Strange Fire, Vulgar Offerings: When God says “…No, Thank you” to Worship
Is there really a right or wrong way to worship God?
This is a question that has divided the body of Christ as well as lead to splits within local churches. Hymns or Contemporary? A capella or instruments?Most would dismiss such questions as being secondary, irrelevant issues – and rightfully so.
Nonetheless as we read the scriptures and look at the examples of worship, we find that there are times when worship is done rightly and God blesses the people. There are time on the other hand, when God takes displeasure when worship may be done incorrectly and chooses to respond in kind.
This article will seek to examine instances where faulty worship was met with an ill-response from God, and how we as New-Covenant believers in the 21st century can avoid the same pitfalls.
When worship makes God frown
1. Reckless offerings
Now Nadab and Abihu,the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them,and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. Leviticus 10:1-3 (ESV)
Aaron was the brother of Moses and High Priest of the newly-founded nation of Israel. As a priest, he consecrated his sons unto God, and they in turn served their father in assisting his priestly duties – in this case, as incense bearers. Upon first glance, their task of bringing incense towards the altar seems menial. Why would God punish these two young men for such a small deed?
The Hebrew word for “unauthorized” inv2 is “zuwr” (Strong’s #H02114), which other translations render as “alien”,foreign”, “strange”, or “loathsome”. The connotation is that if something is“zuwr”, it is not welcome under any circumstances. God had given very clear instructions as to how the people of Israel were to meet with Him in worship (cf. Ezekiel 19), including the explicit command to “consecrate themselves”(19:10), where the meeting was to take place (19:12). When God came, “there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (v16). God called Moses to Mt Sinai, but before revealing His law, God sent Moses back down the mountain with a warning:
Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them. (v21–22)
This is why the fire of God consumed Nahab and Abihu: the rushed forward eagerly without invitation, without consecration. Outwardly it was an unclean offering, yet inwardly their hearts were not aligned with the Holiness of God. They simply presumed that by going through the motions, God would show up as if they were flicking a switch.
8 And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.” Leviticus 10:8-11
Verse 8 implicitly suggests that Nahab and Abihu were perhaps under the influence of alcohol; that in turn the priestly duties were to be conducted in a state of complete sobriety wherein a clear line between Holy and Profane was to be drawn lest the manifest presence of God destroy anyone nearby.
The instruction for God’s people to be consecrated before the time of worship may seem at first like the mirror opposite of the order of worship in a contemporary evangelical church service that is typically:
Here, we have God expecting the people of Israel to have already responded to the call to repent of Sin so that they can enter worship with a clean conscience. Modern church services on the other hand tend to use worship as a means of “Priming the Pump” leading up to the call to respond.
If you’re the MC for a church service,may I suggest (if not dare) the following challenge: Try beginning the service in reverse order with a full presentation of the gospel and call to respond followed by communion, the sermon and conclude it with Worship.
Just see what may happen.
2. Sanhedrin Showboaters
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6
When we think of “hypocrites”, we use the term to denote anyone who promotes a standard that they themselves clearly do not follow. In the 1st century however, the term “hypocrite” was commonly applied in the context of the performing arts, specifically Greco-Roman drama where the actors (who were typically of the social underclasses) wore masks to identify the character they were playing.
During the course of the day in Jewish Palestine, there would be times for prayer, whether it be at a local synagogue,on the street in public, or at home in private. Jesus was not condoning one venue over the other; he was specifically condemning those who refused to exercise any discretion in their activities and instead are loud and boisterous, relishing in the attention it gives them. Jesus says of such people: “they have received their reward” – God sees what they’re doing and notes that what goes on in their hearts doesn’t square up with the outward motions. Hence any outward accolades will be the only reward such people will get.
John the Baptist’s own words about such people are even more harsh:
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:7-10
“You, of all Israel, come here to repent?” John jeers. “How do you intend to pull off that kind of stunt? And don’t give me any of that ‘Sons of Abraham’ trash – God sees what you do in the synagogues in the name of ‘worship’ and as far as you’re concerned,he can get more satisfaction from a rock.”
