Sojourners

Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they do not dwell off somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor do they practice an extraordinary style of life…But while they dwell in the cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the local customs, both in clothing and food and the rest of life, the constitution of their citizenship is nevertheless quite amazing and admittedly paradoxical. They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they share all things as citizens and suffer all things as strangers. Every foreign country is a homeland to them, and every homeland is a foreign country.

Epistle to Diognetus 5:1-5 (translated by Gordon W. Lathrop in “Every Foreign Country a Homeland, Every Homeland a Foreign Country: On Worship and Culture” in Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland? (ed. Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey),  10-11

Facets of Worship

I am grateful for an instructive experience I had near the beginning of my work as a liturgical choral conductor, hearing comments of four worshipers after a service in which my choir had participated. The first, obviously either a veteran chorister or former drill sergeant, remarked: “That choir’s procession was as precise and symmetrical as any I have seen.” The second participant commented: “I loved the exuberant style of that choir.” The third observed, as if making a new discovery: “I couldn’t believe how each piece of music went so well with the Scripture readings that preceded it.” The fourth, in a noticeably reflective tone, added: “My husband died six months ago, and tonight through your music, I finally have been able to pray.” These comments each illustrate a different level of attention and analysis. The first addresses matters of mechanics, the second matters of style, the third, the form of worship; only the fourth evokes worship’s deep meaning and purpose.

John D. Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice by John D. Witvliet” (in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, ed. Dorothy C. Bass & Craig Dykstra), 137 

Faithful

From the depths of hell I call the fiends, and for this earth I call the tried and afflicted believers, and to heaven I appeal, and challenge the long experience of the blood-washed host, and there is not to be found in the three realms a single person who can bear witness to one fact which can disprove the faithfulness of God or weaken His claim to be trusted by His servants.  There are many things that may or may not happen, but this I know shall happen—

He shall present my soul
Unblemished and complete
Before the glory of His face
With joys divinely great.

All the purposes of man have been defeated, but not the purposes of God.  He is a promise-keeping God, and every one of His people shall prove it to be so.

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), quoted in Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., A Passion for God: Prayers and Meditations on the Book of Romans, 123

Heart Surgery

O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that’s sprinkled with the blood
So freely shed for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heart to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.

A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true and clean,
Which neither life nor death can part
From Him that dwells within.

A heart in every thought renewed
And full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good—
A copy, Lord, of thine.

Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart.
Come quickly from above.
Write Thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of love.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Dressing for Worship

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

—Colossians 3:12-14

Pleasing the Father

We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.

—C.S. Lewis, “On Church Music,” Christian Reflections 98-99

“Contemporary” Songs

“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, its often worldly, even blasphemous. The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style because there are so many new songs, you can’t learn them all. It also puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on Godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances, making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it.”

William Romaine, an Anglican Calvinist, wrote this quote in 1775 . . . critiquing Isaac Watts’ hymns. Yes, that’s right, he wrote this critique entitled, “An Essay on Psalmody” against the hymns that Isaac Watts had written: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O God Our Help in Ages Past, Give to Our God Immortal Praise, and the other hymns that they had begun using in their “contemporary worship” of the day.

—C. Matthew McMahon

Divine and Human

As the initiatory descent of worship, the Father moves freely and unconditionally toward us with extravagant grace through the Son by the Spirit. As the corresponding ascent of worship, we come to him with the sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, prayers and service—these enacted responses of faith have the indwelling Spirit as the sole source. In the Spirit, all our responses—prayer, piety, obedience, service, praise—are rendered to the Father, the proper object of our worship, through his Son, the mediator of our worship. Hence worship too is an event in which divine and human action coincide, the former being the presupposition of the latter.

—Dennis Ngien, Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of our Responsive Worship, 161

Keeping God’s Story Central

How difficult it is today to recognize the centrality of God’s story in the life of the Christian and the church. This difficulty comes from the personalizing and privatizing of individual experience, the inroads made by marketing models for congregational programming, and supremacy of the idea of the “right” to preferential choice in the relative autonomy of life in the twenty-first century. Part of keeping God’s story central is recognizing how easily we elevate the importance of our own experience at the cost of community, kingdom and even the cross of Christ.

—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 186-7

Right Things for the Wrong Reason

The idea of displeasing God through the very practices he commanded cuts to both the seriousness and the subtlety of hypocrisy. Doing the right things for the wrong reason and without dependence on the mediation of God is rejected by God in both worship and mission.

