Philosophy of Worship, part 1

Philosophy of WorshipWhen I was in seminary, I took a course called “Philosophy of Worship.” The course project was to compose a document that described my personal philosophy of what worship is and what it’s for. It’s one thing to write such a thing for class – it’s a totally different thing to make decisions, pick music, plan services, teach volunteers, and serve a church while following that philosophy. However, I think I stick to what I believe about worship in the majority of my actions.

I wanted to share some of my core convictions about worship in order to stimulate thought and discussion. These convictions in no way sum up my philosophy of worship, but are just learnings and thoughts I’ve collected along the way. And I in no way have it all figured out…

1. Worship is for God – not for us.

Worship is essentially an offering/sacrifice. And for something to be offered/sacrificed, it has to be given to someone else wholly [without holding any back]. So when I worship, everything becomes God’s – my heart, my life, my song, my thoughts, my will…etc. It is all for God, not for me.

The problem is when we get too wrapped up in what worship does for us. I don’t deny that we get stuff out of worship – encouragement, fellowship, peace, joy, Spirit-filled…etc. It’s even clear in the first Testament that God rewards the faithfulness of worshipers. Genesis 22…Abraham got something out of his worship…a ram to take the place of Isaac. Even a portion of some sacrificed animals was kept and prepared as a celebration for the family. But our tendency is to get more wound up over the blessings of worship than the One we worship. We get more overjoyed by grace, rather than the God that provides it.

So worship takes the spotlight off us. God is the central character in the drama of worship. And the sacrifice of worship is for God, not for us. Any blessings we receive from worshiping God are purely a bi-product of the goodness of God. We shouldn’t worship God to get something out of it. We should worship God because God is worthy to receive glory, honor, riches, wisdom, power, strength…etc.

Andrew Jones: 'Mighty to Save' and other worship songs that annoy me

From Tall Skinny Kiwi:

The line that bugs me is this one:

“Saviour, he can move the mountains”

It’s not that the statement is untrue because actually, God can do whatever he wants, including the relocation of mountains. It’s just that the particular idea of moving mountains, which occurs most strongly in Isaiah, the minor prophets and later in the Gospels, is almost exclusively in relation to people moving mountains and not God. Jesus told his disciples that they could move mountains. The Isaiah passage [Remember Godspell’s “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”], as Jesus enlightens us, was in reference to John the Baptist who would level the mountains and fill the valleys. 

Mountain moving is the job of God’s people!

Yes, our Saviour could move the mountains if he wanted to, but he has commissioned us to move them so let’s get on with it, not in our own might or by human power, but by God’s Spirit (Zech 4:6-7)

The idea behind this lyric, in my opinion, is the same lazy “let go and let God” philosophy that inoculates the people of God from doing anything practical or hands-on because we assume if we just sit back and sing some more songs then God, who is somehow energized by our inaction, will stand up, bare his almighty arm and get things done.

Escaping from Worship Music

Dr. Rollins has some interesting thoughts on the problems inherent in contemporary worship services. Read the full post here:

What if church is the place we go precisely to escape worship music, instead singing songs that invite us to turn our backs on some ultimate solution and affirm the life we find ourselves in? A place where the art encourages us to find meaning, beauty and goodness in our world rather than in something beyond it?

Recap from "Exploring the Future Church" Session 4

Several of us had a great time reflecting on the question,“What does it mean to be a church community?” on Wednesday night. You can download the handout that guided our discussion so you can follow along: Session 4 Handout

Big Takeaway from Session 4: We dove into some biblical and theological explanations of what the “church” is. The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit. No one really decides for themselves to become a part of the church. The Spirit of God is always drawing people into community first. The church’s model for community comes from the Trinity. The Trinity is our model for a relational, organic community of interconnected, mutually submissive relationships. The mission of the church is wrapped up in the narrative story of a Three-in-One (communal) God that is re-creating everything into a new and perfect community.
We also completed a comparison of how three different churches handle their membership practices. Several values and practices are beginning to emerge in defining how Theophilus might help people belong to our community:
  1. It might be helpful for new Grace Groups to be created around new “members.”
  2. A process for discerning whether “membership” is where God is leading someone might be a helpful thing to offer (but without a specific time frame expected for completion).
  3. If a process for discernment is suggested, it would be helpful if the steps are easy to understand and communicated well.
  4. It seems that regardless of people’s “membership” status, everyone should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate (with no guilt attached for not becoming a “member”).

 

Message from 5/22/11 (Stoning of St. Stephen)

Here is the video from Sunday’s message at Theophilus. Marcus and I had a great time “tag-teaming” the message.

