Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 1, 2005
Worship That Pleases God, Pt. 2
Congregational Worship – Selected Scriptures
This morning I want to continue on with the topic of Worship That Pleases God. Over the past month I have already presented to you the marks of true worship, both for the individual and the congregation. True worship by the individual should be marked by The confession of Sin, An Active faith in God, Confident prayer to God, The fruit of Righteousness in the life, Verbal praise to God, A Content heart, A willingness to suffer for righteousness without complaint, and A clear witness to others of God’s mercy, grace and love. True worship by the congregation will result in God being glorified, Believers being purified, the Church itself being edified and unbelievers being evangelized.
These marks are good to know about for they set the standard for which we should be striving. However, if we do not know how to bring about these marks in our life, then knowing them will only bring about an increasing frustration. That is why last week I spent the whole sermon talking about what is needed in the life of the individual in order to develop their worship so that it is true and therefore pleasing to God..
If you were here last week, you will recall that in order for this to happen, God must be first in every aspect of your life. There must be a craving within you for God just as David expressed it in Psalm 42:1,2 – “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” This craving for God starts by recognizing that God is your creator, and that He created you for His own purposes and not for your own. There is no meaning and purpose to your life apart from God. The various things society desires end up being vanity, a futile chasing after the wind.
The craving for God increases as you realize your own sinfulness and understand that only God can cleanse you from those sins through Jesus Christ. The holier you are, the more you want an intimate relationship with God. The closer you get to God the more you want to be with Him, yet at the same time the closer you are to God the more you recognize your sinfulness and that you are in need of His cleansing. This in turn increases your need for Him which, as He works on you and your life becomes more holy also increases your desire for Him which in turn . . .The process cycles upon itself. You can see then how the desire for a close relationship with God can increase to a craving that is analogous to a deer panting for water.
When the individuals in the congregation desire God in this manner then their individual worship will be true worship because they have placed God at the center of their lives. They make no distinction between secular and sacred for everything they do, say, and think is to be done for the Lord. Everything is sacred. When such individuals come together for corporate worship then it to will be true worship because it will all be centered on God.
For the rest of this morning I want to talk about our efforts to have services that are God centered and therefore are true worship. I will be discussing how the various elements in our corporate worship fit with that desire. It may seem very basic that worship is to be centered on God, but there is a very large movement within evangelical Christianity, including even what used to be called fundamental Christianity, that is moving the church away from the true worship of God to what really amounts to at best, thought provoking religious entertainment of men. Let me speak about this movement first because I think it will help you also understand why we do what we do here at Grace Bible.
Church Growth Movement Pro & Con
Many churches have become involved in the Church Growth Movement and have moved to what are called, “seeker friendly services.” A seeker is defined as someone that is not a Christian, but might be interested. That sounds good on the surface because no one would want to present themselves as having seeker unfriendly services, i.e. non-Christians are unwelcome here. True Christians have a desire for those that do not know the Lord Jesus Christ to come to know Him, and we would not want to place obstacles in the way of that. One of the purposes of the Church is evangelism, so certainly we do not want to be a hindrance to one of our purposes.
Let me say up front that there are a lot of good ideas with in the Church Growth Movement, for many of them make us aware of things that might unnecessarily hinder someone from coming back if they visited. For example, church growth material will point out that a church nursery is very important to young couples. They tend to have a heightened concern about such facilities, and if the nursery area and the workers present do not make them feel comfortable leaving their baby there, then they will not, and they may not come back. They want to know that you care about their baby, so it is important for us to keep that in mind and make sure our nursery is clean, bright and staffed with competent, cheerful people who like children.
Church Growth studies have also shown that a quirk in the current generation is that they like some space and do not want to be crowded in. Taking this into consideration, we know that when the seats in here are consistently 80% full, then we have to find a way to reduce the space stress with either multiple services, an addition or a new building.
There also can be some good elements in the so called “seeker friendly services.” They tend to be very well planned with a lot of innovative elements added to them. There is a sensitivity to trying to clearly communicate to those who come in a way they will understand. This in turn influences the musical styles used and may also result in the use of multi-media presentations and drama too.
Now I have heard some pastors get very concerned about these type of services because they think multi-media presentations and drama do not belong in Church, and they do not like certain types of music. Well, let me be frank, these things are not bad in and of themselves and some can be used effectively in true worship. Too often when people complain about these kinds of things they only show that they do not yet truly understand worship themselves. They are only showing their own selfishness in preferences of style the same way that those who demand only CCM choruses do. The truth is that even a very traditional, conservative service that uses only hymns that are at least 50 years old that are accompanied by only piano and organ can be very far from true worship. The problem is not one of style, but of heart and mind.
