Monday, August 24, 2009

What is Worship?

The term “worship” is used, abused, and misused in the 21st century church. Many churches have a “worship center,” a “worship leader,” a “worship team,” a “worship time,” and some even have a "worship pastor." Of course, all of this implies that there is a specific time, place, and schedule for “worship.”

All too often, the term “worship” is made synonymous with “music,” which would imply that the scheduled music time in a church service is the time of worship, thereby lessening the importance of the other parts of the service, such as preaching and teaching of the Word. In reality, everything we do as believers, both in and out of the church building, can be worship. We can worship God through our faithful attendance at church, through prayer, through the study of His Word, through making announcements, through giving, through music, through doing our jobs in a Christ-like manner, through how we treat others, etc.

Music can certainly be an important part of worship, but it is not all of worship. This being the case, we really ought to rename the “worship team” and call it the “music team,” and we ought to rename the “worship leader” and call him the “music leader.” This would get rid of the idea that music is the only part of our church services that is actually worship and all the other parts take a back seat.

We should also be aware of the fact that music is the source of more false doctrine than just about anything a church does. Many songs that sound good and feel good may not square with God’s revealed truth in His Word. It would do us well to be careful what music we use, whether traditional or contemporary, to insure that it is doctrinally sound.

Much of the practice of “worship” seems to be defined by a warm fuzzy emotional experience rather than by a biblical definition of what worship really is. However, it is clear from the Scriptures that truth always wins out over experience and that emotional reactions have nothing to do with truth. The best way to avoid false or weak worship is to look to the Scriptures for our definitions and our instructions.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

This Scripture from Romans says nothing about an experience or emotion as part of our worship, and it likewise says nothing about singing praises. However, it does say something very profound about presenting ourselves to God, being transformed into what He wants us to be, and living a life of obedience to Him, doing His will, thereby fulfilling our “spiritual service of worship.” Based on this and other passages, it is far more accurate to describe worship as “obedience to God’s will” rather than to equate it solely with music.

Sandy Simpson says it very well, as follows: “In many churches around the world the concept of ‘worship’ has been redefined and narrowed to mean the time when Christians come together to sing songs, raise their hands, dance around, and get all excited about the Lord together in church. For most of the younger postmodernist relativistic generation the concept of ‘worship’ has become a thing you do once or twice a week to absolve yourself of guilt. The more you can work yourself into a state of bliss in feeling like you are really achieving a state of ‘worship’ by letting yourself go in the music and rhythm of the ‘worship’ time, the more you can justify what you are doing the rest of the week when you are not ‘worshipping’ God. This ‘worship’ then becomes an excuse and justification process whereby Christians can rid themselves of the guilt of not obeying the Lord in their lives. This is not to say that true worship is not done in the time now called ‘worship.’ It can be a time of worship, but worship without obedience is not worship at all."

The Nelson New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines worship as “reverent devotion and allegiance pledged to God.” Obviously, one of the most important ways to express our praise and love for God is to obey Him. All outward expressions of worship become meaningless without true submission and obedience to the one we call “Lord.” Jesus expressed this very clearly – “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB).

Samuel expressed this in no uncertain terms to King Saul after Saul offered a lame excuse for his disobedience. His excuse for disobeying the Lord was so that he could allegedly worship the Lord by offering sacrifices of the cattle and sheep he took from the Amalekites, even though God had ordered these cattle and sheep to be destroyed.

“Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king’" (I Samuel 15:22-23, NASB).

Saul's disobedience showed that he did not trust God enough to obey Him fully. Saul thought he could do things his own way and impress God with religious acts of worship. Such things do not impress God. Rather, He wants to see our demonstrations of love and trust for Him through obedience. Only then will our outward acts of praise and worship be acceptable to Him.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Can a Real Believer Stop Believing? (Repost)

We have all known professing Christians who, for a variety of reasons, turn their backs on the Lord and claim to no longer be Christians. Several years ago I had a student challenge the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” commonly called “eternal security.” She said, “But I know someone who was a Christian, and now he isn’t.” My response was the typical, not always accepted, but nevertheless correct, “How do you know for sure he was a real believer? And how do you know for sure that he has really fallen away?” This conversation that many of us have had, probably more than once, sets the stage for the question, “Can a real believer ever fall away?”

