Biblically and historically, a worship service is where God’s people respond corporately to what God has revealed about Himself. Yes, this response ought to be heartfelt, sincere, meaningful and unfeigned. In charismatic worship theology, one is not so much in pursuit of a response, as one is in pursuit of an experience: an experience of the presence of God that is intense, sensorily tangible, and emotionally or physically ecstatic.
Christian worship has often had a remarkably similar shape across traditions. Bryan Chapell showed in his work Christ-Centered Worship that corporate worship (sans communion) in Roman, Lutheran, Reformed and Evangelical traditions had a very similar form: a Call to worship, a Kyrie or Confession, followed by Thanksgiving, an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a prayer for Illumination, a Sermon, followed by a Benediction or dismissal, with hymns or psalms interspersed. Communion services also followed a similar pattern: An Invitation, Preparatory hymn, a Consecration of elements, an Exhortation of preparation, the Words of Institution, Breaking of bread, Communion, a psalm or hymn, thanksgiving prayer and Benediction.
Friends and proponents of Pentecostal worship often do not realise how radically different charismatic worship is from this historic pattern. Pentecostal authors have written that praise is a kind of ‘path’ into the presence of God. That is, worship is not a series of gracious revelations from God’s Word with faith-responses from His people. Worship becomes a series of steps or stages, growing in intimacy and intensity. Charismatic worship writers speak of the importance of “flow”: a technique of uninterrupted, continual music, designed to emotionally transport the worshippers into the climactic experience of “worship”, which they deem to be more intense and focused than “praise”.
Charismatic theologians do not base this on any Old or New Testament narratives of worship, such as Exodus 19-24 or Isaiah 6. Instead, an entirely new model of worship, known as the “Tabernacle Model” or “Five Phase Model” is used, using fragments of phrases from the Psalms. First, there is Invitation, “songs of personal testimony in the camp”. This is followed by Engagement, “through the gates with thanksgiving”. Third comes Exaltation, “into His courts with praise”. Fourth is Adoration, “solemn worship inside the Holy Place”. Finally, there is Intimacy, “in the Holy of Holies”. Of course, this is a technique in search of a text, not any serious attempt to mimic biblical forms. Nothing that Israel did in corporate worship even vaguely corresponds to the pursuit of a heightening climactic worship.
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By Vern Poythress — 6 months ago
How might leaders make the best decisions that contribute to the best congregational singing? That is not an easy question to answer. It involves paying attention to the broad principles for worship, which are based on the authority of the Bible. But it also involves application to many congregations and many circumstances.
As we saw previously, meetings for worship should be conducted for the glory of God, and for the purpose of building up the people, the Christian community. Everything in worship should be oriented to these goals. Building on the principles set out in Part I, we now concentrate on congregational singing, in distinction from performances. Congregational singing, like other elements in worship, should serve to glorify God and build up the people. That is what it means for it to be spiritually healthy.
Now, how might leaders make the best decisions that contribute to the best congregational singing? That is not an easy question to answer. It involves paying attention to the broad principles for worship, which are based on the authority of the Bible. But it also involves application to many congregations and many circumstances. The applications may vary with the circumstances. When it comes to application, people may sometimes sincerely disagree about how best to embody biblical principles.
Application calls for flexibility in a few ways. There are many cultures and languages in the world, and with the cultures come different kinds of music. This diversity holds not only with respect to cultures in different continents, but subcultures within the United States and subcultures in other countries. Music can be chosen with attention to the cultural setting. There is room for music especially suited for children, or for young people, or for people for whom English is a second language, or for multi-ethnic congregations, or for youth camps, or for evangelistic concerts, or for prayer meetings. Special music can be presented by soloists and choirs. Leaders may occasionally include musical styles that are less familiar or that appeal to the preferences of only some portion of the congregation.
But leaders need also to keep in mind what are the long-range goals. At its best, flexibility allows us space to choose the most effective path toward the goal; it does not mean ignoring the goal because we tell ourselves that we may do as we please.
So let us consider some features in song selection that promote healthy congregational singing in the long run. I offer these features as my opinions and as my suggestions. Others may disagree. Whatever conclusions different people reach, I want to encourage us to be thoughtful about why we make the choices we make.