The primary problem with the so called “seeker friendly” services is the same problem that occurs in too many traditional, conservative services. The services are designed for man, not for God. They are designed to please the people and not to move the people to please God. True worship is God centered. “Seeker services” are man centered. A service designed for true worship desires to move the heart and mind of man to God that God may be glorified as He deserves by both the vocal praise of the people and their changed lives. Seeker services are designed to make Christianity palatable to the non-Christian.
This problem of worship services that are in reality man centered is not new, but one that has existed from ancient times. Isaiah 29:13 records God’s condemnation of the Jews for this, “Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned [by rote,].” This was a traditional service, but the people were just going through the motions of their religious ritual. This is what they had been taught and they were doing it by rote. Their hearts and minds were not focused on the Lord and how to please Him. How to glorify Him. Their daily lives reflected their selfish sinfulness for which they were also condemned.
In Matthew 15:7-9 Jesus quotes this section of Isaiah and adds, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” This same condemnation will still fall on anyone that comes to worship God but whose mind and heart are far away and have replaced the doctrine of God with their own traditions. Many of you come from church backgrounds, such as Roman Catholicism, in which this has happened. This is one of the reasons we will change the elements in our worship service around. We do not want you to get so familiar with anything in the service that it becomes rote. Both your mind and heart need to be engaged in the worship of God.
Worship that is not actually centered on the Lord is not true worship for it is not done in spirit and truth (John 4). It is worship of something other than the true God. It is worship of the unknown. This is the problem with “seeker services.” Think for a moment about even the designation given for such worship services by those who promote them – a “seeker service.” Who is such a service designed for? It is designed for the glory of God or for man?
Again, let me say that there is nothing inherently wrong with easy to learn choruses or drama or many of the other elements used in a “seeker friendly” church service. The problem is the reason for their use. Because such services are purposely designed to be attractive to non-Christians they will inevitably and invariably degenerate from true worship into false worship. They will become increasingly man centered and less God centered. The message will change as certain issues will be avoided as not to cause offense to non-Christians and visitors. It does not take long for that mindset to end up with sin itself being played down and ignored. The gospel is distorted and the message becomes focused on man.
Some years ago we had two families from our church move to Burlington, VT. They got involved for a short time with a church that was in the process of going this direction. Over the course of a year the messages became increasingly watered down until sin was rarely mentioned. Their outreach activities became more controlled by this mindset. One of the women involved in their young mothers group developed a rapidly spreading cancer and died a few months after she had started coming. Soon after the funeral for this woman a meeting was held in which the young mothers of this group were praising the Lord because they had so many opportunities to help her and her family during this tragic time. The sad fact came out though that none of them knew whether this lady’s soul had gone to heaven or hell because none of them had asked her about her personal relationship to Jesus Christ or had told her the gospel. They were “seeker friendly,” but had made it so comfortable for unbelievers that they were able to continue happily on the road to hell. Woe to those that will neglect the message of salvation because they do not want to offend unbelievers.
Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the [one and] only God?” How can there be true worship when what is sought is the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
The Goal of Grace Bible Church
Let me say it to you as plainly as possible. Our concern here is the worship of God, not how people feel. Whether you “like” or “dislike” the service here is of very little interest to me. This church does not exist, nor do I preach to gain your approval. The church exists and I preach for one goal – the glory of God. That singular goal drives us in every area of our purpose statement.
The means of doing this is discipleship which has four aspects to it. First, we communicate new life in Christ through evangelism because the salvation of sinners brings glory to God. We are told in Luke 15:10 that there is even “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” We cultivate new life in Christ through edification (building up one another in Christ) because lives lived in holiness and service to the Lord bring glory to Him. We care for one another in Christ through true fellowship because such demonstration of true love gives visible expression to the nature of the body of Christ and that glorifies God. As Jesus told us in John 13:35, “By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” We celebrate our new life in Christ through corporate worship because that allows us to jointly glorify God. That has always been the practice of God’s people, both Israel and the church alike.
Does this mean that we are insensitive to people? Of course not. We welcome all people here both believer and unbelievers alike; members, regular attenders and visitors. We desire to assist you as much as possible to enter in our worship of God, but again, our concern is His glory, not your comfort. While I have little concern if you liked the service or not, I am keenly concerned that while you were here you were moved in your relationship with God. I will use every method I can think of to do that too. I will seek to encourage, inspire, stimulate or as needed prod and provoke too. While I do not seek to offend anyone, I am not afraid to offend anyone with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ because the preaching of it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16), though it is offensive to those who do not believe and will not obey it (1 Pet. 2:8).
Frankly, if you are not a Christian, or if you are a Christian who is hiding some sin, then you should be offended by our worship service. If you are not, then we are failing somewhere. Many non-believers have come to our worship services, but none of them have ever remained in that state and kept coming for a long period of time. Why? Because they either get saved, or they quit coming. The same is true with people who profess to know Christ but refuse to be obedient to Him. They will either get right with the Lord or leave here and look for some place in which they can remain comfortable in their sin.
