Worship is War

rthymns-of-graceThe “worship wars” are never behind us. They are always with us. Just because your church has settled upon what style of music it is going to use come Sunday does not mean that worship has ceased to be a war for you or your church.

A few weeks ago I finished Rhythms of Grace, a book by Mike Cosper. It is an excellent book that would benefit every pastor (especially those who are primarily responsible for the worship order on Sundays). It speaks to the power of the worship service shaped by the biblical story of the gospel. Here is what he has to say about the “worship wars” in particular.

Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a “worship war” failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one god, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen, and will come again is an all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us. We’re taught to find a sense of hope in a political party, trusting in our duly elected saviors to make the world right once and for all. We’re taught to find our identity in our friend counts on Twitter and Facebook. We’re taught that a victory at work or good news from a doctor or a bathroom scale will satisfy us. We look longingly into the eyes of other human beings and believe that they can affirm us enough and love us well enough to end our sense of loneliness.

We believe these things because we’ve been taught them again and again. Like the ascending pilgrims of Psalm 121, we’re surround[ed] by clamorous mountains advertising happiness, sex, and power, all available for consumption. Our entertainment in television, film, and literature paints the good life this way, and it grips our heartstrings, calling us away to worship at the feet of these idols.

Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to the lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home. (pg. 103-104)

Just before this Cosper quotes Jean-Jaques von Allmen:

Christian worship is the strongest denial that can be hurled in the face of the world’s claim to provide men with an effective and sufficient justification for their life. There is no more emphatic protest against the pride and the despair of the world than that implied in Church worship.

These are powerful words. Gathering for church with the body of Christ is a private protest against sin, satan, and all the false hopes and dreams this world offers and which vie for our affection. It is a public rebellion against the false gods of our culture that tempt us to believe satisfaction, joy, and deliverance can be found in anything other than God through Christ. Worship is war.

The following are my favorite books on worship. What are yours and why?

  1. Worship by the Book ed. by D. A. Carson
  2. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation by Allen P. Ross
  3. Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship ed. by Ryken, Thomas, & Duncan
  4. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell
  5. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper
  6. Worship Matters: Leading others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin

Let the Text Shape The Message

Expository preaching begins in the preacher’s determination to present and explain the text of the Bible to his congregation. This simple starting point is a major issue of division in contemporary homiletics for, from Harry Emerson Fosdick onward, many preachers assume that they must begin with a human problem or question and then work backward to the biblical text. Expository preaching begins with the text and works from the text and its revealed truth to the application of that truth to the lives of believers. If this determination and commitment are not clear at the outset, something other than expository preaching will result.

The preacher comes to the text and to the preaching event with many concerns and priorities in mind. Many of their concerns are undeniably legitimate and important in their own right. Nevertheless, if genuine exposition of the word of God is to take place, those other concerns must be subordinate to the central and irreducible task of explaining and presenting the biblical text.

…Expository preaching is inescapably bound to the serious work of exegesis. If the preacher is to explain the text, he must first study the text and devote the necessary hours of study and research necessary to understand the text. The pastor faces an immediate issue of priority when this is acknowledged. He must invest the largest portion of his energy and intellectual engagement (not to mention his time) to this task of accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). There are no shortcuts to genuine exposition. The preacher must stand ready to present and proclaim the message of the Bible and bring the congregation into a direct confrontation with the biblical text. the expositor is not an explorer who returns to tell the tales of the journey, but a guide who leads the people into the text and teaches the arts of Bible study and interpretation even as he demonstrates the same.

Taken from Give praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (pg. 112-113) edited by Philip Graham Ryken, Derek  Thomas, J. Ligon Duncan III. Andrew Franseen gave me this book as a Christmas present years ago when he was still getting to know me (along with another ministry shaping book). That act of giving has stuck with me for many years. Thank you Andrew once again!

And another (shorter) quote from the much newer book Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. I add this quote simply because it talks about the value of God’s word and the price that must be paid to preach and hear it. 

