Worship at Metro East (2)

How we worship is not unimportant. It matters to God how His people worship Him. We are not welcome to bring to God whatever we please so long as our "hearts are in the right place." There are reasons behind the approach that Metro East takes to corporate worship.

In a chapter he wrote for "Give Praise to God" Ligon Duncan outlines a biblical framework of doctrines that form a foundation for Christian worship:

· The nature of God – Who God is, is the number one determining factor regarding how we worship. The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3) finds its rationale simply in the fact that God is and is worthy of worship. The second commandment’s prohibition against the use of images in worship flows directly from the fact that God cannot be adequately pictured (Deut 4:15-19; John 4:24). Our worship of God is to reinforce our knowledge of and love for God and therefore must be informed by what the Bible teaches about God.

· The Creator-creature distinction – God created all there is. We are not co-creators with God nor is He contained within what He has made (Ps 100:3). The Bible upholds and celebrates the distinction between God and His creation. God is wholly and holy other from man (Isaiah 6:1-3). Since God is entirely distinct from us and by nature transcendent and incomprehensible apart from His own self-disclosure, how can we properly worship Him unless guided by what He tells us in the Bible?

· The idea of revelation – This point builds directly upon the former. “Biblical worship inherently entails a response to revelation” (p. 54). We cannot know God unless He willingly reveals Himself to us. In this post-apostolic time God reveals Himself chiefly through His Word. General knowledge of God may be discerned from creation (Rom 1:20) but redemptive knowledge of God requires the revelation of Jesus Christ found in the Bible (Rom 10:14-17). Divine revelation is essential for worship to be proper and honoring to God. Worship embodies a kind of dialogue with God revealing and man responding. “God takes initiative in worship through revelation, promise, and blessing. His people respond in worship through hearing, believing, and praise/adoration/confession/thanksgiving” (p. 55).

· The unchanging moral law of God – The second commandment (Ex 20:4) forbids the use of any images of God in worship. The broader principle to be inferred in this commandment is that we must not introduce into worship anything that God forbids. It is also important to note that this command finds itself not in the temporary ceremonial laws of Israel but the eternal moral law of God. The sons of Aaron were struck dead by God for offering “strange fire” on the altar (Lev 10:1-2). Every indication from the passage is that they were trying to worship the right God but doing so in the wrong way.

· The nature of faith – John Owen, the greatest of the Puritan theologians stated quite convincingly “the argument of faith.” The idea is that since faith is necessary to true worship then right worship is conditioned upon the exercise of true faith. Faith is confident belief in what God has said (Heb 11:1). What is more, the Bible tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6) and “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). God will not be honored by a worship that is not characterized by confidence in God and His Word.

· The doctrine of carefulness – The worship of God’s people described in the pages of Scripture was characterized by reverence and sometimes outright fear. Where God’s presence was rightly recognized and sin properly reckoned with the people responded in trembling and face-to-the-ground humility. How different this is from the “keep it casual” coffee shop approach to worship in the contemporary church. In Scripture, when God’s clear instructions were disregarded there was a high price to pay. Uzzah was struck dead for not treating the Ark of the Covenant as God had commanded (II Sam 6). The story of Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-2) referenced earlier seems odd, even cruel in a church culture that reveres creativity, “outside the box” thinking, and good intentions. “God is dangerous to those who are careless in worship, however sincere…The way of carefulness is the way of the Word” (p. 57).

· The church’s authority – The church’s authority is of a derivative nature. Jesus is the sole head of the church. Any authority that the church possesses is derived from her Lord and Savior. The officers of the church as defined by Scripture (Eph 4:11-13) have no power to make their own laws but must only serve to administer the rule of Christ as revealed in the Bible. The church has no authority to require obedience to its own commands or “participation in ordinances of its own making” (p. 57). The church is required however to hold forth the commands and ordinances of God as revealed in Scripture.

· The doctrine of Christian freedom – Only Scripture can truly protect Christian freedom. The Bible tells us that while we must act in sacrificial love toward one another our conscience is held captive to God alone (Rom 14:1-4; I Cor 10:23-30; Gal 4:8-11; Col 2:16-23). We must not submit to or require others to submit to man-made worship regulations. By showing us God’s priorities for worship the Bible guarantees our freedom from the bondage to human doctrines and practices. Christian freedom means that we are not required to render any act in corporate worship that God, in His Word, has not called for.

· The nature of personal holiness and obedience – Scripture tells us that “to obey is better than sacrifice” (I Sam 15:22). King Saul found this out the hard way. If we are to obey all that God has commanded then a deep and adoring knowledge of Scripture is essential for it is in the pages of God’s Word alone that we discover what He has commanded.

· The tendency of mankind toward idolatry – Worship must “not be according to the imaginations or devices of men.” Our hearts are idol factories as Calvin observed. Of idolatry, Luther wrote, “we are inclined to it by nature; and coming to us by inheritance, it seems pleasant.” It is clear in Romans 1:19-25 that fallen man is a degenerate truth twister. It is in our nature to distort whatever knowledge of God we receive. This is why Wesley observed that “every man born into this world is a rank idolater.” Our tendency toward idolatry extends not only to the potential objects of our worship but to the very way in which we worship. There were times in Israel’s history (and perhaps today?) when God’s people attempted to worship God in their own way or to adapt their worship practices to cultural norms. Scripture strictly forbids this (Deut 12:29-32).