Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Word about Worship

One of the subjects very dear to my heart is that of worshipping God. Especially in a corporate setting. Once you have experienced the touch of the Spirit's power in a church or conference setting and then had it forciably removed, one grows extremely protective when it is attacked. I hear on the grapevine that yet again lines are being drawn and people are being forced to make decisions between "intimate" and "lingering" worship and theological mighty hymns.

Why should we?

One of my favourite choruses of all time is the beautiful song sang at Stoneleigh 1998 so powerfully led by Kate Simmonds;

"Draw me close to You, never let me go. I lay it all down again, to hear You say that I'm Your friend. You are my desire. No one else will do. For nothing else can take Your place, to feel the warmth of Your embrace. Help me find the way - bring me back to You.

You're all I want. You're all I've ever needed. You're all I want - help me know You are near".

Yet just as similiarly I am passionately stirred by Kate Simmond's latest hymn; "In Him I have believed";

In Him I have believed, on this my hope now rests
That Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
The all-surpassing joy of knowing Christ my Lord
The former things, I count them all as loss
Called out of darkness into Your goodness
We are Your children, chosen in Christ!
Now in Your family, heirs of the promise
To Your purpose on the earth I give my life

A people born of God, united by Your call
One faith, one Lord, one Father of us all
Joined with bonds of love, and planted in Your house
We worship You with hearts and lives poured out
Let us go on in the power of Your Spirit
Taking Your gospel to all the world!
Declaring Your wisdom, our great commission,
That Jesus Christ has come to save the lost!

Whatever trials may come, in faith, Lord, help us stand
For righteousness and justice in our land What fear can hold us now?
We run toward the prize
Our lives already crucified with Christ
Through every nation, Your kingdom advances
Who can extinguish this spreading flame?
Through tribulations, we’ll stand on Your promise:
‘I will build My Church and hell will not prevail!’

And on that final day, the citizens of heaven
Called out to be the new Jerusalem
In multitudes will bow before the throne of God:
One nation called from every tribe and tongue
Great celebration! The glorious union: The Lion of Judah and the pure, spotless Bride!
All of creation waits for this moment All your promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ!

So I ask again, why does it have to be one or the other?

At the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1999, Dr James Boice and Dr John Piper had a fascinating interaction during the Panel Discussion that closes the conference. Boice (as would be expected) was suspicious of choruses and slightly mocked what he called "Alleluia Mantras". Piper's response on the other hand was outstanding and marked what I passionately cling to:

(By the way I have taken blatent and unashamed overuse of the bold and underline key)

Questioner: For Dr Boice. Concerning the “Alleluia Mantra” that you mentioned Monday night. (*laughter*).

Dr Boice: I retract all that (*laughter*).

Questioner: I believe that you said then, that it might stir up some emotion but it wouldn’t be worship. So my question for you, especially in light of the fact that it’s “Desiring God” Ministries that has brought you here (laughter), what place does emotion have in worship if any place at all, and John you can respond to that too.

Dr Boice: Yes, I will probably never be invited back so I can say anything at all. No, the only thing that I am concerned about is that worship does not exclude emotion, but worship is not worship if it doesn’t engage the mind. I think I would say, along those lines, the same kind of thing that John Stott does in “Your Mind Matters”. And worship is ascribing praise to God. Which means we are praising God for being God, and unless that has content, it’s meaningless.

So emotion without that kind of substance is meaningless - it’s just an emotion. However to understand the greatness of God in various attributes should be an emotional thing. So my objection to the kind of music that is mearly repeating words (and I use ‘Alleluia’ as an example because it’s just one word being repeated over and over again). I think that bypasses the mind, I don’t really think that is worship in most cases, unless people are bringing more to it than is there in the song. So, I say that is the advantage of the hymns - the hymns have the theology in them, when you say them you are actually saying something that has meaning, and it has to do with God and it should evoke emotion, if it doesn’t, it’s falling flat.

Dr Piper: One of the ways to put the two together, is that what’s missing in the hymns is the opportunity to linger, once the emotion has been illicited. So you either preach, or you read the Scriptures or you sing a magnificent hymn, and God begins to manifest Himself through that Biblical truth and at that moment I think most of us take an offering. (laughter). If you want to bring forth an expression to God of the other side - Edwards says God gave man two faculties, the faculty of the volition and the faculty of the mind or the reason - and that when they both are active in their highest intensity, you have affections in the one, and you have right thinking in the other, and you don’t have worship without (I would say) both.

Right thinking is not worship. Worship is right thinking making it’s way into that other faculty, and bringing forth from it right affections and when the two meet, and find proper expression, that that’s worship.

The simple little repetetive choruses can be used as a mantra, or you can use them as a response to something so magnificent that you’ve got to linger a little bit over this truth. You just said this magnificent truth, are you just going to switch off and quick go to another magnificent truth and quick, go to another magnificent truth? You never have the opportunity to let it sink in and soak in and then express, so that’s the function of these simplier things.

*end of transcript section*

I think that is an excellent and fascinating point. Why are we as evangelicals so afraid of emotion? Why are we so afraid of to use Piper's beatuiful phrase; "lingering"?? I don't think we're at all in danger in the United Kingdom at any rate of getting over familiar with God. Our danger surely is that we are in danger of quenching the Holy Spirit and not allowing Him to move and stir those very biblical affections (to cite Jonathan Edwards) towards God. To re-quote one of my favourite citations of Terry Virgo: "This is no age to advocate restraint".

Worship must be in truth - of course. Yet the Lord Jesus also said it must be "in Spirit". Oh for a church that honours both! That honours the Word yet passionately welcomes the Holy Spirit!

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