Strong words indeed.
But the truth is that such individuals are always bound to show up anywhere. Anyone who’s been a Christian long enough has surely encountered such people who may seem outwardly loud and vivacious;they lift up the atmosphere with their energy and are generally well-liked because of it. But when you corner such people when they’re out of sight and behind closed doors, they hardly ever seem to deliver upon any authentic fruit.Their prayers are dull and apathetic. In spite of their outward flair, they will avoid at any cost any situation that will put them the proving grounds of authentic spirituality marked by heartfelt reliance upon God.
5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root Mark 4:5-6
When a plant grows in shallow soil, the roots do not grow deep, hence the stem immediately shoots straight up higher and higher, rapidly sprouting leaves and branches in an attempt to receive nourishment above the ground. Since the roots are stunted and are without the nutrients that come from the rich minerals found within deep, fertile soil, the plant becomes malnourished and is soon overwhelmed by the elements (weather, sunlight, disease) and quickly starts to die.
What the hypocritical worshipper lacks inwardly, they will try to flaunt outwardly. A hypocritical worshipper may at first display an excessive amount of action: they’re responsive to the Word of God, they always have a testimony or story to tell, they enthusiastically want to get involved in every opportunity for service that the church can offer which lets them be in the limelight. After a while however, the signs of burn-out start to show and all of these actions disappear until the “mask”eventually slips off.
3. Vain Repetition
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:5-8 (ESV)
For those belonging to Generation Y, one of the most popular children’s TV shows during the early 90s was Lamb Chop’s Play-Along created and hosted by the late Shari Lewis. Whether one remembers with joy or contempt, of particular note was the show’s closing theme song sung by the character Charlie Horse:
This is the song that doesn't end
Yes, it goes on and on my friendSome people started singing it not knowing what it was,And they'll continue singing it forever just because…[repeat ad nauseum]
Following from the above point, Jesus goes on to say that when people are to pray, they are not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Other translations would render “gentiles” as“Pagans”. Outside the context of 1st century Judaism, one of the common practices among those who embraced the Greco-Roman pantheon was to cry out to their gods with repeated phrases, increasing with volume and intensity with each turn.
In other words, they think that their gods are conned and intimated and hassled into responding because of loud repetition. An example of this would be in Acts 19:34 where in response to a high quantity of residents of the city of Ephesus turning to Christ and renouncing their worship of the goddess Artemis, a riot breaks out wherein “for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”
Such a practice ultimately suggests that God is not one who takes much attention of the affairs of the world as if to say that he created us, but now steps back to let things run on their own(deism). It also suggests that God is ignorant of people’s circumstances and is not lovingly involved in their lives.
Sadly, many contemporary worship songs are intentionally composed using what Jesus denounced as a useless, pagan practice.You take a phrase or familiar cliché’, word it into a single sentence, then add two or three chords, then play it until it reaches a crescendo where the church has been whipped up into an emotional high.
And yet, such “songs” carry in their lyrics very little weight or substance. They don’t necessarily aid teaching.They don’t serve as a means to educate the congregation of the things of God. This is why many conservative evangelical churches are reluctant to jump on the contemporary music bandwagon and are happy to stick to old hymns - The deeper your understanding of the truth of God, the higher your worship experience goes. Worship is directly correlated to understanding. The richer your theology, the more full your grasp of biblical truth, the more elevated your singing becomes. On the other hand, a low, superficial, shallow understanding of God will only serve to lead in either superficial worship or the adoption of practices that are idolatrous.
We say that "Deep cries to deep", yet I honestly believe that the opposite is trust as true - Shallowness cries out to emptiness; futility cries out to failure.