The first feature to consider in congregational singing is the verbal content of what is sung. That content should be orthodox in doctrine. It should set forth truths that are based on the teaching of the Bible. This principle follows from what Col. 3:16 says about teaching. In church, singing is a form of teaching. Singing is supposed to communicate “the word of Christ.” Since Christ is God, and the Bible is the word of God, the whole Bible can be the contents of Christian songs. The contents are not limited to the recorded words of Christ while he lived on earth. But contents must be solidly based on the Bible, not on modern ideas.
Care should also be taken to see that the content is rich. We need to inspect the content, not only for orthodoxy, but for substance. Does the content predominantly set forth main themes of the Bible and main tenets of the gospel? In other words, are we majoring on majors, or only on minors? To major on majors means that we should not despise simpler and more elementary expressions of the central truths of the gospel. Simple they may be, but they also have depth. We should never tire of hearing what one song calls “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
In addition, content includes the riches of the Bible. So, complementary to our attention to the simplicity of the gospel, we should pay attention to the riches of the gospel. We may ask, “Does our song content at any point go deeper than the simplest expressions of truth? Does the content honor God, in his greatness? Does it honor Christ, in his compassion, his obedience, his righteousness, his suffering, his resurrection, and his present-day rule from heaven? Or does it merely focus on human feelings? Is the content too repetitious?”
We should also ask questions about balance. In the selection of words from week to week, do people get a balanced diet, so to speak? Is there adequate attention to darker topics, such as suffering, death, and the wrath of God? Or is everything tailored to create a superficial happy mood? Does the content reflect on the past, including the Old Testament? Does it reflect on the future (the Second Coming)? Or it is always narrowed focused on us as we live in the present?
There is much need for discernment. If a congregation is composed primarily of believers who are new converts, simpler content is desirable. If a congregation is composed primarily of believers who are much more mature, a diet of only very simple truths can be frustrating, as well as not maximally effective in using the opportunity for teaching. There is no simple recipe that will fit every circumstance. In all circumstances, we need to be guided by the long-range goal of glorifying God and building up the church, not simply by short-term preferences.
By Dr. Andrew Matthews — 3 months ago
Written by Dr. Andrew Matthews |
Friday, February 18, 2022
The weakened state of the church is the direct consequence of the church’s actions during Covid. If we hope that God restores the fortunes of her people it is incumbent upon us to first take stock of our actions during the pandemic, repent, and then consider how we might acquit ourselves henceforth. To the extent that the church has permitted the suspension of the ordinary means of grace experienced in public worship she is responsible for the poor spiritual state of believers. As enumerated previously, the church needs a renewed spirit of boldness to counteract the spirit of fear dominant in society. Our spiritual health should be considered more important than our physical health. We need to determine the limitations of the government’s authority over church operations. Leaders should make it a priority to properly teach biblical ethics. Church ecclesiology needs to be refortified to respond to emergency situations and the overwhelming authority of the state. If we are to expect God’s blessing on the church we must recommit to God-honouring worship and renew our trust in the merciful and mighty God who rules over all things.
And some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. -Daniel 11:35
The world-wide Covid-19 pandemic is the severest test of our generation. The Christian church specifically ought to consider the calamities of the past eighteen months as part of a painful trial that God has inflicted upon his church in order to refine her. Since both individual Christians and the church universal never reach a perfected state in this world we are constantly subject to tests that expose our short-comings. As the church has been forced to respond to the Covid crisis, Christian leaders have had to make ecclesiastical decisions, navigate ethical issues, and counsel their members how they should appropriately act. In spite of their good intentions and best efforts, I believe that the pressures of Covid-19 have exposed a number of weaknesses in our theology and ecclesiology that require reexamination and recommitment. To paraphrase the book of Daniel 5:25-28, we are a church that has been weighed, measured, and found wanting.
We should use this Covid experience as our refining fire in order that we may discover where our deficiencies lie and make the necessary changes. Instead of self-justifying and denying our sins, we should humbly assess our decisions, confess our failings, and profess a renewed obedience. I am a Christian pastor who had been responsible for pastoring a church during this season. I write from a position of grief at the church’s present failings and remorse over my past failings. The ultimate aim of this writing is not condemnation but reformation. Though the provenance of this essay is under home-confinement orders in locked-down Australia, its message extends to the wider church. Under seven rubrics I would like to highlight a number of areas in which the church has shown itself to have fallen short in its practice and principles. Martin Luther began his 95 Theses with the assertion that,“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent!” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Jesus Christ said,“those whom I love, I reprove” (Rev 3:19). Let us embrace a spirit of humble repentance as we examine how we have measured up during the pandemic and how we should acquit ourselves henceforth.