We do not want to unnecessarily offend anyone, but if offense is necessary, then my choice is to offend you rather than God. I must preach the whole truth of God regardless of what people think or feel about it, for that is honoring to Him. If that offends you, then it just means your life is not God centered. You still have unresolved sin in your life, and you need to deal with. We can help you with that if you are willing. Talk with me or one of our church leaders after the service or call me at the office this week, and take a step forward in your Christian walk.
How We Strive to Corporately Worship God
Now the various elements in our worship services are controlled by these factors. God is central and we desire for you to enter into the true worship of Him with all that you are. That includes emotion, intellect and body. How do we strive to do that? Let me go over some of our elements of worship.
First, we recognize that life can be very hectic and many of you rush here to church and may not have prepared as you might have wanted to. Because we desire you to enter into worship, we try to move you both emotionally and intellectually to prepare for such worship. That is why we start off with singing and project the words on the screen. We want you to turn from what you have been doing and start to focus on God.
Next, we have some sort of call to worship. This is following the pattern set forth in the Psalms. Some were specifically calls to worship like Psalm 100 & 117, and others contain an element of invitation to come worship the Lord, like Psalm 118:1-4, etc. We may use a simple scripture reading or some sort of responsive reading, but we seek to call your attention to the God we have come to worship. This is usually followed by an invocation, which is asking God to be present with us and accept our efforts to worship Him.
Our routine may vary a lot after this, but there is usually more congregational singing. Sometimes we use this time to teach a new song by repeating it each week for a month or so, as we did with Worthy of Worship in April. More often, we use a song with narrow focus in preparing you to go to God personally in prayer, for often we next do have a time of personal confession.
We give the opportunity for personal prayer for three main reasons. The first is that true worship requires a clean heart (Ps. 66:18), and we want to make sure that you have been able to take care of any unconfessed sins. Second, this also helps you focus your attention on the Lord. Third, it gives you opportunity for personal praise to the Lord for what He has done in your life this past week. There may or may not be a quiet song played during this time. Some of you find that beneficial and some of you do not, so by mixing it up, everyone will periodically have it the way most helpful to them.
The pastoral prayer allows all of us to join in together in seeking the Lord as a congregation. The purpose is not so you can hear what I pray for, but so that all of us together can join in praise for God’s character, thanksgiving for what He has done, and petitions for God’s actions on particular issues important to this congregation. God is glorified by our seeking Him out on the issues of life. We find examples of such congregational prayers throughout the Bible.
Another element in our worship is more congregational singing. Often this is what people think of as our worship time, but in reality it is only one aspect of it. This is probably the most widespread misconception about worship that exists. Many people think that the musical portion of the service is the worship time. Music can be a powerful force in true worship, or it can be its biggest obstacle. I remember reading an article in a magazine for worship leaders in which the editorial writer repeated some of the cautions Zwingli gave during the Swiss reformation of the mid-1500’s. Zwingli, among the three major reformers (he, Luther and Calvin), was the most musically inclined and had been a professional musician. He feared so much the power that music has to move our emotions that at times he banned musical instruments from use in worship.
I will talk more about this in the coming weeks because the subject of music in worship will really take up a whole sermon. It is enough to say this morning that the Bible records the lyrics of many songs used in the worship of God. That is actually what the book of Psalms contains. It is the lyrics to the songs sung by God’s people in ancient times.
We will use different types and styles of music with three main purposes in mind. Ephesians 5:19 speaks of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We use choruses and songs with simple lyrics to enable people to quickly join in our corporate praise of God. Hymns, with their more complex lyrics, are used to teach and reinforce truths about God’s character and actions. The particular song used is chosen for how well it matches the theme of our service and its place in the service. Lighter songs are often used in the beginning of the service as a call to worship. Before the sermon a hymn with thoughtful lyrics on the same topic as the sermon will call us to begin to think on that topic. The hymn following the sermon may cause us to reflect on what was just preached or to make personal commitment to following the Biblical truths that have been explained.
Special music may be included in the service that we might be encouraged, edified, or even admonished. Such special music is not entertainment. Such music is not a performance, but a ministry done to cause you to think and reflect about God. That is why we ask you not to applaud for a musical piece regardless of how well it was done. Such applause is easily confused as appreciation for what a human has done, but we want the glory to go to God. If the music moved you emotionally, then give out a hearty “amen” or “praise the Lord” or even a robust “hallelujah.” These responses glorify God and will also let the person ministering in music know that they have been effective moving you to true worship. That is the greatest compliment you can give a godly musician.
Other elements of worship may include people giving their testimony of either salvation or of what God is currently doing in their life. We may have a report about our missionaries and find out what God is doing in other places. We may include some sort of ceremony such as the setting apart of our leaders for ministry; a baby dedication (which is actually the public declaration of the parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord), or the induction of individuals as members of this congregation. All these things are done so that you may see and hear what God is doing, for all those things bring Him glory.
