“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13)
The Real Worship War
For as long as I’ve been alive on this earth, the American church has painfully subjected itself to what have commonly been referred to as the “worship wars.” These so-called wars seek to answer the question, how should the church worship God when it gathers? While that’s a really good question, it has been widely misunderstood. Most have reduced the question to heated debates about genres of music–namely alluding to the “contemporary” vs. “traditional” categories.
However, the church’s worship of the living God is about far more than mere stylistic preference. Although it isn’t an inconsequential matter, I believe the church’s persistent hyper-focus on the issue has made many people’s understanding of worship more superficial. While we go on about it, there is an actual worship war happening all around us. And it doesn’t have much to do with whether we prefer the stylings of Hillsong United or the Gaither Vocal Band.
The real worship war–the one we should be most concerned about–is a battle of reality and delusion. This is what is at stake every Lord’s Day. Throughout the week we exist in a world gone wrong, inhabiting the competing narratives invented by a postmodern, humanistic culture. In the cesspool of revisionist sexual ethics, bogus claims to political messiahship, and the “believe in yourself” pop psychology of Oprah, we can come dangerously close to losing touch with capital-R Reality. The unbreakable truths of Scripture often grow increasingly dim in the hearts and minds of believers when these competing voices displace the authority of God’s Word.
The Word as “Trinitarian CPR”
By the time we arrive at the Sunday gathering, we’ve been overexposed to our culture’s tawdry delusions and our capacity for faithful responsiveness is wearing thin. But then comes our much-needed Reality check! The resonant Word invigorates us through a renewed sense of the presence of God.
When the public reading of Scripture is a main fixture in the gathering of God’s people, Reality is spelled out for us in terms of God’s narrative. He summons us out of the chaos, confusion, and consternation of everyday life. Through His Word, the divine Storyteller is bidding us to re-discover the Reality of another world–to step through the wardrobe and re-enter Narnia. Worship leader Zac Hicks helps us understand how God uses the public reading of Scripture each Lord’s Day:
We may not feel dead, but the truth is that we’ve been in the process of re-dying all week. The six days between Sundays can be more brutal and soul-killing than we realize. Even if this death is not acknowledged in our heads, it is felt in our bones. We feel its rot every time we go too far in disciplining our kids, entertain thoughts of lust or hate for too long, linger over how good we look when someone catches us engaged in a random act of kindness. We smell its decay with every bite of over-eating gluttony, every swipe of an over-used credit card, every puff of an over-inflated ego. Between Sundays, we do a whole lot of dying. And then, drug to worship by God’s providence, just as our soul is about to gasp its last breath, God (Father) says, “Wake up, sleeper,” and we rise again by the Breath (Spirit) of the Gospel (Son). Trinitarian CPR. That’s what worship is.
Only the power of God working through the Word of God can revive the people of God for true worship of God. And the entire Trinity is in on it–the Father speaking to us about His Redeemer-Son through the endless power of His indwelling Spirit. When this happens, people stop tuning their lives to the narratives those hucksters in Hollywood and Washington are peddling, and start banking everything upon the narrative of a true and better Kingdom, where the triune God reigns with all authority.
It should be no surprise to us, then, that the apostle Paul admonishes Timothy to take up the mantle of reading Scripture aloud among those in his care (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13). He knows the power and effectiveness of the Bible being read plainly in the hearing of God’s people. So from the Call to Worship to the Benediction, no pretense is necessary–no tricks, no gimmicks, no hype. Just good, old fashioned trinitarian CPR, and lots of it.
So coming back to that widely misunderstood question about how the church should worship God when it gathers: we should worship faithfully and joyfully as we are exposed again and again to the Word of God. Worship is a response to what God has revealed about Himself. It is an inhabitation of His Reality. And the only way we can know that Reality is by listening to God Himself, the Great Definer of Reality. So long before we even think about musical style, we should evaluate our level of responsiveness to what God is saying to us when the Bible is read publicly. The real worship war consists in our receptivity to His living and active Word. Moses’s experience on Mount Sinai reminds us just how much this matters for us:
The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 34:6-8, emphasis mine)
LifePoint, that kind of encounter awaits us this Sunday. We must worship God at the intersection of hearing and responding to His Word together. So let’s exit the tabloid-grade narratives that this world is trying to pass off as non-fiction, open the Bible together, and experience the power of the triune God anew. It’s high-time we face Reality.
Liturgy for Sunday, May 31, 2015:
Call to Worship:
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. (Psalm 95:1-3)
Confession & Assurance:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
Follow the Spotify playlist for this Sunday.