After concluding a conference devoted to the theme of worship and reading for a full year in preparation for this past G3—I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about how we worship, why we worship, when we worship, and the ultimate goal of worship. As we study the subject of worship from the pages of Scripture, necessary alterations and adjustments will be necessary in our worship services if we are seeking to honor God. As I pressed, in my sermon at G3, it is the calling of the pastor to reform what the culture is seeking to deform In the life of the church on a weekly basis.
In 1 Timothy 3:14-16, we find Paul talking directly to Timothy about the behavior of the local church in Ephesus. Apparently something needed to be corrected. It was Timothy’s job as the overseer to address the deficiencies and make necessary adjustments. Each week, as the church goes about life in a broken society, there will be attempts made by the enemies of God to deform the church’s understanding of the church and the functionality of the church (relationally and corporate worship). Weekly reformation is required in order to stay on track.
As we think about worship, it would do us well to consider the fact that God has called us to be worshippers. He has rescued us through the blood of his Son, identified us with himself through the waters of baptism, and placed us within the context of a community of the redeemed (known as a local church) for the purpose of worship.
I made the following statement in my sermon at the 2020 G3 Conference:
We must not raise another generation of young people who will grow up with the false idea that they come to church to:
Watch the worship
Watch the preaching
Watch the singing
Watch the praying
We are to be participants—not spectators in worship!
When we treat worship services like the movie theater or a sporting event, it turns it into something other than what God intends a worship service to be in the first place. When you hear people talking about going to a church because they’re attracted to their “worship” or their “singing” you should have red flags going up all in your mind. For instance, when was the last time you heard someone say they were going to a church because of their praying or the depth of their sermons? Remember, God has not called you to ecclesiastical spectatorship—he’s called you to church membership. Such membership involves personal engagement and participation in worship.
At the end of the day, we must have this firm understanding that Christians are worshippers of the one true and living God. We must gather and participate in worship. We should never gather with the idea that we watch other people do the singing or the worship that makes us feel a certain way. Worship is not about us. Worship is about God and his glory.
This week, as you prepare to attend worship with your family, have a conversation with your family about how you intend to participate in various ways through engaging your mind, heart, voices, and even finances through giving. Worship is about God receiving the glory that he deserves from his people. It’s not about us, our preferences, our desires, and our feelings. Christian maturity will lead us away from such a consumerism mentality to weekly worship.
As you return home after a profitable week studying the theme of worship, don’t be ashamed to make necessary adjustments in the church’s worship. Sometimes such adjustments will be opportunities for the church to see them and hear the reasoning—which will produce spiritual growth in the church.
Recently, I had the privilege to watch the new documentary Spirit & Truth and I want to explain why you should take time to watch it yourself.
The Necessity of Worship
As followers of Christ, we are called to worship God. Worship is not something that’s optional. God has created us as beings who will worship God or something else. When we pause to consider the necessity of worship—that God has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light for the very purpose of worshipping him—we then begin the journey of a life of worship. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” As sheep of his pasture, we are there for him—to serve him and to magnify him. Our call to worship God is seen clearly in the scene when John fell down before an angel in a posture of worship, and the angel corrected him – telling him to worship God.
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Rev. 22:8-9).
The Confusion of Worship
In our modern day, the concept of worship has been skewed and confused from the way in which God originally designed it. It’s not just modernity that has caused the problems, even in ancient times, the human heart has always had a propensity to worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). We see it with Aaron and the Israelites who fashioned a golden calf in order to worship God (Ex. 32). We see it with Nadab and Abihu who offered up strange fire to God (Lev. 10). We see it with the church at Corinth who perverted the Lord’s table resulting in the judgment of God (1 Cor. 11).
Today, much of what is called worship isn’t really worship at all. If anything, it’s the honor of selfish desires and cravings rather than the honor of God. We see this in the way modern worship services are designed, the elements of the services, and most critically in what is often missing in the “worship” services of many local churches each week.
The Excellence of the Documentary
Les Lanphere does a great job in this documentary. From the way the storyline develops through a series of interviews—the lesson of biblical worship is communicated clearly from the pages of the Bible.
