The piece translated below is from a post on the Weixin (WeChat) page of the Beijing Gospel Church, one of the city’s more prominent house churches. The writer is sharing his thoughts on the nature of worship in the church.
As the church in China continues to grow and develop, an issue that it increasingly has to deal with is that of music and worship. In other words, the “worship wars” which are so prevalent in the West, particularly in the United States, are coming to China.
The writer argues that the heart of the issue is the purpose and motivation of worship, rather than whether the music is modern or traditional. He clearly favors a more orderly style (as opposed to a style based on emotionalism) and tries to show how this is the Biblical style of worship.
Worship and Culture
Our worship is continually influenced by the culture around us. However, we need to be mindful of the fact that culture is not neutral since behind every culture lies a particular worldview. This is something we need to keep in mind when we worship God. In addition, there should be some discretion in one’s own method of worship.
What Is Worship?
Is worship simply a certain type of ceremony? Certainly worship has a ceremonial element to it; however it is not ceremony. I believe that many people mistakenly misunderstand the fundamental lesson of the book of Leviticus. Worship is “God’s predestined means of communing with God.” This means we are really communing with God and worship is a means of journeying together with God. We are all sinners, so if we want to journey together with our pure and holy God, we need to learn how to be pure and holy. We also need to learn how to commune with God in the manner he instructed; this is the nature of true worship!
The Primary Principles of Worship
The most important point to keep in mind when discussing worship is that it is “by God’s methods, not by one’s own methods.” We need to examine our hearts and motivations.
Let’s look at David and Solomon in the Old Testament. Their worship was solemn and orderly, from the call to worship to the confession of sin, then praise, and finally offering prayer to God. Contrast that with Jeroboam, who used his own methods to create his own altar of worship, an act that God regarded as wicked. Up until the time of Ezra, worship became more and more formalized. How could God, who was monitoring the hearts of the people, tolerate this? Ezekiel also said the people offered deformed and crippled sacrifices to God, which was sinning against God.
So, how do we worship today? Already we are seeing a change in the understanding of the purpose of worship. Some look upon worship as a means of attracting those who are not yet believers, using music and songs to express their emotions. This diverts the worshiper’s attention from God to his own feelings, with the result being that they may think that what is good and spiritual is merely expressing their inner thoughts and feelings. For example, some people are opposed to preparing the congregational prayer ahead of time. They believe that expressing one’s own heart according to the situation is more spiritual. In fact, this denies the penchant of our original sin because the Bible clearly tells us that we are already completely contaminated by sin. What the depths of our hearts enjoy the most, what our hearts truly bring out is not at all what pleases God. I believe we really need to repent of this shift in direction of worship.
This shows how important order (God’s way) and a spirit of honesty (motivation) are to worship (communing with God). We need to reflect on whom we are focusing. Too often we will focus on our own experience, on what emotionally moves us. But in this case then, whom are we really worshiping? To put it bluntly, worship is about God, and therefore we should focus more on God’s experience. We should care more about how God receives our deficiency to glorify Him, rather than whether worship is “traditional” or “modern.”
What Should Be the Center of Attention for Those Who Lead Worship?
There are many church workers who focus their attention on the part of the process that allows for actual worship to take place. This includes how to specifically differentiate between different types of worship forms; how the worship leader should prepare; how to communicate with the pianist; what should the middle intercessory prayer be like; and how to prepare segues that lead into the song.
The point I would like to make is that it is too early to be asking these questions. That’s because we haven’t yet addressed the issue of motivation, which has already begun the shift towards becoming utilitarian and outcome-oriented. So there are still fundamental issues with our worship at the present time which are the source of the lack of unity and chaos. Our worship is a reflection of our faith. We need to look first at the foundation of our faith, and that is where the reform must take place. It’s hard to acknowledge this. We would rather carry on, thinking that what we lack is skill, when what we really lack is a heart for God. We think that all we need is to study and improve our skills and everything will be fine. The question I have is this: if we are for God, why do we continue to ignore the order that God cares about? Why do we ignore the true meaning of worship? Why do we complain that the songs are not emotionally moving enough? If, after reading this paragraph, you still want to ask, “Well, then how exactly does it work?” then please read on to the next paragraph.
This is not only a matter of worship; I believe that in many aspects of service there are problems related to worship. Many co-workers simply want to focus on being effective, as if saying, “We don’t want to hear about some starting point; we all know that. Just tell us how to do it.” But that is the heart of the matter. It is precisely because we are not wholly devoted to God that we do not know how to do it!
I think many workers have a lot of experience preaching, leading small groups, or leading worship. If they pay more attention to the response from the congregation or group members, then what kind of worship atmosphere will there be? Or what kind of atmosphere will there be during discussion time? I think people who act like this must have experienced what nervousness is, what lack of confidence is, what a weary spirit is, or what it is like to worry about the future. Yet, when we turn to God then we can see that He desires us to concentrate together on each word that He has spoken. God desires that each one of us stand up and worship Him, including the workers themselves! In that way, if the workers do not worship with all their hearts and do not thirst for the Word of God, how can they lead everyone to worship and to reflect on God’s Word?
So this is my point! When a co-worker himself can concentrate on worshiping according to the methods that God revealed, when under the Holy Spirit he can lead our dedicated selfless worship of God, then he can lead his companions — the congregation — together to praise God with their hearts and souls. Because he is for God, he understands the God-ordained order to worship. He can then prepare songs under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and write segues for songs for one purpose only — to praise Jehovah God. During worship, he and his companions — the congregation — worship God together. In that way, during worship he will naturally be mindful of different things or particulars that could hinder the worship of God. Moreover, he will study how to improve these things (e.g. active communication with the pianist), handling and revising the various factors influencing worship with full confidence and determination, and continuing to praise our God!
When leading worship on Sundays, worship leaders are fulfilling their calling, only with a few more companions (the congregation).
We must believe that God has made every preparation in our own worship of Him and believe that it is God himself (and not the worship leader) who is leading us into worship. Come! Let’s return to Jehovah!
Original article: 事工分享：《敬拜反思》敬拜讲座培训的心得 (Bejing Gospel Church Wexin post, July 23, 2014)