Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Worship: Introduction

I have been thinking a lot about worship lately. I've been reading and thinking and talking and writing and think I want to start a series of posts of my thoughts on worship. I am continuously trying to grow in my understanding of worship and seeking how to use my abilities to help all those around me increase in their worship to God the Creator and our Salvation. As a worship leader, I want to grow in my skills and understanding, and I want to use what I have learned to help other worship leaders grow.

A lot the information you'll find about worship, especially on the internet, deals with the what's and how's and when's and where's. These can be important to discuss and improve. First and foremost, I want to make sure I'm clear on the why's. Why do we worship? Why do we come together to worship rather than remaining by ourselves? Why do we do the things we do in the way that we do them? If I look at a particular practice and just try to evaluate whether it is good or bad or look for ways to improve, I might be going down a path that leads to nowhere. No matter how fast I get there, heading toward nowhere will still get me nowhere. Thus, I want to make sure the destination is well understood before making the journey. I need to understand the why's of what we do before and make sure those are correct and let that guide me in my journey to make the how's, what's, when's, and where's better.

A song that I've come to appreciate more in the last few years is "Heart of Worship" by Matt Redman. I really love the lyrics that focus our worship on God rather than on us and our preferences. Recently, I learned the story behind the song. You can read about it here or watch this video where Matt Redman discusses the story with his pastor.

Another song along the same lines is called "Clear the Stage" by Ross King. It asks what our idols are.

The primary purpose of worship is to honor God. Anything we do that gets in the way of that purpose needs to be stripped away whether it happens in our individual lives throughout the week or during the couple of hours we allocate for corporate worship on a Sunday. When worship becomes about me and my desires, I am setting myself up as an idol for myself or others. When I lead the congregation in worship, I constantly have to keep my pride in check. Everyone is looking at me, following me. If I am not pointed in the right direction, I am not leading them in the right direction, toward God. Paul said to emulate him as he emulates Christ; as a leader I should always be pointing to God in my worship so that those who follow me will also be pointed to God.

I haven't used a lot of scripture to back up any of my arguments for the simple fact that there are way too many to list. But just so that I'm not totally devoid of references, Psalm 95 does a better job than I of describing the purpose of worship.

Today, I've focused on the vertical aspect of worship. In the next post, I want to continue to discuss the why's but shift perspectives to examine the horizontal aspects of worship. So far I have 7 general topics planned but will change and add more as I go along.

  • Community
  • Connections
  • Planning
  • Flow
  • Communion
  • Styles
  • Sunday Nights
Each of this topics will heavily biased by my experiences and understanding within the context of a traditional church of Christ worship service. That's not to say that I won't be challenging those traditions, but I'll leave that for later posts.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Since listening to some recent sermons by Patrick Mead I have been thinking a lot about John 4 and the question "Who are my Samaritans?" Who are the types of people in my life that I look at and judge without getting to know them? Who are the people that I tend to stay away from and look down upon?

The poor, homosexuals, smokers, people who curse a lot, people with bad grammar on Facebook posts, people who correct people with bad grammar on Facebook posts...

The list could go on and on. Jesus looked at the lowest of the low and saw someone who needed comfort, a friend, but most of all needed salvation. What if I were to look at people with Jesus' eyes?

The story of the woman at the well has so much to tell us about how we treat people. Just because I'm not treating someone badly does not mean that I am treating them as Jesus would. This video brings the woman to life 2000 years later.

Dare I pray that God give me an encounter with my Samaritans so that I might overcome my prejudices?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Utterly Sinful

I have a love/hate relationship with rules. Lately I'm coming to like them less and less. My nature is one of rule keeping, but the more I see what a set of rules have done in the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the more I come to dislike them.

Rules have a purpose, an important purpose. Paul writes that the purpose of the law it to point out what is sin so that sin might become "sinful beyond measure" (Romans 7:12-14). (Some versions say "utterly sinful" which sounds like a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream flavor. I looked. It's not.)

Let's say I'm driving very fast on the highway and get stopped by the patrolman. If there is not a speed limit sign, I can make a case that I didn't know how fast to go. But once I know what the limit is, I am bound to uphold that law. The spelling out of the law turns something that is inadvisable (going very fast) into something that is a transgression.

Paul said "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being" (Romans 7:22). The law helps us get closer to God, not because we keep it perfectly but because it shows our failings and our need for a Savior. The law tells us what sin is but not how to correct it. When we encounter the law, we realize that we have fallen short. When we falter we are out of relationship with God if we are on our own. But if we choose to put on Christ, we have grace and mercy that brings us closer to God.

