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Perfect Worship

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church 
 

           I am often asked the question, “How would you describe the worship of your church?”  In answering, I feel pressure to characterize our services in terms of our Christian “labels” for worship – “traditional” / “contemporary”, “liturgical / casual”, “high church / low church”, etc.  But I find that those labels mostly miss the point of what we’re striving for in our worship.  It’s kind of like describing my wife to you by talking about the clothes that she wears – an exhaustive knowledge of her wardrobe would give you very little information about the wonderful person that she is.

            Here are some of the labels that I would like to use to describe the kind of worship that we are striving to experience at Oakwood:  Biblical, Christ-centered, Passionate, and Authentic.  These adjectives describe the goals that our leadership is working towards.  We have haven’t fully arrived, but we’re committed to pursuing them until Christ returns to make it all perfect.

            First of all, we strive to be Biblical in our worship.  Jesus said that true worship is “in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).  Worship happens when Spirit-filled believers are confronted with a revelation of God’s glory and they bow in awe, humility, joy, and thankfulness.  God reveals His glory to us in His Word, so our services must be filled with Scripture.  When we read Scripture, pray Scripture, sing Scripture, and hear Scripture explained, we receive glimpses of God’s glory that provoke our responses of worship. 

            In light of this, when people ask what we sing in our services, I find the terms “hymns”, “Scripture songs”, and “praise songs” to be mostly unhelpful distinctions.  I don’t really care whether a worship song was written in 100 AD, 800 AD, 1600 AD, or 2010 AD – what’s important is whether or not the content is thoroughly Biblical and well-expressed.

            Secondly, we strive to be Christ-centered in our worship.  In a sense, this is just a restatement of our first goal, because our Lord taught us that all Scripture is about Him (Luke 24:27).  But we must clearly and enthusiastically point out and make clear how each portion of Scripture is about Jesus Christ.  This is essential, because, as Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…”  Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s glory, so therefore He is to be the focus of our worship.

            Thirdly, we strive to be passionate in our worship.  True worship must be an exercise of both the mind and the heart (our affections).  Jesus condemned the hypocritical worship of the Pharisees with these words:  “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me…”  In other words, the words that they sang and prayed were Scriptural, but their hearts were not engaged.  Worship that doesn’t involve the emotions of joy, longing, grief, contrition, awe, or gratitude is not true worship.  The commands of God’s Word to worship address our minds our minds and hearts – “Delight yourselves in the Lord!” (Psalm 37:4).  Worship must involve both our intelligence and our passions.

            Finally, we strive to be authentic in our worship.  We need to be open and honest before the Lord and before each other, leaving our masks outside the door of the church.  We need to develop a sense of acceptance and freedom where everyone feels comfortable expressing their praises to God in a manner consistent with who they are and how they relate to others. 

            I often hear people say that they wish that people would be more vocal and expressive in our worship services (we are Presbyterians, after all!).  Generally, I agree; we are culturally inhibited in our expression of worship – there is strong “peer pressure” in our church to stand stiff and unsmiling as we sing and pray.  But I’m usually quick to point out that we wouldn’t want to go to the other extreme by creating a “peer pressure” to jump, shout, and dance throughout the service (not that we’re in any danger of that in this millennium).  What we should be striving for is an accepting worship environment where quiet and introspective worshippers feel comfortable expressing themselves with subtlety and where loud and boisterous worshippers feel comfortable shouting, raising hands, and even dancing a little jig when the Spirit moves them.  We need to be real before God and each other. 

            So there you have it – at Oakwood we long for worship that is Biblical, Christ-centered, passionate, and authentic.  Have we made progress toward those goals?  Absolutely!  Do we still have a long way to go?  Oh, yes!  But just like perfect righteousness, perfect worship must be our constant goal and our sure destination, thanks to the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ!

 
Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Church & State Responsibilities

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ASK THE PASTOR WITH DAN KIEHL,
Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “What about the ‘separation of church and state’? What does the Bible teach about the role of the Church in relation to the State?”

ANSWER: There is no way to answer this question in a few paragraphs, but I’ll try to set out a couple of key principles. First of all, it is true that the Church and the state are separate entities established by God for different purposes. History is full of wrong-headed and tragic attempts to create a hybrid church /state, where ecclesiastical and civil authority are mixed and confused.

However, even though God created the church and state with separate responsibilities and spheres of responsibility, He didn’t ever intend for them to operate in total isolation from each other. They have a very important connection to each other – they were built upon the same foundation, the Word and authority of God Himself. Paul teaches in Romans 13, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” When Pilate boasted of his authority to Jesus, our Lord replied, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” This is an important point – whether those in civil government recognize it or not, their position and authority come from God, and they are accountable to him for how they use it.

The idea of a “neutral” state, which is immune from any religious influence, is not only foreign to Scripture, it is also logically impossible. Is murder wrong? Is stealing wrong? Is abortion the taking of a human life? Is assisted-suicide a legitimate option for suffering elderly people? Is a committed relationship between two men or two women a legitimate marriage? These are decisions which can only be made based upon a religious worldview. The question isn’t whether or not a government official should be influenced by his religious views or not; the question is, which religious views are influencing his decisions?

America is not a theocracy, and I don’t believe that it is God’s intent to establish a theocracy like Old Testament Israel in this age. However, God does still hold all human governments accountable for their decisions and actions, judging them by the standards of His holy and perfect law. In Romans 13, Paul says that a governing official is “God’s servant to do you good…He is God’s servant, and agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Civil government is given “the power of the sword” to punish lawbreakers, protect against enemy aggressors, to restrain wickedness and provide order in society. But how should our society define “lawbreaking”, “enemies”, “wickedness”, and “order”? These are fundamentally moral and religious questions.

This brings us to role of the Church in relation to the state. Again, even though there are no Israel-like theocracies today, I still believe that the basic principle of church / state relations is embodied in the structure of Old Testament Israel. The three authorities in Israel were embodied in the prophets, priests, and kings. The Kings wielded the power of the sword in punishment and protection, while the priests oversaw the ceremonial system of worship and religious instruction. The prophets were the means by which God communicated truth to the King and the people. This is well illustrated by the crucial relationship between the prophets and King David. The prophets were the spokesmen and interpreters of God’s will for the King, whether it was in his personal life (i.e., condemnation of his adultery with Bathsheba) or in his public office (condemnation of his decision to number his troops) (Cf., also John the Baptist’s denunciations of King Herod).

So how does all of this apply to a 21st century democracy like the U.S. of A.? Even though many of the laws in Scripture applied uniquely to Old Testament Israel or to the Church, the rest of God’s laws form the basic principles by which any government should carry out its responsibilities. The fact that no government on earth is listening doesn’t change the fact that they are still accountable to God and to his standards. And the Church continues to bear the responsibility of being “the prophetic voice to the king”, speaking the truth in love. How else could the civil authorities know the will of God? The church has no power or authority of the sword from God to force government officials (or anyone else) to comply with God’s will; our job is only to proclaim the truth, and then trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and society. And we are blessed to live in a country where we still have multiple means of expressing God’s truth to those who govern us.