The way in which modern motion graphics are employed in the film is not a distraction, but a major addition to the way the story unfolds and the way the truth of biblical worship is taught.
I was interviewed for this film and enjoyed talking with Les Lanphere. Perhaps one criticism would be that there were not enough Baptists interviewed for the film, but the truth of the text of Scripture was certainly presented well and that’s the reason I encourage you to watch it and share it with your friends.
Questions to consider as you watch the film:
What is family worship?
What’s the goal of family worship?
Why we do organize the worship service the way we do each week?
Who or what should regulate the weekly worship service?
If we don’t sing Psalms, why not?
What are the ordinary means of grace?
Should the church be looking to the people to see what they want or should the church be looking to God to see what he wants when it comes to worship?
In 1966 John Lennon of the famous band the Beatles, made a very controversial statement that was published in a London newspaper and eventually caused a great deal of controversy around the world. He said:
“Christianity will go,” he had said. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
John Lennon had an elevated opinion of himself and unfortunately, an improper view of God, his Church, and the truth of the gospel. This left him believing that God’s gospel would somehow fade off into the sunset just as multitudes of pagan myths and godless ideologies have throughout history. However, for Christianity to die, God would have to die. For Christianity to vanish, truth would have to vanish. That’s simply not going to happen.
Jesus and His Church Will Never Be Overcome By Death
In Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 16), we find the first mention of the church in the New Testament. Jesus asked his disciples a very important question about his identity. He wanted to know what the word on the street was about his identity, and then he moved to ask this question, “But who do you say that I am” (Matt. 16:15)? Peter spoke up without hesitation to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16).
At this point, we find Peter pointing out that God is the “living God” as opposed to some dead and lifeless idol. The most common sin that Scripture seems to point out is that of idolatry. It can come in so many different forms from a golden calf to money to self-idolatry. Yet, just as Paul pointed out to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16, the temple of Diana (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was a temple of dead and lifeless idols, but the church is dedicated to the living God.
Consider the reality that all through history, religious leaders come and go, but God is very much alive. The climax of that truth is made visible in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The whole world is full of dead idols and graves full of dead men who purported to be the religious guru that people needed to follow. However, to this day, they are dead. This is true of ancient idols such as Diana, Caesar, Pharaoh, and more modern types such as Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and Mary Baker Eddy.
Jesus went on to make the powerful statement, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Not only is God living, but so is his church. It will not fail. It will not vanish. It will not go out of business. It will not fade off into the sunset, because God’s church exists for the glory of God who will never be overcome by death.
God’s Word Will Never Vanish
In Psalm 119:89, the psalmist writes, “O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” God’s truth will never vanish. In fact, in 1 Timothy 3:14-16, we find Paul instructing Timothy regarding the mission of the church in this world. It is the calling of the church to be the pillar and buttress of the truth.
In Ephesus, a massive structure stood at the center of the city. In many ways, the entire city revolved around the Temple of Diana. It was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The massive temple structure stood 425 ft. long and 225 ft. wide which was double the size of other temples of the ancient world. It was surrounded and supported by 127 columns which were 18.3 60 ft. high and 4 ft. in diameter. The columns were arranged in a double row on all four sides, 8 or 9 on the short sides and 20 or 21 on the long sides. The columns on the facades were decorated with relief figures from Greek mythology.
When Paul made his statement to Timothy about the church being the pillar and buttress of truth, he had an immediate vision of the vast pillars from the temple in Ephesus that was holding up the massive marble ceiling structure. It is the responsibility of the church—not the academy, the seminary, the Bible college—to uphold the truth of the living God. The church serves as the pillar to uphold the truth and the buttress to establish the foundation’s strength which enables the truth to be held high.
While temples fall and idols crumble into dust—God never dies and his truth remains. Today, John Lennon is merely a blast from the past, but Jesus is here to stay. Unlike John Lennon, when Jesus was murdered, he rose from the dead on the third day. His Word is true and there will never be a day in human history where Jesus is forgotten. His church will be present and his name exalted high until the day in which Christ returns. Today, people have largely forgotten John Lennon, but Christ and his Word is very much known among the nations of the world.
