Lecture 12: The Leader and Revelation
Lecture: The Leader and Revelation
VI. Leader of Worship
A. Jesus is the True Leader
In the New Testament sense, ultimately, the leader of New Testament worship is Jesus, himself. He is the one who has gone before us and offered the one true sacrifice. Does that mean there is no space for human leadership in worship? No, I don’t so; Hebrews 13 speaks about treating those who lead us well in the church. Part of the leadership role would be leading in the setting of worship. This would be like talking about the one true teacher and multiple teachers in the church. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and we need to constantly affirm that. There are also human teachers: pastors teach and elders teach and other gifted people with the Holy Spirit teach. Even though there is one true teacher, he teaches through human teachers. We could point to a Scripture like Galatians 4 that talks about the Spirit of God being sent into our spirits and teaches our hearts to cry Abba, Father. There is the sense where the Spirit enables us to teach. We only understand by the Spirit and we are only able to respond by the Spirit. There is a sense where Jesus is the true leader of worship, but it would also be appropriate to call the Spirit a leader in the same way we would speak about human leaders. Human leaders will lead us and if they are doing well, they will lead us more deeply into the experience of real worship. It would certainly be true that the Spirit is doing this. We can’t worship apart from the leading, guiding and assisting of the Spirit of God. We shouldn’t get too hung up on terminology here, but the major point is not to get offended by using language as the worship leader. That would be very offensive to them. This is the reality but it doesn’t mean there is no experienced human agency or leadership in the church. It isn’t an either/or but instead a both/and; so, we need to acknowledge the role of the Spirit in our worship.
B. Pastors, Ushers, etc.
Think about some of the human leaders in worship. We would say that there is one teacher and also many teachers. So, who in the church are appropriately called leaders of worship? In popular language today, most of the time worship leaders are really song leaders. A pastor would certainly be a worship leader. When the pastor opens the Word of God and leads us into the presence of the Lord through the Word of God. This is leading and worship. So, the music leaders aren’t the only worship leaders. Those who lead in any of the elements of the worship service from the liturgy or those who do Scripture reading. All of these people are leading us in worship. Sometimes the language used, would be assisting in worship. Ushers are also worship leaders and my hope would be, that either we don’t use the phrase worship leaders unless we use it as applying to everybody who is leading us in worship.
C. Not Limited to Music
Either we leave it to Jesus alone and we all become assistants. But if we use the phrase worship leaders, let’s don’t just use it for the musicians. Let’s use it for the ushers, those who read the Scriptures and for the preacher. Again, language is important and, in this case, using the phrase, worship leaders; this will become a miscaption where worship just equals songs. So, I would rather be a little broader in understanding this phrase or a little more particular. What other phrases can we use for describing the music team? Perhaps, praise leader might be more helpful, ideally the songs we sing will not only be songs of praise. There will be songs of lament. But, perhaps, praise leader is a little closer than worship leader. The big picture of worship, even when we are gathered together, worship is more than the music. So, it could be praise leaders, song leaders or music leaders; any of these would be helpful. This may involve changing some of the culture of the church, but that sort of thing is always difficult to do.
VII. Saint Mary of the Feet – Sister of Martha
Key New Testament passages would include 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18. One of my favorite New Testament characters would be Mary, the sister of Martha. Mary, the sister of Martha, shows up in the Scriptures several times and she is always at the feet of Jesus. In Luke 10, she was at the feet of Jesus when Martha was busy serving. Mary is given the privilege of sitting in on the meeting like the disciples as Jesus teaches. She is also at the feet in John 11 when Jesus comes to their home in Bethany because Lazarus is dead. After the conversation of Jesus and Martha, Mary comes to Jesus and throws herself at his feet once again and pleads on behalf of her brother. Then when Lazarus is raised from the dead, again, Mary is at the feet of Jesus at John 12. Now, she is anointing the feet of Jesus with her precious and expensive and elaborate sacrifice. Saint Mary of the Feet is a great model for me. In John 11, worship rightly asks God for things that we need as Mary does with her brother Lazarus. In Luke 10, worship sits and listens and enjoys the presence of the Lord. In John 12, worship is lavished and extravagant and determines that God is worth it, even if no one else understands.
