Wednesday, 20 May 2015

"Biblical Worship" ???

Been spending time on Youtube recently, learning some songs, practising songs, learning new chords and just worshipping.

One thing kind of troubled me and that was some of the comments from Christians about worship, about certain churches and ministries. While I cannot tell the heart of those posting comments, the general vibe of the comments are mostly of judgement and legalism, especially towards new moves on God - which seems very unhelpful to me at least...

They backed up a few thoughts I've been having about worship recently that I feel need to be challenged.

Put simply, it's become popular to bash 'performance worship' or make exaggerated claims about what 'Biblical' worship is or get into real legalism regarding worship. 

At my previous church, one of the worship leaders who was also in a position of authority made the startling claim one day that we want to be 'worship leaders not worship divas.' Not one single worship leader was a diva in any way. He also expressed the need for us to not be 'rock stars'. Again, we were all left scratching our heads because no-one even thought in those terms. All were solely dedicated to worshiping God in humility, glorifying him alone. Needless to say not all the worship leaders and musicians stayed at the church, including me.

But the comment came from a misplaced and poor judgment call. He had read a book challenging some of the practices of some US mega-churches and services and had tried applying them to a laid back and informal church of 140 people meeting in a hired building in the UK. The lessons simply weren't relevant.

But beyond this there seems to be a need for some to knock big worship sets, stages etc. Some people suggest we can't find these things in the Bible. But that's ludicrous. We also don't find iPhones with Bible Apps, we don't find 'welcome teams' and we don't find thousands of other things that we use in our Christian life and worship.

The Bible isn't an exhaustive list telling us that we should worship God only in the way that we find in the Bible! To make this claim is to completely misunderstand and abuse correct interpretation of the Bible. Instead, we find key and core principles that we should come into agreement with because they are from God. For example we worship with humility, with grace, we worship to glorify God alone, we are servants etc. Just because we don't find 'bands' or 'stages' or 'lighting' in the Bible, doesn't mean that we don't use them. God is interested in our motivation in our Christian life. Our outward actions simply reflect our heart.

There are loads of things in the Bible that we don't do and things that we do - because we don't live in 1st century Israel in the first ever churches. We live in an inter-connected, complex, global world in 2015. If we truly did everything that was 'Biblical' in some people's eyes, we'd be wandering round with sandals wearing robes and stripping off our clothes and dancing before the ark.

People also forget that the Old Testament had bands, training, singers, instrumentalists, written and free songs under the leadership of David. We also know from nehemiah that there were worship leaders. History also tells us about the songs, worship and locations of worship in the New Testament (for example Solomon's Collonade in Jerusalem).

People that constantly call for what we do to be 'Biblical' need to understand that their very desire to stay true to the Bible actually undermines the Bible because of their misinterpretation of it.

God doesn't want us to become focused on the performance. But if the performance is done to glorify God then what's the issue? You can have someone who looks humble and doing something 'Biblical' but with a heart full of pride. Or you can have someone on stage in front of 1000s who is living out an authentic humble God-life.

The Bible gives us glimpses about worship. It gives us glimpses into heaven and glimpses even into the nature and awesome-ness of God. I've said this before but if the Bible was the complete guide to God, he would be beyond our comprehension and beyond words, awesome and holy and pure and magnificent beyond words, thoughts or actions. But God is even bigger than that! God is even bigger and way beyond even his Word which he has set above all things (Psalm 138).

The Bible is God's revelation of himself that he knows we need, not the complete revelation about God!

We should not limit our worship to what we find in the Bible. We should be Biblical in the nature and character and spirit of our worship. Our worship should be Scripturally sound in principle and in Biblical theology. But our actions in worship should not be made to fit within what we read in the Bible - if this means only doing what we read about in the Bible.

To be sure you know that I'm speaking with a passion for the Word of God as absolute truth, here's what I mean:

If we do worship that is 'Biblical' in practice above principle, we would only use instruments found in the Bible, we'd only sing songs found in the Bible and we'd only use musical principles found in the Bible. Now if this is what you want to do, that's fine. But God has nowhere called us to only do this. There is nowhere in the Bible that says 'worshipping God must look only like this...'

But correct Biblical interoperation isn't following Bible days' practice as an 'only this way formula'. Instead it means we know and follow Biblical principles. So we know that we worship in spirit and in truth. We know that praising God opens doors, brings the presence of God, glorifies God, that we enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. We know that God looks at our hearts etc.

In Revelation 4, we get a glimpse into the throne room of God. But let's be clear - this isn't the only thing going on in the throne room of God. What we read in the Bible about heaven isn't the complete picture about heaven. In the same way, what we see in Bible practice of worship is not the complete picture of worship. Those who say it is are wrong, sorry.

To add in another example, did you know that God speaks to people outside of the Bible? To some people this is a heresy. They claim this is adding to the Bible. But again, this is completely wrong theology. No-one is adding to the Bible. I haven't re-written my Bible with all my own thoughts added in as if they are God's Word! But clearly God speaks to people beyond the exact words written in the Bible. The same is true of worship. So here are some examples...

1. Not every miracle and thing Jesus did is recorded in the Bible. This is what the Bible says. So we know that the truth is that not everything Jesus did and said is in the Bible. So God spoke and work outside of the Bible.

2. God also spoke many things to his people beyond what is recorded in the Bible. There is no way that God didn't do or say anything throughout time other than what we find in the Bible. So again, God spoke outside of the Bible.

3. But what about today? Well, we know from Corinthians that Christians are God's love-letter to the world. So when we speak, act, love, care, we are doing God's will and work - work that is founded on the principles of the Bible and God's Spirit in us, but not 'Biblical' in the sense that some people would misrepresent. Every time you send an email of encouragement, make a phone call, record a testimony, put on a youtube video etc you are doing God's work and will and yet you won't find any of those things in the Bible.

The motivation behind lots of people regarding the Bible and worship seems to be to limit God. It's extraordinary. I heard a sermon once where the Minister read from the Gospels about Jesus healing all the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons. He then went on to talk about how we need to do the works of Jesus. Sounds good so far. But what were these works? Compassion and justice according to him. Now that's great as a start, but what about healing, raising the dead, casting out demons!

The same is true with worship where people seem intent on limiting God to what they think, feel, understand and can cope with. But let's never limit God in this way. We never go contrary to the Bible and we never do anything that is against the nature of God as revealed in his Word. But please don't limit God and make him smaller than he is. That doesn't glorify God.

Matt Redman sung, "I'm coming back to the HEART of worship." That should be our aim in all we do - whether it's you singing a song on your own or whether it's a 10,000 person packed worship event. 

Don't be legalistic (and actually un-Biblical) in asking where's this in the Bible? But instead ask - does this glorify God? Is this building up the church? Are people's lives being transformed? Can we see God moving? Are people coming to faith? Are people encouraged and lifted up? Is the fruit of Spirit being demonstrated? Are people real? Are they open to God? Are they putting God first and seeking first his Kingdom? Is God moving in power? If they are, then who cares about style!!

Listen, I've been to many big worship events and almost without fail I have felt the tangible presence of God and seen lives change - the last event was a GOD TV event in Plymouth on May 19 2015 with a stage, a band and a worship leader. The presence of God and of God-focused worship was so tangible it was incredible.

So you're too late to tell me your theories. I've experienced and seen God work, love it and want more!

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