4. Chaos and Disorder
For those who not only affirm, but practice the charismata in church service, the Bible very plain as to how that is to be done:
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints,the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40
When one reads the Apostle Paul’s instructions for orderly worship and the operation of Spiritual Gifts incorporate giftings, one can see that the corporate gathering of believers is not to be treated as though it were an“open mike” free-for-all. If one were to infer as to what 1 Corinthians 12-14were to reveal about the character and personality of the Holy Spirit, He is not a party-animal. The reality is that for most, the idea of “Orderly Worship” carries with it as much appeal as the word“Bath” does to a dirty dog. If the character of the Holy Spirit is that of decency and order, why then do so many instead attribute to His personhood chaos, spontaneity and intemperance?
While many continuationists are faithful in obeying 1 Corinthians 14 to the letter,others – especially those belonging to the Word of Faith Movement and the New Apostolic Reformation - for the sake of being more open to their churches“moving in the spirit” disregard it and allow anything to come forth without discernment or testing. If there is any discernment, the basis for such would not be biblical as per the conditions set in 1 Corinthians 12-14, but rather more pragmatic in nature – Has the believer and church as a whole been able to succeed in attaining to the desired experience?
Attempts to scrutinize such manifestations are seen as legalistic,Pharisee-like and ultimately put God in the proverbial box, especially if and when the Bible itself is used as the standard of testing. The result being that the Bible is not held as the authority which provides the sole basis of our doctrine and practice, but rather an authority on a par with subjective experiences and testimonies.
It is of no surprise then, that when you listen to the preaching of churches that seek out and promote disorderly worship and other-wordly manifestations such as “drunk in the spirit”, “Holy Laughter” and the like, the treatment of scripture is more akin to the neo-orthodoxy of 19th century liberalism as opposed to an evangelical affirmation of inerrancy – it is no so much an outright denial of the inspiration of scripture as is the case with liberalism, but rather a challenge to the basis of it’s authority.
5. Cutting Corners
6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. 9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations,and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord.14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations. Malachi 1:6-14
In this text God rebukes the priests of Israel for not following the Laws governing how sacrifices were to be prepared and presented. Offered to God are animals that are malnourished, sick,deformed. Such offerings are on offence not so much due to the outward action,but rather the priests are intentionally refusing to give God the glory he deserves. In this prophecy, God presents himself as Lord, ruler and Father – he has made his nature and character obvious to all, especially the priests.
The excuse the priests offer is “What a weariness this is,” (v13). They’re in effect saying, “God, we know that you’re real, that your word is clear, that you are holy and deserving of honor.But that’s honestly too difficult for us, so can you please do us all a favor and back off.” Please note: these people are not like the Athenians in Acts 17 who dedicate a temple to the “unknown God” and are just awaiting clarification. These are God’s covenant people who are seeking to push Him away for the sake of their own comfort. Furthermore, such expressions of spiritual laziness are not general within the population, this is coming from the priests themselves. When those in spiritual authority begin to compromise in worship, the rest of god’s people surely follow by example until apostasy becomes the norm.
Keeping the Altar pure
So how can we as new-covenant believers in the 21st century avoid such grievous mistakes in our own church gatherings?
1) Eliminate Distractions
Most of us are familiar with the lyrics of Matt Redman’s signature song, “TheHeart of Worship”:
When the music fades
and all has slipped away
and I simply come.
Longing just to be
something that's of worth
that will bless Your heart.
I'll bring You more than a song,
for a song in itself
is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within,
through the way things appear,
Your looking into my heart.
I'm coming back to the heart of worship
and its all about You, its all about You, Jesus.
I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it
when its all about You, its all about You,Jesus.
While such lyrics may receive a hearty “Amen!” for what they signify, the actual story behind how Redman came up with the song is one of risk and boldness.
His home congregation, Soul Survivor Church in Watford, UK, had all the proverbial bells and whistles of contemporary evangelical praise and worship – high tech sound system, lighting,professional-level musicians. And yet as time went on, the congregation had grown stale and lukewarm in it’s affections.
