Going to church in 21st century Australia is almost like choosing different types of fast food.
Consider the array of choices we have available when it comes to fast food
- McDonalds, Burger King and Hungry Jacks cornering the burger market,
KFC and Red Rooster fight the chicken war,
and Subway seems alone in providing a healthy but tasty alternative.
Then add to this all the different take-aways and restaurants that are available to us.
Now start thinking about
In one corner we have the Catholic, Orthodox and Traditional Anglican churches.
These churches offer a tight liturgical format,
focusing upon the Eucharist (the Lord's Supper) as the central part of their worship.
In another corner we have the various charismatic and Pentecostal churches.
These churches have contemporary worship songs as the central part of their worship.
In yet another corner we have churches with a huge focus upon social welfare.
Helping the poor, the abused and the lonely is their central act of worship.
- such an activity is typical of many and Salvation Army and Uniting Churches.
And of course there are the evangelical churches,
which focus upon the preaching of the gospel as the central part of worship.
With so many choices available, church is like choosing your favourite brand of fast food.
And the difference between these churches is determined
by their various styles and understandings of worship.
So what is the centre of worship?
Is it the Eucharist - the Lord's Supper?
Is it heartfelt singing of worship songs?
Is it in helping people with needs?
Or is it simply learning from the Bible?
Maybe all alternatives are acceptable?
In his book "Engaging with God", David Peterson,
a former lecturer at Moore College in Sydney,
says this about Worship:
Worship is the supreme and only indispensable activity of the Christian Church. It alone will endure, like the love for God which it expresses, into heaven, when all other activities of the church will have passed away. It must, therefore, even more strictly than any of the less essential doings of the church, come under the criticism and control of the revelation on which the church is founded.
Like anything we do in church,
our understanding and practice of worship must be determined by
what God has decreed in the Bible.
This passage we're looking at from 1 John gives us some very specific guidelines about what worship is about.
It's not an exhaustive treatment of the subject,
but it does give us the essentials.
What I'm hoping you'll discover as we study this passage
is that there are essentials to worship which cannot be put aside by any person or church.
When it comes to worship,
there are areas of right and wrong
- there are right ways to worship
and wrong ways to worship.
But I'm also hoping that you'll discover something else:
that within these strict guidelines that God has given to us,
there is considerable freedom in worship.
As you can see I have two main points that I want to make today.
The first concerns the basis of worship - that is, the basic reason why we should worship God.
The second point concerns the expressions on worship - how worship should be conducted.
Let's move onto the first point - The Basis of Worship.
1. The Basis of Worship
Let me read to you again verses 9 and 10 of 1 John 4:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Usually when I look at a passage I go through it from one verse to the next,
but today I'll be looking at a bunch of verses together as themes.
On your outlines you'll notice there's a number of sub-points that sit together under the main points.
(4.10 God's love for us)
When we think of God, it is easy to think of him as a reactive God
- that is, he only operates or works when people want him to or ask him to.
Now obviously there's an element of truth to this,
but God is much more than a divine stimulus response.
Take creation for example.
God is the maker of the entire universe,
but did it require our consent in order for us to be created?
Did God ever bother to ask us if we wanted to be created?
Of course not,
he made us because he wanted to,
not because we asked him to.
The same can be said for God's love.
God doesn't love us because we love him.
John says "This is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us".
We need to remember that God's love for us stems not from anything lovable or valuable in ourselves, but from his divine character.
That is, God loves us because it is in God's nature to love us.
Don't for a minute think that we somehow deserve God's love,
as though somehow we can boost our self esteem by thinking "well, I must be valuable because God loves me!".
No. God loves us because it is built into him
- it is an essential part of his nature.
The love stems not from the character of the person being loved,
but by the one who loves that person.
When we gather together to worship God,
are we doing so because we want him to loves us,
or are we doing so because we know that he loves us?
True worship occurs when those who worship God acknowledge that God loves them.
Worship without knowledge of God's love is hollow and misinformed.
God wants us to know that he loves us.
But there's more.
Many Christians believe that worship is an expression of love and dedication to God.
