Loving God with the Arts

When it comes to loving our neighbors in terms of the arts, our goal is to work within a people’s cultural, expressive languages (signal systems) in ways that foster loving God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.  They should not have to use a different set of expressive languages to love Him.  Like Jesus, we need to move into a people’s culture and work within their expressive languages and signal systems so that the people in that context may come to love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Then they will know that God loves them as they are—fully created in His own image.

—Roberta R. King, Global Arts and Christian Witness: Exegeting Culture, Translating the Message, and Communicating Christ, 61

Missions and Worship

The church’s mission not only flows from and through the love of the triune God; it also flows to the love of the triune God.  The Father, after all, seeks worshippers (John 4:23).  The Father sent the Son to make His great and holy name known to His people (1:18; 17:6).  The church’s mission therefore ultimately consists in reaping a worldwide harvest of worshippers (4:35-38) gathered by the Son, through the Spirit, to serve and adore the ‘Holy Father’ (17:11; cf. Isa. 6:3; 66:19-21; Rev. 22:3-4).  One day the church’s mission will be consummated in trinitarian worship (Rev. 22:1-5).  This means that, even now, as the church engages in the worship of the Holy Trinity, she engages not simply in the means of her mission, but in the very end of her mission: the gloria Dei.

—Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel, 163-64

Depart to Serve

And now the time has come for us to return into the world. “Let us depart in peace,” says the celebrant as he leaves the altar, and this is the last commandment of the liturgy. We must not stay on Mount Tabor, although we know that it is good for us to be there. We are sent back. But now “we have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit.” And it is as witnesses of this Light, as witnesses of the Spirit, that we must “go forth” and begin the never-ending mission of the church. Eucharist was the end of the journey, the end of time. And now it is again the beginning, and things that were impossible are again revealed to us as possible. The time of the world has become the time of the Church, the time of salvation and redemption. And God has made us competent, as Paul Claudel has said, competent to be His witnesses, to fulfill what He has done and is ever doing. This is the meaning of the Eucharist; this is why the mission of the Church begins in the liturgy of ascension, for it alone makes possible the liturgy of mission.

—Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 45-46

No Favorite Songs

I have never been to heaven, so I cannot tell you what kind of music is sung in God’s royal village. But know this, God has no personal favorite songs. He hears all that we sing in whatever language. It is sufficient for us to compose hymns of praise to him with our own music and in our own language for him to understand.

—William Wadé Harris, Liberian missionary to Côte d’Ivoire, 1914 (cited in James Krabill, James. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook)

Cultural Inflection in Worship

Each culture uses its own rhythms, melodies, and instruments to convey meaning through music. An intonation that signals politeness in one language may signal disbelief in another. It would be inappropriate to use victory music at a tragic scene, party music at a serious scene, or shaman music at a worship scene. A familiar musical setting helps people identify with the message. A song that sounds beautiful to a Westerner may sound dissonant to someone else and hinder them from opening up to the message.

—Wycliffe Bible Translators, “Scripture Engagement”

Worship in Revelation (14)

This is, I think, a very significant thing in the NT, and certainly here in Revelation chapter 5—if the goal of worship is to admire Him in all of His majesty and to cast our crowns before Him and crown Him Lord of all, then notice that in this portrayal of worship, all worship flows from Christ’s leadership and through Christ’s mediation. Isn’t it interesting that John sees the Lion/Lamb standing right at the front of the throne of God, and from Him the Spirit of God flowing to all those who are present in heaven’s glory—as though to say, your worship of the One who is seated on the throne need first of all to be conducted by the One who stands at the front of the throne. And it always need to come through the Spirit by the Son to the One who is seated on the throne. Because, as we have noticed already, He is not only the Mediator of our reconciliation; He is the Mediator of our adoration in worship.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “The Church’s Worship” (audio message: Ligonier Conference, 2006)

Worship in Romans (37)

“…in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Romans 15:9)

How does Paul unpack the word “glorify” from verse 9? He does it with four Old Testament quotations in verses 9–12.

As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

Praise, sing, rejoice, praise, extol, hope.

Glorifying God for his mercy starts with the emotions of joy (verse 10) and hope (verse 12) in the God of mercy. Joy as you savor the merciful God now, and hope as you happily expect to savor him even more in the future. Then that joy and hope overflow in praise (verse 9, 11) and song (verse 9).

This is the essence of gospel worship: Heartfelt, hope-filled joy in the God of mercy overflowing in fitting outward expressions. The reason I say this is the essence of worship is because I know there are other emotions that are part of worship besides joy. Like the sorrows of confession. But these sorrows are not true worship, unless, at root, they are sorrows for our failures to experience joy in the God of mercy. Therefore, joy in the God of mercy remains the essence of gospel worship. And that is really good news, because in God’s design, we get the mercy, God gets the glory. We get the joy, God gets the praise. We revel in hope, God receives the honor. When we call the nations to worship the true God in Christ, that is what we call them to.

—John Piper, “Gospel Worship: Holy Ambition for All the Peoples to Praise Christ”

Not So Fast!

There is a need to explore a given culture in depth before elements from it are imported into worship. Christians need to understand, for example, the cultural meanings of an African tribal king’s hut before they use it as the model for a Christian church, or the Buddhist meaning of a pagoda before they use it as a Christian baptismal font. Christians need to understand the dynamics of the entertainment culture before they use a theater or an opera house as the model for a worship space. One of the leading proponents of contextualization in Africa says that “syncretism occurs when enthusiastic missionaries conduct a superficial adaptation in ignorance of the true meaning of cultural symbols.”

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Worship: Ecumencial Core and Cultural Context,” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 205