At some point we will also give announcements. I realize that sometimes these seem like they have nothing to do with worship, but if they are done right, they are part of worship for they either proclaim the current things God is doing in our midst, or they make you aware of opportunities to serve Him or participate in a ministry. For example, the announcements about Elias Carrero and Steve Plodinec concern things God is doing in our midst. Praise God for it! The announcements about the various meetings coming up are either opportunities to minister or grow. The particular announcement may or may not affect you directly, but God can be glorified by us when we know what He is doing among us.
The central aspect of our worship service is the clear exposition of God’s message to us in the Scriptures. Seeking to know and understand God is the center of our worship. Half or more of our time together in our worship services is given over to the exposition of God’s word because you cannot truly worship what you do not know, and God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to be the means by which He would make Himself known (1 Cor. 1:21). The declaration of the God’s word is seen throughout the Old & New Testament as central in both knowing Him and in the worship of Him. I will expand on this point in the near future as well.
One part of our service that we do not do publicly is give our offerings. Many churches do take up a public collection, and we do not object to them doing so as an act of worship. We have simply chosen to let your giving be something that you do privately because of the principles we find in 2 Cor. 9. We want to avoid putting you in a position in which you would give grudgingly or under compulsion (vs. 7). We would rather that you give cheerfully without outside pressure. You decide before the Lord what you will give as you purpose in your own heart knowing that He supplies for your every need. We have a “Faith Box” at the back of the church in which you can place your offerings as your own act of worship.
One final element I want to point out in our effort to worship God is our keeping of the ordinances that God has commanded us. Baptism and Communion. These are rituals that are commanded by God and they bring Him glory in special ways. Baptism glorifies God through the voluntary identification of the individual believer with Jesus Christ (Romans 6). As the believer goes under the water they identify with Jesus death and burial and the person they used to be no longer lives (Gal. 2:20). As the believer is raised out of the water, they identify with Jesus’ resurrection and that they have been raised to walk in newness of life. Contrary to Catholic doctrine, baptism is not a sacrament that removes Adam’s sin, saves you, or gives you any kind of extra grace. However, it is a very important and serious command that Jesus gave us (Matt. 28:19). If you have not been baptized since you have come to personal faith in Jesus Christ, then you need to be, for you are in direct disobedience to Him until you do. Pick up the information sheet at the literature rack and then talk with me so that you can glorify God through this ordinance.
The second ordinance is the Lord’s table which is also called the Lord’s Supper or Communion. In it we share in a special communion with Jesus Christ as we reflect back on what God has done for us in redeeming us from our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” It is both a special time as we personally remember and thank the Lord for dying in our place. It is only for believers for it is also a proclamation to all who are around of our belief and trust in Jesus for our salvation. That glorifies God.
Our obedience in this is also, in itself, something that glorifies God because an obedient life to God is a holy life, and living such a life is the greatest worship that we can bring to Him. Worship takes place when the congregation meets together, but how good and true it is will be dependent on the individuals that make up that congregation. The best worship you can offer the Lord is not what you do here, but how you live your life for the Lord on a daily basis. If Jesus Christ is the central figure in your life, and every aspect of your life is controlled by Him and lived for His glory, then you will be a true worshiper of God, and you will bring that with you when you meet with other believers. The result is an enhancement to the true worship by all.
May God receive greater glory for Himself as we become better at worshiping Him both individually and corporately.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times God is referenced. Talk with your parents about the importance making God the center of your life.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Define “worship.” What are the marks of true worship by the individual? A Congregation? What makes it difficult for you to make God first in every aspect of your life? Describe your own desire for God. What are some of the positive aspects to the “Church Growth Movement?” Explain. What are some of its bad things / dangers? Explain. What is the primary problem of “Seeker Services”? Describe your own experiences. According to the Bible, who seeks for God? What is the goal of Grace Bible Church? What are its four ways it carries out that goal? What is the purpose of a worship service? How should non-Christians be treated at a worship service? There are many elements in a normal worship service at Grace Bible Church (or any church). Name them and explain their purpose and how they fit within true worship. How does each element affect you personally? What do you do to prepare yourself personally for corporate worship? What can you do personally to improve our corporate worship?
Sermon Notes – 5/1/05 a.m.
Worship That Pleases God, Part 2 – Selected Scriptures
Marks of True Worship
The Church Growth Movement
Pro – Good Things from It
Con – Dangers of It
The Goal of Grace Bible Church
How We Strive to Worship God – Our Elements of Worship
Praise / Worship Choruses
Call to Worship
Congregational Singing – Ephesians 6:19
Testimonies, Reports, Ceremonies, Etc.
For comments, please e-mail Church office