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This post originally appeared on Redeemer City to City.
Worship isn't just about honoring tradition or keeping up with culture, it's about attracting nonbelievers through comprehensible worship and leading those people to personal commitment.
The Worship Wars
One of the basic features of church life in the United States today is the proliferation of worship and music forms. This in turn has caused many severe conflicts within both individual congregations and whole denominations. Most books and articles about recent worship trends tend to fall into one of two broad categories. Contemporary worship (CW) advocates often make rather sweeping statements, such as “Pipe organs and choirs will never reach people today.” Historic worship (HW) advocates often speak similarly about how incorrigibly corrupt popular music and culture are and how they make contemporary worship completely unacceptable.
Bible, Tradition, and Culture
At this point, the reader will anticipate that I am about to unveil some grand “Third Way” between two extremes. Indeed, many posit a third approach called blended worship. But it is not so simple as that. My major concern is that both sides are equally simplistic in the process by which they shape their worship. CW advocates consult the Bible and contemporary culture, while HW advocates consult the Bible and historic tradition. But we forge worship best when we consult the Bible, the cultural context of our community, and the historic tradition of our church. The result of this more complex process will not be simply a single, third middle way.
The only way to have non-Christians in attendance is through personal invitation by Christians.
The Bible simply does not give us enough details to shape an entire worship service. When the Bible calls us to sing God’s praises, we are not given the tunes or the rhythm. We are not told how repetitive the lyrics are to be or how emotionally intense the singing should be. When we are commanded to do corporate prayer, we are not told whether those prayers should be written, spoken in unison, or extemporaneous. So to give any concrete form to our worship, we must fill in the blanks that the Bible leaves open. When we do so, we will have to draw on tradition, the needs, capacities, and cultural sensibilities of our people, and our own personal preferences. Though we cannot avoid drawing on our own preferences, they should never be the driving force (cf. Rom. 15:1–3). But if we fail to do the hard work of consulting both tradition and culture, we will—wittingly or unwittingly—choose music just to please ourselves.
3 Practical Tasks
2. GETTING UNBELIEVERS INTO WORSHIP
The numbering is not a mistake. This task actually comes second, but nearly everyone thinks it comes first! It is natural to believe that non-Christians must get into worship before “doxological evangelism” can begin. But the reverse is the case. Non-Christians do not get invited into worship unless the worship is already evangelistic. The only way to have non-Christians in attendance is through personal invitation by Christians.
1. MAKING WORSHIP COMPREHENSIBLE TO UNBELIEVERS
Our purpose is not to make unbelievers comfortable. (In 1 Corinthians 14:24–25 or Acts 2:12, 37, they are cut to the heart!) We aim to be intelligible to them. We must address their heart secrets (1 Cor. 14:25). That means we must remember what it is like to not believe; we must remember what an unbelieving heart is like.
3. LEADING TO COMMITMENT
Our experience at Redeemer has shown that unbelievers in worship actually “close with Christ” in two basic ways. Some may come to Christ during the service itself (1 Cor. 14:24-25); others must be followed up very specifically.
Copyright © 2001 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City.
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