The answer to that question hinges on the word “real.” The Scriptures are very clear that when there is saving faith in Jesus Christ, there is “eternal life.” A real believer possesses this eternal life, which by definition is in fact, eternal, and can never end. A real believer “will never perish” – no “if’s, and’s, or but’s.” A real believer is in a position where Jesus said “no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28, NASB). If a truly born again believer could ever be lost, we have the absurdity of becoming “unborn” along with the fact that God becomes a liar, because His promise is otherwise. My salvation is as secure as the integrity of God.

While it is true that a real Christian can fall into sin and lose his fellowship with the Lord, there is nothing in Scripture to negate God’s promises to His own. When a believer sins, there is conviction. Romans 7:12-25 graphically illustrates this fact. Someone who has saving faith will not get away with sin and will not ultimately fall away from salvation, because that God-given conviction will always draw him back. The only good conclusion is that, based on the Scriptures, those who ultimately fall away were never believers in the first place, no matter how well they played the Christian game, even if they “served the Lord,” as did Judas Iscariot. Notice the words of John. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, NASB).

One reason for the falling away of “believers” is that they never were exposed to the real Gospel and came by way of “easy believism.” So often, well-meaning Christians, in their zeal and haste to see others saved, will reduce the Gospel to a simple “repeat after me” formula that results in false profession and a deceptive sense of “security.” This can be especially true in dealing with children.

Dr. John MacArthur says that we “…have to cease doing something that has been traditionally done through the years, and that is telling people that if they prayed this prayer, they’re saved. I grew up in a generation, you know, when you’ve led this person to Christ, then say to that person, ‘Did you mean what you said? Now you’re saved…’ You can’t do that. You don’t know that when they prayed that prayer that really was salvation. You can’t see justification take place. It’s an invisible transaction. You can’t even see regeneration…we have this idea of salvation that says, ‘If you pray this little prayer, God will save you’ …That is the most skewed view of salvation. God only does what He wills to do and what He purposes to do. And all the sinner can do is the model of Luke 18, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ You can only ask, you can’t demand…Now He’s not going to turn away the one who comes in all honesty, but I think...we’ve taken it out of the hands of God and put it into a formula…and in the absence of genuine repentance, that formula is a recipe for apostasy.”

Another cause of false profession is the emotional approach, where the heartstrings are touched by a touchy-feely, warm fuzzy message rather than the actual Gospel. Often, people are brought into a situation where they “feel comfortable” and respond to the emotionalism they observe. In reality, if unbelievers “feel comfortable” in a church, there is something wrong with the church. The truth convicts, and being convicted does not always feel good, but it can lead to repentance and salvation. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

However, Christians whose faith is emotion-based rather than truth-based are far more likely to live other than their profession and to let others down. This enables those they seek to win to use the lamest of all lame excuses for rejecting Christ, which is “I don’t want anything to do with being a Christian, because Christians are such hypocrites.” That “excuse” has been around for a very long time, and it is no more valid today than it was in the past. As a matter of fact, the book of Romans teaches that even those who never heard of Christ are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20), so where does that leave those who have heard? Blaming others for one’s behavior is very common today, and it may be popular with some psychologists, but it will not get anyone anywhere at the Great White Throne Judgment.

