This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: Piloting The Strait”.  This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.

 

CHANGES IN THE CHURCH

SPECIFICS OF CHANGE - WORSHIP

 

Deuteronomy 10:20 “THOU SHALT FEAR THE LORD THY GOD, HIM SHALT THOU SERVE, AND TO HIM SHALT THOU CLEAVE, AND SWEAR BY HIS NAME.”

 

Luke 4:8 “AND JESUS ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO HIM, GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN: FOR IT IS WRITTEN, THOU SHALT WORSHIP THE LORD THY GOD, AND HIM ONLY SHALT THOU SERVE.”

 

Matthew 15:8-9THIS PEOPLE DRAWETH NIGH UNTO ME WITH THEIR MOUTH, AND HONOURETH ME WITH their LIPS; BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME.  BUT IN VAIN THEY DO WORHSIP ME, TEACHING for DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.”

 

            “The spacious and well lighted auditorium with glass ceilings looks like a plush theater with theater seats and wide aisles.”

            “As the people file into the auditorium for the weekend “seeker services,” a band is playing subdued contemporary jazz or rock.  The worship service gets underway.  The band plays contemporary rock and jazz with religious lyrics flashed on a wide video screen accompanied by 16 vocalists and dancers.  Actors stage dramatic skits.  The performance has all the expertise of a professional stage show.  A thunderous applause greets the conclusion of the entertainment phase.”

            “The sermon begins – it is a statement of faith consistent with American Cultic evangelism like those you see on the Inspiration Channel.  The knowledge of theology or the church’s history is not needed.  The sermon addresses such themes as love, compassion, mercy, and other Christian virtues.  The sermon also addresses the religious needs of the unchurched – the seekers who have come to Willow Creek the user-friendly church.”

            Much of the change being promoted among churches of Christ centers on worship, especially the Sunday morning worship assembly of the church.  These changes are being made in the areas of church music, lifting up hands, handclapping, drama, female leadership, observing religious holidays, dedicating babies, the Lord’s Supper, Sunday night cluster groups and children’s worship, the preaching style and worship environment.  Future lessons in our study will address each one of these subjects, with some of these topics, out of necessity, being combined into a single session.  One of the primary objectives of our change agent brethren is to renovate and restructure the worship practices of the church.  With many of their changes aping the Willow Creek Community Church in Palatine, Illinois and the other 1400 denominations and liberal, cultic churches of Christ who are members of the Willow Creek Association.
            But what does the Bible say regarding acceptable worship?  What is God’s will on the matter?  After all, isn’t that the reason we gather; to worship God?  If we are worshipping God and expect God to accept our worship shouldn’t we expect to worship as God requires?  Did God leave us ignorant in this matter or leave it to each of us to devise the means and methods in which we are to worship?

 

            The New Testament begins and ends with worship.

 

Matthew 4:10 “…THOU SHALT WORSHIP THE LORD THY GOD, AND HIM ONLY SHALT THOU SERVE.”

 

Revelation 22:8-9 “AND I JOHN SAW THESE THINGS, AND HEARD them.  AND WHEN I HAD HEARD AND SEEN, I FELL DOWN TO WORSHIP BEFORE THE FEET OF THE ANGEL WHICH SHOWED ME THESE THINGS.  THEN SAITH HE UNTO ME, SEE thou do it NOT: FOR I AM THY FELLOWSERVANT, AND OF THY BRETHREN THE PROPHETS, AND OF THEM WHICH KEEP THE SAYINGS OF THIS BOOK: WORSHIP GOD.”

 

            The New Testament tells us about at least four kinds of worship:

 

ignorant worship:  Acts 17:23 “FOR AS I PASSED BY, AND BEHELD YOUR DEVOTIONS, I FOUND AN ALTAR WITH THIS INSCRIPTION, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  WHOM THEREFORE YE IGNORANTLY WORSHIP, HIM DECLARE I UNTO YOU.”

 

vain worship:  Matthew 15:9  This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.  BUT IN VAIN THEY DO WORSHIP ME, TEACHING for DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.”

