Worship & Culture 13

We often think that the diversity of languages and cultures and peoples and political states is a hindrance to world evangelization—the spread of Christ’s glory. That’s not the way God sees it. God is more concerned about the dangers of human uniformity than he is about human diversity. We humans are far too evil to be allowed to unite in one language or one government. The gospel of the glory of Christ spreads better and flourishes more because of 6,500 languages, not just in spite of it.

A great part of the glory of the gospel is that it is not provincial. It is not a tribal religion. It breaks into every language and every people. If there were no diversity of languages, if the spectacular sin of Babel had not happened with its judgment, the global glory of the gospel of Christ would not shine as beautifully as it does in the prism of thousands of languages.

And finally, the praise that Jesus receives from all the languages is more beautiful, because of its diversity, than it would have been if there were only one language and one people to sing. “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

It was the spectacular sin on the plains of Shinar that gave rise to the multiplying of languages that ends in the most glorious praise to Christ from every language on earth. Praise the Lord, O Bethlehem, let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

—John Piper, “The Pride of Babel and the Praise of Christ” (message)

Worship & Culture 3

Christian worship relates dynamically to culture in at least four ways.

First, it is transcultural, the same substance for everyone everywhere, beyond culture.
Second, it is contextual, varying according to the local situation (both nature and culture).
Third, it is counter-cultural, challenging what is contrary to the Gospel in a given culture.
Fourth, it is cross-cultural, making possible sharing between different local cultures.

Lutheran World Federation, Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture (1996)

Worship & Culture 2

The gospel ought never to be entirely at home in any culture. If gospel and culture fit together as easily as hand-in-glove, then the likelihood is that the gospel has capitulated to the values of the culture.… There must always be some tension between gospel and culture. The trick is to tune that tension just right, so that gospel and church can play a transforming role in its host culture. The gospel doesn’t carry with it a culture of its own.  It must always find its place in the culture of the time and place. Nevertheless, it always questions the local culture and holds it accountable before the cross.

—Ronald P. Byars, Christian Worship: Glorifying and Enjoying God, 110

Freedom of Form 9: A Missionary Mandate

The frightening freedom of worship in the New Testament is a missionary mandate. We must not lock this gospel treasure in any cultural strait-jacket. Rather let us find the place, the time, the dress, the forms, the music that kindles and carries a passion for the supremacy of God in all things. And may our communion with the living God be so real and the Spirit of God so powerfully present that the heart of what we do becomes the joy of all the peoples we are called to reach.

—John Piper, sermon: “Our High Priest is The Son of God Perfect Forever”

The True God

The difference between the true God and the gods of the nations is that the true God carries and the other gods must be carried. God serves, they must be served. God glorifies His might by showing mercy. They glorify theirs by gathering slaves. So the vision of God as one whose passion for His glory moves Him to mercy impels missions because He is utterly unique among all the gods.

—John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 56

“For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” (Psalm 96:5)

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)