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.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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