(41)Authentic worship must reflect the heart languages of our day. Teaching, evangelism, service, and action to help with the social needs of our world are important, but they are not the central purpose of the church. The central purpose of the church is worship. This introduces a sequence. Worship takes us before God. God's presence in our life results in life change. Life change results in service to others. Service to others undergirds the credibility of our message as we seek to evangelize effectively.
Breathing life into declining churches begins with breathing life into our worship. Spirits of worshipers connect with God through the language they know. The words and the music must be consistent with their heart language.
(63)If your engine is bad, new tires and new paint will not help your car. Restoring worship within the church must go deeper than formats, new songs, strategies, styles, and programs. If you want more power for the vehicle of your church, fixing the outside is the wrong place to begin. One must begin with understanding God.
The truth sets us free. Thus we must learn. Our security is not in the church. Restoration is not carbon copies, faxes, or xeroxes. Restoration is never complete. Change is normal.
The truth sets us free. Thus we must continually reemphasize. Jesus is our example. Genuine restoration restores men and women to Christ. The mission of the church is compelled by gratitude to our gracious God. We must worship and glorify God authentically if we are going to be his church.
This means we must seek a different starting point in discussions of worship. We must not begin with the externals before considering the internals. We must not change the forms without understanding the functions. I believe we must begin with worship that pleases God, worship that is based in God's character and nature. We must approach worship theologically.
A church threatened by heresy within and persecution without has one solution, "Worship God." (Rev. 19:10; 22:9). Exalted praise is described in Rev. 4-5. All Christians live to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:6,12, 14).
Here is a foundation from the Bible. God's nature demands worship. His nature is the motive driving the church. We glorify him. We imitate him. We seek to become like him. He is the reason...for relationships, education, equipping, mentoring, evangelism, communication, etc. He is the model, and our methods must be compatible with his nature. He is the measure of ministry. He calls us to be faithful in glorifying him.
Consider God's glory.
(103)Two dynamics are in tension in our consideration of worship. Is worship to be rational, or emotional? This is the question of whether worship appeals to the right brain or the left brain. The churches of Christ have traditionally emphasized the intellect, rationalism. We must understand that people exist at two levels, and that every person has a preference. Worship can answer both needs, in fact, all of us have both needs. The Bible is both-brained. Faith is not irrational, conversion to Christ brings renewal of mind and demands that we understand the will of the Lord (Rom. 12:2). On the other hand, we can never explain the inexplicable, we cannot ponder the imponderable. God is vast and mysterious. We are cerebral, but we are also emotional. The Bible takes this into account and answers multiple levels, touching us with information but also touching us at the emotional level. We express gratitude and overwhelming joy. The living word of God dances through all of our worlds, drama, music, poetry, narrative, paradox, and mystery. The living word of God awakens us to God in ways beyond explanation.
(118)Music is a powerful language in any culture. Music is a greater cultural force today than at any time in history. Music is seldom mentioned in the early books of the Bible. The tabernacle instructions do not give instruction about music. Finally, when David designs the temple Israel gets instruction about music in worship. Before David, we have only limited references to song: son of Moses, Miriam's song to the women, Hannah's song of pregnancy. Music flowed from hearts in natural musical idiom.
Later, the early church brought music from the Jewish synagogues, including music that would sound strange today. Scriptures were sung. With no songbooks or music, the leader would sing a line of a psalm, and the congregation would repeat it. With standard psalms, the leader might sing a verse, and the congregation sing the second verse. Everything was improvised.
In modern times, music is written down and locked in place with definite melody and harmony. The chord structure and scale we use today was not fully developed until the 17th century.
For the early Christians, the church soon realized that Jewish sounds and melodies did not speak to Greek hearts. By the early third century, the church adopted Greek music forms. These forms would also sound strange today. All songs stayed within a total range of eight notes. Happy songs used the top four notes, sad songs used the bottom four notes. This is the basis of the chants of the medieval church.
In this period, the church carefully avoided using the secular music of the Greek culture. To avoid the connection between church music and the pagan revelry of Greek music, the church intentionally created a music distinctly different from the pagan music. Thus for several hundred hears, common music and church music were separate.
Martin Luther changed the situation. The church began to use popular music with orthodox teaching. These were not used in public assemblies, only in private. Thus, popular songs put on church vestments. Soon, the popular music was used in public worship. This connected the message with the culture, and also served to provide a contrast between the Reformation and traditional Catholicism. This music replaced the medieval chants.
The beginning of harmony with four parts made music more difficult to sing, and modern choirs began to be used. Thus Christian music is at one time reflecting the culture, and at another separate from the culture. This zigzag of connection-separation-reconnection continues. Amazing Grace is sung to the tune of an English drinking song.
