Thursday, November 5, 2009

Doxology Without Substance (And the Solution to that Problem)

Mark Johnston of Ref21 reflects today on why preachers choose what book or topic to preach on, highlighting his recent selection of Ephesians. The whole thing is worth a read, but I especially appreciated this comment, stemming from the observation that Ephesians is so doxological:
    That grasp of doxology desperately needs to be recovered in many churches today. The great irony of course is that many churches are obsessed with doxology (praise and worship) and yet somehow the real thing seems to elude them. They become more and more focused on new songs and innovative approaches; but while these may excite the emotions, they somehow fail to lift our spirit heavenwards. Paul's answer to that is the gospel. It is only as we truly grasp (as he says later on in Ephesians) just how wide, long, high and deep is the love of God for us in Christ that our hearts are genuinely thrilled into adoration.
I am not entirely sure which churches he is referring to. My beloved charismatic background could be in view, or perhaps more likely the oft-targeted shallowness of the seeker/megachurch movement. In any case, Johnston's comment is more than just good exposition of Ephesians: it is a good prescription in light of the symptoms.

The symptom, he notes, is obsession over relevant musical innovation that potentially produces good music but not necessarily real worship. The prescription is the gospel. What could be truer?

I have led enough corporate worship to feel the frustration of a disinterested congregation. This always stuns me. Perhaps the music is far worse than I perceive? Perhaps my vocal ability, which I consider average-at-best, is rather worse than that? Why else would "Before the Throne of God Above" (to name one favorite) not grip the hearts of my brothers and sisters singing with me? But then, the same problem exists when others lead at our church, so it must not be just my problem.

The only conclusion I can come to is that we do not appreciate the gospel enough. I find this problem in myself when I am not engaged in the musical worship: I have been willfully sinning, or I have neglected to commune with God through prayer and Scripture that day, or my mind is occupied with other affairs. Whatever the combination of these or other issues, I have shifted my gaze from Christ's work on my behalf.

What we need is gospel-saturation. We need every part of our congregational meetings to be filled with gospel. We need to read Scripture, of which the gospel is the center. We need to pray, which we can only do confidently because of the gospel. We need to sing about the gospel. Since every Christian is a priest, we need to guide each other to Christ- because of the gospel.

I suspect that when churches organize everything they do around the gospel (for what else do we mean by "church"?), and when we do this with unwavering rigor and discipline, we will find our congregations vitalized, not only to sing on Sunday mornings, but to live worshipfully each day.


DC said...

Mark 7:6-8 tells us why this problem exists:

"6He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'[a] 8You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." "

Evangelicalism in America is characterized by appeals to human wisdom and human authority as the final answer. In theological discussions people appeal to the opinions of their favorite pastor, theologian, or scholar rather than consulting the Scriptures, or in the case of discussion on Greek/Hebrew, the concordance or lexicons.

In eclessiology, church is all too often governed by appeals to human authority or the wisdom of men, rather than Scripture on how to do church. One prominent pastor even said that it is human skill rather than preaching the gospel that grows a church.

In issues relating to popular culture Evangelicals often appeal to the current "expert" rather than Scripture. In politics Evangelicals often follow the talking points of their favorite political movement, whether it be Conservatism, Liberalism, or Libertarianism as the final answer rather than Scripture.

All too often many people base their belief on a core of humanistic philosophies, put them in a Christian wrapper, and pass them off as Biblical teaching. The result of all of this is that the faith of so many is based on the wisdom of men rather than the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:20-2:25; Colossians 2:1-9; Colossians 2:20-22). It is no wonder that so there is so much form without substance in the church today. We must make diligent efforts to base our faith on God's power and wisdom rather than the power and wisdom of mortal humans. This means we check out what we read and hear through the plumbline of Scripture and be willing to part with traditions of men, whether they be ancient or modern. We must frame our thinking in terms of Scriptural principles rather than human wisdom.

Bill Faris said...

You know, Andrew, I think back on wonderful corporate worship times I have experienced and, among them, are those Sunday night things I went to at the Biola chapel with you and Chris. Singspiration? Is that what they called them.

One thing I loved about that sweet, intimate setting was the stripped down simplicity of people gathered specifically to worship, pray, and read the scriptures aloud for an hour led only by a guitarist and maybe a hand drum. Give me that over the "look at us" musical extravaganzas. I love it when I can focus on Him, my connection with Him and the people around me who are also connected to Him.

I don't know.... maybe I'm getting old.