We would certainly add the whole book of Hebrews to the mix. Everything is about Jesus being better than the worship in the Old Testament.
This has often been seen as an entire book devoted to the subject of worship. What are some of these themes that reveal the nature of worship to us?
A. All Nations
In Revelation 7:9-10 and also Revelation 5:9 as well, we see that the same thing is repeated; it represents a bigger glimpse culturally and also racially, but not radically different from what God has already intended. It is the fulfillment of what had already been promised in the Old Testament. When we are called into worship, we are called into something much greater than ourselves. We need to help our people understand this. I love to get global glimpses to the people in worship. I think that it is exciting in trying to expand the horizons no matter where you are worshipping. People need to see and understand what it will be like in heaven. Culturally, ethnically, nationally and racially, how can we provide a larger glimpse of what worship is about? How can we help people understand that this is the reality, the real thing that will dominate worship for all eternity, unlike what we may be experiencing here on earth? We could allow others to come in and hear this from other churches, even those who might want to challenge some of our perceptions. We could do this through a sister congregation, sharing with one another. We could have songs from other cultures. In visiting churches in other parts of the world, we are not surprised to hear this. We are not often willing and in anguish to learn songs from other cultures and translate them into English and bring them over into our culture. This is one key theme in revelation.
B. Song of Salvation and Praise
Back to Revelation 7:9-10, what is the song that the multitude will sing forever and ever? The song of salvation, or Salvation Belongs to Our God; this becomes a huge theme in the Book of Revelation; this is the song of eternity. This is a song of salvation and praise to God for what he has done in Christ. The Lamb of God is a key figure in the praise and all praise for our salvation is to God. None of it is to us. In spite of God coming near us through the incarnation, God’s holiness has not diminished. He is still as holy as he ever was. We are often guilty of snobbery in our worship and we have to watch out for this especially in the contemporary worship movement. We think that if the song is more than five years old, it is too old. Last year in this class, a person wrote a paper on a church worship service saying that their songs were combined with old and new; the old being early nineties! We don’t have to have new songs continually in our singing; sometimes people justify this by quoting the Psalm ‘sing unto the Lord a new song.’ This is using a three-thousand-year-old Psalm to demonstrate contemporary relevance. We talked about stretching people culturally; how can we stretch people chronologically to let them see that worship is more than just me and Jesus right here now? We need to consider children as we often brush them easily aside as well as the elderly. When we think about issues of access and accessibility, this is one of the issues that we need to confront. Often, older members in any given congregation can feel alienated. They don’t understand the songs and can’t even follow the songs because there is no music for them to follow.
C. God’s Holiness
So just imagine the problems that are created sometimes when a church decides to change their worship style. We need to remind ourselves that we are part of an ancient movement, not something that is cutting edge and contemporary. Sure, there is room for the latest and greatest and the best, but there is something very distinctive about entering into something as ancient as the church worship scene. I was very struck by this word from Jesus to the Sadducees. When they confronted him in Matthew 22 about questions for the purpose of trapping him. They had questions about the resurrection when they didn’t even believe in the resurrection. Jesus told them that they didn’t understand; God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living. When we bring in elements from the Scriptures and also from the history of the church along with ancient creeds and confessions and hymns, this is helpful for young people to be reminded of what the church is about. In regards to cultural relevance; this is a key concern here. Some of the critics of contemporary worship; the real criticism is cultural. It isn’t the culture that they are used to as it reflects another culture than their own. This is reality; so, sometimes, what we think is traditional is simply a cultural comfort zone. We always need to find a balance; it is appropriate to be culturally relevant. It is also appropriate to find ways that will help in any given culture. It is deeply challenging.
For worship, I think we sometimes develop a heart language. It is like a bilingual person who knows two or more languages, but there is something that never replaces worship in their mother tongues. They can sing the words, but it doesn’t quite penetrate the same way. So, in developing this heart
language, we need to understand in any given culture, the language that really connects. The language that helps them to access the Living God and understand that they can commune with the Living God. Yet, people need to be stretched, but there is always something that will be cultural appropriative.
