Sunday, January 6, 2008

True Worship, Divine Worship, and John Owen.

The issue of Church and worship has come up in several blogs I read regularly in recent days. It is an issue close to my heart as I had to look into this as I underwent my identity crisis in the last few years. I acquired the works of John Owen from my pastor today and was reading the first volume on the way home (my wife was driving) when I came across the quote I include in this post. It seems clear to me that we should not include things in our worship that we find appealing, that elicit emotional responses only(such as drama/skits, nowhere do we see this done in scripture yet the art form existed), or that we just "feel" good about. We are still in our corrupted minds and our fallen nature can, and often will, be wrong. I commented on another blog about not forgetting the Old Testament when we consider how we should worship. The Bible is one story from start to finish. It is the historical-redemptive story of God and His people. In the Old Testament people died when they worshiped in ways they thought were good but were not. There is great evidence for the regulative principal in worship, and if we stray outside of it we enter dangerous territory.

John Owen entered university at the age of 12, and I do not think I can say it any better than he did:

"They [believers] will receive nothing, practice nothing, own nothing in His worship, but what is of His appointment. They know that from the foundation of the world he never did allow, nor ever will, that in any thing the will of the creatures should be the measure of his honor, or the principle of His worship, either as to matter or manner. It was a witty and true sense that one gave of the Second Commandment, 'Non image, non simulachrum prohibetur, sed, non facies tibi;' — it is a making to ourselves, an inventing, a finding out ways of worship, or means of honoring God, not by him appointed, that is so severely forbidden. Believers know what entertainment all will-worship finds with God. 'Who has required this at your hand?' and, 'In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men,' is the best it meets with I shall take leave to say what is upon my heart, and what (the Lord assisting) I shall willing endeavor to make good against all the world, — namely, that that principle, that the church has power to institute and appoint any thing or ceremony belonging to the worship of God, either as to matter or to manner, beyond the orderly observance of such circumstances as necessarily attend such ordinances as Christ himself has instituted, lies at the bottom of all the horrible superstition and idolatry, of all the confusion, blood, persecution, and wars, that have for so long a season spread themselves over the face of the Christian world; and that it is the design of a great part of the Book of the Revelation to make a discovery of this truth.

"And I doubt not but that the great controversy which God has had with this nation for so many years, and which he has pursued with so much anger and indignation, was upon this account, that, contrary to the glorious light of the Gospel, which shone among us, the wills and fancies of men, under the name of order, decency, and authority of the church (a chimera that none knew what it was, not wherein the power did consist, nor in whom reside), were imposed on men in the ways and worship of God. Neither was all that pretense of glory, beauty, comeliness, and conformity, that then was pleaded, any thing more or less than what God does so describe in the Church of Israel, Ezek 16:25, and forward. Hence was the Spirit of God in prayer derided, — hence was the powerful preaching of the gospel despised, — hence was the Sabbath-day decried, — hence was holiness stigmatized and persecuted. To what ends that Jesus Christ might be deposed from the sole power of lawmaking in his church, — that the true husband might be thrust aside, and adulterers of his spouse embraced, — that taskmasters might be appointed in and over his house, which he never gave to his church, Eph 4:11, — that a ceremonious, pompous, outward show-worship, drawn from Pagan, Judaical, and Antichristian observances, might be introduced; of all which there is not one word, little, or iota in the whole book of God. This, then, they who hold communion with Christ are careful of, — they will admit nothing, practice nothing, in the worship of God, private or public, but what they have his warrant for. Unless it comes in his name, with 'Thus saith the Lord Jesus,' they will not hear an angel from heaven."
John Owen "On Communion With God" pp. 309-310


James said...

This is something that is near to my heart (as a worship leader) and it is something that I've been struggling with lately. I've been trying to decipher what is demanded from the scriptures and what is only the religious additions of Christendom. I've even come to question how we "do church." The question becomes, "must we have a weekly 'service' of a couple songs, scripture readings, and then the message?" I see "gatherings" in the scriptures. We see Jesus "preaching," but we don't really see a "worship service" or even a weekly service.

I recently left a school (which I know Alan can relate to) that felt like the 21st century church should become like the New Testament Church. The NT church may be a great model, but I feel there is a serious problem when we strive to establish principles as mandates that are not found in the scriptures.

One last side note... I strongly feel like the arts should be a part of at least our personal worship, and it can even be appropriate to use in a corporate setting. The arts are an expression of the emotions and it should be only right for us (as God's people) to strive to express ourselves, and the arts are the perfect venue. I will say there is a strong emphasis on the musical aspect of the arts in the scripture... but I do not see this as limiting us in what we do.

Rhea said...

Simply b/c something is appealing to us, does not, in and of itself, mean that God doesn't want us to do it as worship. Now, I'm not suggesting that we should determine what we do in worship (or what we do in _______) based solely off of whether or not it's appealing to us, but as a Christian, there are certain things that God wants me to do, that over time, have become appealing to me. Now, as far as making it appealing to non-Christians, I think that's another thing. I would imagine that there are LOTS of things in the average church service/meeting that are unappealing to non-Christians, but to me that makes sense, since non-Christians are really "at war" with God (in a sense).

I will say though that I've seen God move powerfully through the use of drama/skits. Do I think that ALL we should do is drama/skits? No, but I think that for lots of people, that helps them to better understand the Scriptures. I think that in conjuction with the preaching and teaching of the Word, dramas can be very powerful. I know that for me, I've been greatly impacted by's helped the Scripture really "come alive" if you will for me.

Alan said...

You left SLCC?

James said...

I did. SLCC kinda wrong me on my transcripts. They weren't delivering on what they told me when I first decided to go there. MoBap said if I came back I could graduate faster, pay less, and jump into a new degree program that will be more practical for me.
I'm working on my second semester here, and loving it. :-)