 

will worship:  Colossians 2:23 “WHICH THINGS HAVE INDEED A SHOW OF WISDOM IN WILL WORSHIP, AND HUMILITY, AND NEGLECTING OF THE BODY, NOT IN ANY HONOUR TO THE SATISFYING OF THE FLESH.”

 

spiritual worship:  John 4:23-24  BUT THE HOUR COMETH, AND NOW IS, WHEN THE TRUE WORSHIPPERS SHALL WORSHIP THE FATHER IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH: FOR THE FATHER SEEKETH SUCH TO WORSHIP HIM.  GOD is A SPIRIT: AND THEY THAT WORSHIP him MUST WORSHIP him IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH.”

 

            God didn’t leave us to worship ignorantly, he gave us instructions.  We understand the futility of worship that is presented in vain; it does not serve the purpose intended for it is in vain; not being acceptable to the One being worshipped.  Will worship falls into the same trap being worship that we as human present to God as we see fit, as we want to worship God and is equality unacceptable.  This leaves us only worship in spirit and truth that is acceptable to God.

            Inherent in each of these kinds of worship is the principle of authority. Worship is either right or wrong depending upon God’s will.  The only right worship is that which is authorized by God.

            Correct worship out of necessity addresses the proper audience – God.  John 4:23 – “TRUE WORSHIPPERS SHALL WORSHIP THE FATHER”; “FOR THE FATHER SEEKETH SUCH TO WORSHIP HIM.”  In Ephesians 5:19-20, worship in song is directed “TO THE LORD” and the “GIVING of THANKS” IS “UNTO GOD.”

            Correct worship also possesses the proper attitude by being conducted “in spirit.”  This phrase refers to the disposition of our hearts and minds.  Both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 say singing must be done “IN YOUR HEART.”  I Corinthians 14:15 says, “I WILL SING WITH THE SPIRIT AND…WITH THE UNDERSTANDING.”  The Psalmist said, “I WAS GLAD WHEN THEY SAID TO ME, LET US GO INTO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD” (Psalms 122:1) We’re told in Hebrews 12:28 that we are to worship God “ACCEPTABLY WITH REVERENCE AND GODLY FEAR (AWE).”  Frequently in our worship, where the real effort comes in is in keeping our hearts and minds focused on what we’re doing.

            In addition to the proper audience and the proper attitude, correct worship requires the proper actions.  Jesus says in John 4:23 worship must be “IN TRUTH.”  For example, I Corinthians 14:40 says actions in the worship assembly must be done “DECENTLY AND IN ORDER” while Hebrews 12:28 say worship must be done “ACCEPTABLY.”  Now some folks would have us to be confused about just what “IN TRUTH” means.

            Those who are authorities in the Greek language say that John 4:23 is an example of “truth” being used objectively to refer to “What is true in any matter under consideration.”  Specifically, according to Thayer, “in truth” in this passage means “as accords with the divine nature.”  Among other passages, he cites Matthew 22:16 and Colossians 1:6 as comparable uses in which the meaning of the words “in truth” is unmistakably that which is scripturally accurate, divinely authorized and objectively correct.

            Arndt and Gingrich list the use of “truth” in John 4:24ff under meaning “the content of Christianity as the absolute truth.”  Its use parallels the use in John 17:17 – “GOD’S WORD IS TRUTH,” John 16:13 – “THE SPIRIT LEADS INTO TRUTH,” and John 3:21 – “HE DOES THE TRUTH.”  Hence, again, worshipping “IN TRUTH” refers to worshipping according to the instructions of God.

