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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Supreme Ambition of the Church

Scripture is clear: the supreme ambition of the Church is not edification, not missions, not evangelism, not nickels and noses. The supreme ambition of the Church (what a congregation treasures above all, and relishes) is the worship of God. In fact you should be able to say that about everything a congregation does. The supreme ambition of Sunday School, catechizing, mercy ministry, missions, evangelizing: is to draw children, teens, adults (and ultimately all creation) into the worship of God, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

If you’re asking, “Where does Scripture make this clear?” then here is a small sampling.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD (Psalm 150.6)!” This concluding verse of the final Psalm charges all creatures and creation to worship God.

“Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; come into His presence with singing” (Psalm 100.1-2). This Psalm begins with an edict for “all lands” that they “serve” the Lord by worshiping Him (“come into His presence with singing”).

“God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us. Selah. That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth. Selah. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, And all the ends of the earth shall fear Him” (Psalm 67). In this Psalm, the prayerful desire of the singer is that all nations would come and rejoice in response to God’s salvation flowing to all nations. The goal or aim of missions and evangelism is to draw in the tribes, gangs, races, and whole truckload of humanity into the worship of God. Also, you will notice that in this Psalm, there are social justice issues and creational issues that are corrected as a result of all nations coming to be glad in the Lord and singing to Him for joy!

The Apostle Paul says this is the goal and aim of his mission work as well. In Romans 15 he writes, “Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:” and then he rattles off a whole passel of Old Testament passages that are all worship related; ““For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.” And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!””

Finally, simply peruse the Revelation. It is chock full of creatures and persons (heavenly and earthly) coming to worship Almighty God, and at one place they’re even recorded as saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested” (Revelations 15.3b-4).

My point that I am laboriously belaboring is this: If worshiping God is the primary purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, then everything changes with regard to how we reason about “worship styles.” If our congregation gathers to worship, and is not primarily focused on evangelism but worship, then it changes the reason why we sing and the kinds of songs we sing, or order the worship service the way we do. If a church relishes the God and Father of Jesus Christ, our focus is taken away from the slippery, fickle consumer, to the One by whom and in whom we live and move and have our being.

But think of it: what a church thoroughly treasures and relishes becomes potently attractive - it becomes evangelistic and edifying.



Philip Caines said...

I totally agree with your premise. I affirm that the chief end of the church is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. However, I am not sure I agree with what I believe to be your implied conclusion. You say the consumer will no longer dictate worship style or song selection when this is properly understood. This is, of course, true. However, that does not necessarily mean a church that believes this will have a traditional style of worship or sing old hymns. In fact, it may mean just the opposite. I believe the goal of drawing people to worship means that a church ought to seek to express Christ-centered, Word-based, Gospel-driven worship in a form that reflects the culture of the community they are trying to reach. A contemporary worship style does not necessarily mean that God-centered worship has been replaced by consumer-centered entertainment.

Mike Philliber said...

Philip, thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. Actually, I think you may have missed my point. I believe I stated that it changes "the reason" a congregation picks the songs and the kinds of songs, and the way/order it uses for worship. Much of the groups I have run into and listened to who tell me they're "contemporary" in their worship say (as did their forefathers in the Finney revivals)we want to reach the unbelievers. Their focus for "worship" is evangelism and therefore the consumer. The result is increasingly a very non-trinitarian, non-doctrinal form of "worship" singing that is so bland in its hipness that you can barely tell if you have entered a Christian worship service. If Jesus is mentioned in the songs, it's Jesus the uber-therapist, not Jesus the incarnate God, whose incarnation, holy life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension was for "us men and our salvation." And the same goes for the order of worship. Increasingly the accoutrements of Christian worship (baptismal font, communion table, as well as the trinitarian formulas like the Apostles' Creed etc) are kicked to the curb & utterly discarded all for ther same consumer-focused reasons. And so, this was my point.
Yet I agree with you. If our supreme ambition is the worship and glory of God, there will be culturally flavored adaptations in our singing, language, etc. But the reasoning for picking our songs and ordered worship is different, and thus the result will be different. We will bring in the Trinity and doctrine in our songs (like the Gettys have done so nicely - contemporary but very rich and substantive). We will gladly sing the doxology, recite the Nicene Creed, use hard words like Justification and propitiation and then guide our people into understanding them so that they joyfully break out in worshiping God more fully, etc.
Therefore I agree with you to some extent, I simply think you may have missed the point.
As a side note: what is traditional worship? Most of what is assumed as traditional worship is actually very contemporary. Whether it's the worship style of the 1940s (what many people seem to be referring to) or Willow Creek (what many younger people are referring to). Really traditional worship is....well, watch for my next post.
Again, I'm honored you would take the time to read and comment. Cheers,