Thinking about all of this more, I guess I would say that I love the laws of God because they help show me how to be closer to Him. While there may be the occasional disagreement between us, I know he has my best interests and heart and generally knows what He is doing. What I seem to dislike is the laws of men especially when they are put forward as the laws of God. This is what Jesus woe'd the Pharisees for (Matthew 23). This is what Paul says has "no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23).

I make plenty of laws for myself and my family but I have neither the responsibility nor the right to make any laws binding on other Christians much less non-Christians. I tend to act much more conservatively than I believe, and it is often a struggle for me not to look down upon people who have different rules about media, smoking, drinking, church attendance, cursing, etc. But others can walk closer to the line than I do without danger. Others must stay further back. In some cases I am the weaker brother. In some cases I am the stronger brother. I get into trouble when I think I am the stronger brother but I whine and complain as if I were the weaker brother.

The law misused can be a great hindrance to those seeking Jesus (Matthew 23:13). Let us hold to the laws of God, put off the laws of men, and in all things show the love of Christ. May the Spirit give us discernment to know the difference.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Simply Listful

Growing up in the church, one of the best ways for me to memorize stuff was to put it to music. There are songs I learned (many from my mother) that help me remember the 12 apostles, the 66 books of the Bible, the 15 judges of Israel and many more (call toll free to order now). Song is also a good way to memorize scripture. One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 5:21 which I fell in love with through the Acappella song "His Righteousness". To this day I can rattle off the 15 judges while singing to the tune of "Reuben and Reuben" in my head. Thanks, Mom!

In many of my recent journeys, I have been continually amazed at how easy it is to take a scripture and strip it of its meaning and regurgitate it to mean something totally different. I think this is called context. Every verse, every chapter, every story is part of  the larger narrative of God's workings in his creation culminating in the gift of His Son. When we move scripture out of the context of Jesus and His life we run the risk misunderstanding and misusing God's Word. Patrick Mead has done a recent series on this subject which is interesting reading and has certainly expanded my horizons. Look at his Tentpegs #356 and #357 starting here and here. For a bit lighter reading you can just stay right here with my ramblings.

Thinking about how easy it is to strip the context from scripture, I started wondering if many of the mnemonics we come up with to help us learn actually hold us back once we need to dig deeper. See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 6:1-3 for other writers frustrations at their audiences inability to move past simple matters on to maturity.

I am in no way saying that we shouldn't use these devices to teach our children and new Christians. But when these lists and mnemonics carry over into our advanced teachings and we use them as doctrine we are not able to mature as Christians.

Take for instance the 12 apostles. Lovely little song to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me." How many were there really? What about Matthias? What about Paul? What about Andronicus and Junias who are of note among the apostles (1 Corinthians 16:7 YLT). Were they not apostles? Why don't we have a song with 16 apostles? Granted the song specifically says that Jesus specifically called these 12, but then later he called Paul. See how we leave out part of the story. This is a pretty harmless example. As would be anything about the 66 books of the Bible. The Jewish Bible organizes and counts what we call the Old Testament books in a completely different way. No harm done. But there's a story there that we need to dig deeper to find.

I don't know of a song for the 10 commandments, but we know there are 10 of them and what they are. We  memorize these in Bible class growing up. They are the foundation of the Hebrew law. We have them on display in our courtrooms. When asked what was the 1 greatest commandment, Jesus gave us 2 as most important. All the rest just supplement these 2 and expound upon how to live them out.

The 5 steps of salvation: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. Sometimes a 6th is added, walk faithfully. Sometimes people want to stop after 4. So much is involved in each "step" that this over simplified listing becomes more of a source for arguments than an aid in leading anyone to Christ.

The 4 types of prayer (ACTS): Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This is both a list and an acronym. Who knows what supplication is anymore? We don't use that word. I do confess that I always have to look up what the letters in the acronym stand for. The only one I can remember is thanksgiving. Which might be why most of my prayers center on this aspect more than the others. So we boil down our prayers to 4 distinct parts thus stripping out any emotion or the need for the Spirit to groan for us.