After speaking with senior pastor Mike Pilavachi, a solution was made that had the potential to divide and split the congregation: do a corporate “fast” wherein worship would be done without the band, sound system or lighting in favor a capella singing or acoustic. The first Sunday was met with awkward silence, but eventually the congregation relearned how to worship with authentic passion and conviction. Once “the heart of worship” was restored, the more optional peripherals were eventually brought back – but they were to never again be the center of attention that they once were.
I know of one pastor, who fearing the risk or distraction during corporate worship, kept the band at the back of the sanctuary behind a curtain while congregants faced forward looking at a screen with the lyrics being projected while the songs were played at low volume. Why? So the church could focus on what they were actually singing from their hearts rather what they were watching with their eyes.
Here’s a challenge:
1) Take a sheet of paper, and three pens (black/blue, green and red).
2) Make a list of EVERYTHING that is done in your corporate worship gathering. Be specific as possible: format, structure, instruments, lighting, sound system, song choice/arrangement)
3) With your green pen, place a tick √ next to any item you can also do in your personal private devotions at home in private
4) With your red pen, place a X next to anything that you don’t do in your personal private devotions
Now take a careful look at your list and ask yourself “What are the things on this list that I need to bring me closer to God?” If indeed there are things that you’ve given a X that you feel are 100% necessary to experience the reality ofGod’s presence, the obvious question is “Why can’t I experience that privately?”
2) Worship Leader as Koheleth (Teacher-Priest)
In the book of Ecclessiastes, King Solomon addresses himself as “the Koheleth”.The term can denote “Gatherer” (in the context of Temple worship) or “Teacher”. Either way, Solomon saw his position as one who gathers the people of Israel together for worship (a priestly duty) and also instructs them as to the things of God (a rabbinical duty).
While Jesus is the one who ultimately serves as our High Priest who intercedes on behalf of the Elect and God the Father (Hebrews 4), there is nonetheless the onus upon Worship Leaders to bringGod’s people to worship on the basis of presenting the truth of God accurately so as to avoid faulty perceptions of God being expressed with undue passions.
May I submit then, given the above charge as well as the “up front” position of a Worship Leader during corporate gatherings, whoever the church places in charge of leading Praise and Worship should be someone who would otherwise meet the qualifications of an ordained elder:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care ofGod’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8 In the same way,deacons m are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A Deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 3:1-13
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach,the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer,as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
- Above reproach: Not attracting accusation or having a reputation as a troublemaker
- Managing his own family: Is the person at home as consistant in his personal conduct as his leadership within the church?
- Not a recent convert: They are spiritually mature; not having to be going through what they should be teaching the young believers
- Reputation with outsiders: A model citizen, not a nuisance; is he salt and light?
- Keeping hold of the deep truths of the faith: Do they have godly convictions that they’re willing to take a stand for?
- Instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it: They have sufficient knowledge of sound doctrine to give instruction in biblical theology as well as pointing out and refuting error
Is there a reason why so many churches promote such shallow theological standards and requirements for men and women who during a Sunday service will spend as much time singing with the congregation as the Pastor will do preaching to them? Why do we say it’s appropriate for someone who barely knows God’s Word to lead God’s people in singing “the depth, the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God“ (Romans 11:33)? The sad truth is that our churches have produced a generation of worship leaders who are musically talented, yet spiritually inept at learning and teaching.
At the end of the day, how the church conducts Praise and Worship is to be determined by the theologians and the expositors of Scripture - as opposed to anybody who may know how to sing the CCLI Top 10 songs.
3) Appeal to conviction, not emotion for the sake of emotionalism
On at least more than one occasion during a corporate gathering at either a Sunday service, small-group Bible Study or a fortnightly prayer meeting, I will look at the lyrics being projected onto a screen and feel a sense of dread in my mind and in my spirit:
“Those lyrics are wrong…” At best they were misguided clichés. Other times they're unbiblical and blasphemous in how they described God.