One who suddenly decides he can no longer believe the Bible and therefore “falls away” has clearly decided he is in a position to judge the validity of God’s Word. It is interesting to note that generally those who come to such a conclusion have not been taught and have never taken the time to learn basic biblical truth. It is normally a matter of the “experience” of salvation not “feeling” so good any more. Again, Dr. MacArthur says that in order to take this stance, “…you have to put yourself in a position to be the judge of Scripture’s validity. That is a very proud position to take, given the fact that for thousands of years the most godly and brilliant minds in Christianity have found the Bible to be consistent, inerrant, divine, you know, it verifies itself again and again and again every which way possible, but you are a higher judge, you are a more clear minded authority than all the Christian scholars of all the ages. So I think the danger sign in somebody that’s headed toward apostasy is they want to render judgment on the Scripture that is independent of history and that is independent of Christian theology…I think it comes because the heart is so proud and so rebellious that it will deny what is patently obvious.”

Some will deny the truth regardless of the evidence. Dr. MacArthur goes on, “…all the Pharisees knew that Jesus rose from the dead. They knew that. They knew He rose from the dead because they bribed the Roman soldiers to lie and say somebody stole His body. So talk about... ‘don’t confuse me with the facts.’ That’s the resolute hard-heartedness of an apostate who with all the right evidence makes the absolute wrong conclusion.”

The best thing that can happen in our churches is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Generally, those who fall away tend to come from the “feel good” types of churches rather than from churches where the Scriptures are faithfully taught. When real believers know the Scriptures, and where there is growth, there is no danger of ultimately falling away, because growth in the Lord indicates saving faith. MacArthur continues, “Go to the Word of God and anchor yourself in the Word and those doubts will disappear…don’t let temptation turn into sin by making you doubt the things that are clearly promised and revealed in Scripture.”

I am very thankful for my church and my pastor, who knows the Truth, teaches the Truth, preaches the Truth, and lives the Truth. “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32, NASB).

The document from which I have been quoting is entitled “When Believers Stop Believing: Portrait of an Apostate.” It is the transcript of a radio interview of well-known pastor and Bible teacher, Dr. John MacArthur. The entire interview can be found here. I would also recommend Dr. MacArthur’s series of sermons on “The Doctrines of Grace.” There are no “feel good” platitudes here – only solid teaching of the Truth.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Bible Complements Itself

It is interesting that in debates over biblical truth, we so often hear someone try to refute someone else by saying, “Yes, I know what your verse says, but I have a verse that says just the opposite.” This seems to be especially common when the debate is over “Calvinism” and “Arminianism.”

When we analyze such debate tactics, we must either conclude that the Bible does, in fact, have contradictions, or that the Bible is truly consistent and must be allowed to interpret itself. If the first is true, then we have nothing and all debate becomes meaningless. However, if the second is true, which it clearly is, then the Bible is a complete presentation of all that God intends for us to know about Him. In some cases, we must work at the process of understanding rather than expect our English translations to just spoon-feed to us every nugget of truth that is there.

The truth is that there is no such thing as a passage of Scripture that “says just the opposite” of another passage. God, who is always consistent with Himself, would not, did not, and could not tell us opposite things in His Word. Such would be contrary to His very nature. If we think there is a contradiction, then the problem lies with us, not with the character of God. We are limited and finite. He is infinite and all-wise.

We must not attempt to negate Scripture with logic or even with other Scripture. Such is a fool’s errand. Instead, when we come across something that confuses us, we need to dig a bit and determine how the Scripture in question fits with the rest of the Bible. For example, in the KJV, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” At first glance, this seems to teach that all men will be saved – universal salvation. Of course, we know such a teaching is preposterous, since the whole of Scripture makes it clear that many will perish. So what do we do? Do we try to find other Scriptures to disprove this one? Or do we make a legitimate study of the Scriptures and find an answer that does not question the integrity of God and the unity of His Word? The answer is obvious. If I believed in “Universalism,” the teaching that all will ultimately be saved, I would most certainly run to 1 Timothy 2:4 in the KJV to find a Scripture to support my preconceived notion.

It is necessary to note that, while the KJV is a well-respected translation that has been used for hundreds of years, and which I still use a great deal, there are a number of weak translations found within it. I know that such a statement will label me as a “heretic” in some circles, but the fact remains that the Bible was not originally penned in English but in more precise languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. English has changed a great deal in 400 years, and the common understanding of words back then is not always the common understanding today.