Spirit of Fear
When Covid-19 struck in early 2020 the response of world governments and the public was excessive and palpable fear. No one was certain how lethal the disease was, so as a precaution nations closed borders and locked down their people. Fear motivated every decision. Indeed, to not be fearful was considered a sign of recklessness. As more data became available, it was determined that Covid was fatal primarily to the very elderly and unhealthy, which were generally the same category. The median age of Covid death in Australia as of October 2021 is 84 years old . The aggregate case-fatality-rate among economically developed countries is around 2% (Australia: 1.1%; USA:1.6%). In age groups under 60 years old, the recovery rate for Covid in Australian is about 99.9%. The vast majority of people who get Covid suffer mild symptoms and recover. Only a small minority of cases require hospitalisation or ICU care. In spite of these encouraging statistics, our societal leaders were able to effectively cultivate and maintain a culture of fear. The level of panic in the public is incommensurate with the lethality of Covid.
One could understand how a secular people without hope and without God in this world would be susceptible to fear, yet the church herself has fallen into a similar panic. Despite the plethora of biblical injunctions to “fear not!” the church on the whole has not exhibited a robust spirit of courage. It is understandable that churches populated by the elderly would be particularly cautious, but elderly saints should be exhibiting more faith than those who have journeyed fewer days. One esteemed elder in my church in the early months of 2020 did not leave the bounds of his hobby farm for over two months, and did not let anyone on to his property for six months. The base-line attitude of Christians should be bold trust in God in the midst of a dangerous world. The Christian knows that God watches over them, is with them, and keeps them throughout the course of their journey, so they should not be paralysed with fear by a respiratory disease. Most of all, a Christian should have no fear of death. Biblical testimony and empirical evidence have proven that the inevitable end of all humanity is death, so after our “seventy or by reason of strength eighty” years of life (Ps 90:10) we expect to return to the dust. Christians should therefore exemplify a wisdom and assurance in the face of the prospect of death. An essential axiom of the faith is that in Christ one has eternal life, and that the next world—not this one—is our true home. This fear of death rife in the church undermines the core truth of the gospel which is “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). What does it say about our teaching and preaching ministry if our people cling to this life and have a frail assurance of their eternal salvation? The teachers of the church need to reinforce the Christian affirmations of the brevity of temporal life, the reality of judgment, and the hope and certainty of eternal life in Christ.
In addition to the disease itself, the fear of people is rampant in the church. One of the arguments for full compliance to public worship closure was that the wider public would deem an assembled church a threat to its safety. Our public witness or testimony became a prevailing concern in our deliberations. Church leaders have also been afraid of their own congregation’s opinions on Covid compliance. The divergence of perspectives on the proper Covid response has threatened the peace and unity of the church. Not only ministers and elders but also congregation members have fretted over what other members will think about their own level of personal compliance. Christians have to then subtly ascertain how strict or free other Christians are in their compliance to health measures in order to reestablish relationships. The government’s social-distancing mandates have solidified in our minds that social interaction with people puts us at risk. Covid-positive people have become the new lepers—“Unclean! Unclean!” And now everyone who is unvaccinated is seen as a de facto Covid carrier. How can we fellowship as a church when every individual is seen as a threat to your life? Fear has fractured the bonds of Christian fellowship.
Of paramount importance throughout the pandemic has been the issue of public health. The church has accepted the world’s principle that remaining alive is the summum bonum of living. Christian theology, however, has always asserted that eternal life takes precedence over temporal life. When Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn the stone into bread, he asserted that to live by God’s word was more important than to “live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4). Obedience to God was more important than staying alive. The spiritual trumps the physical. However, the government’s restrictions on public worship prioritise human safety over all other considerations. To not congregate, sing, or partake of sacraments is justified by the need to preserve physical life. The church has concurred with the state’s perspective by its willingness to set aside the ordinary means of grace lest there be any potential threat to the life of a congregant. We ministers need to reconsider how important is the preservation of human life within the whole course of Christian discipleship. The testimony of Christians who take up their cross (Mat 16:24), are faithful unto death (Rev 2:10), and consider God’s love more valuable than life (Ps 63:3) stands in stark contrast to the world which is demonically enslaved by its dread of death (Heb 2:14-15).