And yet, I would notice other around me who would seem unfazed by such concern, if such were even shared. They would be lifting their voices in song, raising their hands, weeping with tears, on be down on their knees prostrate. For some reason, whether it be out of ignorance or maybe because they saw it as a pattern to be followed, the content of the lyrics was to be disregarded. Under such circumstances, I find myself with difficult trilemma:
a) Go along with it(conformity)
b) Do my own thing (individualism)
c) Pay no attention and do nothing (apathy)
Of course, in the presence of God, none of the above options seems viable towards myself, to God, or the church.
20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
21 Little children,keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:20-21
When we think ofspiritual idolatry, we tend to view it at the ideological level concerningviews and teachings that go against the Word of God. Yet since the overarchingtheme of 1 John is how love expresses itself as a fruit of living in truth, wemust also be conscious of the fact that idolatry concerns not just whatwe think about the things of God, but also what we feel.If any given teaching or practice seems questionable yet nonetheless draws usin emotionally while on the other hand we may be unfeeling towards things weknow are legitimate and true, we have every reason to be suspect that an act ofdeception has taken place.
Just as detrimental can be when weattach to much attention upon a specific “mountain top experience” in time thatserves to give much greater meaning to our worship than the subject of ourworship in of itself. This may have happened at a church service, a youth camp,a conference – what may have been a genuine encounter with the presence of God,yet instead of moving onwards, you seek to do everything to return to thatexperience, emulating the atmosphere, the mood, the circumstances; withoutwhich you just can’t do worship.
For some of you, this comes down tomusical preferences.
“But I worship God through this music. Nothing else works!”
You may worship music rather thanmusic pointing to God.
It may have been a moment where evenin singing a song or hearing a song, the glory of God was revealed to you,meaning that your heart and mind were open to love Jesus, but now you have tosing that song, or you have to singthem in that arrangement.
The truth is, it is a sin to want tocontinually relive mountaintop experiences. We are to enjoy those sacredmoments that God shows up in glory in our life, and then proceed forwardtrusting that, if and when it’s time, he will meet with us at a different time,perhaps even in a different way altogether.
4) Acknowledge the attributes of God practically
How many times during a Sunday service have you heard the Worship Leader of apastor step up to the stage and say “Mmm.. I sense that the presence of God ishere…”
…as if to suggest that perhaps allthis time you have been singing to Him, that… he wasn’t?
Such statements may sound lofty andspiritual, but in truth it gives away just how shallow and ignorant people’sviews of God really is. Consider: if a non-Christian were to come into youSunday gathering and create a systematic theology based upon their perceptionsas an outsider, most of us would certainly be mortified after hearing thereport of “This is what I think Christians believe based upon what I’ve seenthem say and do.”
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints
forthe courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God. 3 Eventhe sparrow finds a home,
andthe swallow a nest for herself,
whereshe may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
myKing and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in yourhouse,
ever singing your praise! Psalm 84:1-4 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall Iflee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed inSheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in theuttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right handshall hold me. Psalm139:7-10
The psalmists saw the manifest (localized) presence of God as something to besought and longed after. At the same time however, there was a heartfelt senseof fear and awe that came from constant awareness as to the omnipresence ofGod.
How different would things be then, ifin our worship meetings we believed and acknowledged the attributes of God?There would be no need to manipulate people or try to get them psyched up intoan emotional frenzy – they just need to acknowledge that he is real, that he isthere, that is free to do as he pleases, whether it be to reveal himself inpower and glory, or to be behind the scenes through quiet providence.
5) Discern the seasons with wisdom
1 For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter underheaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time todance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrainfrom embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a
time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
If you are a Worship Leader, consider the following hypothetical: A well-likedmember of the congregation has an eight year old son in Hospital suffering fromterminal cancer with only weeks, if not days, to live despite having receivedthe best treatment that doctors could provide. One day day you receive thetragic news that the boy lost the battle and died, much to the sadness of hisparents, family and the church's congregation overall.
You have to lead worship at the next weekend service, knowing that many willstill be grieving. What do you think would be an appropriate arrangement forthe song selection? Would you use an upbeat, "happy-clappy" praisechorus in the hopes of getting people pumped and excited? Or would you seek tobe more somber and contemplative?