Now this is correct, but it's not entirely true.
Worship must begin with the knowledge that God loves us and is dedicated to us.
There are people who believe that worship is simply loving and praising God.
But that sort of belief is very narrow.
It means there is a focus upon our acts of love towards God
rather than upon God's loving acts towards us.
Worship is a two-way street.
God is involved in our worship.
More than that, God is the one who initiates it.
He is the one who has acted to love us first.
Our love and praise of God can only be understood in that context.
When we worship, God is the central focus.
We worship God and God only.
But when we do so, we acknowledge that he acted to love us first.
And of course, this love finds its focus in our salvation.
We need to understand,
even though it may seem confusing,
that it is God who acts to save us.
Our entire salvation depends upon God's actions, not ours.
We might think that we have some choice over whether we become a Christian or not,
but, in the end, it is actually God's choice.
You see, God loved us first.
(4.9 God sending his only Son)
So. God loves us.
Most people find the idea of God loving them almost insulting.
"How can God love me?" they ask
"If God loves me why do I suffer so much?
What has God given me?".
Christmas comes only once per year,
and in many households a Christmas tree is put up in the living room
and presents are put underneath it.
I remember as a child peeking behind the Christmas tree in the corner,
long after Christmas was over,
only to find some present that had not been given out.
Usually it was for some distant relative,
but considering the amount of presents people give these days,
it's possible that sometimes presents are left behind the tree for weeks without being opened.
The gift is there,
but the receiver is ignorant of it.
Unfortunately, most of our society today is like that with God.
God's love is freely available to all,
but very few know what it means.
Look at verse 9.
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world".
Jesus is the expression of God's love.
Jesus is the focus of God's love.
If we want to understand how much God loves us,
we must always be focused on his Son.
In the Old Testament,
the focus of worship was upon God,
but it was expressed through the person and work of the priest.
The Israelite would come to the temple and offer various sacrifices for sin or thanksgiving
- but these sacrifices were not made by the Israelite,
but by the priest.
The idea was that the priest acted as an intermediary between God and God's people.
He was God's representative to God's people,
and he was the people's representative to God.
It was through the work of the priest that Israel's worship was based on.
They worshipped God,
but they could only do this through a special person that God had appointed
- the priest.
In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that
the priest was simply a shadow of what was to come - Jesus.
Jesus is God's high priest.
Jesus is both God and man,
which means that he acts an intermediary
- he is God's representative to us,
and he is our representative to God.
It is because God loves us that he sent Jesus to us.
And because our focus in worship is upon God,
then the expression of our worship must be upon the person and work of the priest that God has sent to us.
Who is this priest?
It is Jesus.
More than that - it is only Jesus.
Within the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox Churches there has arisen a belief that the priesthood continues today,
and that God has chosen and set apart these people to act as special intermediaries.
This belief has no Biblical backing,
and was rightly criticized during the Reformation in the 16th century.
What does this mean for us today?
It means, firstly, that the person and work of Jesus has a central place in our worship of God.
Worship that does not have Christ as its focus is not true worship.
Worship that does not include an understanding of Christ's work on earth is not true worship.
It doesn't matter how sincere a person may be,
or how emotional they are
or how "close to God" they might feel,
if worship does not include at its centre the person and work of Christ then it is not true worship.
What else does it mean?
It means, secondly, that our worship is not dependent upon where we meet,
nor upon who leads the worship.
In the Old Testament the Temple was the only place where people could offer worship to God,
but in the New Testament it is clear that Jesus is God's Temple.
In the early church, most churches met in people's houses.
These days we have purpose built structures, but this should never limit our understanding of worship.
Meeting in a place like this is fine, but so is meeting in a school hall, or someone's loungeroom.
We need to move away from medieval ideas about churches being specially holy.
There is no holy temple for God's people
- except the Temple that is Christ's body.
Now because our worship has Christ at its centre,
and because of his activities as our high priest,
then our worship need not require the presence of a professional or specially ordained minister to make it authentic.
