Category Archives: Worship
(This is a guest post by Daniel Attaway, Th.M. student at Dallas Theological Seminary.)
I attended a Christian liberal arts school in central Texas and I cannot tell you how many times I heard this statement or one like it. These comments usually started flowing freely somewhere around November or March (near the end of the semester). This was a school that was centered around training young men and women for ministry, specifically youth ministry, and statements like these were not uncommon. That is absolutely frightening! And even more, it is wicked.
There are basically two reasons why this is a wicked mindset and it is based on our manipulation of Christ’s statement, ‘Love God and Love people’ (Matt 22:38-40).
First, part of loving God is saying correct things about Him. Allow me to illustrate—I love my wife. She is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Her blonde hair, hazel eyes, and 5’10” frame are stunning. Every time she walks into the room she takes my breath away. She is incredibly talented as well. She majored in art in college and I love to watch her paint. When I see her in action my heart is stirred and I worship my God. There is only one problem… my wife is an absolutely gorgeous 5’5”, beautiful brunette with brown eyes, and she majored in accounting in college. Oh and let’s not forget, when she walks into a room she takes my breath away and when I am with her my heart is stirred and I worship my God. Now if I were to describe my wife to you using the first description and then you were to meet her, you would think I was delusional. The point is that I do not love my wife in a way that honors her if when I speak of her I speak falsely. There were some things that I said that were consistent in both descriptions but one description is true and the other is false. In the same way, it is disingenuous to say you love God if you take no interest in who He is and when you speak of Him, you do not speak rightly.
Secondly, part of loving others is telling them the truth. I went to a youth conference about a year ago where Matt Chandler was speaking to youth ministers, pleading with us to clearly and consistently preach the Gospel. He then said, “If you don’t know it, then I don’t know what you’re doing… You are a far more courageous man than I because the Lord is very clear on how He feels about those who lead His people astray.” Amen! Now there is a warning that you must heed: if you tell people the honest truth about who God is and who they are in light of Him, then you may not have the most “successful” ministry in town (as we define success). There may be those who hate you, your family may suffer persecution, and there may indeed be those who would like to see you leave town or die. The goal is not for people to speak well of us (Luke 6:26), but for us to guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us (II Tim 1:13-14). As Christians, it is not our calling to pat people on the back while they rot in their filth of sin and ignorance, but to love them enough to tell them the truth. Not telling them the truth out of fear or political correctness resembles hate, or worse, indifference more than genuine love.
So what is the goal? Is it balance between knowing your theology and being practical (i.e. loving people)? No, it’s simply both. Being a Christian has many implications but here are two: 1) Know theology and be tied to orthodoxy. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are things that are distinctively Christian and when you abandon those things, you abandon the community of faith. 2) Love others and meet their needs. You cannot do this well if you do not have a robust and thoroughly thought out theology because your theology will always inform your practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy can be distinguished but they cannot be separated. The goal is not to find a balance between these two, but to diligently seek both.
So, who needs theology? We all do. Theology is not only important for the theologian or minister but also for laypeople, young and old. Your bent may be to neglect theology or practice. Both are wicked. The Christian is to do both joyfully and lovingly. If I were to just focus on theology and neglect to love others, I am not acting Christianly because James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” On the other hand if I neglect theology I am incapable of truly loving God or people, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:6, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Hold these concepts close together, marry them in your heart and do not neglect either theology or practice because theology is practical (See 1 Timothy—all of it).
English reformer William Tyndale was born around 1494 and died this day in 1536. He was the key figure in translating the Bible into the English language so that lay people could read the text on their own. He was influenced by Erasmus who had made the Greek New Testament available in England. Although some partial English translations were around at the time, Tyndale was the first to use the original Greek and Hebrew, and was also the first to take it to print. He was labeled a heretic by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, who at the time thought the “uneducated” populous could not be trusted to interpret Scripture correctly, and saw an English translation of the Bible that lay people could read as a threat to their authority. For his heroic translating of Scripture into the language of the people, Tyndale was arrested by church authorities and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year in 1535. He was subsequently tried for heresy, strangled, and burnt at the stake on October 6, 1536. A good thing for us to remember as we read the Bible in English today. We benefit to this day from the sacrifice of great saints who have run the race prior to us.
Here’s an interesting video from N.T. Wright on the tremendous hunger that exists in the world for worship and what we can do about it. Specifically, he calls on us to work on two things:
- More regular worship. As he says, “frankly, one day a week ain’t good enough.” We need to educate people on individual and family worship so that worship can become a regular part of their daily lives.
