What Exactly Is Christian Worship?
In Search of a Biblical, Theological, and Practical Definition for the Practice of Worship
What Exactly Is Christian Worship? © 2006 by Bradley Robert Berglund. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address:
c/o First Baptist Church,
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Part 7 of 8
(For earlier chapters, click on my name above)
Each Sunday, many who have never placed their trust in Jesus Christ wander into places where Jesus is worshiped (1Corinthians 14:23). The reasons they come to a church service are diverse. They may have been invited by a member who had genuinely befriended them. Perhaps, their parents had been a part of such a congregation, and they are trying to get in touch with their heritage. They may have seen a change in someone else, and they want to know what caused it. The presence of unbelievers in a service even took place in first century churches.
What does the presence of such a person do to the integrity of a worship service? Many churches will cater to the visitor with the intent of winning and incorporating him into the church. They will discover his talents and give him a “job” to keep him coming. If he plays electric guitar, they might even plug him into the praise band. Others are troubled at the prospect. To them true worship can only take place in a closed community setting. Most churches moderate between these two poles.
At issue is this question: can a man who has not received Jesus Christ’s redemptive work ever acceptably worship God? This question is more difficult than one might imagine. In one sense, the Bible indicates that whenever a man wrongly worships the creation rather than the Creator he is given over to reprobation. Thus, the failure of any man to worship God is sin. In the book of Acts, King Herod, the one who executed the apostle James, was judged at the very moment when he received the divine praise of men and failed to give God the proper glory (Acts 12:22-23). The most wicked of men stand guilty of failing to worship God.
The Bible also describes times when ungodly men were sovereignly used by God to worship and give Him glory. Caiaphas declared that Jesus needed to die so that the entire nation would not perish. I am sure that the doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the last thing he had on his mind, and if he had known what he was saying, he would have bit his lip. In the Old Testament, rich prophecies and praise flowed from the mouth of Balaam (Numbers 23:19-20). While it may seem incredible that God would use such a tool, do not forget that God used the voice of an ass to bring Balaam to that point. God in His sovereignty can used anything that He chooses at any time.
Still, the normal pattern for worship mandates salvation as a prerequisite. If God is raised to the proper place, man recognizes his own sinfulness and unworthiness to enter into His presence (Luke 15:21). He can only dread God; he has no capacity to love Him with all his heart, soul, and mind. His need of redemption becomes clear and Jesus is offered as the only way, truth and light. No man can come to the Father by any other means. The man must repent of his sin, believe in God’s provision and call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. He must trust in this finished work alone to be reconciled to God. Once the enmity has been removed, only then is the opportunity for worship possible. The indwelling Holy Spirit gives to man the capacity to worship God.
Herein lies the paradox. Unredeemed man has no excuse for his non-worshipful attitude. This is in spite of the fact that he has no heart or capacity to rightly worship God. If worship is to be used as a tool for evangelism, it must rebuke the sinner either for his apathy or for his hypocrisy. Worship which satisfies the “seeker” cannot be true worship (Matthew 6:24). While God can use and has used worship services to prick consciences throughout history (e.g. John Wesley), He hates syncretism. God does not justify mixing evil or profane elements into sacred worship for the purpose of impressing the stranger. To paraphrase 2Corinthians 6:15, Jesus Christ and Belial are incapable of singing a harmonious duet (the English version of the Greek word is symphony).
For other messages and illustrations see Pastor B archives