Friday, February 03, 2006

Church is for worship

I am convinced that the purpose of the believers assembling together is so that they may worship God. I do not intend this essay to be a full-fledged treatise on this matter, but a mere offering of some observations. I think a number of passages teach us that the church is for worship. One of the most pointed passages concerning the purpose of the church in the New Testament is Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV).
The penultimate purpose of the Lord's giving the gifted individuals here is "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God." This is certainly "doxalogical" or pointing toward God, which is the essence of worship. In fact, this passage instructs us that the "faith and knowledge of God" is the end to which even edification ('building up') points. Colossians 3:16 describes the body of Christ as a place where the word of Christ dwells richly, and instructs us to sing our songs in the assembly "to God." 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 describes the assembly of believers as the holy "temple of God," the locale of worship in the Old Testament. Of course, John 4:24 and Romans 12:1-2 make it clear that for the believer all of life should be devoted to worship, but this should not detract from our resolving to make the assembly of believers particularly devoted to worship. In fact, if all of life is worship for the believers, how much more should a gathered assembly of many believers be devoted to worship!

This principle is quite easy to abandon. In fact, even though we may confess that the purpose of the gathered assembly of believers is worship, we can be neglectful in our worshiping God. Perhaps we can even distort our worship into a worship of ourselves. Consider John Piper's remarks on this matter:
"This distortion of divine love into an endorsement of self-admiration is subtle. It creeps into our most religious acts. We claim to be praising God because of his love for us. But if his love for us is at the bottom his making much of us, who is really being praised? We are willing to be God-centered, it seems, as long as God is man-centered. We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is a witness to our worship. Who then is our pride and joy?" (God is the Gospel [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005], 12-13).
The danger is changing God--of committing the sin of creating a false god in our imagination, to which God in judgment says, "you thought that I was one like yourself" (Ps 50:21). We can easily commit the heresy of Finneyism, in some way altering or stripping down our gospel presentation so that an unregenerate may be more likely to embrace it. But we should also refrain from doing this for the church. The church must be confronted with the pure gospel, just like the unregenerate must be. I am concerned that we clearly communicate the gospel, but there is a difference between clarity and conformity. And the task of recognizing and incorporating this distinction is imperative, for in so doing we "keep ourselves from idols." Whether in evangelizing or edifying, our primary goal should be glorifying God--and we cannot let the overuse of that phrase cloud our thinking on this matter. We should boldly be proclaiming the one true Triune God, seeking to set him before the eyes of men as He is. Church history serves us well here, in showing us how we in our current cultural setting have, for better or for worse, altered the Christian gospel. And make no mistake, in this age of unbelief, the task is difficult, but this is the way it has always been. A possible objection raised at this point would be that this is adding too much complexity to the Christian faith, perhaps with an appeal that we should just go "back to the Bible." Though I understand and appreciate the sentiment, that is exactly the problem. Our American evangelical baggage has in some ways distorted our reading of the Bible. But, even if it had not, rigorous thought in these matters is warranted; loving God with "all our minds" demands nothing less than careful thought concerning who God is, and precise articulation of (while acknowledging his transcendence) exactly whom we are to believe in and grow in the knowledge of.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Scott Aniol said...

This is great, Ryan. Thanks.

2/03/2006 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous nathan said...

Ditto. Good reminders.

2/03/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Hey Ryan, thanks. This is a neglected subject.

Sometimes minor disruptions occur here during staff meetings, when one of my inflammatory coworkers tries to imply that evangelism or discipleship is THE MOST IMPORTANT responsibility of a church. It's a good-natured discussion that we fan into flame on occassion when we're in a snarky mood.

As you know, I agree with the idea of the church worshipping, but I stumble over attempts to demonstrate that's all that happens on Sunday. There is so much NT narrative that reports what the early church did when it gathered, so I suppose it's fair that several authors make an emphasis on mutual edification and preaching as the essential purpose of church gatherings (with a resulting de-emphasis on the priority of worship), including David Peterson’s Engaging with God (1992), I. Howard Marshall’s “How Far Did the Early Christians Worship God?” (1985), as well as two collections of essays edited by D. A. Carson in Worship: Adoration and Action (1993) and Worship by the Book (2002). There’s also an interesting online interview with Carson, “Is the Church a House of Worship” (2005), at: http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/articles/carsonworship.htm
At any rate, I commend you for bringing up a neglected topic. The implications are fairly significant.

2/03/2006 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I appreciate your pointing out some interesting articles, Kevin. Somehow I knew you would be stopping by! I am not sure where you are at on this, but let me say that my tendency (and probably overly systematizing mind) is to find the preaching and edification with a purpose for worship. Think again of that "penultimate" purpose in Ephesians 4:

Q: Why did God give the gifted persons?
A: To equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

Q: Why do saints need to be equipped for the work of the ministry?
A: So that the body is built up.

