Lecture 7: Principles 9 – 11
Course: Essentials of Worship
Lecture: Principles 9-11
Principle #9: When We worship as a community, our concerns for individual freedom and self-expression must be balanced with the need to “prefer one another in love” and “consider others more important than ourselves.”
Principle #9 – When we come together as community in worship our concern for individual freedom and self-expression must be balanced with the need to “prefer one another in love” and “consider others more important than yourself.”
I am quoting here, of course, Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Think not only of your own needs or interests, but also of the interests of others.” Then verse 5, “Let this mind or attitude be in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” which is a beautiful Scripture about life and community. Principle #9 is a reminder that this principle needs to be played out in our corporate worship gatherings.
Putting others before yourself, being conscious of all groups and their needs
When we gather together, do not think only about what you like, what you prefer, what you need, what your convictions are about the way worship should be, what is most meaningful to you, what is most fulfilling for you. Do not think only about those things; discern the body, submit to the body, think of the needs of others of the body.
This is, again, another area where we miss it so much. We are so self-focused and self-concerned; that is why we have our worship wars. I go back to that first church experience of mine. Eighty percent of us were loving the balance of old and new, young and old, traditional hymns on the organ and newer hymns and praise songs accompanied with the guitar. But behind the scenes, perhaps ten percent on either side were just refusing to see the other perspective or the broader perspective or the needs of the body, insisting that things be done their way. The result, of course, was ripping the body apart.
How different from Paul’s command, in Ephesians chapter 4, that we “make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” How different than Paul’s language here, that we think not only of our own needs but also the needs of others and consider other people more important than ourselves.
What a difference that would make in the church today, if we approached worship, our worship gatherings, with such a mindset. Young people considering the older people more important than themselves; the older people considering the young people more important than themselves; the adults considering the children more important than themselves, thinking not only of their own needs.
We cannot have one worship service that does all things; that is unrealistic. But, in one worship service we must be conscious of all members of the body that are gathered together. To those who are charged with leading worship experiences we need to say, “Please consider who is being left out by the design, by the format, by the songs; whose needs are being completely ignored?”
In our own chapel experiences here at the seminary there are a number of people in our community, frankly a number of faculty members, who will wander in the hallways during the beginning of chapel until the music stops and then they will enter. On the one hand, I feel like sometimes they may need a rebuke, because they have such strong feelings against the contemporary praise that dominates many of our chapel services today.
But, on the other hand, and just as firmly, I feel like those who are leading praise today need a rebuke, because they have not thought about the fact that the contemporary singing, the volume itself, is challenging to older worshipers. Projecting the song with words only and not giving a chance for someone to read the music line is very difficult for someone who is raised reading that music line and does not know how to pick up so quickly a song melody that they simply hear once. Some of the contemporary rhythms are difficult for them.
Again, I do not think we can be all things to all people, but can we have some place in the service that acknowledges the presence and needs of someone who is different from those who are leading? Can’t we, at some point, acknowledge the presence of children? Can’t we, at some point, acknowledge the presence of those who have a different heart language when it comes to issues of worship? Yes, we can and we must and God forgive us that we do not.
Private worship time vs. corporate
We need to be thoughtful of this, and then we also need to be thinking about the fact that my own personal self-expression needs might be better served in my prayer closet, back at home in my private times of worship, than in corporate gatherings of the community for worship.
Paul suggests this in 1 Corinthians 14 when he said to those who have the gift of tongues, “If there is no interpretation, then when you pray, just keep it to yourself; keep it quiet. Don’t bring that into the midst of the community. The community won’t be served by that. You might be built up by that, speaking out loud in your tongue, but keep it to yourself. That is between you and God; it is not for the sake of the community.” That kind of mindset, I think, is exactly what Paul has in mind in Philippians 2, “Don’t think of your own needs only, what makes you feel good, worship is bigger than that."
The whole idea, of course, is complicated by the fact that we spend so much time shopping for a worship service that meets our needs and maybe that whole philosophy and whole approach to church hopping / church shopping needs to be revisited and reconsidered.
I’ll let us think more about implications of that but, for now, let principles 8 and 9 stand – when we worship as a community we are participating in something much bigger than just ’me and Jesus.’ We must discern the body and we must balance our desire for individual freedom and self-expression with the need to submit to the body, to consider others more important than ourselves.
Principle #10: Worship is first and foremost for God and about God. Its benefits in forming believers and in reaching unbelievers are secondary.
Balance of worship, nurture, and outreach
In the life of the church, we acknowledge and recognize that the church in every age and in every culture must be engaged in certain tasks, and these tasks are great and amazing and critical tasks. One way to think about these is to think of the three great tasks that the church attends to. They are the task of worship, the task of Christian nurture or Christian formation or Christian teaching, and the task of outreach, evangelism, justice in the world.