I'm not demeaning the role of the professional minister
- I think it's important for a healthy church
- but it is not an essential element of worship.
We can worship God effectively without a professional minister.
It is because the man that God places before us to act as his servant and intermediary is not the minister.
It's not John Seaton, it's not Gavin Hyslop,
it's not any of the Elders,
it's not Neil Cameron.
It's Jesus Christ.
(4.10 Jesus the atoning sacrifice for our sins)
So the person of Christ is central to our worship.
Now what does that mean exactly?
What does it mean that Christ is central?
Look back at verse 10
"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins".
If Christ as a person is central to our worship,
then so is his ultimate mission on earth.
Christ came to die on the cross.
He died as a substitute for our sins.
He died in our place
- by dying upon the cross he took upon himself the anger and wrath of God.
Let's get back to the idea of the Priest.
In the Old Testament the priest offered the sin sacrifice to God for the people of Israel.
The idea was that by shedding the blood of certain types of animals, people's sins would be atoned for
- that is, that the death of the animal would act as a substitute for God's anger and judgement.
The animals die,
God's anger at sin is accomplished
and the people are forgiven.
But the people could not offer any sacrifice themselves
- the sacrifice had to be made by the priest.
The amazing thing about Jesus is that he fulfils the role of both the priest and the sacrifice.
When Jesus died on the cross,
he was the sin sacrifice that ensured that God's anger at sin would be accomplished,
and God's people are forgiven.
Now all this may sound quite familiar.
And to some it may even sound a little bit too theological.
But look at verse 9 again quickly.
"He sent his one and only Son into the world".
Just look at that phrase "his one and only Son".
What does that mean?
Put simply, it means that Jesus is the only Son of the Father.
The Father has no other child like Jesus.
Jesus is God's only child.
Now I have one child - Aiden.
He is my only son.
Am I willing to sacrifice the life of my only son for anyone here?
Sorry to break this to you all, but no way!
My son is important to me, and I'm not going to sacrifice his life for anyone.
And yet this is what God is doing for us.
He loves us so much that he sent his one and only son into the world.
He sent his son so that he would suffer and die a horrible death
so that we could have eternal life.
(4.9 New life through the Son)
Again, verse 9 says "He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him".
What does it mean that "we might live through him"?
John often speaks of the phrase "born of God",
or "born of the Spirit",
or "born from above",
which can sometimes be translated as "born again".
In Chapter 5 verse 12, John says
"He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life".
You see that fact is that while God loves us and has provided Jesus for us,
and has provided him as a sin sacrifice for us,
there are many who do not know the Son of God
- there are many who are not born from God.
And these people do not have the gracious gift of eternal life given to us by God through Jesus.
You have all heard of the phrase "born again Christian".
It's a phrase that many people know but few understand.
I have taught in a number of Catholic Schools,
and on the odd occasion I get to talk about religious issues
- obviously being a Protestant some kids want to know what I believe.
One day a student asked me in class
"Sir, what sort of Christian are you?".
So I said "have you heard of the term 'born again Christian'?"
"Yes" said one student
"isn't that all about reincarnation?".
To be a Christian you must be born again.
This refers to a spiritual rebirth.
It involves a turning away from your life of sin and a turning towards Jesus.
It means repenting of your sins,
placing your trust in Jesus to forgive you,
and committing your life to be his servant.
When this occurs you are born again,
you have your sins forgiven,
and you have the assurance of eternal life.
For some people, being born again can be a well defined moment.
I believe that I became a Christian on August 28th 1982
as I prayed through a prayer of commitment from a Christian tract.
Other people experience it as a process.
I know of one woman who cannot be sure of when she became a Christian,
but over a period of many months she became convinced of the gospel
and was born again.
Still other people have never known a time when they weren't Christians
- these are people who have been brought up in Christian families.
They have been born again,
but they can't remember any time during their lives when they were not a Christian.
What is it about Jesus that gives us new life?
One verse I quote often when preaching is from 1 Peter 1 verse 3.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Christ's death provides the atonement for our sins,
but it is his resurrection that provides us with new birth.
