5 Marks of the Worship of the Church by Matt Boswell The following is excerpted from Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader, from B&H Publihsing Group. After talking with friends around the country, it became clear that there was a longing in the church for theological worshippers, with a blazing passion for truth and the glory of God. Worship should not to be driven by pragmatism, but informed by the Word of God. There must be a marriage between theology and doxology. Worship leaders are called to be men who pursue and practice biblical worship, and call their churches to the same. Or, as Psalm 96 puts it, there are to be five marks of the worship of the church. The worship of the church is God-centered. Psalm 96 is a microcosm of some crucial perspectives Scripture gives us. This psalm was originally written for the covenant people of God for the entry of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chron. 16). This psalm shapes doxology, theology, the worship leader, and the mission of the church. Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! (vv. 1) We find in these verses six imperatives commanded by God, through the psalmist. There are three calls to sing to the Lord, and one call each to bless his name, tell of his salvation from day to day, and declare his glory among the nations. The psalm itself is modeling this worshipful response for us as the people of God. In the commands to sing, what kind of singing is called for? Who should be singing? What types of songs are decreed? The churchs worship should be marked by a God-centered, Trinitarian, gospel emphasis. What kind of singing is called for? Sing to the Lord, we see, is commanded. When the church is gathered together in the name of God, only singing which glorifies Him is appropriate. We dont sing corporately because it was our idea. We sing because it was Gods idea for His people. Since it is God who has commanded us to sing, it is God who will also determine what kind of songs we will sing. We are to sing to Him and for Him. Our songs are not meant to be entertainment, or a distraction from God. As Gods people, the primary content of our songs are psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Our worship should express more of what God has done for us, and less of what we will do for Him. The worship leader is often tasked with choosing the songs to be sung in church, so this should be done with great intentionality and care. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander give this advice to pastors and worship leaders: As the main teaching pastor (or worship leader), it is your responsibility to shepherd the congregation into the green pastures of God-centered, gospel-centered songs, and away from the arid plains of theological vacuity, meditations on human experience, and emotional frenzy.1 Weightlessness is a result of deficient theological perspectives - from preaching to singing, when we develop primarily a man-centered view of worship (anthropocentric) rather than a God-centered view of worship (theocentric). My proposal here is not that addressing the needs of man is irrelevant. My aim is to propose that as we call the attention of our congregations first to God and His revelation, then mans needs will be addressed as well. Edification of the church, evangelism, and disciple-making are all benefits of God-centered worship. What we see modeled in this psalm is a God-centered view of worship that then edifies hearers by reminding them of salvation (v. 2), while also producing an evangelistic effect (vv. 10-14). We see in the text that we are to sing new songs. The church has been given a song to sing. Our song is a song of salvation. As the people of God we are meant to be continually writing new songs that confess the tenets of our faith in fresh, creative, and meaningful ways. However, new songs are not an end in themselves. The new song we sing is informed by the old song, and looks with anticipation toward the new song we will sing in heaven (Rev. 5:8-10). As worship leaders, songs are a constant part of our ministry. It is vital for the worship leader to learn from the songs of church history, and to be informed by the men and women of God who have penned the hymnals of the church. Through the lens of the past, and with an eye to the future, we find the place of our songwriting. Who is to sing this new song? All the earth is beckoned to sing the praises of God, and to bless His name. We do not worship in isolation, drawing a circle around ourselves and imagining its just me and God. Corporate worship in the church serves as a rich time for people to practice Colossians 3:16, as we teach one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Far too often the singing of modern churches is focused more on the sound of the instruments than on the sound of gathered voices raised in proclaiming the worship of God. The worship of the church is biblically formed. Worship leaders ought to come to lead the people of God with a guitar in one hand, a Bible in the other, and know how to use each weapon well. We are a people formed by the word of God, and it is His Word that calls us to worship. The only element needed for congregational worship to occur is Gods Word laid open in the midst of His people. We see a fascinating overtone in this passage about the character and nature of God, in that it calls us to Trinitarian singing. Three times the psalmist calls us to sing to the Lord. Immediately