The 5 acts of worship: Singing, Prayer, Teaching, Giving, Lord's Supper. Our concept of "worship" is a bit skewed from a lot of angles. First we note the beginning and ending of a "worship service" with specific markings and anything outside that time is not "worship", meaning we have a lot more leeway in what we can do. After the closing prayer we can have a special chorus or drama presentation or sing "Happy Birthday". But during that allotted time, we can only do the 5 things listed above. Except for announcements, those are fine. Does scripture reading fall under teaching or would that be a 6th act? Does it matter what is "in" the "worship service" and what is "out". When the church gathers together as the ekklesia what are we to do? We read about the early church gathering for the acts mentioned. They gathered for fellowship and encouragement. They gathered for meals. They gathered in homes, in the synagogues, in the temple, in caves. They gathered in secret. Nowhere do we read about any distinction between "in" and "out" regarding what to do. Certainly not a listing of what is acceptable and what is not. We have admonitions to wait for everyone before eating especially the Lord's Supper. We are to sing to each other. We are to pray with lifted hands. So much is left out of the list. If we use it as a checklist "Yep, we did those 5 things therefore we worshiped" or as an exclusionary rule set "Nope, you can't do that in worship" then we are missing the point of Romans 12:1-2 which seems to indicate that our whole lives are to be offered in sacrifice as worship to God. 

And now to my best friend CENI. The acronym that keeps on giving (and taking away). I ranted at length about this in a previous entry. This is not an acronym that I learned growing up, but the concept of the 3 ways we find authority in scripture (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) has so many holes in it that it fits right in with this discussion. CENI can be a helpful tool for interpreting scripture. But it cannot be our only tool. And it cannot be applied to each and every scripture equally. The context of God's story is too big to fit in 4 little letters. All commands are not for all people at all time. An example of someone doing something one time does not make a pattern and certainly not a binding command. All things that you necessarily infer are not necessary to infer.

I'm sure there are many other lists and acronyms that I could go on about, but these are the ones that came to mind. I don't want to leave the impression that these are harmful in any way, certainly not for teaching young people. They are great tools, but they can only take us so far. Let us get past the elementary teachings, past the milk, and journey together towards maturity and have some nice hearty steak along the way (unless you're the weaker brother and only eat veggies in which case I'll share a nice salad with you).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Will Worship

In my recent readings (and watching of videos) I've seen so many scriptures taken out of context it's like watching Scriptural Gymnastics. Hopping from one scripture to another, ignoring context, ignoring the story, ignoring the message that is attempting to come through.

One particular verse that I've seen misused is Colossians 2:23. Some like to use the King James Version which reads: "Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." They key on the words "will worship". Other versions say "self made" or "self imposed". But they turn those words into a new designation for anything they think is an addition to the worship. They say we are not to engage in "will worship" and here are the set of things we can and can't do as part of worship. It's a nice clean list. Totally ignoring the fact that in the whole chapter preceding this, Paul has been reminding them they they are free from the chains of ritualistic legalism. They are not bound by the doctrines of men. Much of this passage also deals with moral purity. The physical constraints being put on them had no ability to make them pure in heart. Nothing in these verses gives any indication that making more rules is desirable. In fact, it says it is not helpful and it is contrary to the true message of the cross.

I found this enumeration of 800ish commands in the New Testament. There are only 613 commands in the Old Testament. Someone went to a lot of work to categorize these. It sure looks like a daunting list. But it is totally stripped of context, story, and meaning. Not all commands are for all people at all times. And the statement "Be kind of brotherly love one to another" isn't so much a new command as an explanation of one way to exercise what Jesus said were the greatest commands.

A distinction I have noticed between the OT law and NT law is that most of the OT laws had immediate consequences spelled out. In the NT, rarely is there any immediate consequence (punishment) that accompanies the "commands." The only retribution is at the end of your life when you die and go to heaven or hell. And since Christians are in Christ, the eternal retribution is put aside. So what keeps us from doing whatever we want. Romans 6. We died to sin and put on Christ which makes us want to be like him.

Another distinction, the OT laws are very specific and try to cover a wide variety of situations. Yet even this wasn't enough for the Rabbis and Pharisees who felt the need to be even more specific and build up hedges around the laws. In the NT, most "laws" are very high level and there is no attempt to go into all the situations around which to build a court case. (One counterpoint to this, is 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul is teaching them about being married, staying married, and being single. But even in this case, there are so many other scenarios that are not covered, I don't tend to read this as a rule book but as a set of principles and things that will work out "best.") In the absence of specificity, we often make our own hedges just like the Pharisees. This is fine on a personal level (I abstain from any alcohol). But it is not okay when I try to enforce this on others (You must abstain from all alcohol) else labeling them as "not taking the authority of the Bible seriously", not "rightly dividing the word of truth", "false teacher", or even "erring brother."

Colossians 2:16 says "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath." How often do we let other people pass judgment on us for how we worship? How often do we pass judgment on others for how they worship? How often do we let other people pass judgement on other people for how they worship?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sean Sightings

Once again Sean takes on the heavy hitting issues with his latest blog post on the Southern Hills church blog: "Divide and Conquer"
The sermon that he referenced can be downloaded (or listened to online) here: "Romans 14: The Weak and the Strong". I've listened to it 3 times now and highly recommend it.