True worship is one which acknowledges the new life that God has given to us,
and acknowledges that we must repent of our sins,
believe in the forgiveness that Christ offers us,
and commit our lives to being his servant.
So let me summarise everything I've said so far about the basis of worship:
1) True worship recognises that God loves us.
It recognises that God loved us first.
It recognises that the starting point for worship is not our acts of love towards God,
but God's acts of love towards us.
2) True worship recognises that God sent his only Son to us.
It recognises that the person of Christ is central to our understanding and practice of worship.
It recognises that any worship which does not contain Christ is not true worship.
3) True worship recognises that the work of Jesus Christ was to die on the cross for our sins.
It recognises that forgiveness for sins is found only in God's gracious act of providing Jesus as a sin sacrifice.
It recognises that that any worship which is not focused upon Jesus as our saviour is not true worship.
4) True worship recognises that belief in the Son brings new life.
It recognises that only those who repent of their sins,
trust in Jesus for forgiveness
and commit their lives to his service are those who have new life.
Well, that is the basis of worship.
But how does all that translate into our practice of worship?
How is our expression of worship determined by these important factors?
My second point is "The Expression of Worship".
2. The Expression of Worship
As you can see there on your outlines, I have a number of different areas of application that need to be discussed.
Before I start on this, however, I need to point out that our focus today will be primarily upon the gathering of the church as God's people.
In other words, what we do in church.
We can't forget that our worship of God goes beyond our Sunday meetings,
nor can we forget that worship has both an individual and corporate component.
This means that the next time I'm up here preaching,
I'll be preaching from the same passage but with a slightly different message
- I'll still be looking at worship,
but looking at it in a more wholistic way
rather than just simply focusing upon our Sunday meetings, as I am doing today.
So, what sort of things do we do in church?
One of the most obvious things we do is prayer.
When I was a younger Christian,
I was taught a method of praying called ACTS
- and you can see it there on your outlines.
ACTS - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
When we pray at church, all four of those elements must be present
- not necessarily in that order, but present nevertheless.
Adoration focuses upon God's attributes.
It is when we praise God for his character.
We praise him for his love, for his justice, for his purity and perfection
We praise him that he knows all things, that he has all power, and that he is always present and with us.
Confession is when we look at ourselves in the light of God's glory,
and recognise our sinfulness.
We may repent of specific sins,
or we may simply acknowledge our shortcomings.
Thanksgiving is when we praise and thank God for his grace to us
- we thank him for Jesus,
we thank him for our salvation,
we thank him for his Holy Spirit.
But we also thank him for healing us when we are sick,
or for keeping us safe in times of trouble,
or in any instance where we recognise God's goodness to us.
Supplication is when we ask God to do things
- when we ask him to heal people,
to grow his church,
to bring peace to our world,
to help our pastors and elders to teach us correctly.
We must always be ready to ask God to do things and to help us.
The reason why ACTS prayer is so good is because it covers all of the types of prayers we find in the Bible.
It therefore stands to reason that we should include them in our corporate worship together when we meet.
But we pray these prayers because God loves us
and because he sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins
so we can have new life through Christ.
We can pray to God because nothing cuts us off from God anymore
- our sin has been dealt with through Christ.
We can pray not because we love God,
but because he first loved us.
So that was prayer.
What about singing?
Singing is very similar in that in song we are praising God and praying to him.
The Psalms give us an indication that songs of praise were set to musical instruments,
which suggests that all sorts and varieties of instruments were played.
We use an organ and that's fine.
Some churches use electric guitars and drums, and that is fine too.
The style of musical instrument is not as important so much as what is being sung by the congregation,
and that is what is so valuable about the Psalms
- they are songs that praise God's character and how he deals with his people.
In Colossians 3, verse 16, Paul says:
Let the Word of God dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God
This is a very important verse.
First of all it talks about singing Hymns and Songs that exist outside the Psalms,
which means that we as the church have freedom to create our own hymns and songs of praise.
Secondly, though, there is the rule that singing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs is based on the idea of "letting the word of God dwell in us richly".