Q: What does it mean that the body is built up?
A: We grow in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Please understand me, Kevin. The point is not that we should neglect preaching or edification. The point is that these too are worshipful acts. I consider the ordinances as acts of worship. I even consider the collection of monetary offerings to be worship. The question may not be whether or not the church gathered for preaching and edification, but why did they view these as important? What is edification? The very word implies that we are being built up into something? In Eph 4, that something is the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.

But I had a larger point in writing this. My problem is when, in our attempt to evangelize, preach, or edify, we let those things become the ends in themselves. When we forget why we are evangelizing, preaching, or edifying--when we let the people we are trying to edify, evangelize, or preach to become our primary concern, and so change our manner of doing it in such a way that God is not glorified. For example, when we want so badly to evangelize that we forget what we are "evangelizing them to," or what the evangel is. Or when we want so badly to "edify" that we build them up into a sort of "easy edification." Or when we want to preach so effectively that we steal from God's glory so that our rhetorical (or comical or relational or dynamic, etc) skills are on display.

To make Church self-serving is a real and present danger in our setting, and we must fight hard to not let it become that. We are the Church of God.

2/03/2006 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Yup, I'm with you on the doxology of it all. I've always liked Piper's pithy remark that "missions exists because worship doesn't," and I've appreciated his attempts to channel all of his theology through this essential God-centered purpose.

As you are aware, I raised this issue as a deliberate attempt to cool the rhetoric on the "objective v. subjective" controversy. We're in danger of over-reacting here, stripping our services of subjective elements just because of their capacity for misuse. The challenge is not whether we can demonstrate that excesses have occurred; clearly they have. The real challenge is to correct them without ending in the ditch on the other side of the road. Church history is littered with entire centuries of "wasteland" where the services became so objective that the congregation had no function other than to reply, by rote, in a language they did not speak.

So I hope you keep writing on this...personally, I believe a full understanding of this teaching forces us to rethink our preference for exclusively-objective hymnody. We may even rekindle our passion for some well-written songs of testimony!

Have a good weekend, all.

2/03/2006 04:26:00 PM  

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Church is for worship

I am convinced that the purpose of the believers assembling together is so that they may worship God. I do not intend this essay to be a full-fledged treatise on this matter, but a mere offering of some observations. I think a number of passages teach us that the church is for worship. One of the most pointed passages concerning the purpose of the church in the New Testament is Ephesians 4:11-16:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV).
The penultimate purpose of the Lord's giving the gifted individuals here is "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God." This is certainly "doxalogical" or pointing toward God, which is the essence of worship. In fact, this passage instructs us that the "faith and knowledge of God" is the end to which even edification ('building up') points. Colossians 3:16 describes the body of Christ as a place where the word of Christ dwells richly, and instructs us to sing our songs in the assembly "to God." 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 describes the assembly of believers as the holy "temple of God," the locale of worship in the Old Testament. Of course, John 4:24 and Romans 12:1-2 make it clear that for the believer all of life should be devoted to worship, but this should not detract from our resolving to make the assembly of believers particularly devoted to worship. In fact, if all of life is worship for the believers, how much more should a gathered assembly of many believers be devoted to worship!

This principle is quite easy to abandon. In fact, even though we may confess that the purpose of the gathered assembly of believers is worship, we can be neglectful in our worshiping God. Perhaps we can even distort our worship into a worship of ourselves. Consider John Piper's remarks on this matter:
"This distortion of divine love into an endorsement of self-admiration is subtle. It creeps into our most religious acts. We claim to be praising God because of his love for us. But if his love for us is at the bottom his making much of us, who is really being praised? We are willing to be God-centered, it seems, as long as God is man-centered. We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is a witness to our worship. Who then is our pride and joy?" (God is the Gospel [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005], 12-13).
The danger is changing God--of committing the sin of creating a false god in our imagination, to which God in judgment says, "you thought that I was one like yourself" (Ps 50:21). We can easily commit the heresy of Finneyism, in some way altering or stripping down our gospel presentation so that an unregenerate may be more likely to embrace it. But we should also refrain from doing this for the church. The church must be confronted with the pure gospel, just like the unregenerate must be. I am concerned that we clearly communicate the gospel, but there is a difference between clarity and conformity. And the task of recognizing and incorporating this distinction is imperative, for in so doing we "keep ourselves from idols." Whether in evangelizing or edifying, our primary goal should be glorifying God--and we cannot let the overuse of that phrase cloud our thinking on this matter. We should boldly be proclaiming the one true Triune God, seeking to set him before the eyes of men as He is. Church history serves us well here, in showing us how we in our current cultural setting have, for better or for worse, altered the Christian gospel. And make no mistake, in this age of unbelief, the task is difficult, but this is the way it has always been. A possible objection raised at this point would be that this is adding too much complexity to the Christian faith, perhaps with an appeal that we should just go "back to the Bible." Though I understand and appreciate the sentiment, that is exactly the problem. Our American evangelical baggage has in some ways distorted our reading of the Bible. But, even if it had not, rigorous thought in these matters is warranted; loving God with "all our minds" demands nothing less than careful thought concerning who God is, and precise articulation of (while acknowledging his transcendence) exactly whom we are to believe in and grow in the knowledge of.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Scott Aniol said...

