Primary Theology

I would argue that there is something of vital importance about what we do in the Sunday assembly. The reason it’s important is that it’s in our worship where we do our primary theology. The official compendia of denominational doctrine will not directly influence most people. Most will never do any basic theological study. Many will not even be exposed much to Scripture on their own. The vast majority will learn their theology from their experiences of worship.

—Ronald P. Byars, The Future of Protestant Worship, 73

Revelation and Response (8)

Haven’t I led in meetings when, after every celebration song, my mind gets out the “clap-o-meter” to check if we’re on course? (After all, if people clap at the end of each up-tempo song, that means we’re in for a good night, doesn’t it?!) Don’t I sometimes find myself subconsciously scanning the congregational horizon for any sign of life? Some outstretched hands, perhaps? (That definitely means “it’s working”!) Next, as we move into intimate reverence don’t I sometimes squint through my half-closed eyes to see what other responses are happening—hoping to see at least one person on their knees?

Of course I’m exaggerating in all of these examples, but I hope my point is clear. Too often when I lead worship I´m driven by getting a good response out of the people. I want to see results. Now, all of these things are potentially good things—dancing, lifting up holy hands, clapping, and kneeling. But rather than being so desperate to see these things happen (or, God forbid, even trying to make them happen) I should be far more interested with what lies behind these responses (or the lack of them.) It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one for the mindset of any lead worshipper.

And that takes us right back to the “revelation” side of things. Before we get consumed with how people are responding, it’s good to be mindful of what they’re responding to. As worship leaders and songwriters, we need to pay more attention to the reasons for God´s worth in our writing and leading. What aspects of His wonders and splendour are we presenting for people to get their hearts into? How are we reminding hearts, minds and souls of the merciful acts that have been done for them, and the amazing grace that has been won for them? Now, of course, this isn’t just our responsibility—everyone involved in the service plays a part. But we must take our part of the role seriously. Instead of ever trying to work people up (however subtly) to some sort of response, let’s take a different approach. Let us bring songs so full of our glorious Jesus that they ignite a fresh fire and a heart-filled response from those who sing them. If we can somehow help usher people into a fresh revelation of Jesus during our worship times, I’m convinced the response will take care of itself. We will not be able to stand in the way of a passionate room of dancing, shouting, bowing, adoring lovers of God.

William Temple once wrote,
“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 devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Notice how much of his definition of worship is centred around “revelation”. Here’s a man that knew that if we could somehow get people involved in the holiness, truth and beauty of God, it would result in the devotion of the will to the purpose of God. Our whole lives poured out in worship. And that, in the end, is the ultimate response of any true worshipper.

—Matt Redman, “Revelation and Response” in The Heart of Worship Files

Revelation and Response (7)

The main point here is the priority given, in Christian worship, to the Bible. The Bible is not simply read aloud in order to convey information, to teach doctrine or ethics or whatever, though of course it does that too. It is read aloud as the effective sign that all that we do is done as a response to God’s living and active word, the word which, as Isaiah says, accomplishes God’s purpose in the world, abiding for ever while all flesh withers like the grass. The place of scripture in Christian worship means that both in structure and content God’s initiative remains primary and all that we do remains a matter of response.

—N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship,” Studia Liturgica 2002, 32, 186

Revelation and Response (5)

Worship . . . is the response of the creature to the Eternal.  (Evelyn Underhill)

Worship is man’s response to God’s revelation.  (Andrew W. Blackwood)

Worship is a conversation between the God of revelation and people in need of redemption.  (C. Welton Gaddy)

Liturgy [the “work of the people” in worship] is an intentionally gathered community in mutual dialogue with God’s self-communication.  (Don Saliers)

Christian worship is grounded in the reality of the action of God toward the human soul in Jesus Christ and in man’s responsive action through Jesus Christ.  (Paul Waitman Hoon)

—all cited in Gary A. Furr & Milburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response, 1