While the above situation may be only a hypothetical, it is in part one of thereasons why I would assert that the person put in charge and arranging andleading praise and worship in a local church be a recognized pastoral leaderrather than just a lay congregant with musical talent only - the former isfamiliar with and knows how to address the various real-life issues congregantswill face in a way that the latter may not necessarily be qualified to handle.
Scripture tells us that God "comforts us in all our affliction, so that wemay be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort withwhich we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:4). Sadly, thetruth is however that many churches put so much emphasis on Praise in theirworship arrangements that expressions of grief are either left absent or areswept under the proverbial rug.
Yet throughout the scriptures, we findexamples of grief and lament being expressed as worship unto God:
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for theliving God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long,"Where is your God?"
4 These things I remember as I pour outmy soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to thehouse of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope inGod, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and
6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from theland of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon--from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves andbreakers have swept over me.
8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me-- a prayer tothe God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go aboutmourning, oppressed by the enemy?"
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long,"Where is your God?"
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hopein God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God
Psalm 42 (New International Version)
In response to thechorus of a popular praise song composed by a church best known for preachingthe modern message, John Piper says that a God-centred approach to Christianliving
“is very much aware that every day with Jesus isnot ‘sweeter than the day before.’
Some days with Jesus our disposition is as sour as raw persimmons. Some dayswith Jesus we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days withJesus fear turns us into a knot of nerve ends. Some days with Jesus we are sodepressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want tosit down on the grass and cry. Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the daybefore. We know it from experience and we know it from Scripture.”
The false gospel of “God loves you and has aWonderful plan for Your Life” has only served to produce multitudes of peoplewho perpetually wear these emotionless smiles out of fear that by being honestand upfront about the realities of life, Christianity will seem empty andlifeless. Don’t talk about health problems. Don’t discuss relationshipbreakdowns. Don’t discuss relatives disowning you because your newfound faithconflicts with their own beliefs. Don’t say or do anything that would make thegospel seem like a killjoy for people’s lives.
Furthermore, worship leaders who are awareof such hardships among those that God has placed under their Priesthood mustbe willing to lower the bar and compromise their standards of Christ-likecompassion if they really want to be faithful to a “Praise Only” ideology. Sucha mentality can only prove self-destructive to a church in the log-run.
A final word: Regulativeor Normative?
How worship is to beconducted in the context of a gathering of believers (on Sunday or elsewhere)has been the subject of much debate and controversy. Simply put, the questionis “To what extent do we seek to apply and live out the Scripture?”
This debate has usually caused believers to adopt one of twoopinions:
Normative - Corporatechurch worship services must include all the elements that Scripture commandsand may include others so long as they are not prohibited by Scripture.
Regulative - Corporate church worship services must include all theelements that Scripture commands or are a good and necessary implication of abiblical text and nothing more, nothing less.
Expressions of the Normative Principle would probably be seen more incontemporary evangelical churches that on any given Sunday would featureContemporary Christian Music (CCM), use of Multimedia, congregants wear smart-casual fashion.
Expressions of the Regulative Principle can be found in the moreconservative, “traditional” (I term I use loosely) churches such asPresbyterianism, Anglicanism and other Confessional churches. These churcheswill often be liturgical in nature and have a very rigid order of worship.(Whether these churches as they exist today genuinely do adhere to theregulative principle is debatable).
Some strengths of the Normative Principle:
1. It sees the Bible as principles and then gives flexibility for methods.
Advocates of the Normative Principle will assert that the Bible tends to be filled with principles, not methods,because it has to speak to people across thousands of years, all kinds ofcultures, languages, races, experiences. The Bible says, “Sing to the Lord”-There’s the principle. But what song? Which Instruments? How many vocalists? –That’s the method.
2. It allows cultural contextualization
Theway the church conducts music around the world cross-denominationally is vastlydiverse. You may have an Anglican Church in England practicing higher liurgywith a choir and pipe organ, yet in Africa you may have an Anglican Church thatholds to the same confessional standards yet does their worship with drums anddancing. Same Jesus, same Bible, same beliefs; doing the same things in their own cultural way.