Sean now wants to start his own blog which we will work to get going soon. There may also be some big news coming up soon so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Learned a New Acronym

Growing up I always heard about the CoC's standard hermeneutic for Biblical interpretation: Direct Command, Approved Example, Necessary Inference. Just recently I was reading and saw this refered to by the acronym CENI. So I learned a new acronym which is always exciting. Sometimes it is refered to as just CEI. Really it should be DCAENI, but that is much harder to say and write and not as catchy.

This whole revelation got me thinking about many things including the following discussion that took place based on a Facebook post of mine. I had been reading that the Lord's Supper was to be taken only on Sunday and every Sunday. Taking the LS on any other day of the week is sinful. We had also recently discussed this in a Sunday morning Bible class. Not liking the way that sat in my stomach, I came up with this "modest proposal" hearkening back to my HS English class days and Jonathan Swift.

I didn't take all the comments here, just a couple from David and my Mom (in honor of Mother's Day). Notice how quickly I went from the "modest proposal" into ranting and didn't stop ranting even after I said I would. Only minor edits here for grammar.

For my CoC brethren (and cisterns) and others interested in needless controversies: Since the Lord Supper is to be taken on a Sunday, each Sunday, and only on Sunday (as the general CoC instruction goes) and the examples we have in scriptures would follow the Jewish time reckoning of sundown to sundown and there was no concept of timezones, should we only be taking the Lord's Supper while the sun is up in the land of Israel? Seems we should make this a new rule and put it into practice immediately based on the CENI principles we hold so dear.
Well it would change based on the seasons as days get shorter and longer but we could probably pick a time that would always be acceptable, I'll have to figure that out and codify it into the rulebook
The earliest sunset in Israel is 4:36PM local time which translates to 8:26AM CST. The latest sunset is at 7:51PM which is 11:51AM CST. So to have a constant time throughout the year, any time between noon Saturday and 8AM Sunday local time would be acceptable. Thinking of bringing this to the elders and suggesting we adjust our service times accordingly.
You're welcome to use my timezone research so that my labors are not in vain. The problem with disputable matters is that we sit around disputing them so much, we get mad and then divide ourselves into small groups call each other false teachers and unfaithful. All this serves to harm the cause of Christ rather than spreading God's love to all. Where there is grace for moral issues, there is no grace for doctrinal issues (in the eyes of many). Jesus worshiped (as was his custom) in the Synagogue which was not authorized for Jewish worship by God but their own institution. David ate the sacred bread which Jesus said was fine. The disciples picked grain on the Sabbath which Jesus said was fine. There is grace from God, just not a lot of grace among those that should be brothers and sisters. Rant off
In addition we must also take Communion on Thursday evenings since that's when Jesus started it. Afterwards we must all go out to the local park, pray, sleep and get arrested. I'll let someone else do the timezone math on when this should all take place.
Regarding CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) it is just a tool. it seems to be best suited toward evaluating what we already do rather than exploring what the Bible said God would have us do or not do. You can pass practices through the filter of CENI and come out with a Yes/No answer, but you can't use it to discover new things. Also, the implied adjectives "Direct" Command, "Approved" Example, "Necessary" Inference are really squishy and can be and have been used to filter in or out lots of ideas using many legalistic machinations that make my heart and head hurt. I've been reading too many religious blogs this week.* is a blog I've started reading this week trying to spider out and find both "liberal" and "conservative" viewpoints on a variety of issues. Some of the ulta-conservative stuff I've encountered has made me sick to my stomach. Little tiny things causing such division in God's body.
David said: "So I really wonder if there are other tools, or mechanisms, or logic paths used by others for interpreting secpriture. CENI is a fairly stright forward method of categorizing ways to glean information from scriptures. Do other people use something else? IFG-YFG-LF (I Feel Good - You Feel Good - Lets Fellowship)."
Mom said: "So are you thinking something more detailed like a NT book similar to Leviticus would solve many of these disputes?"
Yes, mom, we definitely need all the rules clearly defined so that we know where to look for the loopholes. I am starting to think that CENI and the other lists we make are good for teaching simple principles but start to fall apart amid the messiness of life. 5 steps to salvation, 5 acts of worship, 4 types of prayer. All are simplified ideas pulled from a variety of scriptures but do not tell the whole story. That's the problem with living by rules in general, there are always more rules to make. And rather than finding common ground by focusing on the important stuff, we make important that which is God has not and create divisions in his church. David, hopefully this will give you plenty of sermon fodder. Bottom line, I think it is a fallacy to say that CENI or any other hermeneutic applies universally specifically since God did not give them to us.
Another recent FB status update I spewed at the world (or at least my social network):
Speak where the Bible speaks and create binding laws for everyone where the Bible is silent.
As quickly as I came to know and understand CENI, I have come to dislike it. As I said, it can be useful, but it doesn't not tell the whole story nor is it the right tool for every encounter with scripture.