Don’t be like John Lennon and have an elevated opinion of yourself and a diminished view of God. When you die or when Christ returns, which ever event comes first, you will know on that day that Christ is the center of the whole universe. Worship him!
When we hear the term reformation we automatically have visions of an Augustinian monk marching to the large Castle Church door in Wittenberg with hammer in hand to nail his Ninety Five Theses there on October 31st 1517. However, there’s more to the Reformation than that one event and there’s an ongoing work of Reformation in our day. The weekly responsibilities of a pastor involves reforming the church. That’s what we see in Paul’s letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16.
The Church and Cultural Trends
There are dangerous ditches to fall into within the church. One ditch is the ditch of tradition where a church member resists any idea of change simply because he has never done it that way before. Another ditch to avoid is that of constantly changing in order to accommodate the changing culture. There is steady cultural breeze that seeks to move the church off course. It may not seem like it’s too far off at first glance, but over time the distance becomes greater and the compromise becomes more severe.
The church is under a steady assault from the world. Everything from the message to the mission of the church is being influenced by the culture. If not properly guarded—the church will be deformed little by little. Very seldom does a false teacher walk in the front door and introduce himself as the devil’s agent sent to destroy the church. But, if the message of the church is not properly guarded—the deformation of truth will take place week by week until the gospel is veiled altogether.
This is the same pattern with regard to every aspect of the church—including the weekly worship service. That’s why there is a steady need for reformation in the life of the local church.
The Pastor and the Work of Reformation
The pastor of the church in Ephesus was Timothy. Paul wrote to him and gave clear instructions for him to reform the church’s behavior (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The term “behavior” comes from the Greek word, “ἀναστρέφω” meaning — “to conduct oneself in a specific manner.” It’s a reference to the functionality of the church.
Apparently, since Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, there is reason to believe that something was off. It could be an indicator of some sort of compromise with personal relationships or within public worship—and both areas matter much to God.
The pastor’s role as an overseer is to guard the church’s behavior. Interpersonal relationships matter as the church is called to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Likewise, weekly worship must be orderly and arranged in such a manner as to bring glory to God. When the weekly worship is filled with man-centered elements from pragmatic arrangements to entertainment focused services—the gathering ceases to honor God and in some cases ceases to be a church altogether.
Rather than entertaining the church, the pastor is to reprove, rebuke, and bring correction according to the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Both personal relationships and public worship are to be regulated by the Word of God. The Scriptures are sufficient to guide us in friendships and the worship of God. It is the Word of God that provides boundaries for God’s people and it is the responsibility of the pastor to regulate the church for God’s glory. Such red lights and green lights help us to see the path of righteousness and the cultural errors which enables us to walk in obedience among the household of God.
Not only was this true in the days of ancient Ephesus, but it remains true for us today. When we hear of consumerism invading the church whereby people pack up their bags and move churches over simple disagreements, larger playgrounds at a church down the street, or because their grandchild decided to attend another church three miles from their current church—we’re reminded of the need to understand proper behavior among the church. When we see pastors entering the pulpit on zip lines and rock bands leading the people into a frenzy through secular music—we are reminded of the need for faithful pastors to guard the church and to regulate the church’s behavior both in relationships and worship in order to avoid error and glorify God.
Pray for your pastors. Pray that they will not be swept away by the winds of compromise. Pray for them as they seek to engage in tedious work of reforming the church that the culture has sought to deform over time.
The phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) is the call of the church as a whole and it begins with those who are called to lead.
If you attend many evangelical churches in America, you are likely to see the entire church worship center arranged around a stage for a band so that the people can see the show that happens on a weekly basis. At North Point Community Church in Atlanta where Andy Stanley serves as pastor, it’s common to hear their band lead the people in songs such as “Free Bird” as they did back in 2013 or like the parody they performed near the end of the Christmas season in 2016. What a tragedy to for people to confuse such performances with worship. It seems that the light of the gospel has gone out completely in many evangelical settings.
