charismatic practices. The survey revealed that there are a wide variety of participatory worship practices that are encouraged and modeled throughout the scriptures. In this post I am going to attempt to develop some ideas about how these elements of worship can and should play a role in worship gatherings 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.
  1. It’s a command that points forward to fulfillment in Jesus, so it no longer applies. Animal sacrifices would be the most obvious example.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
After considering these statements, in light of OT worship, we see that practices such as shouting and lifting hands would not fit into the category of being fulfilled by Jesus and are therefore still valid practices of worship today. OT practices such as those detailed in the Mosaic Covenant (like animal sacrifice) are no longer valid because Christ fulfilled them in the new covenant.

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:
  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Jim C said...


You make some excellent points.

There is a freedom of worship that many mainstream Christians don't seem to comprehend.

It seems easier to avoid the concept of worship altogether than it is to thread what many believe to be a fine line between being wildly charismatic and being cautiously conservative.

I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that we are have both freedom and a responsibility to consider. That being said, as you also comment, this doesn't necessarily mean that everyone stands quietly with their hands at their side.

We often take the concept of being "responsible" and substitute "maintaining the lowest common denominator" in its place - if anyone doesn't raise their hand in worship, then we all probably better not.

Almost in essence creating a breeding ground for lack of maturity. Be easy to swallow, don't be Biblical. :)

We need not be abrasive or disruptive in our worship, but we also need to recognize (as you mention) when it might be a proper time to Biblically educate someone who doesn't understand the freedom of worship or some other Biblical concept.

We've got to be careful to not misuse the intent of "not causing a weaker brother to stumble".

This is never to say that person A must mimic person B. This is just simply to say that if the person next to me raises their hands in praise to God - and I don't feel led to do so - then praise God all the more for an environment where both responses are acceptable. Praise God for the fact that person A and person B can be together worshipping in their respective manners under one roof.

Its an interesting thought to consider that we are worshipping a God that has individually saved us for eternity... called us each His... yet we don't see celebratory joy from people in response.

"That's not me - I don't do that sort of thing - I'm not an emotional person etc" are what I imagine to be typical responses - yet take that same person and put them at the 50 yard line of a Hawkeye game and see what happens?

Iowa license plate cover - Iowa clothing - Iowa seat cushion - face painted yellow and black -throat sore from yelling and back and feet aching from stomping in the stands every time the cheerleaders say to make some noise...

Ask the same person to give an "Amen" in the church and you could hear paint drying.


Makes you go "hmmm...."

Can I get an "Amen"? Ok.. well... at least a "Go Hawks"!?

scooterpastor said...

Jim, I agree that there is often a disconnect between our excitement for the things NOT of God and the affections we bring to worship. This is the result of our fallen nature (e.g. love of the world vs. love of God).

Another way to think about the issue of the weaker conscience….

In 1 Cor 8 Paul was saying, though it’s ok to eat food offered to idols, don’t do it because it causes other to sin. Our response could be “come on Paul it’s just food! Those who struggle with this should just get over it!” Paul said no, it’s better to give up the food than cause the brother to stumble.

Now, this passage does ask us to give up our freedoms for the sake of our brother and sister. This is a good thing; however, the other side of the issue is that we must be committed to educating the weaker conscience. This is a huge teaching point from this passage and has been one of my purposes for this devotional series on participation in worship.

BTW: I edited the end of this post to better articulate my closing thoughts on the issue.

scooterpastor said...

Other thought.... The classifying of cessasionist to charismatic is not all-inclusive, but simply a tangible means to discuss the topic. In a recent message on gifts of the Spirit, Mark Driscoll classified people into four categories:

Cessasionist, Charismatic, Charismaniac & Pentacostal

His classifications are way cooler than mine, but I’m not sure they are more theologically appropriate.

Jim C said...


I agree with your modified conclusion.

In looking at 1 Cor 8 (and following), we need to understand that there were two parts to Paul's instruction - 1) being that a Christian brother with knowledge needs to make sure to not act out of arrogance in regard to a freedom and 2) that we must educate each other about these freedoms.

What Paul didn't advocate was being shackled permanently by a brother that doesn't understand the freedom.

What Paul also didn't advocate is the individual who knows the freedom, bashing it over another's heads with little disregard.

There is time for putting down your freedoms and a time for teaching others that they also have freedom in Christ.

I think you've made a good point of covering both of those sides... I just want to make sure that we understand the scope - we don't want to be misinterpreted as saying that it is never appropriate to be expressive because there is always a weaker brother.

Another couple of interesting points/questions:

1) 1 Cor 8 uses the example of something that is extra Biblical... whether or not to eat meat, given unto an idol - This is approaching from the standpoint of whether or not we can do *non-spiritual* things that others think are "not allowed". Drinking alcohol, eating meat, etc.

How does that differ from expression of love toward the Father, Himself? We aren't dealing with people who think loving the Father is a sin (like eating meat given to idols) - we are dealing with people who merely aren't comfortable with open expression

Since we are talking sinner-to-God expression, let's try to be more apples to apples and apply the same thought process to prayer in the church - if a brother is uncomfortable with public prayer - should we not do so from the pulpit?

2) The passage also uses the word "apollytai" (sp?) which can refer to a physical death (in response to a weaker brother becoming confused) - It seems that (like I seem to do :)) , Paul likes to share extremes at times to express his points.

Summing up - let me take my original two parts and add a third:

1) We should not be arrogant in our freedoms by doing so in a fake, attention seeking or disruptive manner (IE - I'd advocate that closing your eyes, putting your face toward the sky and raising your hands is ok... doing cartwheels down the aisle while speaking in tongues is not).

2) We do need to be aware of the state of weaker brothers and sisters - but part of being aware is using teachable moments to share with them the freedoms we have understood to be had in Christ.

3) The reserved state around a weaker brother is not a perpetual thing.

Without diving back into the clothing arguments, I don't think Paul's intent is to take lowest common denominator legalism and allow it to rule the land. I think he advocates a time where while relationships are being established, we show respect (not arrogance) toward others so that we can form a relationship in which they can be educated - removing the issue in the long run.

Just my thoughts - its only 11 am - my brain isn't working yet. :)