Very disturbingly, the public health orders of the government have become an omnipotent tool that the government has used to supplant any ordinary right or prerogative in society. Our society is ruled by an army of “-ologists.” Under the warrant of public health the government has been able to close off international travel, lock down society, seperate families, limit public assembly and protest, close worship, and shut businesses and schools. Since society at large fears Covid and privileges public health, the populace has permitted the government to take complete control of their lives. The health orders are like a giant Trojan Horse that we have welcomed into our city. If a communist or progressive government made a direct attack against Christian assembly the church would undoubtably fight back. If the government were to close our churches due to ideology, we would publicly resist—or go underground. Yet, when the government closes our churches due to health orders, we submit without question. Though the motives may be different, the end is the same. The state has found an effective mechanism by which the church will cede its sovereignty.
The church needs to consider how we have established a dangerous precedent that public health warrants can be routinely used to restrict and suspend church gatherings and practice. Is public health a justifiable grounds by which the state can exercise absolute control over the affairs of the church? Having established a precedent on physical health grounds, the state can easily transition to further control of doctrinal issues on the basis of mental health. Church leadership needs to establish the boundaries of health restrictions on church practice and also standards by which the government should justify its restrictions.
Submitting to Caesar
Under the government health orders, the church has felt that it has had no option but to obey. Both the Bible (see Rom 13:1-7: Tit 3:1; 1 Pet 2:13-15) and our confessional documents (see Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 23: “Of the Civil Magistrate”) assert the duty of the church to submit to human rulers, i.e. “the civil magistrate”. The obligation to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” (Luke 20:25) has been a hallmark of Christian citizenship for two millennia. The contemporary church recognises that the state has a legitimate interest to protect its citizens, so it has supported the state’s involvement in church matters as they relate to child protection, building regulations, and tax and accounting law. Since the government has imposed restrictions on the basis of public health and not ideology, the church has bent-over-backwards to show its support of measures that further the public good. In the initial stages of the virus, church leaders closed the doors, since they were fearful of the unknown dangers of this Covid and expected that the suspension of services would only last a few weeks. In good faith the church has aimed to demonstrate that its dutiful compliance has aided the state’s goal of public welfare.
The church’s compliance to the health regulations is, however, not merely about voluntary compliance but authoritative submission. Though government leaders may have spoken softly, they still carry a big stick. At the end of the day, the church is required to submit irrespective of its views. The church may put on a facade of voluntary compliance, but its leaders know that they don’t have a choice—at least not without a cost. Noncompliance to health orders carries immense penalties such as hefty fines to the primary stakeholders in the church, personal legal liability to leaders if a person dies of Covid, and possibly criminal prosecution for unlawful assembly. Not many elders and ministers, regardless of their convictions, are able to withstand the enormous pressure that comes from the government, ecclesiastical authorities, public opinion, and from within the congregation itself. If a pastor were to make a principled stand and disobey public health orders the most likely outcome for him would be a charge of ministerial misconduct and contumacy to the ecclesiastical authorities coupled with a loss of income, housing, and ministerial career prospects. The upholding of genuine convictions carries a significant cost.
The church has yet to determine the bounds, limitations, and duration of the state’s new-found health authority. As much as the church affirms the right of the civil magistrate to adjudicate its affairs within its sphere of responsibility, it also asserts that government authority is not absolute. The state’s edicts have ethical and ecclesiastical limits. Citizens, especially Christians citizens, are under no obligation to comply with government laws that violate God’s moral law. The second half of Christ’s injunction—“[render] unto God the things that are God’s”—is still perpetually binding upon the church. The civil magistrate has no absolute authority over internal ecclesiastical matters, especially the doctrine that is to be taught and how worship is to be conducted. With respect to the latter, that has already occurred in Covid health restrictions: no gathering, no singing, no sacraments. If we accept the premise that the government, even with a health warrant, does not have unbounded authority over the affairs of the church (Acts 4:19), where will the church draw the line? My wife had a discussion with a moderator of a state assembly who told her that there was no consensus among ministers where the proverbial “red line” lay. For some it is the state’s regulations over church worship; for others it is the mandates prohibiting unvaccinated church attendance. Others are keeping their powder dry until the state threatens our inviolable theological commitments—coming soon from the progressive ideological movement.
