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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Distinctly Christian Worship


The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21 paragraph 2, enunciates three very clear criteria for Christian worship that marks it out as distinctly Christian:
“Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone: not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.”
First, our worship is to be Trinitarian. It is good, appropriate, and proper that our worship includes Trinitarian Creeds, along with the Doxology, the Gloria Patri, Trinitarian prayers, hymns etc. This Trinitarian nature of Christian liturgy might need to be pointed out at times, and explained at other times, but should never be muted to accommodate visitors. It is one important criterion that sets apart our assemblies from a pep rally, or an Amway sales convention.

I once was part of a worship service where the overtly Trinitarian portion of a hymn was truncated and dropped altogether because someone of another religion was visiting. This particular congregation and their pastor (who claimed to be Christian), had such a deep reverence for this other religion, that they would rather denude the worship of God so that someone of another faith would not be uncomfortable. I’m all for helping people to feel comfortable, but by stripping away the things that make worship genuinely Christian, we turn our assemblies into a travesty.

Second, worship is not directed to anyone else; not to “Sophia”, the saints, sun, moon or stars, but to the one God alone. Though this point might seem self-evident, it can easily get blurred and smudged. In Protestant, Evangelical and Independent circles, the assembly can quickly descend into adoration of the nation, or adulation for some hero. This can easily happen around times of national holidays (the 4th of July, for example, where with all the patriotic songs, American flags being paraded about, et al, it gives the appearance that the nation is being worshiped). Or when some national figure or sports celebrity suddenly becomes a “Christian” and is invited to speak at church. If it is publicized, rarely will it be advertised as a time of worshiping the God of amazing grace, instead it will be published as “Come hear superstar X talk about her new found faith.” Then the event becomes all about “X”, with a corporate sigh of relief that finally we are affirmed by a star.

Third, our worship is mediated through Christ alone. Hebrew 4:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This means that our worship will, of necessity, revolve around, and flow through, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At some point, the work of Jesus Christ our Lord, is going to take center stage.

Sadly, I have attended a number of “Christian” funerals where the service was rightly laid out as a worship service, but the primary focus regularly fell on the goodness of the deceased, their great works, decent character, and how we ought to be certain this person was in heaven. By all appearances it looked as if the deceased was being worshiped, and in almost every case there was no recognition of the central place of Christ, or that the worship was to the God of amazing grace, Father, Son and Holy Ghost! I have noticed similar trends in “normal” Christian services as well. In the name of accommodation or relevance, Christ is marginalized, and the Trinity made absent, replaced by some innocuous divinity that anyone can affirm and feel good about.

Let us unashamedly be Christians and have Christian worship assemblies. Without being vicious, let us adore the one God who is simultaneously three persons. Let us joyfully announce that Christ Jesus, our great High Priest, makes our worship acceptable and satisfying to the Father because of his incarnation, his death for our offenses and resurrection for our justification. And let us ensure that in our liturgy God is never trumped by someone or something else.

---
Mike

1 comment:

Rick Lenz said...

Excellent analysis!

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