We each had enough material to preach our own individual messages, so I left a couple of points out due to lack of time. Here they are:

  • If you’re going to follow Jesus, you might have to follow Jesus (even to death). Is it possible that I could be killed for my faith? Or one of you? I don’t know. The point is this: If we claim to be followers of a Savior who was crucified, should we expect any different? The question is, will we allow our own crosses and our own martyrdoms to be an opportunity to imitate Jesus, his compassion and mercy?
  • (Hat-Tip to Peter Rollins for this point, taken from his blog post)
    Anecdote – “One evening a guy is driving home after a long and tiring day at work and gets a call from his concerned wife, “Dear, be careful on the way home as I just heard on the news that some crazy guy has been spotted going full speed the wrong way up the freeway” The husband says, “Sorry honey, can’t talk right now… there isn’t just one crazy guy, there are hundreds of them!!!”

    This is funny, but this is the situation the Jewish mob that murders Stephen find themselves in. They don’t even consider that they may be wrong. This situation is sadly all too common. Now look at this story in your own life – put yourself in the shoes of the angry mob. How do we encounter people with different political, religious, and cultural values to our own? When we’re confronted with someone who thinks differently than us, how do we respond? Most people respond in 1 of 2 ways: (A) Consumption – attempting to neutralize the difference by changing them to our way of thinking (making them like us), or (B) Rejection – rejecting them from our group as a foreign agent that must be expelled (protecting the integrity of our group).

    But there is a better option. The better option is Communion. Communion can be described as eating with the other who thinks differently. Here the community seeks to sit down with the other and seek out places of convergence. Communion is saying there are places where we are both right, lets see where those places are, and move forward together.

    To be in Communion with someone means we put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we look at the situation through their eyes. This is an alternative type of encounter with people who are different than us. And it’s what Jesus came to show us. Jesus came to show us that there is a different way to treat people. We don’t have to change them and we don’t have to reject them. God can save us as we are, whether right or wrong.

What if God is not who we thought?

Excerpt from Easter sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Once upon a time, the God of the Universe was basically fed up with being on the receiving end of all our human projections, tired of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, show-offy, defensive, insecure, in short, the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. So, at that time, over 2,000 years ago, God’s Loving Desire to really be Known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest in the rapidly dividing cells within the womb of an insignificant peasant girl named Mary. And when the time came for her to give birth to God, there was no room in our expectations – no room in any impressive or spiffy or safe place. So this God was born in straw and dirt. He grew up, this Jesus of Nazareth, lefthis home, and found some, let’s be honest,  rather unimpressive characters to follow him.  Fishermen, Tax collectors, prostitutes, homeless women with no teeth, people from Commerce City, Ann Coulter and Charlie Sheen.  If you think I’m kidding…read it for yourselves.  These people were questionable. So, with his little band of misfits Jesus went about the countryside turning water to wine, eating with all the wrong people, angering the religious establishment and insisting that in him the kingdom of God had come near, that through him the world according to God was coming right to us.  He touched the unclean and used spit and dirt to heal the blind and said crazy destabilizing things like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and sell all you have and give it to the poor.

And the thing that really cooked people’s noodles wasn’t the question “is Jesus like God” it was “what if God is like Jesus”.  What if God is not who we thought?  What if the most reliable way to know God is not through religion, not through a sin and punishment program, but through a person. What if the most reliable way to know God is to look at how God chose to reveal God’s self in Jesus?

 

Holy Week 2011 – Maundy Thursday

The texts assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for Maundy Thursday of Holy Week are Exodus 12:1-14 (instructions for observing Passover), Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation), 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Jesus on the night betrayed took bread…cup….), and John 13:1-17, 21b-35 (Jesus eats the Passover with the disciples).

Traditionally, Maundy Thursday liturgies contain a ceremony where congregants wash each others feet, just like Jesus did at the last supper. And so,

A Summative Theology of Feet

  • Genesis 18:4 – Abraham encounters the Lord in the form of a trinitarian/angelic appearance at the oaks of Mamre. Abraham bids them to stop and, “Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet.”
  • Exodus 3:5 – Moses encounters the Lord in a burning bush. Moses is told by God, “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” The experience of God was transmitted through the toes.
  • Psalm 119:105“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”
  • Luke 7:38 – Jesus is encountered by a questionable woman while eating dinner. She proceeds to caress his feet with a mixture of her own desperate tears, expensive perfume, her own hair, and the saliva from her kisses. A cultural no-no? You better believe it. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them about forgiveness. He ends by saying to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
  • John 13:4-5 – Jesus wishes to demonstrate a sacrificial relationship to his disciples. He wants them to get a mental image of the upside-down character of the economy of God’s Kingdom. He serves his followers by washing their feet.
  • John 19:18 – After Jesus was sentenced to death, “they nailed him to the cross.” Tapered spikes were hammered through his feet, piercing skin, tendons, and bone through to the rough wood of the cross.
  • Matthew 28:9 – On the first Easter Sunday, after the women were visited by an angel that told them what happened to Jesus, they take off running to find the other disciples. They are greeted by Jesus, alive and well. It says that the women, “ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.”
  • Romans 10:15/Isaiah 52:7“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” The proclamation of God’s Kingdom is so good that even the dirty feet that bring it are exquisite.

