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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