The church’s obedience to the government has extended to the expectation of unwavering public support to their policies. The “Honour the king” (1 Pet 2:17) injunction appears to mean that church leaders should in no way publicly criticise government health policies. In regards to Covid policy, it seems the church must not only submit, but do it smilingly. The official church leadership has not made any overt prohibitions against government criticism, but one can feel that a culture exists which frowns upon public rhetorical challenges to government policies. In my own church, my leadership expected me to explain to the congregation the worship restrictions, but opposed me publicly expressing my disapproval of them. Is it not allowable that a person can submit to a law yet not agree with it? In that vein, there is a perception among some of the laity that church leaders put up little resistance to the government’s health restrictions. How much resistance was given to the government over the church being designated as a “non-essential service”? The “sons of light” could learn some shrewd lessons from the “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8). Sometimes insecure politicians back-down in the face of resolute resistance.
The church’s unwavering support of the government is predicated on the belief that the government’s sound wisdom and good character is unassailable as it pertains to Covid policy. The health advisors are experts in the fields of science and medicine, so we lack the competence to question their judgement. We have been repeatedly assured that government ministers and health authorities are driven by genuine love and good motives. The public’s safety, not a desire to undermine the church is the motive behind all their policy. The questioning of motives is always a dangerous business. We assume that the church has not been targeted, for the public assembly rules apply equally to all types of organisations. Perhaps only the most cynical conspiracy theorist would dare to question the motives behind Covid policy. I ask the question: given the downward ethical trajectory of our government’s policies in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, transgenderism, prostitution, conversion therapy/theology and religious vilification, how is it still possible that we assume that our government is inherently favourable to the evangelical church? Is it not telling that during the Covid lockdown in New Zealand and Australia significant legislature has been pushed through on euthanasia and abortion, yet a religious liberty bill has stalled in the Australian parliament due to the pandemic? The greatest absurdity of all is that Covid restrictions were issued to preserve the life of the most vulnerable, the sick and elderly, yet governments have been passing euthanasia bills in order to kill the sick and elderly. I guess it is acceptable to the government for the elderly and sick to die, as long as it is not from Covid.
It is time to shed our naiveté and assume a posture of dubious and vigilant pessimism towards the government.
By Aaron Armstrong — 2 months ago
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He is faithful to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. And this is exactly what we see Him do throughout the passage, and throughout all of history. We see that God’s goodness is not dependent upon His people’s faithfulness. And Nehemiah 9:18-25 certainly does demonstrate the unfaithfulness of the Israelites.
In the fall of 2021, as our church was going through the book of Nehemiah, I was working through the prayer of confession in chapter 9. As I studied the passage, it helped me to recognize something extremely important:
It’s really hard to believe in God’s goodness.
Most Christians will say that we do believe God is good, of course. We can affirm the general truth. But when we start looking at our own lives, we struggle to see how God can be good to us because we’re not terribly faithful people.
But Nehemiah 9 has some very good news for us all, even today, which is that God’s goodness is not limited by our faithfulness, because it’s not based on our faithfulness.
Where We Start in Thinking About God’s Goodness
The prayer that comprises Nehemiah 9 starts where it should—with praise for God’s self-disclosure, His creation of the world, His covenant with Abraham, and His rescuing of the people from bondage in Egypt. But in verse 16, the prayer moves from praise to confession. It is a recognition of the people’s ongoing rebellion against Him. That rather than responding with worship, they countered with rejection.
They refused to listen—they refused to obey God. They did not remember the wonders He performed, even the ones that
And then there’s the last half of verse 17:
But you are a forgiving God,gracious and compassionate,slow to anger and abounding in faithful love,and you did not abandon them.
Even in the midst of this confession of the people’s sin, the Levites couldn’t not point the people back to God. In fact, the language here is a paraphrase of God’s own self-disclosure from Exodus 34:6-7:
The Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
Now, stop and think about those words for a second. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He is faithful to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. And this is exactly what we see Him do throughout the passage, and throughout all of history. We see that God’s goodness is not dependent upon His people’s faithfulness. And Nehemiah 9:18-25 certainly does demonstrate the unfaithfulness of the Israelites.
God’s Goodness to the Faithless
In the wilderness, the people denied Him at every opportunity. Before the Red Sea had been parted, they were sure that God had led them into the wilderness to be killed.