This past Lord’s Day, I went to worship at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the heart of London, and I was not entertained. The entire service was quite simple. Upon arrival, the deacons provided a warm greeting at the door and handed us a Bible for the service. As we took our seats, there was a board on the wall with numbers on it which directed our attention to the hymns that we would be singing. There was no music minister leading the congregation, no large expansive choir, no praise band, no screens with moving images, no smoke machines to add dramatic effect, no colored lights, no jokes were employed in the sermon, and nothing that seemed to be remotely designed to entertain the crowd.
And yes, there was a crowd. It was already dark by 6:30pm on Sunday evening, but the church was filled with people. They were ready for the moment when the pastor would take the pulpit. He came to open with prayer and Scripture reading, and then he directed us to open our hymnals to the first hymn where he then led us as we stood to our feet and worshipped God through song. There would be multiple hymns and Scripture readings before the sermon was delivered.
From an American context, it was quite simple. Some would perhaps even consider it quite boring in terms of a worship service when compared to our American evangelical worship context. When you talk to people about why they chose a specific church, far too often they talk about a specific program the church offers them or their children, the choir of the church, or how the “worship” makes them feel. Tragically, the once bright light of the gospel that exploded during the days of the Reformation is being greatly dimmed—and in some cases snuffed out altogether.
In many American church contexts, the lights are being turned off in the worship center so that people can have their eyes focused upon the stage. Rather than the sermon being central, now it’s the show. The show can find various forms from full rock concerts to self-help talks geared to make people feel a certain way. Doctrine has been overshadowed by drama and theology has been swapped for the trickery of pragmatic church growth schemes.
If we traveled back in time to the days prior to the Reformation, we would find the people starving to death spiritually and led by false shepherds to embrace the Roman Catholic Mass as the center of fellowship and worship of God. The false doctrine of transubstantiation loomed over the people.
As we move through the Reformation, the table was no longer central. The pulpit became central as the Word of God was brought to the people and the people were brought to the Word. The worship of God had been deformed and God raised up men who would lead people back to the Bible which would reform the worship practices of God’s people.
The Reformation was a rediscovery of God’s Word and an explosion of light and life. If you were to travel to Geneva and walk into St. Pierre’s Cathedral, you would find these words on the wall just behind the pulpit where Calvin thundered the Word: post tenebras lux—which means, after darkness light.
Tragically, Europe has fallen back into the abyss of darkness. Many of the once brightest churches and pulpits of the Reformation are now art galleries, museums, and coffee shops. Rather than worship centers, such campuses now serve as community centers.
As the gates of hell continue their assault upon God’s Church—we must not fall prey to the scandals, schemes, and cultural pressures. God desires to be worshipped and we must gather together for that purpose. Worship should be God centered rather than man centered. When a church comes to understand that reality—it will revolutionize their approach to worship and ministry. The holiness of God remains central and man’s dependence upon him is what drives the church’s worship through the blood of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon never attempted to entertain people in his day. In fact, regarding preaching, he said the following:
Avoid a sugared Gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek that Gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the Gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his Gospel soak into your soul. 
I’m grateful that London still has a church (among a few others as well) who are not organizing entertainment centers in order to put on a show for their community. Instead, they are providing the ordinary means of grace on a weekly basis where God’s people are spiritually nourished and encouraged to worship God.
The next time you think about your worship service, before you complain about it being boring or dull or stale—before you embrace the false idea that your church needs to do something other than the ordinary means of grace to attract the community—just remember that one of the most successful worship services is one that leaves you feeling as if you were not entertained in the slightest degree.
If you’ve been a member within a local church for any length of time, you know that being engaged with a church family has both highs and lows associated with it—much like your nuclear family.
This past week, as we gathered for our quarterly membership meeting, we reviewed items of business and heard from various pastors within our church on ministry reports and important service opportunities that are approaching on the horizon.
What came next were two conclusive church votes, one resulted in joy while the other resulted in sorrow, yet both brought about tears.
