Monday, August 9, 2010

worship ought to be God-centered and gospel-fueled.

Worship Is A Big Deal: Part 1
Today I begin a multi-part series of posts on corporate worship: what it is and why it’s important

Thu, Jul. 29, 2010 Posted: 12:41 PM EDT

Today I begin a multi-part series of posts on corporate worship: what it is and why it’s important.

At sixteen I dropped out of high school. And because my lifestyle had become so disruptive to the rest of the household (I’m the middle of seven children), my grieving parents had no choice but to kick me out of the house.

Having successfully freed myself from the constraints of teachers and parents, I could now live every young guy’s dream. No one to look over my shoulder, no one to breathe down my neck, no one to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. I was finally free-or so I thought.

My newfound freedom had me chasing the things of this world harder than most others my age. I sought acceptance, affection, meaning, and respect behind every worldly tree and under every worldly rock. The siren song of our culture promised me that by pursuing the right people, places, and things, I’d find the satisfaction, security and significance I craved. If I could look, act, and talk a certain way, my deep itch to matter would finally get scratched.

But it didn’t work out that way. The more I pursued those things, the more lost I felt. The more I drank from the well of worldly acceptance, the thirstier I became. The faster I ran toward godless pleasure, the further I felt from true fulfillment. The more I pursued freedom, the more enslaved I became. At twenty-one I found myself painfully realizing that the world hadn’t satisfied me the way it promised, the way I’d anticipated. The world’s message and methods had, in fact, hung me out to dry.

I felt betrayed. Lied to. I desperately longed for something-Someone-out of this world.

One morning I woke up with an aching head and a sudden, stark awareness of my empty heart. Having returned to my apartment after another night of hard partying on Miami’s South Beach, I’d passed out with all my clothes on. Hours later, as I stirred to a vacant, painful alertness, I realized it was Sunday morning. I was so broken and longing for something transcendent, for something higher than anything this world has to offer, that I decided to go to church. I didn’t even change my clothes. I jumped up and stumbled out the door.

I arrived late and found my way to the only seats still available, in the balcony. It wasn’t long before I realized how different everything was in this place. I immediately sensed the distinctiveness of God. Through both the music and the message, it was clear that God, not I, was the guest of honor there. Having suffered the bankruptcy of our society’s emphasis on “self-salvation”, it was remarkably refreshing to discover a place that joyfully celebrated our inability to save ourselves.

I didn’t understand everything the preacher said that morning, and I didn’t like all the songs that were sung. But the style of the service became a non-issue as I encountered something I couldn’t escape, something more joltingly powerful than anything I’d ever experienced, something that went above and beyond typical externals. Through song, sermon, and sacrament, the transcendent presence of God punctured the roof, leaving me-like Isaiah when he entered the temple-awestruck and undone.

I was on the receiving end of something infinitely larger than grand impressions of human talent. God and his glorious gospel were on full display. It was God, not the preacher or the musicians, who was being lifted up for all to see. It wasn’t some carefully orchestrated performance (which, believe me, I would have seen right through). Rather, I was observing the people of God being wrecked afresh by God’s good news announcement that in the person of Jesus, he had done for them what they could never do for themselves. In and through the praising, praying, and preaching, the mighty acts of God in bringing salvation to our broken world were recited and rehearsed.

I was a “seeker” being reached, not by a man-centered, works-filled, trendy show, but by a God-centered, gospel-fueled, transcendent atmosphere. I was experiencing what Dr. Ed Clowney, the late president of Westminster Theological Seminary, used to call “doxological evangelism.” It was, quite literally, out of this world.

I tell you this personal story as a way to illustrate just how important a church’s corporate worship is-God used a worship service to save my life.

I view my story as proof that the way a church worships is a big deal. Paul made it clear to the Corinthian church that worship is not to be taken lightly-that when Christian’s are gathered by God to worship, they should worship in such a way that non-Christian’s in their midst leave saying, “God is really among you.”

A church’s worship, in other words, ought to be God-centered and gospel-fueled.

(To be continued…)

Worship Is A Big Deal, Part 2
Contrary to what many modern people believe, we can’t approach God any way we please.

Fri, Aug. 06, 2010 Posted: 02:03 PM EDT

(This post is part 2 in a series on corporate worship that I began a few days ago. You can read part 1 here)

Contrary to what many modern people believe, we can’t approach God any way we please. Trying to do so is extremely dangerous, as the Bible makes clear (see Cain, Nadab, and Abihu, for example). In the Bible, God provides us with commands, instructions, examples, and stories to illustrate how he wants us to worship him. Our worship, therefore, is to be regulated by God himself through his Word.

The often misunderstood “regulative principle” of worship simply means we must worship by the Book-that everything we do in worship must be divinely approved.

During the Protestant Reformation, two views emerged regarding how Sola Scriptura ought to be understood when it comes to worship practices. Martin Luther believed we could do anything we want in worship as long as the Bible doesn’t say “no”-whatever is not prohibited is permitted. John Calvin believed we can’t do anything in worship unless the Bible says “yes”-only those elements that are appointed by God in Scripture are permissible.

Because Scripture is the all-sufficient Word of God, I believe with Calvin that everything we do in worship must be prescribed in the Bible. But the application of the regulative principle does not need to be narrow, as is often assumed. Because the Bible instructs us with its methods as much as it does its material, our scope regarding what God commands in worship is deep and wide. For instance, recognizing the various literary genres of Scripture-history, story, poetry, prophecy, epistle, and so on-should demonstrate that stylistic diversity is something God himself employs and enjoys. Therefore, shouldn’t stylistic diversity be something we celebrate in worship? In other words, God is telling us something about how to worship him by the way he communicates, not just what he communicates-both style and substance are prescriptive. Understood this way, the regulative principle allows for much more variety in worship than some have concluded.

While the entire Bible ought to inform and regulate our approach to God, Isaiah 6:1-8 especially captures what it looks like to worship God in spirit and in truth. For me, this passage has become a go to passage on worship and I believe our corporate worship experience ought to mirror the experience we see here.

(To be continued…)

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is a Florida native, the new pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Tullian is the author of Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship (Multnomah), Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah) and Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (Crossway). Tullian is also a contributing editor to Leadership Journal. He speaks at conferences throughout the U.S. and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program Godward Living.
Tullian Tchividjian
Christian Post Guest Columnist

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