Christ Is Present

We need to remind ourselves, over and over, that the focus of Sunday worship must be upon the living Christ among us. In truth, if Christ were bodily present and we could see him with more than our soul’s eyes, all our worship would become intentional. If Christ stood on our platforms, we would bend our knees without asking. If He stretched out His hands and we saw the wounds, our hearts would break; we would confess our sins and weep over our shortcomings. If we could hear His voice leading the hymns, we too would sing heartily; the words would take on meaning. The Bible reading would be lively; meaning would pierce to the marrow of our souls. If Christ walked our aisles, we would hasten to make amends with that brother or sister to whom we have not spoken. We would volunteer for service, the choir loft would be crowded. If we knew Christ would attend our church Sunday after Sunday, the front pews would fill fastest, believers would arrive early, offering plates would be laden with sacrificial but gladsome gifts, prayers would concentrate our attention.

Yet, the startling truth is that Christ is present, through His Holy Spirit, in our churches; it is we who must develop eyes to see Him.

—Karen Burton Mains, Introduction to the hymnal Sing Joyfully!, 5

Access to God

Without the cross we have no access to God. ACCESS DENIED! You can sing, dance, prophesy, but only JESUS is the password into God’s presence. We will never write a song that will can lead people  into God’s presence!

—Bob Kauflin, “Biblical Values for Worship and Their Application to the Local Church “

In His Presence

The new possibility created by the priestly ministry of Jesus is that through Him we may enter into the sanctuary, the place of God’s holy presence:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain (that is, through His flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach . . . (Hebrews 10:19-21).

Here is the climax of the writer’s argument. Through the living, dying, and ascending of  Christ, we can enter the sanctuary. We can stand in the holy presence of God and offer an unending sacrifice of praise (13:15). This is the joy, the delight and the reality of Christian worship: it takes place in the presence of God through the priesthood of Christ. This is why Calvin could say that Christ is our altar on whom we lay our oblations (Institutes IV.8.17) and also, commenting on Hebrews 2:12, that “Christ leads our songs, and is the chief composer of our hymns” (1853, 67). It is also here, within the sanctuary, that our whole life is lived as a sacrificial giving to God. This is the joy, the delight, the reality of Christian living: it is life lived in the presence of God through the priesthood of Christ. To be in the presence of God is the reality of Christian worship and living, because Christ has opened up for us a “new way” (10:20) through all that would divide us from God’s presence; and this way is nothing else but Himself. Following Westcott’s construction of 10:20, we have “a way through the veil, that is, a way consisting in His flesh, His true human nature” (1903, 322).

Christopher Cocksworth, “The Cross, Our Worship and Our Living,” in Atonement Today, 118-119

Pentecost and the Church (4)

The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of his presence with them as their Sayiour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening.

First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for him and for others.

Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence—in a word, assurance—blossom in believers’ hearts.

By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 49

Song in Its Proper Place

It is unscriptural to view worship songs as capable of initiating or guaranteeing God’s presence….Songs of worship cannot create, deliver, or otherwise command God’s presence. We cannot sing down the presence of God. The presence is already real. Music is an element in worship, like other elements, that helps us to interact conversationally with the triune God who is present, but music must not be given power on our terms.

—Constance Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 67-68

“That would be more characteristic of Baal worship.”

—John Witvliet

Defining Worship 19

Definition

WORSHIP: OUR MINISTRY TO GOD

Worship has been defined as being preoccupied with God.

We humans are preoccupied with many things: successes and failures, the gaining or losing of possessions, the hurts and joys of living; but we are rarely preoccupied with God.

And, yet, in a secularized age, which seems to be racing dangerously along in a rapid moral decline, we need to worship more than ever. As the late William Temple said:

The world can be saved by one thing and that is worship.  For to worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.

This exaltation, this adoration does not often happen spontaneously. It takes work on the part of humans, bogged about by the demands of materiality: by the urgent, by the necessary, but not by the spiritual. We must learn to work at our worship so that preoccupation with God becomes delightfully habitual.

Worship is a sacred work in which a people corporately, determined to be enamored with God, find meaningful ways to tell Him of this and to remind themselves as well.

How do we become intentional in worship?  How do we become participants rather than spectators? A friend’s mother taught her to go to church with “A full basket, not an empty one.” We must begin to retrain ourselves to consider during each Saturday evening/ Sunday morning: What have I to give to God and to his people? Am I ready to ready to worship? Am I eager to be preoccupied with Him?  We must learn to transform the age-old, self-centered question, What am I going to get out of the service? to, What am I going to put into the service?

We need to remind ourselves, over and over, that the focus of Sunday worship must be upon the living Christ among us.

In truth, if Christ were bodily present and we could see him with more than our soul’s eyes, all our worship would become intentional. If Christ stood on our platforms, we would bend our knees without asking. If we could hear His voice leading the hymns, we too would sing heartily; the words would take on meaning. The Bible reading would be lively; meaning would pierce to the marrow of our souls. If Christ walked our aisles, we would hasten to make amends with that brother or sister to whom we have not spoken.  We would volunteer for service, the choir loft would be crowded. If we knew Christ would attend our church Sunday after Sunday, the front pews would fill fastest, believers would arrive early, offering plates would be laden with sacrificial but gladsome gifts, prayers would concentrate our attention.

Yet, the startling truth is that Christ is present, through His Holy Spirit, in our churches; it is we who must develop eyes to see and ears to hear Him.

One old man I know always weeps when his church sings the doxology, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”  The tears run down his wrinkled cheeks.  Would that we all could experience that we all could experience that awe, that reality which breaches the borders of the intellect and somehow reaches the affective, the guarded emotional parts of ourselves.

 For truly, one day, one eternal day, we will recognize that divine presence, we will kneel in awe, our hearts will sigh, will shout, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” We will weep for joy in the Presence of God. We will become utterly preoccupied. We will adore. We will exalt. We will worship. And this time, this one day in time, this Sunday—every Sunday, in fact Sunday after Sunday: we are preparing our souls, practicing for that Eternity when every day will be a Sabbath without end, for that day when we will know most assuredly, Christ is here!

—Karen Burton Mains, Introduction to the hymnal Sing Joyfully!