So, a God-ward commitment that we identify principally as the worship; body commitment, Christian formation, Christian teaching; and a commitment to unbelievers in outreach and evangelism and love and mercy. Obviously, these overlap; they are not three separate spheres. All of them have implications for the others.
But when we come together for worship, what we need to say is that worship is not primarily a Christian formation hour. And when we come together for worship, worship is not primarily an outreach hour. It does form people and it does have implications for unbelievers, but worship is first and foremost for God and about God. It does not have a lot of other necessary pieces that are on the agenda as priority. The priority is to be in God’s presence, give Him honor, hear His revelation fresh, and respond faithfully.
Royal “Waste” of Time
Marta Dawn, in one of her two books on worship, captures this idea in her very title. Actually, both of her titles sort of capture this idea. The first book is called, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, an argument for not turning worship into a seeker service or changing worship for the sake of unbelievers, but worshiping in a way that God desires and that will please God and serve God.
The second book by Marva Dawn, on the subject of worship, is called A Royal “Waste” of Time. In this book she makes the point that worship really is, in some sense, a waste of time. Certainly, in the eyes of the nonbelieving world it would be like a waste of time. In her title, “Waste” is in quotation marks and “Royal” is capitalized. It is royally wasting time with the King of kings. We are not accomplishing anything. Our agenda is not to really accomplish anything but to worship God.
I think that Marva Dawn, in some ways, overstates her case and is not as balanced as she purports to be, but I think that she raises some critical and important issues for us. So, what is in my mind about this Principal #10 is that, when we worship, our focus is on revelation, clarity of revelation from God, and faithful response to God. That is our focus. Give God His due, receive from Him His goodness, give Him His glory. As we do that, the other things happen, but that is not what we seek first.
Again, this is not to say there is not overlap. Paul makes it clear that there is overlap. Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 11–14. The title of the section, in my mind, again is ’When you come together.’ This is about the worship gatherings of the church. Chapter 11 is gathering for the Lord’s Supper. Chapter 12 is singing and praising and prophesying together. 14 is the same, ’When you come together’ for worship.
But, notice that Paul also has concern about formation of believers in connection with unbelievers, both in regard to speaking in tongues. See how he is concerned about Christian formation when he says, “I praise God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue,” 1 Corinthians 14:18-19. It is a ’When you come together’ segment of the life of the church. We have come together for worship, but in that gathering I must be also mindful of the fact that believers are formed here and believers are taught and instructed here. This is a secondary, and I think a very appropriate secondary, outworking of the worship experience. First is simply to worship God and give Him glory and a secondary benefit of that experience is that believers are formed.
“Seeker Sensitive” (1 Corinthians 14:23-25)
Paul also has concern for the unbeliever in the same passage. 1 Corinthians 14, he goes on to say, verse 23, “If the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say you’re out of your mind.” So Paul is concerned about unbelievers.
But, verse 24, “If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in and there is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare and he will fall down and worship God exclaiming, ’God really is among you.’” I think it is fair to say that, in a sense, Paul is seeker sensitive, at this point, he is showing seeker sensitivity.
But notice the kind of seeker sensitivity that Paul has in mind. It is a seeker sensitivity that means, “Let’s not let the unbeliever miss the opportunity to hear a clear word from God, so that they will have opportunity to become a worshiper, falling on their face and worshiping God.”
As we put these three tasks together, I think the weight of the biblical evidence is that, when we come together for worship, our first goal is worship – task number one. Then, flowing out of worship, are implications for Christian formation and implications for outreach and evangelism. But the point of principle 10 is, our focus, first and foremost, is for worship. We do not worship and establish a worship experience primarily to teach believers. We do not establish and design a worship experience primarily to reach unbelievers. We will say more about that in a little bit.
Principle #11: God is both the Subject and the Object of our worship.
We will stop with Principle #11 before turning to some other biblical texts for further consideration. Principle #11: God is both the subject and the object of our worship.
Subject: God initiates the encounter, by graciously revealing Himself and His will to us.
This again is reference to two things we have already talked about. First, it is a reference to some of the insights from Marva Dawn’s books on worship and I would certainly commend those two books to you, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down and A Royal “Waste” of Time, are provocative looks at worship. Marva Dawn uses this language, “God is the subject and the object of worship.”
I will say it in these terms: God is the subject of worship in the sense that it is He, God, who initiates the worship encounter by graciously revealing Himself and His work and His will to us. So, God initiates, therefore, God is the subject of worship. He is the one who has called us into His presence, called us into relationship, and called us to faithful response.
Object: It is to Him that we respond with love, praise, service, and obedience.
But we can say also, that God is the object of our worship. By this we mean that it is to God that we respond with love and praise and service and obedience. So, from Him come all good things and to him go all good things. This reminds me of Paul’s doxology, beautiful doxology at the end of Romans 11, when he says in verse 36, “For from him,” that is from God, “and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” God is the subject and object of our worship. Another way is simply saying that worship must be theocentric, God-centered, from first to last.