Unplugging from the Matrix, part 6

This is part 6 of a series of reflections about the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. It’s a lot like unplugging from the matrix. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

As far as I can tell, this will be the last post in this series about leaving denominational expressions of church. It has been a good way for me to process some of the things I’ve been feeling as we started a new church that was not connected to a denomination or launched out of an established church. But the Church, however, is always connected whether we realize it or not. For there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). And we all claim the same head – the Lord Jesus Christ.

This series of posts has also been a way for me to catalog quotes from others that confirmed my thinking. Here are a few more that have turned up in recent days.

From Bill Easum:

If we were to rely more on the Holy Spirit than on modern, democratic models, denominational structures would be replaced by church-to-church structures based on what is needed to transform each churches community.

Sadly, I think most denominations started out with this intention in mind. And when they operate effectively, they can achieve this church-to-church, Spirit-infused community transformation. But other times bureaucracy gets in the way.

So what can denoms do to get unstuck? Tony Morgan offers some ideas:

The United Methodist Church has lost about three million members since 1970. The number of people attending at least one Church of England service each month is down by 50% since 1968. Today less than three percent of the population attends services. Denominations are stuck.

I get to work with and communicate with church leaders across the country every day. Here’s what I know to be true — churches are stuck as well. Sometimes they don’t know they’re stuck. But, the symptoms are fairly obvious. Here are some symptoms to identify whether or not your church is stuck. Some of them are more obvious than others:

  • The church has stopped growing.
  • The congregation is aging.
  • Giving has declined.
  • Spiritual growth has stalled. People are just “consuming” ministry.
  • People aren’t serving.
  • People have stopped reaching their neighbors.
  • The church isn’t developing leaders.
  • Communications are confusing and lack purpose.

One of the main reasons I believe churches are stuck is because their systems and strategies are broken. Churches continue to use their same systems, but hope and pray for different results. The only way to get different results is to engage different systems. But, unfortunately, many churches (and denominations) would rather stay stuck and eventually die rather than making changes that might make people (including leaders) feel uncomfortable.

Some people getting uncomfortable might be the answer. Maybe the answer also lies in seeing denominations with different eyes. I’ll admit that this diagram from Steve Collins hurts my brain a little bit. It’s called “Scalability: What are denominations in emergence?”

(HT: Jonny Baker)

Collins adds:

A denomination in emergence:

  • does not have a fixed or necessary hierarchy
  • does not have a large difference between the top and bottom of any hierarchy that may appear
  • does not locate authority in predetermined or fixed positions
  • does not have clear or static boundaries
  • does not have a clear or static centre
  • has constantly varying degrees of membership
  • may dissolve, and reform later somewhere else

Is there hope and a future for denominations? Maybe. There are obviously a lot of positive things they accomplish – things for God’s Kingdom and for the benefit of those suffering. But long term viability may require seeing things with new eyes and pruning back some of the branches that don’t belong. Which is what the Church should always be doing.

Dr. Gordon Fee – Book of Revelation video

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f62FMOmqPTU&feature=player_embedded

“Revelation wasn’t written to us, but we hear it as a word for us, once we understand it as a word for them, and what it was saying to them.”

Reading the Bible with the Church Fathers

From Ancient Evangelical Future

1. The New Testament authors clearly applied Old Testament texts in ways that departed seriously from the plain, surface meaning of the text. When Paul cites Psalm 19 in Romans 10 (“their voice is gone out into all the world”), he applies the Psalmist’s statement about the heavens to the preaching of the apostles. This runs against the plain meaning, said Wilken.

2. The books of Scripture do not bear their own significance. They must be united to something greater, which is Christ. Thus Paul interprets the creation of man and woman as a great mystery, which is Christ and the church; and he interprets the water-giving rock in the Sinai desert as Christ.

3. Typically, such creative renderings of the Bible are focused on the Old Testament. That is because the Old Testament text signifies Christ, but the New Testament text does not signify another Christ. It requires no allegory or analogy to reveal the Incarnate Word.

4. The Fathers also understood the interpretation of Scripture to require the reader’s participation in the spiritual reality of the text. Thus it is not enough to say that Christ was crucified. We must also say, “I am crucified with Christ,” and thus also I am raised with Christ.