Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Acceptable Worship

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
Worship in the predominantly African-American church should cause us to pause. While we have a wonderful tradition of gospel experience and inspirational music, we have allowed our experience to dictate and in many instance even trump truth. This has resulted in churches and denominations full of people who claim to know much of the "Spirit" but when examined have little understanding of the "Truth." Subsequently, the secular and the sacred are so blurred that rarely is the discussion undertaken to determine if a church's worship is more secular than it is sacred. Gospel artists and secular artists trade platforms and positions as easily as today's black bishops change robes. Looking at the landscape of the predominantly African-American church, it should cause us to examine exactly what we mean when we worship our Lord. It should make us examine our idea of worship. We should ask, "Why is it so easy to move from the sacred altar to the secular auditoriums and vice versa?" I would suggest to you that the reason so many musical performers can move so comfortably in and out of the church, and so many preachers are apt at entertaining is because the lines between worship and entertainment have been blurred - and in many places totally obliterated.
Biblical worship is not a sanctified worldly event. In other words, it is not simply taking the methods and means the world employs to produce a good time, and using them to produce a "good time in the Lord." That may be sanctified entertainment, but that is not worship. Worship is other worldly. It is an encounter with Jesus that takes us out of this world. It is so distinct that those who are most intoned to the world will know unmistakably that the event on Sunday morning or even Saturday evening is something distinct and different - appropriately causing them to draw back in fear or draw near in awe.
Worship is not entertainment. This needs to be reiterated. Indeed, it is a thin line between worship and entertainment, particular among African-Americans. Nevertheless, it is a line that must be drawn and a line that must be maintained if we are ever going to know and teach what it means to offer a worship that is "acceptable." Though there may be some entertaining qualities to worship[1], nevertheless, worship and entertainment have two differing and conflicting agendas. Entertainment is predominantly passive, whereas worship is predominantly active. Entertainment is audience-driven. Worship is God-driven. These are key components to understand if we are going to worship well. Unfortunately, too often what we want in worship is entertainment because this is what we get during the week. This is really what most of us (young and old) are asking for without even knowing it. You see, from television to the theater, from computer programs to computer games, from instant messaging to instant coffee, this generation is treated to a wealth of entertainment, information, and resources graphically designed and instantly delivered. It is fast-paced. It is always new and improved. This creates a low threshold for the slow-paced, meditative, reflective life that is often Christianity. The result is an easy boredom, and a lack of appreciation for the quietness and stillness that often is required in hearing from God. Thus when we come to church, we want in church what we so readily receive all the week long - a fast-paced, up-to-the-minute, quality, graphic entertainment. Unfortunately, too many places on Sunday morning are eager to give people what they want in an effort to reach them, or more accurately, woo them into membership. When this happens, according to Marva Dawn, "the focus then becomes not so much to display the glory of God as to delight the people who come." [2] What is not realized is that these places are doing nothing more than scratching a worldly people where they itch. They are perpetuating a superficial faith. They never penetrate to the deeper places of humanity and substantial Christian experience. This superficiality fails to lead people to see that a relationship, a lasting relationship with God is not accomplished in a fast-paced, hurried, entertainment-driven mode. It comes in getting before God and spending time, often long and quiet times, with Him. This indispensable exercise of Christian devotion is what church is supposed to prepare people for. This is what the church is to prepare people to encounter - a God who is bigger and better than we first imagined, but is never boring, even in the quietest times.

[1] According John M. Frame, "There are some criteria for good entertainment that are also criteria for God-honoring worship. In worship, sermons should be well-organized and clear, maintaining the attention of the worshipers. Music ought to be of high quality led by skillful (1Chron. 15:22; 2Chron. 34:12; Ps. 33:3) artists. It should be memorable, bring its text to dwell in the heart anThosend. Thos in attendance should feel welcome, among friends. Humor is sometimes valuable in worship, since there is humor in Scripture itself. When these criteria are observed, worship inevitably becomes something like entertainment." Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 1997), p. 60.
[2] Marva Dawn, How Shall We Worship?, p. 67

11 comments:

Joshua Parker said...

Thank you for your post. I have been meditating more and more on the aspect of worship since my background incorporates various worship styles. I have done the contemporary thing, but my background and my current situation is more liturgical in nature. Believe it or not, I grew up in a black denomination which is very liturgical in nature. They would recite the Apostle's Creed, sing the Model Prayer, and sing responsively to the reading of the decalogue. However, I do have a question? (I highly respect your insights.) From your opinion, what should worship in a black church look like?

ajcarter said...