- More emphasis on liturgy. Wright argues that liturgy can be very helpful in educating people for worship, especially when they are just learning how to do it. He rightly points out that the “imperative to be spontaneous” can be a terrible burden, constraining people from engaging in individual and family worship.
The last few days have seen quite a number of posts on the question of whether nationalistic symbols (e.g. flags) should be displayed in worship services and/or whether Christian churches should celebrate/recognize national holidays like the 4th of July. Here are some of the more interesting posts:
- We discussed whether Christian churches should celebrate national holidays, with several commenters arguing that we should not.
- Mike Bird called for an end to displaying national flags in churches; Nick Norelli responded with a caution that use the word “idolatry” more carefully. And Joel used this as his “question of the day” today, which should generate some more interesting discussions.
- Bob Hyatt looks specifically at 4th of July celebrations and asks what a visitor would think people were worshipping in such services. In general, he thinks that such displays of patriotism lean dangerously close to idolatry.
- Matt Dabbs considers the same issue, but he draws a potentially useful distinction between patriotism and nationalism, arguing that the former is a legitimate celebration of the good that a country provides, and the latter is where the real problem lies.
- And, Michael Gorman argues that churches should stop referring to this as “Independence Sunday,” as though this actually was a day on the liturgical calendar.
I’m sure there will be other posts over the next couple of days, but this seems like more than enough for now.
I recently read an article by Kevin DeYoung at Ligonier Ministries. In it he addresses the need for “fewer revolutionaries and more plodding visionaries.” There seems to be an alarming trend of my generation that desire Christian community, but want to find such community outside of the church. This manifests itself in an attitude of antagonism towards almost anything associated with the institutional church. People want to leave the Church to get together with other Christians who love Jesus, want to be taught the Bible, and reach others with the gospel of Christ, and they want to do it all at the newest and hippest location without the restraints of the Church. In the end, all they really want to do is………start another church. (I always find the irony in that humorous) We’ve always just called them denominations, but we seem to have replaced that with new words like: Emergent, Emerging, Seeker Sensitive, (or as in Andy Stanley’s so telling new video) Contemporvant.. Simply said: Christians were never meant to live outside of the community of faith called the Church. Inside of this community they find accountability, exhortation, a layer of protection against heresy, and hundreds of other benefits that God specifically wove into the fabric of Christian community.
DeYoung’s article points out the unbiblical and immature view of people who are bored with the church and spend more time picking the Bride of Christ apart than connecting in meaningful and “ordinary” relationships. He says, “It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.” DeYoung also makes a great point that much of our lives are “ordinary.” We are not all going to be Paul’s and we’re going to have to be all right with that. We were never called to be the next Paul anyway. We were called to be like Jesus and this means that faithfulness to the Glory of God is the real standard of maturity. Criticism is easy for those who never try themselves or have not had the test of time applied to their own endeavors. This includes faithfulness in what many times appears to be the mundane and ordinary, and in the midst of that knowing and trusting that God uses even this to make us like Jesus.
In his “Letter to Marcellinus” the great Athanasius writes these words regarding the value of reciting the Psalms:
Let each one, therefore, who recites the Psalms have a sure hope hope that through them God will speedily give ear to those who are in need. For if a man be in trouble when he says them, great comfort will he find in them; if he be tempted or persecuted, he will find himself abler to stand the test and will experience the protection of the Lord, Who always defends those who say these words. By them too a man will overthrow the devil and put the fiends to fight. If he have sinned, when he uses them he will repent; if he have not sinned, he will find himself rejoicing that he is stretching out towards the things that are before and, so wrestling, in the power of the Psalms he will prevail. Never will such a man be shaken from the truth, but those who try to trick and lead him into error he will refute; and it is no human teacher who promises us this, but the Divine Scripture itself.
I noticed a few things: (1) Athanasius understands the Psalms to have what we may call “devotional” value yet (2) he understand these very Psalms to have doctrinal value (preserving us from error) and elsewhere speaks of the Psalms as being a type of micro-canon containing all the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures in another format. Finally, (3) he sees the Psalms as inspired writing, the words of God, and therefore true in their promise to sustain us.
Reprinted form here.
Fellow ThM Students,
You may find interest in a debate between myself and Dr. James McGrath of Butler University and Ekaputra Tupamahu, a student at Claremont, on the question of whether Jew, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God. I say “no”; they say “yes”. And it has now spread to his blog as well.
If you’d like to weigh in feel free to do so here.
“Christ, in His divine innocence, said to the Woman of Samaria, ‘Ye worship ye know now what’ – being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worhsipping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is: ‘Away with the tendentious complexity of dogma – let us have the simple spirit of worship; just worship, no matter what!’ The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.” (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe) (Machester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1999), p. 19).