Coincidence? Respected fellow-blogger David Bolton (‘Christ-Centred Christianity’) has just commenced a teaching series on ‘Worship,’ simultaneous to our unpacking this vital subject in our local house church. He kindly referred me to T. Austin-Sparks’ (the British evangelist and author, 1888-1971) who stated that ‘Worship is the Critical Issue of the Universe!’ Austin-Sparks refers us to the Bible’s fascinating ‘final utterance’ on worship penned by the Apostle John in the Revelation 21:22 (‘The New Jerusalem’), ‘I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb’ (NRSV). The implications for our/the universe’s worship of God, our ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) and eschatology (doctrine of ‘The Last Things’) are earth-shaking: Christ is our temple on earth and in heaven, and his people, indwelt by his Spirit, are his ‘portable temples’ (Gr. naos = ‘shrine’) in the present world, individually and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16-17 & 6:19). Breath-taking!
(1) AN ESSENTIAL TRUTH FOR ALL TRUE WORSHIPERS…
Our chief calling in life is to worship the only true God! Matthew makes this abundantly clear in his record of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question regarding the greatest commandment: ‘”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This the greatest and first commandment…'” (Mt. 22:37-38). The godly A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) once remarked, ‘My ambition is to love God more than any of my generation!’ By the way, he defined worship thus: ‘to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.’ Even in his day Tozer was appalled by the superficial corporate ‘worship’ taking place in many churches – how much more we in this day of mega-churches and smaller versions in our egoistic ‘all about ME’ society!
Worship simply must become the focus of our life. We’re all aware of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy (!) him forever.’ The Church Father Augustine wrote, ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ In the ‘Good News According to Paul,’ i.e. his Roman Letter, the Apostle commences with mankind’s innate need to worship someone or something (Rom. 1:18-32). In a nutshell, God has made himself known to every human being: via his creation, humanity’s conscience and supremely through the revelation of his Son born into the world. However, down the ages, humankind has chosen not to honour God or give him thanks, exchanging the splendour of the immortal God for images of humans, birds, animals or reptiles… they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is to be praised forever!
Today still, people will exchange the liberty of Christ in worship for the bondage of religion and religious acts. It has been pointed out that one of the biggest problems facing the Church in the past and today is the externalizing of worship (cf. David Bolton’s latest blog), i.e. relegating worship to a particular time, place, ritual (e.g. the eating of/abstinence of certain foods), etc. In the 1960’s a genuine spiritual revival broke out in Kwazulu-Natal Province. There were conversions aplenty, healings, exorcisms, etc. I visited the Mission a number of times in its earlier years. But gradually, over the years, a hierarchical and legalistic structure overtook the life of Christ, even to the extent of persecuting those who left the group and sadly, reported instances of sexual abuse. I believe that another deception in our time has come via the Hebrew Roots Movement, obsessed with the Torah, Jewish ceremonies and diet, etc – I’ve mentioned this life-sapping heresy a number of times in recent years. Now we are not saying we can’t make use of Christian symbols, such as the Cross, in our worship. We are simply saying that worship is essentially an inward thing, a matter of mind and heart. If anybody made this abundantly clear it was Jesus himself in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, as recorded in Jn. 4:19-24: “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'” Madame Guyon (1648-1717) (dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church for ‘heresy’ and imprisoned by the King of France in her latter years) defined worship as essentially being about God’s holy and delightful presence: she wrote of this in a little poem, Content:
‘My Lord, how full of sweet content,
I pass my years of banishment!
Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,
In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea;
Whe’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,
In heav’n, in earth, or on the sea!’
In all this, let’s not neglect to appreciate how much our Almighty Father longs for our worship! ‘The Father seeks such to worship him…’ (see Jn. 4 above). Contemplating this, my mind went the Parable of the Prodigal Son (I prefer to call it ‘The Story of the Waiting Father’), in Lk. 15:11ff: “So he (the lost son) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him…” (v. 20). In our retirement village, two doors away, there is an elderly lady always on the look-out for her visiting daughter. I park my ancient SUV under a car-park tree in front of her cottage. Often, on hearing the sound of its rather noisy diesel engine, she’ll peep through her door or bedroom curtains – could it perhaps be her daughter’s car?? Coming back to the lost son, I can imagine the Father looking out for me and thinking to himself, ‘I wonder if Erroll’s coming to visit today? I wonder if he’ll make time today, just for me??’ And so he looks for your intimacy as well, on a daily basis, no matter where or what time or under what circumstances! Know that however faltering, it’s infinitely valued and enjoyed by our God and Father!
Until next time, d.v, for PART 2…