When I mention congregational voting, some people immediately have vivid images of churches slugging it out over the color of carpet, paint, or the increased budget line item of church supplies to cover more goldfish snacks for the nursery. If that’s your idea of congregationalism—you’ve missed it.
When we read in Matthew 16, we hear the words of Jesus addressing an idea of church leadership responsibility as he references the “keys” of authority. Notice what Jesus said:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18-19).
Jesus later hands over the keys to the church, as we read in Matthew 18:15-20:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:15-20).
Notice in the first instance, he is speaking to the apostles. In the latter reference to keys, he is addressing the church. There is no reference to the office of elder or even apostles in the context of church discipline—hence the reason to call it “church” discipline rather than “pastor” discipline or “eldership” discipline. The responsibility of excommunication in the final stage of church discipline rests on the church as a whole.
Elders are called to lead in both oversight, shepherding, and visionary items, but the church has a responsibility by means of a covenant to care for one another and ultimately guard the church’s confession (doctrine) and membership (vote to receive members and excommunicate members). While the church can give over day-to-day operation decisions to the elders, there is still a responsibility of the church to guard and watch—often involving the non-authoritative deacon office to help manage the business of the church.
Vote to Send
This past Sunday, we heard the testimony of one of our pastors—David Crowe—regarding his heart to engage with a church plant that began last year in a nearby town. We have connections to this church through this brother, and we have prayed for this church work since it began. After bringing his desire to us as elders about six weeks ago and after prayer and discussion—we as elders gave our blessing on his desire to proceed forward.
A few weeks ago, in a prayer service with our church family on a Sunday evening, he made his desire known to the church family. After hearing a full report and rationale, we prayed for his family and our church that evening with the knowledge that one month later we would gather for the purpose of voting as a church to send he, his wife, and two little boys out from our church to engage in the work of church planting.
As we gathered together—we heard a summary report once again regarding the rationale, and then I led the church to vote. The vote was unanimous to send him out. As we raised our hands together as a church, in one sense we were voting to remove him from our church family—effective in January of 2020. It was a joyful release, one that we can celebrate together, yet one that brings about tears. David Crowe is a good brother, a strong asset on our pastoral staff, and he will be greatly missed. Church planting is not about sending people out from your church that you will not miss the week they’re gone, but it’s about sending out your best. In this case, while it was a joyful vote—it resulted in tears. The tears were both tears of joy and sadness.
Vote of Excommunication
As the meeting came to an end, as always, we have a line item on our agenda that reads, church discipline. Even when we are not engaging in any official church disciplinary situations, it remains as a fixed line item to remind our church family that we do practice church discipline—as directed by our Lord in Matthew 18:15-20.
As I moderated the meeting, I brought a full report regarding a specific member. His name was presented, although he was not present. His wife was present as our church gathered for the purpose of hearing the final summary of how we’ve arrived at this juncture. Through multiple private confrontations in specific connection with the biblical text, this man was warned, rebuked, and called to repentance—privately, with witnesses, and finally in our last membership meeting—he was presented before the church.
After giving the church an opportunity to do the work of the church and after giving him a few months to hear the church plead with him to repent through text messages, letters, phone calls, and personal meetings—we had to assemble for a conclusive vote. After a time of consideration and an opportunity to vote together as a church—I called for the church to vote. The church raised hands in another unanimous vote. It was not a joyful vote as was the previous one. It resulted in many tears.
We did not vote to excommunicate this man in order to smear his name. We had no sinful motives when we raised our hand. What we were doing was out of a broken heart—one where we had to agree that we have a lack of confidence in the genuineness of his conversion based on a perpetual pattern of unbroken sin. As Paul directed the church at Corinth regarding the man caught in sexual sin, we had to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). We voted to remove him as a member in order to guard the church’s purity and to continue to plead with the man to repent.
As members of all ages (some new members and some members who have been within our church for many years), we voted on two very specific membership items—they were polar opposites in many ways—one was joyful and the other sorrowful, yet they both resulted in a weeping church. A church must be willing to take the responsibility to send members out for purposes of church planting and to sever ties with members who persist in sin.
May the Lord do his work through both situations and may the Lord be glorified in both situations.