This is great, Ryan. Thanks.

2/03/2006 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous nathan said...

Ditto. Good reminders.

2/03/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Hey Ryan, thanks. This is a neglected subject.

Sometimes minor disruptions occur here during staff meetings, when one of my inflammatory coworkers tries to imply that evangelism or discipleship is THE MOST IMPORTANT responsibility of a church. It's a good-natured discussion that we fan into flame on occassion when we're in a snarky mood.

As you know, I agree with the idea of the church worshipping, but I stumble over attempts to demonstrate that's all that happens on Sunday. There is so much NT narrative that reports what the early church did when it gathered, so I suppose it's fair that several authors make an emphasis on mutual edification and preaching as the essential purpose of church gatherings (with a resulting de-emphasis on the priority of worship), including David Peterson’s Engaging with God (1992), I. Howard Marshall’s “How Far Did the Early Christians Worship God?” (1985), as well as two collections of essays edited by D. A. Carson in Worship: Adoration and Action (1993) and Worship by the Book (2002). There’s also an interesting online interview with Carson, “Is the Church a House of Worship” (2005), at: http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/articles/carsonworship.htm
At any rate, I commend you for bringing up a neglected topic. The implications are fairly significant.

2/03/2006 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Martin said...

I appreciate your pointing out some interesting articles, Kevin. Somehow I knew you would be stopping by! I am not sure where you are at on this, but let me say that my tendency (and probably overly systematizing mind) is to find the preaching and edification with a purpose for worship. Think again of that "penultimate" purpose in Ephesians 4:

Q: Why did God give the gifted persons?
A: To equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

Q: Why do saints need to be equipped for the work of the ministry?
A: So that the body is built up.

Q: What does it mean that the body is built up?
A: We grow in the faith and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Please understand me, Kevin. The point is not that we should neglect preaching or edification. The point is that these too are worshipful acts. I consider the ordinances as acts of worship. I even consider the collection of monetary offerings to be worship. The question may not be whether or not the church gathered for preaching and edification, but why did they view these as important? What is edification? The very word implies that we are being built up into something? In Eph 4, that something is the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.

But I had a larger point in writing this. My problem is when, in our attempt to evangelize, preach, or edify, we let those things become the ends in themselves. When we forget why we are evangelizing, preaching, or edifying--when we let the people we are trying to edify, evangelize, or preach to become our primary concern, and so change our manner of doing it in such a way that God is not glorified. For example, when we want so badly to evangelize that we forget what we are "evangelizing them to," or what the evangel is. Or when we want so badly to "edify" that we build them up into a sort of "easy edification." Or when we want to preach so effectively that we steal from God's glory so that our rhetorical (or comical or relational or dynamic, etc) skills are on display.

To make Church self-serving is a real and present danger in our setting, and we must fight hard to not let it become that. We are the Church of God.

2/03/2006 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Yup, I'm with you on the doxology of it all. I've always liked Piper's pithy remark that "missions exists because worship doesn't," and I've appreciated his attempts to channel all of his theology through this essential God-centered purpose.

As you are aware, I raised this issue as a deliberate attempt to cool the rhetoric on the "objective v. subjective" controversy. We're in danger of over-reacting here, stripping our services of subjective elements just because of their capacity for misuse. The challenge is not whether we can demonstrate that excesses have occurred; clearly they have. The real challenge is to correct them without ending in the ditch on the other side of the road. Church history is littered with entire centuries of "wasteland" where the services became so objective that the congregation had no function other than to reply, by rote, in a language they did not speak.

So I hope you keep writing on this...personally, I believe a full understanding of this teaching forces us to rethink our preference for exclusively-objective hymnody. We may even rekindle our passion for some well-written songs of testimony!

Have a good weekend, all.

2/03/2006 04:26:00 PM  

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