*Note: that I mentioned is not one of the ultra-conservative writings that I said hurt my head. It is a very well thought out set of writings that I appreciate very much. I just wanted to make this clear as reading through the context it might seem that I was putting it down.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Importance of Doctrinal Purity

How much time did Jesus spend teaching doctrines concerning religious rituals (aka worship)? He spent his time working on the heart of people concerning their morality, not their doctrinal purity. The epistles are the same way. Morality is stressed. Relationships among believers are stressed. Where there is doctrinal teaching it is most often to address problems among the members, stop infighting, get them to accept, love, and show concern for their brothers and sister. Or it is teaching against the doctrines of men that are being imposed.

Most of what we call the "pattern of worship" is taken from a few examples here and there, not direct commands. And just because a church did something that way once or twice does not mean that it must be done that way for all time.

James says that true religion is taking care of those in need and keeping ourselves pure from the corruption of the world. He is not talking about doctrinal purity. He is talking about morality and action and treating people right. How do I know? Because that's what he talked about in the rest of his letter.

Jesus mentioned 2 ways that the world will know we belong to him: 1) love each other, 2) obey his commandments. How many doctrinal commands did Jesus give? How many moral and relational commands did he give?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

By Whose Authority

When the religious leaders asked Jesus "by whose authority do you do these things" he didn't give them an answer but redirected their question. In the church today we often ask "by whose authority do you do these things" when it comes to how we worship, musical instruments, elders, the Lord's Supper, etc.

If I want to change how some ritual is performed in our worship, I can see this question being asked of me. I thought of a really good response in the shower one morning but couldn't remember what it was in time to write it down.

But I do have a few questions of my own.

  • By whose authority do you condemn?
  • By whose authority do you bind?
  • By whose authority do you say something is sin?
Growing up in churches of Christ, I had always heard that the silence of scripture was prohibitive. This is also called the Regulative Principle. If scripture is silent on an issue then you can't do that, it is sinful. This never really sat well with me. I kinda understood it, but there was always a cognitive dissonance with how it was applied. There were so many exceptions. There was a distinction between what was an "aid" versus what was an "addition". Pitch pipes, song books, pews, church buildings, driving cars to worship, air conditioning, etc. are all "aids", but for some reason "musical instruments" are an "addition" and that made them taboo. Wow! That's a lot of definition and classification that is nowhere to be found in scripture. And yet we have no trouble spouting it out. What happened to the principle of silence. Speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent. Rather this seems like speaking where the Bible speaks and creating binding laws where the Bible is silent. (My apologies for using a slogan that is itself not found in scripture)

The Bible is silent on the classification of aids and additions and expedients and hermenutics. And yet we have no trouble speaking about them and making up rules about them and binding those rules on all Christians and refusing fellowship with anyone who practices or believes differently. I lump myself in with this group because while I may not agree, I have been looking on silently for all my life. Over the past month, I've done a lot of reading. I've tried to read on all sides of the issues. In doing so, I've not come up with any new revelations but I have really solidified what I have long felt to be true. The principle that silence is always  prohibitive is (to use a word that our modern translations politely translate) rubbish.

[Start random streams of thought]
I'd like to stand up and say "No MORE!" but in reality I'd rather live at peace with those Christians around me than try to convince anyone otherwise. So maybe I'll take the quiet approach, like the gentle rain that waters the earth and eventually stuff grows. Maybe that's just the fear in me talking. Maybe my local world needs a little shake up. Maybe I need to get thrown to the curb and have to work my way back in. Maybe someone else will step up and join me in my fight. Or maybe we shouldn't fight. The false teacher in scripture is one who is divisive. Division within God's body is counter to Jesus' last wishes in his prayer that we would all be one just as he is one with the Father. I realize that I can't change anyone but myself and I am not responsible for anyone's beliefs and actions by my own, but I have great influence on my own family and how my children are shaped to understand God's word. And I have some influence on others around me. I need to use that influence to point to Jesus. Not to a set of rules and doctrines especially when those are man-made. But just Jesus. Let's walk along that path together, hand in hand.