The wording of 1 Timothy 2:4 is certainly one of those confusing translations in the KJV. It says that God “…will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” That seems to be very straightforward and easy to understand, yet neither the underlying language nor the rest of Scripture bears out universal salvation. If we look at the same verse in the NASB, we find these words: “…who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Even in the English, we now have a clarification that indicates a “desire” on God’s part, not a statement that he “will” save everyone. Going a step further, a study of the literal meanings of the underlying words reveals that there is a huge difference between God’s desires, based on His heart of love, and his sovereign will, based on His eternal purpose. If God had decreed the salvation of all men, then all men would be saved. It really is as simple as that. Instead, there will be those from “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” who will be saved. It would be absurd in the extreme if He had decreed the salvation of all men and then had been unable to make it happen. Such would not be an act of the all-powerful God, the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. Interpreting Scripture in light of all Scripture can clarify such things for us.

As we study the Scriptures, it is important to rely on the Holy Spirit to instruct us and to do the work of studying diligently, comparing Scripture to Scripture. Isolated verses can often only give us questions, but the whole of Scripture will give us answers. The Bible never contradicts itself; it complements itself.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Drifting Away From Historic Doctrine

In the past few weeks I have read several books on varying themes. One is Charles Colson's recent book, The Faith. As all his writings are, this one is to the point and strategic for our day. His basic assertion is that our culture and our evangelical culture is included, does not value truth or creed. This drift away from historic doctrine has serious ramifications and implications. I happen to agree with Colson strongly.

In recent years I have been exposed to the Emergent Church Movement and its emphasis on relating to a post modern generation. I find some of the emphases in this movement appealing. I also have great empathy for post moderns who find the typical evangelical church experience, from which many of them come, unfulfilling and unappealing. Post moderns are troubled by the use of resources in many evangelical churches today. They are troubled by the hypocrisy they see concerning faith and practice. I am sure I help to contribute to it at times.

I also have some concerns about this movement and Colson's book articulates my concerns well. In seeking to "connect" with post moderns and to relate to them, I have a concern that experience, conversation, and story telling have taken the place of truth and proclamation. Several of Colson's statements really resonate with me. Here are a few:

"But understanding the way an audience thinks does not mean converting to the way that audience thinks, especially at the expense of truth." Right on the money I think. Story telling may truly be a great way to relate to the post modern. Doctrine does not need to be dry and dusty. When creeds do not develop into deeds, then indeed there is a problem. However, the fault is not with the creeds. It is the creed that gives nobility to the deed. The creed properly understood is what motivates one to become involved in deeds. Effort may be misplaced if it is not based on true creeds.

"This conception of church life and the failure to teach doctrine do nothing less than institutionalize agnosticism – the inability to know the truth – within churches themselves." This statement felt like the stab of a knife to me. It seems so strong. And yet, when I think of my own exposure to the Emergent Movement, I have to admit that I have observed this "institutional agnosticism." There truly seems to be a slippery slope. It is in fact difficult to define with precision exactly what the Emergent Movement believes which in itself contributes to this "slippery" notion. There is no clear theology or belief system. It varies from one group to another. A revised understanding of salvation results in a kind of universalism. Sometimes I hear the expression, "You're in unless you deliberately choose to be out." I cannot accept this idea. At other times I have heard emergent leaders express their own skepticism and doubt about various other historical orthodox beliefs. As much as I find it painful, that does sound like a form of agnosticism to me.

I hope to share other ideas from Colson's book in the next few weeks and desire that what I write will cause you to think and consider carefully. In my mind these are critical issues. When I think of the exhortation in Scripture not to be conformed to the world, I have much more fear that we conform to the world in its thoughts and values rather than in its practices and activities. How we think is more critical and so foundational.

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This article was written by a friend of mine.