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”

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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”

Worship in Romans (36)

“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.” (Romans 15:8-9)

And what was the aim of God in this overflow of mercy for the nations?

The aim was worship. Romans 15:9: “In order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Notice: It’s not just that the Gentiles might receive God’s mercy or simply experience God’s mercy, but that they glorify God for His mercy. The aim of the gospel among the nations is not man-centered. Paul does not say, “Christ became a servant in order that the Gentiles might receive mercy.” He says, “Christ became a servant in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for receiving mercy.”

The ultimate aim of the gospel is God — God glorified for His mercy. Don’t fall short of the ultimate aim when you preach the gospel. Don’t just offer people mercy. Offer them the greatest gift: a merciful God, and that God glorified for His mercy. Human beings were made finally for God, not mercy. Mercy is a means not an end. Savoring mercy is not the end, savoring God for His mercy is the end.

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

 

Diversity in Unity

We need to discover how Christians from different races and cultures have expressed themselves in song to God. Song structures, musical style and instrumentation will vary. Learning to enjoy such variety is a way of experiencing the breadth of Christian experience beyond the limitations of our own context.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 139

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)