we cant help but suppose that there is method to the refrain and intentionality in the redundancy. Charles Spurgeon, the great Puritan pastor, comes to our aid, Thrice is the name of the Lord repeated, and not without meaning. The sacred fire of adoration only burns with vehement flame where the Trinity is believed in and beloved. With the psalmists words, and Spurgeons passionate exposition, we are reminded we are a people who worship the Father through the Son, by the Spirit. Far too often we overlook the importance of this fact. Apart from the revelation and initiation of the Trinity, worship is impossible. Without the wisdom of the Father, the work of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit, we cannot worship God. We dont pursue theology as an end in itself. To do so would be the pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of God. There is a grave difference between knowing about God and knowing God. John Piper elaborates, If we just know Him in our minds, were not doing anything different than the devil. The devil is one of the most theological, orthodox beings in the universe. He just hates what he knows about God. Oftentimes, in matters of theological discussion our tendency is aimed at information, and we forget that our final objective should be communion with God. The chief end of theology is doxology. Theology shapes doxology. Christian worship is built upon, shaped by, and saturated with Scripture. Our doxology is informed by divine revelation. For the worship leader, our beliefs and convictions about God are what serve as the foundation for worship. A love for the Word of God is a primary requirement. Without a vivid belief in the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Word of God, our services (and our lives) will never find the rhythm of worship. The rhythm of worship is revelation and response: our beliefs about Gods revelation dictate our response. Worship leaders lead the people of God in the worship of God. Above all things, we ought to be men who pursue growing in the grace and knowledge of God through immersion in the Scriptures. Theology is not reserved for academia and people in ivory towers. Theology is for us. Worship leaders need to be theologians, letting our theology inform our song choices, the liturgy we write, the choice of Scripture to read. If we dont carefully consider who God is and who we are as His people, our services will be flippant and clumsy. What we believe about God surely shapes our worship of Him. Toward this end, John Piper says, Worship serves doxology. The worship of the church is gospel-wrought. Theology informs doxology. Doxology without theology is an impossibility. If we knew nothing of God, His greatness, His holiness, His goodness, His gospel, we would have no reason to worship Him. If we dont believe in the substitutionary death of a sinless Christ, we have no reason to worship Him. If we have no understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we forsake His role in illuminating truth and leading man. It is vital for worship leaders to have a robust and growing theology. Apart from the revelation of God, worship does not exist. Without a deep and growing understanding of biblical truth, our worship will be uninformed and weightless. Infused with Scripture, however, the worship of God will be vibrant and filled with gravitas. It will be gospel-soaked and powerful. What type of songs are decreed? The songs decreed by Psalm 96 are telling of His salvation, declaring His glory, and declaring His marvelous works. The role and responsibility of the worship leader is to both remember the gospel and to remind others of the gospel. When gospel-reminding becomes common in the culture of our churches, we will be a people who are rooted and grounded firmly in our identity. One of our church members recently sent me a text before his work day that said: I want to encourage you with the gospel. God made you, the all-powerful and all-knowing and all-sovereign God, created you in His image. Yet by Adams sin you inherited sin and therefore were once an enemy of God. But God being rich in mercy and love sent His only son Jesus to bear the punishment of your sin. Thereby you have been set free, being reconciled to God by Jesus. You are no longer an enemy of God but now a child of God. Repent and believe in Jesus that by faith and Gods grace alone you are saved. This text message took the simplicity of the gospel, filled my eyes with tears, and my heart with doxology. Theology propels doxology. The more we come to know God, the more we long to know Him. The more knowledge we have of Him, the more we want to know of Him. Theology prompts our hearts to passionately pursue truth. There is no end to the rhythm of revelation and response. Within the context of corporate worship we have a unique opportunity to tell of his salvation day after day. Through the use of singing, praying, confessing, praising, greeting - we are able to tell of the salvation of God to one another. My friend Tullian Tchividjian encourages us to remember that once God rescues sinners, his plan isnt to steer them beyond the gospel, but to move them more deeply into it.6 Worship leaders are no exception. We need to be daily reminded of, called to, and immersed in the gospel. The more the gospel permeates our hearts, the more able we are to lead our churches to experience its sufficiency and beauty. We sing to one another the gospel, reminding one