As seekers of truth and as lovers of God and others, then, we set out to discover revealed truth and to acquire biblical wisdom as one sets out to mine gold and precious stones. Our conviction that God’s Word is the most precious commodity there is fuels a desire to extract even the last ounce of meaning from the biblical text no matter how much effort or learning it takes to recover it. In our quest for revealed divine truth, we will be prepared to pay whatever price it takes to hear God speak to us in and through his Word and to proclaim his life-giving message authentically and accurately to others. (p. 59)


How Jesus Radically Shapes Our Bible Reading

A notorious problem that faces much of Christian preaching, Bible study and reading is that it is often no more Christian than the moral encouragements of the local Synagogue or Mormon gathering. There is much talking but very little life. This is so because Jesus is little more than a tag line for most sermons. But when we want to understand the Bible we cannot do so without Christ – and whatever we do understand is to have Christ at its center. This is true because Jesus and the Gospel radically alter the way we are to understand God’s word. Here is how Graeme Goldsworthy says it in his valuable book Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics:

The fact that Jesus is the one mediator between God and people has enormous hermeneutical implications (1 Tim. 2:5). The Christology of mediation brings the major dimensions of communication into contact so that they operate in a way that human sin had rendered inoperable. thus the communicator (God), the message (God’s word) and the receiver (humanity) are all united in the God/Man who is himself the message. If we are united to Christ we are true receivers of the message. To receive a message so that it is not garbled or meaningless or misleading, we must at the same time interpret it aright. Our confusion and our sinfulness conspire to lead us always towards a Christless interpretation. As living a faithful Christian life involves a conscious decision to work at it, so also interpreting the Bible by the gospel involves a conscious decision to work at the relationships of all parts of the Bible to the gospel.

If Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, then he must mediate the meaning of the whole of God’s communication to us. Our understanding  of this mediatorial role comes from the unpacking by the New Testament writers of the gospel event and how it works for our salvation. This raises the question of the significance of all the parts of Scripture that are not explicitly expositions of the gospel. We can say that, while not all Scripture is the gospel, all Scripture is related to the gospel that is at its centre…

The Bible makes a very radical idea inescapable: not only is the gospel the interpretative norm for the whole Bible, but there is an important sense in which Jesus Christ is the mediator of the meaning of everything that exists. In other words, the gospel is the hermeneutical norm for the whole reality. All reality was created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ (Col. 1:15-16). God’s plan is to sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). In him are all the treasures of wisdom and understanding (Col. 2:2-3). As a consequence, the ultimate significance of all non-biblical literature can be summed up in biblical-gospel terms. Only through the gospel can we know what it means for humans to be sinful and for cultures to be godless. The atoning work of Christ has redemptive ramifications for the whole universe. It is God’s means of renewing the universe to be the perfect new creation that was foreshadowed by the perfection of creation before the fall. Hence the ultimate interpretation of the meaning of everything is found only in Christ. This includes every text of the Bible. Eschatology (the doctrine of the end times) and hermeneutics are inseperable.

For the student of the Bible, the gospel becomes the norm by which the whole Old Testament and all the exhortations and other non-gospel aspects of the New Testament are to be understood. To put it another way, Christian conversion should lead to sanctified thinking about reality. While alien philosophies may seek to seduce us into thinking otherwise, we should reckon every fact and event in the universe to be what they in truth are: eloquent of the living God and interpreted by him.

You may purchase the book here.

What is The Church?

Fundamentally, God intends the local church to be a corporate display of his glory and wisdom, both to unbelievers and to unseen spiritual powers (John 13:34-35; Eph. 3:10-11). More specifically, we are a corporate dwelling place for God’s Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17), the organic body of Christ in which he magnifies his glory (Acts 9:4; 1 Corinthians 12). The Greek word for church is ekklesia, a gathering or congregation of people. The church is God’s vehicle for displaying His glory to His creation.

The uniqueness of the church is her message – the Gospel. The church is the only institution entrusted by God with the message of repentance of sins and belief in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. That Gospel is visualized in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both instituted by Christ. The distinguishing marks of the church, then, are the right preaching of this Gospel and the right administration of the biblical ordinances that dramatize it.

The structure we’re building, then, is fundamentally God-centered – it is a Godward structure, designed to display the glories of God’s character and the truth of His Gospel. It is also an outward-looking structure; but even in its outwardness it is God-centered, since we look outward for the purpose of spreading God’s character and Gospel through all the nations – to gather more worshipers for Him and thus magnify His glory.

Ours is a ministry of magnification – making God’s glory appear to the eyes of the world as big as it really is by bringing it into closer view and sharper focus in the form of the local church. What we are building, then, is not simply another nonprofit organization or Christian company. We are building a corporate, organic structure that will accurately magnify God’s glory and faithfully communicate His Gospel.

Jesus is the One who is ultimately building His church (Matt. 16:18). But He has graciously allowed us to participate in the construction process, and it is therefore according to His biblical blueprint that we must build the structure and life of the church. What are you trying to build?

This was taken from Mark Dever‘s and Paul Alexander’s Book (published back in 2005) The Deliberate Church. I know it isn’t new but I loved it when it came out and I still do. Want a better church pastors and leaders? Read this book. Want to catch a vision for what the church ought to be and how to begin getting there? Read this book. Buy it inexpensively Here.