Music is a heart language we must honor in worship. Music varies from culture to culture. Those who study music (ethno-musicologists) describe eight music groups in our world-- including oriental, Congo drums, Andean flutes, Scottish bagpipes, and more familiar forms. We must understand the power of music if our worship is to connect with the people who need to gospel in our various cultures.
Music has two dynamics--idiom and format. Format is the manner of presentation-- participate, listen, sing to one another, choruses, etc. Idiom refers to the type of music, Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16. Songs express our hearts. New songs express new spiritual vistas. Spiritual growth calls for variations in our music. A study showed that much music is "no brainer" music. Music loses meaning with overuse. Without variety, music that was formerly vibrant with meaning can become meaningless repetition.
(31)Restoration is not preoccupied with the past, restoration is preoccupied with God. The past is not failure, the past is history. Those who lived before us answered God's call in their world, we must answer God's call in our world. The world moves on, culture moves forward. We must in restoration make certain that the culture does not move beyond us. We cannot seek restoration by imitating forms and functions of former times, even if those we imitate were very successful. Such an approach to restoration will doom us to failure. We must seek restoration by finding the principles of God, and pursuing the values, missions, strategies that grow from those eternal principles. We must connect with our world. We must communicate the principles of God into the heart languages of our contemporary cultures. This means our strategies must not become institutionalized. We must seek fresh, vibrant relationship. This will rescue us from secularism, liberalism, lack of discipline, and lack of commitment. It will also help us avoid narrowness, legalism, sectarianism, and exclusivism.
(152)Restoration demands that we be pioneers. To talk of a conservative restoration movement is a contradiction (oxymoron). Restoration is a radical idea that gives rise to a radical movement that radically changes the lives of those who find new relationship with God. Restoration is radically biblical.
(215)Restoration demands that we build new structures. We must envision our goals and define new structures that are consistent with the foundational truths, values, and intentions that are eternal. We must communicate that dismantling the old structure and building a new one does not alter the foundational truths and values that are solidly in place. This exercise will help us learn more about our foundational truths and values.
(228)Examples of these Christian values are care, help, and support; respect for others; honest; and integrity.
(239)In closing, I challenge us to dream a new dream, to dream again. I am excited about the future. I think God is moving and working in our world. We must be his instruments.
Globally, the gospel is progressing. In Africa, in New Guinea, in some of the cities of North America, in the northeastern US, in Indonesia, the church is growing. The most receptive locations in the world are the Muslim countries and the US. It is true that North American Christianity has problems, scandals, materialism, offers of cheap grace. Many Christians in North America do not and will not sacrifice for the gospel. I tell you, in North America, churches are growing at record rates. Substance is the key. Authentic believers in Jesus welcome higher demands on their lives. It is biblical to call people to high standards or moral and ministry expectations. Commitment is biblical. Christians who will not share are not living their commitment. Christians who will not serve as not faithfully imitating Jesus. Christians who will not worship have not seen God clearly.
This kind of growth demands effective leaders, shepherds with the heart of Jesus, and strong preaching. We must establish new congregations. We must take the gospel where it has not gone. We must not be satisfied with the present situation.
I hope we will continue dreaming. Let us take the message into our world. The power is God's. 2 Cor. 4:6-7. The sequence is valid: Worship takes us before God. God's presence in our life results in life change. Life change results in service to others. Service to others undergirds the credibility of our message as we seek to evangelize effectively.
A God of Surprises
How do you describe your God? Is your God a God of surprises? Is your God a God of hope? God has always stunned the universe with surprises. God cannot be anticipated. Was creation a surprise? Was the Exodus a surprise? Was anyone surprised when the sea split, the slaves walked out, and Egypt lost the battle? Would you have chosen the same exit route?
When Israel lost hope in the first century under the hand of Rome, did anyone expect a baby in a manger, a cross, a resurrection, Pentecost. The global darkness was shattered with a million points of light. Unpredictable from a human vantage point.
The God of surprises stirs up mighty winds and blows across history and through history. It is our God who opens history, writes history, controls history. It is happening in our world today, it can happen in our lives. The God of surprises seeks restoration of his people, his will, his word, his actions, his glory.
This talk of restoration is not idle talk. When you go home to minister, God will be at work. Perhaps in the little boy sitting in the class you teach, or a family you meet, or visitors in your home. Listen to a version of Joshua's statement: Consecrate yourselves, worship, adore. Tomorrow the God of surprises will blow through your life.
The God of surprises is a God of hope. We are blessed to be called his servants. We traffic in hope. We are risk takers. We are militant, diligent, we are God's people on the cutting edge of the kingdom. May we not give up. May we continue on. May we hope, and pray, and work. God is a God of restoration.