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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Evangelistic worship?

Earlier this week, Shaun Groves posted a link to a discussion on another blog about music in worship. These two questions were asked (among others):

Should we be more sensitive to the lyrics of the worship songs we use when our services are trying to connect with people who are unchurched? Is it possible to worship God while remaining sensitive to people who are not yet Christ-followers?

There is a lot of confusion on this subject. The best resource to answer this question is, not surprisingly, provided by Tim Keller in his paper "Evangelistic Worship" (PDF) (thanks to Steve McCoy for making this easy to find through his Tim Keller Resources page). It's not just about music, but about the entire worship service. Here's an excerpt from the section "Preach Grace":

The one message that both believers and unbelievers need to hear is that salvation and adoption are by grace alone. A worship service that focuses too much and too often on educating Christians in the details of theology will simply bore or confuse the unbelievers present...This does not mean we should not preach the whole counsel of God, but we must major on the "ABC's" of the Christian faith. If the response to this is "then Christians will be bored", it shows a misunderstanding of the gospel. The gospel of free, gracious justification and adoption is not just the way we enter the kingdom, but also the way we grow into the likeness of Christ. Titus 2:11-13 tells us how it is the original, saving message of "grace alone" that consequently leads us to sanctified living: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ." Many Christians are "defeated" and stagnant in their growth because they try to be holy for wrong motives. They say "no" to temptation by telling themselves "God will get me" or "people will find out" or "I'll hate myself in the morning" or "it will hurt my self-esteem" or "it will hurt other people" or "it's against the law--I'll be caught" or "it's against my principles" or "I will look bad." Some or all of these may be true, but Titus tells us they are inadequate. Only the grace of God, the logic of the gospel, will work. Titus says it "teaches" us, it argues with us.

Therefore, the one basic message that both Christians and unbelievers need to hear is the gospel of grace. It can then be applied to both groups, right on the spot and directly. Sermons which are basically moralistic will only be applicable to either Christians OR non-Christians. But Christo-centric preaching, preaching the gospel, both grows believers and challenges non-believers. If the Sunday service and sermon aim primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they’ll bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by grace they’ll both instruct insiders and challenge outsiders.

This is one of the reasons why I think churches should sing good hymns. They point to God's grace, which is our only hope to be set free from our self-obsession, our focus on what we do and what we're worth. As long as we define ourselves apart from grace, both Christians and those who aren't Christians will remain isolated from one another, politicizing each other rather than seeking to understand and even love one another. Grace takes the wind out of the sails we've sown for ourselves to make our lives work, and calls us to look to Jesus and the work he's accomplished instead.

If God's free grace given to us in Jesus isn't the focus of a worship service (the singing, the preaching, etc.), then "worship" is merely another worthless religious self-delusion.

There's so much more to be said about this subject-- what are your thoughts?

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