D. Part of a Larger Movement
In days gone by, it was the missionary problem that culture was exported along with the Gospel, western cultural language was often was forced upon them. We need to be honest with ourselves and understand what is going on with the shortcomings of this cross-cultural language or lack thereof. Sometimes, I lead the worship and praise service at a certain college and with the youth, I led a worship time around Isaiah 6. I had the whole chapel that day. We sang holy, holy, holy with piano and guitar, but others criticized in saying that you had to have an organ to sing that. I remembered the day before I led that worship, I had sat with a bunch of young people with two guitars singing the same song. The students said in their present cultural reality, the organ communicates something different to the younger worshipers than older worshipers. To them, it communicated an alienation that wasn’t holiness, but a different kind of alienation. So, cultural relevance is important. A little maxim that I often use; meet me where I am and help me go where I need to go. I use this in Christian Education a lot. It’s very important in terms of worship. In regards to people, if we meet them where they are at in order to bring them into the presence of God, then cultural relevance is really magnified. As we grow together in community, part of the things that we are growing toward is the understanding that we are part of something bigger than just you and me and Jesus. That means stretching cultural comfort zones. When I was in the Lutheran seminary, I would read through some of the hymns which were just wonderful but absolutely unsingable. They were unsingable hymns, yet those words would be very powerful using another tune. Yes, it is good to stretch a little, but it’s not as important in stretching to something you just can’t understand.
Even though, we need this connection and exposure, it will never connect with our heart language. It is more important to have the respect, connection, and understanding with them. But it doesn’t have to mean that I have to be amerced in their style. How far can I go in regards to what is culturally appropriate for people to truly worship God. That is what we are after. We are asking people to meet God in a spirit of truth. There is some stretching that can be done, but even there, the stretching means awareness of cultures and preparation for the fact that this is our eternal destiny. We need to be aware of what happened in ages past but it doesn’t mean that we have to relive those ages past. It doesn’t mean that I have to put myself into the midst of another cultural experience which will be foreign and alien to me. In regards to theology, this should be transcultural and trans chronological. We can profit from the creeds and confessions; but even in that, there is a continual re-articulation. The style issues have to be secondary. This one element in leading worship is an area that I would want to address. Leading worship is usually bigger than we take it to be. I wish we could find ways to carefully combine thoughtful preparation with the openness in the New Testament. There is openness when the Spirit of God wants to lead in a certain direction and we should be flexible enough to do this. One such conference that Frame talks about, where they sang, I love you Lord for about twenty minutes. He made the point that it was wonderful and powerful. It seemed to have been one of those moments where everyone became committed.
E. Triumph of God
He wins in the end. This is a key theme in our worship; we remind ourselves of the reign of God. Even in spite of evidence to the contrary. We know that it is true. We saw this in Psalm 73. My present experience, the righteous is getting the difficult end of the deal and the wicked are prospering. However, worship reminds me of the reality. Nothing escapes the notice of God and no sin escapes the judgment of God. God is enthroned and will ever be enthroned. The Psalms proclaim this and revelation is the ultimate consummation of this and we get to enter into that. He wins.
F. Celebrating the First Coming of Christ
The two dominant themes: the first coming of Christ is celebrated, especially as it focuses on the Cross event. It is called the Cross event because it included the complex death and resurrection along with his ascension.
G. Looking Forward to the Second Coming
His second coming is also a key theme in revelation as the ultimate triumph of God.
H. Praying, Come, Lord Jesus!
Revelation teaches us to pray, Come Lord Jesus and this becomes another dominant theme in our worship. This is the last prayer that Revelation teaches us. So, we live between these two comings and pray and anticipate his coming. This theme is picked up elsewhere in the new testament. Peter says that as you look forward to that day, what king of life should you live? Jesus taught us to pray, Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our worship should be focused on his first coming and his final coming and prayerfully interceding in the meantime.