 

God’s View of This Matter

 

            Of course our understanding of God’s view of this matter is not dependent upon Greek scholars.  God has always required that man approach him “IN TRUTH”, i.e. according to the divine directives which He revealed unto man.  The only worship that has ever been acceptable to God had been that worship which has been undertaken with (1) a proper attitude, frame of mind, and disposition conducive to spirituality, and (2) faithfulness to the specific items which God pinpointed as the proper external acts to be performed.  God has always required these two facets of response to His will to be right, attitude and action:

 

Passage                                Attitude                     Action

John 4:24                             spirit                            truth

Joshua 24:14                      sincerity                      truth

Ecclesiastes 12:13             fear God                     keep commands

Acts 10:35                            fear Him                     work righteousness

James 2:17                          faith                             works

I John 3:18                           word & tongue           deed & truth

Deuteronomy 10:12-13     fear/love—heart         walk/ways

Romans 1:9                         with my spirit              in the gospel

 

To emphasize one dimension of obedience over the other is to hamper one’s acceptance by God.  Bible history is full of instances of those who possessed one truth but the wrong spirit or vis versa and were unacceptable to God.  The Pharisees (Matthew 23:3), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:2-4), and the people of Amos’ day (Amos 5:21-24) engaged in the external forms, but were unacceptable because of their insincerity (attitude).  Paul (Acts 22:3, 23:1), Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2), Uzzah (II Samuel 6:6) all had sincere, genuine motives, but were unacceptable to God because of their failure to observe the right forms, or to perform the right works.

            Biblical history is also full of examples for our learning of people who failed to approach God “IN TRUTH.”  That is, they failed to do as God directed and paid the consequences.  Adam and Eve, regardless of the condition of their attitude, were condemned by God for the external act of eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17; 3:11).  Likewise, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3), the Sabbath breaker (Numbers 15:32-36), Moses (Numbers 20:11-12), Achan (Joshua 7), Saul (I Samuel 13:13-14; 15-19-23), Uzzah (II Samuel 6:1-7, I Chronicles 15:12-13), King Uzziah (II Chronicles 26:16-18), etc.  And there are many more we could bring to your attention from the School Master that teaches us how to live with God.  God has not changed his insistence upon man’s loving obedience to his instructions, and will not.  (John 14:15, 15:14; I John 5:3)

            The psalmist understood that God’s truth consisted of God’s written words (Psalms 119:30, 43, 142, 151, 160).  So did Jesus when he said “THY WORD IS TRUTH,” and declared that the basis of judgment would be the words which He spoke (John 17:17, 12:47, 48).  Worshipping God “IN TRUTH” is equivalent to “DOING TRUTH” which entails “deeds” or external actions which are prescribed by God (John 3:19-21; cf., loving “IN TRUTH” in I John 3:18).

 

Current Worship Tendencies

 

            Some churches of Christ are operating on the basis of inappropriate, unbiblical objectives and goals in worship.  Some churches have “worship committees” or “praise teams” who apparently don’t have the slightest idea what their real responsibility should be; that is to plan and structure worship so that the focus is on God – not the worshipper.  In keeping with the tone and tenor of our entertainment crazed culture, some in the church feel that worship ought to be entertaining – though they may not come out and describe their sentiments that way.  But they will go to great lengths to stimulate the tastes and desires of the audience – the wants of people, not the instructions of God.

            Folks, can’t we and they see that entertaining ourselves, satisfying our own needs, reviving our interest to escape our own boredom, and attempting to attract others with the manmade lures – are all simply unbiblical, cheap, inferior, substitutes for simple, unpretentious, meaningful, spiritual worship?

            Instead of attempting to renovate worship for our own benefit, what we need to do is cultivate our appetites for pure, New Testament worship.

            We are living at a time in which change, discontent and restlessness are rampant.  People tire very easily of the same old thing and quickly look for a replacement.  This phenomenon is true of the cars we drive, for some the mates they marry, and the houses they live in.  But Christians ought not to be so susceptible to cultural currents and human inclinations but rather focused on the ultimate goal of living our lives; spending eternity with our God.

            So it is in the church.  If worship has become boring and unmeaningful to a member, so much so that he/she feels the need to change churches or find some way to liven up the worship assembly with theatrics, he/she has a spiritual problem – a heart problem.  His/her restless discontent is more of a reflection of their own spiritual condition rather than a reflection on the worship being conducted in the assembly.