I’ve long been meaning to prepare a paper on the nature of Christian worship with the ultimate goal of producing a discipleship lesson series. To create some pressure on myself to get the ball rolling on this project, I recently announced on my Facebook page (facebook.com/wheatmyermusic) my intent to do so and began issuing bite-sized posts there on the topic. The next step in the process is putting some of those bites together into longer posts on this blog. You are now reading the first in that series.
Why do this? First, because I sense that, by and large, Christians today lack a personal vision of biblical worship outside of the anemic definition expressed by the so-called Christian music industry. Mike Cosper captured this thought in his blog a while back observing that our worship trends reflect that “many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.” I’d like to see that change and I pray that these posts might move us toward comprehending the gravity, majesty, and devotion of biblically sanctioned worship. Second, it’s a self-improvement project – worship is a topic that interests me deeply so I want to know it better, and what could be better than to know how God wants to be worshiped? And going through the process should make me a better worshiper of God. Carrying out this project should improve my expressive writing skill (which needs a lot of improvement!), and writing clearly promotes clearer thinking as well which circles right back to understanding worship better.
Knowing my nature, progress will likely move in fits and starts and results won’t necessarily follow any chronological or coherent progression. If I waited until it was logically structured I might never produce anything so, even though I have a general outline, I’m going to just write and see where this goes, sort of like Sean Connery’s character in Finding Forrester when he says, “No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!” And though I hope to do some thinking before you see anything here it seems most important to start writing! So, here goes . . .
Before engaging with the particulars of Christian worship it is necessary to establish the reference point from which I’ll be writing. I’m in the Protestant stream of Christianity and hold to the foundational Protestant principle of sola scriptura which is the proposition that the Bible is sufficient as the sole authority for Christians in all matters of faith and practice. Wayne Grudem describes sola scriptura to mean that “Scripture contains all the words of God he intended for people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.” The Baptist Faith and Message says that the Bible is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” The Westminster Confession of Faith states: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.“ This principle has its roots in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (ESV). This breathed-outedness portrays Scripture as being the very voice of God which thereby carries His full authority. The passage further teaches that Scripture can make its readers “complete.” So we have then the principles that Scripture is both sufficient and authoritative.
Now this does not mean that Scripture is our sole source of information. There are many other sources of information – some good, some not so good. These include general revelation (creation/nature), tradition, experience, pragmatics, and other areas which may inform our application of Scripture. But none of these are an ultimate authority for the Christian in matters of faith and practice. It was on this issue of conflating information with authority that the Reformers had their main conflict with Rome. They rejected the concept that Scripture shared its authoritative role with church tradition and ecclesiastical edict, but held scripture to be supreme, sufficient, and perspicuous. That is where I stand, also, and thus Scripture will be the primary well I draw from as I examine Christian worship here in the days to come.
Soli Deo Gloria