This means we can't sing just anything to God
- what we sing must be subject to Biblical teaching,
it must glorify God,
and it must express the means by which we come to God
- namely, it must express the message of the gospel.
One way I describe much of modern Worship music from Charismatic or Pentecostal writers is that it is very "hit and miss".
There are some songs they write which are wonderful,
but many songs they write which seem to miss the point entirely.
Too many modern worship songs focus upon our loving reaction to God,
rather than upon God's gracious acts of love towards us.
In fact one modern Christian song I've heard is a love song to Jesus,
but the language that is used is the same used in secular love songs.
1This particular song is also seriously flawed because Jesus isn't actually mentioned by name,
nor is God
- there is nothing in the song that suggests that they are singing to Jesus.
If we are to let God's word dwell in us richly as we sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual songs,
then we have to always remember that all songs that praise God focus upon
the declaration of his character and his actions towards us.
The gospel message,
the message of Christ's death,
must saturate all the songs we sing.
Prayer, Singing. Now let's look at listening.
We need to remember that worship is not something we do for God,
it is something which we and God are involved in together.
God is present in our worship as the Holy Spirit,
and it is the Holy Spirit who has written God's word so we can understand what God wants.
1We have to listen to God,
which is why the reading and teaching of Scripture has a central place in our worship.
Too many Christians seem to think that "Worship" and "Teaching" are two different things - they're not.
God's word needs to be read and taught as an integral part of our public worship together.
Let me tell you the story of Eden Baptist Church at Cambridge University in England.
Eden Baptist is a church with a long tradition of standing on God's word.
They have a long tradition as a reformed and evangelical congregation.
But during the mid 1960s the church had shrunk to about 25-30 people.
Up until then, the preaching at the church had been based upon only one or two verses of scripture
and the message that was preached was only loosely related to those verses.
The church had shrunk and the pastor eventually retired.
A new pastor was sought.
One Elder commented "This new pastor may be our last".
They chose a young man named David Smith.
David Smith was fresh out of Bible College,
and introduced the church to expository preaching.
Now what sort of preaching is that?
It is when the preacher preaches through sections of scripture systematically.
This preaching style ensures that its listeners are taken through books of the Bible over a period of time.
David Smith was at the church for about 11 years,
and in that time it grew - not spectacularly, but steadily.
David Smith eventually left for the mission field in 1976,
but by then the church had matured
and chose another pastor who was committed to preaching from the Bible.
Since then Eden Baptist Church has had a tradition of good Biblical exposition,
and, from what I could work out from their web site,
their membership is now well over 1000 people.
God blessed the preaching of David Smith at Eden Baptist Church because he was committed to the reading and teaching of scripture as an integral part of corporate worship.
Now think back just a few years to when Kirk and Lisa joined us.
Charlestown Presbyterian had shrunk just maybe around 20-25 regular attenders.
Kirk and Lisa did many great things,
but one important thing they introduced was expository preaching.
Kirk and Lisa have left us, but our church has continued to be committed to expounding scripture.
And what has happened?
God has blessed us with growth
- spiritual growth and numerical growth.
In Isaiah 55.11, it says that when God's word goes out from his mouth, it will not return empty, and it will accomplish what God desires.
Let me finish up.
Well, has anything I've said today radically changed your understanding of how our church should run its worship services?
When we gather together as God's people to worship him,
we do so not because we love God, but because he loves us.
God's love is communicated to us in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ,
who died for our sins and rose again to bring us new life.
When we gather together to worship God
we do so to declare God's greatness and love,
and we do this by giving the message of the gospel a central focus in our praying,
in our singing
and in our teaching from God's word.
True worship is based upon God's saving love for us
through the death and resurrection of Christ.
May we never forget the gospel when we come to worship God.
We thank you, Heavenly Father, for loving us. Thank you that you have created us in your image, and recreated us through your living Word, Jesus Christ. Help us to always have the message of the gospel before us in everything we do, but especially when we come together as your people to worship you. We thank you for everything you have done for us - for our salvation and the assurance of eternal life. Amen.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.