3. It calls for consistency betweencorporate vs private worship
Why is it that would treat 1 hour a week by a certain set of rules for how wedo worship at church, and the other 167 hours of the week by a different set ofrules for how we do itat home behind closed doors.
Some weaknesses of the Normative Principles are:
1. It can lead to cultural syncretism.
If we do not draw the line between worship that pleases God vs worship thatblasphemes Him, we will eventually draw things into the church from outsidesources that will lead to deception (may I submit that when one studies thehistory of the nation of Israel, pretty every time it goes astray by forsakingthe law, worshipping other gods, et al, mostly occurs in response totoo-friendly contact with other nations).
2. It can elevate unbiblical elements tothe degree that they push out biblical elements.
The Bible says to have preaching and communion. And some churches don’t havemuch of either because they have other things that they’ve added, like drama,arts, multimedia. Not that these things are evil in of itself, but when theyencroach upon what we are to actually be focusing on in our comporategatherings as scripture commands, we have to say “Stop.”
3. It facilitates a Consumer mindset.
Itcan make our enjoyment and not God’s pleasure the object of “good worship”,It’s not about your glory. It’s about his pleasure. It’s not about what youlike or I like. It’s about what glorifies God. So you may say, “I don’t likethe band,” but did it glorify God? You may say, “I don’t know if I dug thesermon.”
Some strengths of the Regulative principle:
1. It lets God define the terms of how weare to worship.
The Christian comes before God on His terms, not vice-versa. It is the firstand second commandments set to melody.
2. Affirms a high view of Scripture
The Regulative principle forces believers to “’not go beyond what is written’, Then you will not bepuffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other” (1Corinthians 4:6). Churches that uphold the regulative principle very rarelydrift into liberalism as the Bible is upheld as the basis of worship as well asteaching and doctrine.
3. External influences are kept at bay
Syncetism, paganism, other religions, compromise andworldliness – such things do not enter the church because the line has beendrawn first of all in how the church conducts worship.
Some weaknesses of the Regulative Principle:
1. It’s logically fallacious when takento extremes.
To suggest that because something is absent from scripture it therefore must beexcluded wholly is to commit the fallacy of Argument from Silence
2. It over-spiritualises corporate gatheringsat the expense of personal devotion
When you walk in the building, adopt totally new mindset of word and deed as ifJesus wasn’t Lord over all, as if he ruled in the church service in a specialway than he does every other portion of the week.
3. It can lead to hyper-fundamentalism
While the Sunday service is to be for the teaching, edification and gatheringof believers, it is inivatble that if a church is faithful in evangelism, therewill be non-believers present. If there is no flexibility with regards to thelatter, what the church does as the norm could easily be a stumbling blockrather than a stepping stone.
So which one is it? Normative or Regulative?
Regarding worship forms, the Bible is clear that God is to be worshiped in ways that He deems acceptable. This explains whyGod judges those who seek to worship Him with either sinful forms externally(eg., Leviticus 10) and sinful hearts internally (e.g., Jeremiah 7:9-10).
There are certain elements that Scripture prescribes for gathered corporate worship services as the church:
1. Expository Preaching (2 Timothy 4)
2. Communion at the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
3. Prayer (1 Timothy 2:1)
4. Reading Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)
5. Financial giving (2 Corinthians 8-9)
6. Singing and music (Colossians 3:16)
The problem is that there is no clear prescription of an entire worship service in Scripture.Adherence to a set order of worship then, is nothing more than a man-made invention based on the interpretation of scripture, though not necessarily the black-and-white instruction of it.
In writing this article, my intent is not to cramp upon those involved in worship ministry whose hearts are sincere,albeit possibly misinformed in their teaching and resulting application. Is peak not as a worship leader or as a musician but as a concerned congregant on the receiving end.
The bottom line is this: We should do our best to do worship the way God wants us to.