Hey JP,
Good to see you check in. I would be interested in learning more about your past and current worship services. I am currently writing a chapter on worship in the African-American church context. In there I am seeking to set forth what biblical worship could and perhaps should look like in our cultural setting. I will be sharing more of my thoughts in the days to come. I am interested in learning more about your experience and difference between what you are doing now and what you did previously. Thanks again my brother. You can email me at editor@bartheology.com.

Eric M Washington said...

Anthony, have you read Hart and Muether's With Reverence and Awe yet? This is a must read. Let me say this in a quick response to your post: acceptable worship is defined by the Lord God himself. The Church has no warrant to worship any way it desires. Though the second commandment is a negative commandment, there is also a positive side. We must worship according to what God commands. Anthony, your church confesses the 1689 and the Westminster, right? If so, this should be a clear cut discussion with a clear cut answer.

Eric.

ajcarter said...

Hey Eric,
I have indeed read "With Reverence and Awe" and I echo your sentiments. It is a good and helpful read on this subject. Yet the task before us is not simply to call those churches with confessional stances to right worship, but rather to get more churches to embrace biblical confessions. The majority of African-American Christians would not know Westminster from West Philly. Our task and ministry to African-Americans is not simply to repeat reformed traditions, but to more importantly re-present reformed traditions. This is the summation of the Reformation principle ecclesia semper reformanda est - the church is always reforming. The question is how do we faithfully represent Westminster and 1689 in an African-American context? What does the regulative principle look like in my church?
Eric, thanks for your comments. You have me thinking even more about this subject today. Peace.

Eric M Washington said...

Anthony, I am glad to be of help. Let me share something personally with you regarding African American worship. I served at a church for years prior to becoming Reformed in doctrine. Once I began to swim in the doctrines of grace, I ventured to the waters of acceptable worship. I knew that the "worship" at my church was unacceptable in most cases. Singing was the big issue for me. Were we singing psalms? No. Were we singing hymns that reflected biblical doctrine (my position then)? At times we did. Was the tone of worship reverent and did we allow for the priesthood of believers full participation in the worship? Sometimes in regard to the former, and no in regard to the latter. I finally joined a church that holds to the 1689 (with adherence to the regulative principle). Purity and simplicity of worship is integral. I hear your concern, and I believe you just teach the word with power and conviction. I have the pleasure of attending a multi-racial Reformed Baptist in the suburban Detroit. I am one of the teachers in the Adult Sunday School class; I just teach. Our context is both white and African American. I have to mix it up, but I just teach within my own personality and my love for God and his word.

Eric.

Eric M Washington said...

Anthony, do you know of this book: Worship in the Melting Pot by Peter Masters? It is a useful short work, and I believe it will stimulate thought regarding worship that transcends culture and generation.

Eric

ajcarter said...

No, I'm not familiar with that work. I will have to look into it. Thanks.

Paul said...

Very interesting post. Reminds me of this article from the Banner of Truth site.

http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?111

It's also good to have this point of view expressed by an African American. We have a lot of black immigrants coming to Ireland and I can never understand how people assume that they all want to worship in the same way - as if it's something that's set in stone.

I'm Irish and I get annoyed when people make assumptions about me. Irish evangelicals have different opinions on all sorts of matters so why should it not be the same for Africans and African Americans.

I've taken different approaches to worship through the years. Above all, it should be bible-centred. I don’t have a problem with entertainment as such but worship is worship. It is a bit concerning when people move to a new church because they’ve heard that they’ve got a drum or something.

Eric M Washington said...

Paul, I believe you are right on! Worship is according to the will and mind of God, not cultural customs. By the way, the link to the Banner of Truth article was cut off. Could you please re-post it; I'm interested in reading it.

Eric.

Paul said...

Thanks Eric.

It might be easier to go to the site and find it.

It's called:
WORSHIP AND THE PRESENCE OF GOD
by
Graham Harrison

http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/articles.php

or if that doesn't work, just go to
http://www.banneroftruth.org and click on Articles near the top of the page.

He used to lecture when I did a course with the Evangelical Movement of Wales and I always found his teaching stimulating.

He's the Minister of Emmanuel Evangelical Church in Newport, Wales.
http://www.emmanuel-newport.org.uk/

ajcarter said...

Hey Paul,
It is always good to hear from a brother on the other side of the pond. Indeed, though many seem to think so, African-Americans are not monolithic in their understanding of life and faith. Yet, the call is to faithfulness to the Word of God. If we do that, we will find that we are more alike than we may have imagined. Thanks for your visit. Check in again, anytime.