Dear Church Family,
In our sermon this past Sunday from Hebrews 12:18-29, we considered the importance of worship – the importance of showing gratitude by offering to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29). In the sermon, I recommended the book With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by D.G. Hart and John Muether. Here is a portion of what I shared on Sunday from that book:
…reverence is not obviously attractive or appealing. It is hard and uncomfortable. It doesn’t create a relaxed or welcoming atmosphere. Above all it is not celebrative as that word has come to be used. Reverent worship is not an effective way of persuading the world that Christians are capable of having a good time. That is because modern culture cannot see God as frightening. So seeker-sensitive worship has replaced a consuming fire with an affirming and empowering God, one who accepts whatever we do. It has substituted the meeting of felt needs for the demands of his law. (128)
If you’re interested in further reading on the topic and importance of worship, here are some additional resources that I recommend:
(1) With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by D.G. Hart and John Muether
- From the back cover: “Drawing on Scripture and Reformed confessions and catechisms, the authors answer such questions as these: When are we to worship? How does the regulative principle guide our worship? How does the dialogical principle shape our worship? How do we worship with reverence and joy? What is the place of the means of grace? How do the elements of worship differ from the circumstances? And finally, the authors tackle ‘the most divisive issue,’ music.
- This is a short booklet that is available on our church’s website for free download (in pdf or Kindle format). It speaks specifically to why we worship the way we do at our church. It also contains detailed examinations concerning the biblical and theological basis for the elements of our worship service. Relatively short and intended to be an easily accessible resource for better understanding our worship service at our church.
(3) Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship edited by Philip Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Ligon Duncan III.
- This is my go-to book to recommend to people who wish to understand Reformed and Presbyterian Worship. It contains eighteen chapters written by different authors that cover topics such as the Bible and Worship, Elements of Biblical Worship, Preparing for Biblical Worship, and Worship, History, and Culture.
(4) Leading in Worship by Terry Johnson
- Primarily a resource for those who plan and lead worship, this book is a helpful guide from which I have greatly benefitted.
- This book is more of a theology of worship about how worship shapes both the community of the church and individual Christians.
The author of this last book emphasizes the other-worldliness of worship, and reminds us of what worship of our Triune God is truly about. Also, it is in keeping with the theme of our sermon from this past Sunday and how in our worship, the world is eclipsed as we come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. So, let me conclude this list of recommendations with a quotation from the opening chapter of Marva Dawn’s book:
To worship the LORD is – in the world’s eyes – a waste of time. It is, indeed, a royal waste of time, but a waste nonetheless. By engaging in it, we don’t accomplish anything useful in our society’s terms.
Worship ought not to be construed in a utilitarian way. Its purpose is not to gain numbers nor for our churches to be seen as successful. Rather, the entire reason for our worship is that God deserves it. Moreover, it isn’t even useful for earning points with God, for what we do in worship won’t change one whit how God feels about us. We will always still be helpless sinners caught in our endless inability to be what we should be or to make ourselves better – and God will always still be merciful, compassionate, and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and ready to forgive us as we come to him.
Worship is a royal waste of time, but indeed it is royal, for it immerses us in the regal splendor of the King of the cosmos. The churches’ worship provides opportunities for us to enjoy God’s presence in corporate ways that take us out of time and into the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom. As a result, we shall be changed - but not because of anything we do. God, on whom we are centered and to whom we submit, will transform us by his Revelation of himself.
To understand worship as a royal waste of time is good for us because that frees us to enter into the poverty of Christ. We worship a triune God who chose to rescue the world he created by means of the way of humility. God sent his Son into the world to empty himself in the obedience of a slave, humbling himself to suffer throughout his entire life and to die the worst of deaths on our behalf. He did not come to be ‘solving the world’s problems in any sense that the world could understand.’ Worship of such a God immerses us in such a way of life, empowered by a Spirit who does not equip us with means of power or control, accomplishment or success, but with the ability and humility to waste time in love of the neighbor. (1-2)
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch