Authentic Worship


I started responding to a couple of questions and observations about my previous post on worship and decided that my comments might fit better under a new heading. Time restrictions prohibit me from engaging all the questions, but I hope to comment more on this issue in the future. Here are my thoughts:

I think that much of the so-called “worship wars” is a waste of bullets. Questions of “style” and whether worship is “contemporary” or “traditional” seem to me to inevitably lead to dead ends. For the last several years, when asked, I have answered such questions by stating that, of course, our worship is contemporary–we do it every week and we are already planning for next week; and, of course, we are traditional because we have been doing it for years.

I find a much better approach in asking if God has spoken on how we should worship. If so, what does He say? Is the Bible sufficient to teach us how to worship? Is it one of the “good works” of 2 Timothy 3:17? I am convinced that it is. What I posted earlier is a summary of what I think Scripture has to say about regulating our worship.

A significant part of what is involved in worshiping “in spirit” is being authentic. This requires sincerity and honesty before God in acknowledging who we are and who we are not as we approach Him in worship. It also requires humility that refuses to allow individual preferences to undermine corporate expressions of worship.

Those three sentences require a great deal of unpacking. I doubt that I can successfully do that in this forum but let me try at least to indicate the direction of my thinking.

Ken Puls, who among his many other gifts directs the music ministries at Grace Baptist Church where I serve, has helped me think more clearly about this issue over the last few years. He speaks of a church “finding its voice,” which is at the heart of what I mean by being authentic in worship.

Individual worshipers form a corporate body who approach God together in our times of gathered worship. Who are those individuals? First and foremost, they are disciples of Jesus (others may be with us, but worship is the activity of believers). This reality trumps but does not obliterate all other distinctions. Race, ethnicity, age, education, understanding, experience, marital status, language, etc.–all these and more make individual worshipers unique, but none of them is more important than knowing Christ (which means that I have more in common with a believing Zambian than an unbelieving sibling). Each covenanted member of a church adds to the tone of the body’s “voice.”

Here is how I see that working itself out in practical ways. A village church in Zambia will sing songs not only in the official language of English but also in the tribal languages of that village. The cadence, harmonies, bodily movements (such as swaying) and instrumentation may be completely different from those that mark the singing of equally orthodox churches in Houston or Beijing. There may also be differences in the way the Scripture is read and preached in those congregations. Scripture can regulate worship in all three settings without the expectation that worship in the three churches will look exactly the same.

In fact, if all three of the churches do look exactly the same in their gathered worship times then at least two of them (and maybe all three!) are not being authentic. Why? Because Zambians, Chinese and Houstonians have natural differences that will inevitably cause their respectively indigenous churches to have different “voices” even while seeking to worship the same God in the same spirit and in the same truth.

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11 Responses to “Authentic Worship”

  1. Thanks Tom, these comments are helpful, but I believe there are still many miles to go before most of us truly develop a practical theology of worship.

    I hope these posts concerning worship are indicative of many more to come. This is the kind of practical guidance and direction I seek to gain from a fellowship such as Founders.

    In future posts, could you address more specific practical aspects; the kind of things most of us “young” pastors will actually face. What kind of boundries do you believe adherence to the regulative principle demands? What is acceptable/ not acceptable? This kind of counsel would be most welcome, at least for me personally.

    His because of mercy…Pastorleap.

    PS…stewart…how did you know my name was Terry? Do we know each other? or did I put it somewhere on the site?

  2. Tom, I was waiting for some clarity on your previous post before commenting. Great stuff here. You words are very much needed, especially coming from and calling out to those of us in the Reformed tradition.

    I agree with your essential components of worship. While we do not redefine those things, we recognize that such elements will look different in differing contexts.

  3. Good insights, Tom. As you pointed out, worship is an activity of believers. I think some of the worship struggles stem from the fact that churches try to build worship services around the preferences and desires of unbelievers. Rather than asking what honors God they are asking what attracts people.

  4. Sorry Pastor Leap,
    I was in your Hebrew class with Dr. Gentry. I wanted to visit your church in Cox’s Creek but recently found out that you are at another church. God bless your new ministry opportunities there. I appreciate your honesty on the subject of worship and willingness to learn. I think we all can benefit from your spirit of being teachable.

  5. I agree with you whole heartedly. The problem is what to do when Zambia comes to Houston? If a congregation is not spiritually mature, the problem of acceptance of differing “authenticities” becomes a real strain.

  6. I wonder how much of the terminology causes divides. Tom, you did a good job in your simple explanation of ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’.
    I am also looking for some guidance in this area. Any help in the future will be appreciated.

    Also are there any Founders near McMinnville Tennessee?

  7. Stephen,
    I’m not in line 100% with the founders, but I’m “almost reformed”… I’m in Crossville, TN… I’m in Sparta quite frequently… I grew up there.

  8. Stephen – I’m in Lenoir City, TN. Grew up in Sparta, just like Jared. Same stance as him as well. In fact, I think I applied at Shell’s Ford. 😀

  9. Thanks Tom, very good read.
    To Jeff and Jared; keep thinking that way….’not reformed yet’! I am a “reforming” baptist pastor. Everytime I think I’m ‘reformed’, His chastening hand shows me where I am not…yet!

  10. As long as we work from the word “Worship” we will be locked into confusion. Too many examples to site Rom 12 – “which is your reasonable”..”Worship”. No “Service”.Worsip :(if one likes the word..) is all of life -not a 11:-12 activity.We have caused much confusion by developing this diacodame.(SP ?)Instead of “worship” try using words closer to the original and ones view of “worship” will be clearified. I have articals etc or call 434 384 0749 Worship is all of life.Our reductionism is unfortunite.


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