—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 119

Church as the Hub

Every now and then I dream about a hypothetical theological curriculum in which students would come on the first day of seminary not to the classroom but to the chapel. There they would participate in a rich, full, and well-planned service of worship. The rest of the three-year curriculum would be an exegesis of that act of worship. Who is the God who was both cause and object of that worship? Why were ancient Scriptures read and how did they function? Why these Scriptures and not others? What kind of ethical life is implied in this act of worship and why? What kind of community is required to engage in this act of worship, and what resources of care and education do they need to sustain their life together? A thousand questions could be asked; and to answer them the full array of disciplines and courses present in the theological school would required.

But of course my dream curriculum is not hypothetical at all. The act of worship which serves as its unity and focus occurs in congregations every week. It is in the church that everything comes together.

—Thomas G. Long, “The Essential Untidiness of Ministry,” in From Midterms to Ministry: Practical Theologians on Pastoral Beginnings, 7

Know to Worship

The real key to biblical worship is always increasing in the knowledge of God. . . . Preaching is not listening to some man giving his own ideas, or sharing his philosophy; it is listening to someone opening up the truth of Holy Scripture and expounding it. Why? So that we might come to know God, because this is where He is to be known. And worship is not some mystical activity; it derives from knowing God. This is how we learn to worship God. And as He reveals Himself to us, we are enabled to be absorbed with His glory and majesty and beauty, His righteousness, His truth, His love, His mercy, and so on. And we worship Him, because we are coming to know Him. The more you know God, the more you will worship Him in spirit and truth.

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon on Revelation 19:10)

Robbed of His Glory

The ultimate missionary compulsion is not simply that there are people who are dying without knowing Christ, nor is it that God has given us the Great Commission to go out into the world; it is that there are areas of the world, whether here . . . or to the ends of the earth, where God is being robbed of His glory. That why when Paul went to Athens, a missionary situation if there ever was one to him, and found people bowing down before idols (and don’t think for a moment they were old-fashioned, former-generation people; they are modern people), Paul had what in the Greek of the NT seems to mean a paroxysm—a cardiac arrest is how some people think of it. Why was he so upset? It was because God was being robbed of His glory.

My friends, we need to learn a little of a jealous concern for the glory of God, because this is what puts worship in its true context. And it’s so easy to be worshiping idols. . . . When we begin to have the test of worship what I get out of it, beloved, we are in the world of idol worship, and the idol is ourselves.

O for a passion for the glory of God!

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon on Revelation 19:10)

Job One

Why has God designed and purposed that our great destiny is to know Him? What is the knowledge of God for? Why does God mean us to know Him and to grow in the knowledge of God? And there is only one answer that Scripture gives us to that: and that is that we might worship Him. Everything will disappear as we enter His presence and glory, except this. It is the chief business of the church of Jesus Christ in this world, because it is the permanent occupation of the church of Jesus Christ in the world to come, that we should worship God. So says Jesus to the woman of Samaria: The Father is seeking worshipers. When God began to seek you and then find you in Jesus Christ, and drew you to Himself, He was seeking worshipers. The Apostle Paul tells us that it is the mark of the people of God, one of the great marks of those who are His true circumcision in Philippians 3:3f.: we are the circumcision, that is the true people of God, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. . . .

What is the ultimate activity of the people of God? It is that we might spend ourselves, heart and soul and mind and strength, in worshiping Him.

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon on Revelation 19:10)

Worship Is a Transitive Verb

Worship is a transitive verb. This isn’t a lesson in English grammar, it is a vital issue in biblical theology and in Christian living. Worship is a transitive verb! That is, it demands an object. And the only object it will tolerate in biblical religion is the object God.

So, when someone says, “O, I just come to worship God,” I wonder whether they really have got clarity about the object of our worship. It is God and no other. That’s what worship is really all about; it can never be divorced from the God who is its only object.

—Eric Alexander, “Worship God!” (sermon on Revelation 19:10)

Triune Praise

Father, in Whom we live, in Whom we are and move,
The glory, power and praise receive for Thy creating love.
Let all the angel throng give thanks to God on high,
While earth repeats the joyful song and echoes to the sky.

Incarnate Deity, let all the ransomed race
Render in thanks their lives to Thee for Thy redeeming grace.
The grace to sinners showed ye heavenly choirs proclaim,
And cry “Salvation to our God, salvation to the Lamb!”

Spirit of Holiness, let all Thy saints adore
Thy sacred energy, and bless Thine heart renewing power.
Not angel tongues can tell Thy love’s ecstatic height,
The glorious joy unspeakable the beatific sight.

Eternal, Triune God, let all the hosts above,
Let all on earth below record and dwell upon Thy love.
When heaven and earth are fled before Thy glorious face,
Sing all the saints Thy love hath made Thine everlasting praise.

—Charles Wesley (1747) (can be sung to the tune of “Crown Him with Many Crowns”)