another of who we are in Christ. The psalmist continues: For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! (Ps. 96:4-9) With a cursory look at the text we find a list of virtues pointing to the character of God: God is great and worthy of worship; He is the only true God, the God of creation; He is majestic, strong, beautiful, glorious; He is worthy of offering; He is holy. Thanks be to God, He has spoken to us! Our theology propels us to ascribe greatness to God (vv. 7-8). The primary reason the church gathers is to glorify God. We gather together for corporate worship to ascribe unto God the worship that is due Him. We declare Gods greatness and truth through the reading of Scripture, through sermon, and through song. While it should be noted there are many other reasons we gather (Heb. 10:23-25), Christ Himself is the centerpiece of Christian worship. D. A. Carson writes, You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God Himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, its a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset. Theology propels us to bring worshipful offerings to God (v. 8). We must realize that even our offerings are evidences of grace. James 1:17 says, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. Our offerings in worship are grace-enabled, and should lead us to greater dependence upon God, rather than us feeling accepted because of our offerings. Theology propels us to tremble (v. 9). Worship is the rhythm of revelation and response, of gravity and gladness, of theology and doxology. One of the greatest weaknesses of the evangelical church is our disinclination to tremble. We do well in asserting the transcendence and sovereignty of God, but we must also allow these truths to move us to an awe-filled doxology. The worship of the church is congregational. The psalm David had written was not just for Asaph to sing, but for he and his sons to sing. We have to be more intentional about making worship congregational. Our use of first person singular pronouns is called for. We see it modeled in the Psalms - however, there should be equally as much we as there is me. I might even press the point and say that since humanistic individualism is a thriving worldview - within the church - that more we singing might be okay. We dont gather on Sundays to see pageantry performed. We gather to worship as a people who have been redeemed by the power of the cross. The primary function of the church singing is the church singing together (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). The worship of the church is missional. We have seen how our worship is informed and shaped by what we know of God. Weve looked at the importance of this drive in the life of the worship leader, but it doesnt end there. Our goal with all of this is that God would be glorified in the worship of every nation, tribe, and tongue. While worship is God-centered, it is also declarative. While it is vertical, it is also horizontal. Biblical worship is aimed at God, but also edifies the church of God and propels the mission of God. Christ-centered worship is proclamation. The psalmist continues: Say among the nations, The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Ps. 96:10-13) We worship among the nations. We havent been called to keep the mysteries of the gospel to ourselves. We havent been redeemed as the people of God to be quiet about the goodness of God. Rather, we have been summoned to say among the nations, the Lord reigns. In James Boices commentary on Psalm 96 he states, The psalm teaches that worship should never be merely a private thing, something between ourselves and God only, but should also be that which leads to a missionary witness. We should never boldly proclaim into a microphone that which we wouldnt have the courage to share with our neighbor. Often when we are gathered as the church in a safe place, we proclaim the greatness of God and the sufficiency of the gospel. However, when we leave that safety, we are too often either apathetic or filled with unbelief in the things we profess to be true. As worship leaders we are to live in the light of (not just live off of) the gospel. What we truly believe about the gospel is evidenced by how concerned or unconcerned we are for those apart from its grip. We worship with an eschatological eye. This means, as the people of God, we worship in light of eternity. We believe the day will come when Christ will return, God will dwell among His people, and we will worship Him forever. When we gather together as the body of Christ, we are rehearsing for worship in eternity, as well as participating in it even right now, as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20) who are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6). It is important for us to remember where we stand in the historical-redemptive narrative, and with great expectation see the day coming when we will worship God face-to-face (1 Cor. 13:12); when we sing here, we sing in light of the song that we will one day sing in His presence. Revelation 5:9-10: And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. Matt Boswell is pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church, Frisco, Texas. His passion is to see the church engaged in worship that is gospel-centered. He and his wife have four children.
Posted on: Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:15:02 +0000
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