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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Worship By Faith (3 of 3)

If Justification By Faith is the heart of the gospel, and Sanctification By Faith is its lifeblood, then Worship by Faith explains the reality of our fellowship with God.

You see, Sanctification by faith also carries important implications for how we approach worship. Historically, the Reformed tradition has placed a great emphasis on allowing Scripture to define our practice. We must never believe, however, that “getting it right” in terms of form and practice makes our worship acceptable to God. Like justification and sanctification, true worship flows from faith.

For example, when an unbeliever participates in worship – even if he has the best voice and sings with all his might, even if he pays attention and takes notes during the sermon, even if he tries to personally apply the principles he is hearing – none of this is worship because it does not stem from faith. Apart from faith, our most righteous acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Is 64:6), for "apart from faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). This is just as true for believers as it is for unbelievers.

This concept is made explicit in Heb 9, where Christ’s work of atonement (9:13-14) is presented as the new covenant counterpart to the OT rules and regulations for worship in the temple (9:1-5). The author of Hebrews sees the concept of “worship” as intimately connected with the concept of “atonement.” By accomplishing the latter Christ simultaneously perfects the former. As the mediator of the new covenant (9:15), his blood purifies the instruments of worship (9:21) and the consciences of the worshippers (9:9). Thus it is only through faith in Christ that our worship can be pleasing to God.

Consequently, while we strive to worship according to the precepts set forth in Scripture, we also recognize that we will inevitably fail to conform to God’s standards – Scripture is sometimes difficult to understand and not all passages are equally clear; more frequently sin impairs our judgment. Whatever the reasons, we must continually remind ourselves that our worship is perfected by our faith in Christ; there is no room for pride on our part.

Similarly, we should be slow to judge or condemn others whose practice does not conform with our own. Worship by faith should encourage charity, not separation.
The churches we plant will not die because we misunderstand a particular issue of doctrine, or misapply an element of worship; our churches will die when we fail to understand the gospel – that we are justified by faith, sanctified by faith, and that our worship is made pleasing in faith.

Worship by faith in Christ is a fruit of the gospel.

These three principles then - Justification by Faith (JBF), Sanctification by Faith (SBF), and Worship by Faith (WBF), when viewed together in light of What the Church is All About - all have huge ramifications for how we think about faith and ministry in the local church. We'll start fleshing some of these things out in the coming months...


At 5:07 PM, May 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, Christian you've touched something I'm growing through in this season of my life's journey.

For most of my life of more than 50 years I've viewed worship as an experience driven at various times by obligations real and imagined; service ideals; entertainment values; self focused need or want fulfillments; and only more recently a heartfelt hunger for a deeper relationship with the Creator God. Part of that evolution in motivation for worship attendance is manifest in a move from my Baptistic ministerial ordination to a local Presbyterian congregation as an individual worshipper. I am finding the classical study and recitation of historic confessions of faith to be of great value in lifting my awareness of the Lord, His Majesty, and His unspeakable ways.

I must also confess an intellectual historic curiosity of the Roman Catholic Church and its amalgamation of Scriptural doctrine, oral traditions, and dogma of papal infalability. Part of this historic curiosity springs from time spent in grad studies at a Jesuit University where I encountered a number of very real Christians who were also hungering for real worship in the context of classic Christianity.

All that to say, in the absence of sound doctrine, worship by faith alone seems paradoxically close to an abdication of any need for individual change or any conformance to a greater calling of God. Could it be that worship by faith alone leads directly to worship of self and self's needs? Isn't a goal of worship to facilitate the removal of the old nature and, if so, doesn't that removal process require some element of structure, friction and stress?

I would argue that worship must be in response to the Holy Word of God in order to be valid and can not exist in a spiritual vacume of "faith alone".

It seems to me that the absence of any "structure, friction, and stress" in worship or preaching content (as practiced in many mega churches) has so diluted worship to an empty expression, by faith alone, and therefore is a meaningless exercise of personal emotion.

At 6:49 PM, May 14, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

This is a good question, and I think that I'd answer it by pointing to how we think about "faith alone" in terms of our justification.

When we say that we are justified by "faith alone", we are saying that the only basis for my relationship is my faith in Christ. And yet at the same time we always acknowledge that such faith is never alone - it is always accompanied by fruit.

I think the same thing applies to our sanctification - we are sanctified by our faith in Christ alone (not by effort alone, or even faith plus effort), and yet that faith in Christ is always accompanied by effort, by striving, by discipline, devotion. Not as cause, but as result. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling because it is God who works in us (Phil 2:12-13).

I would argue that the same principle applies to worship by faith alone. The only thing that commends my worship to God is the fact that it springs from faith alone in Christ alone (the trust that HE is perfecting my worship; never from any sense of "I've got it right here") - and yet true faith will always be accompanied by a deep desire and appreciation for the content, for following God's instructions in worship.

In all of these things - justification, sanctification, worship - faith alone in Christ alone is way I enter into (and remain in!) this relationship with God, because faith is how I enter into union with Christ.

And yet at the same time, such faith alone will never exist alone - it will always be accompanied by fruit, because that's what union w/ Christ produces. I cannot truly be united with Christ without having my entire life transformed - because it's ultimately about him, not me - it's about God's glory, not my experience.

So you've raised a great question here; you have well placed concerns. I think 'Worship by Faith' handles them, provided we qualify our understanding.

I'm not sure if that answers your question or not, but I hope it helps explain our trajectory on this.

At 6:16 PM, May 20, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for engaging conversation and thought... I too agree with the general premise as you've defined.

As we approach the Father in worship, through the justification of the Son, we face choices not unlike many other situations in life.

Certainly grace abounds to cover our sin of poor choices but should we rest comfortably in that sin or seek to conform more fully to God's calling?

Similarly, grace covers all errors, omissions, and excesses in worship. However I'd argue that just as Cain's sacrifice was well intentioned, based upon his personality and interests, it was none-the-less unacceptable to the Father. In a manner of speaking one might say his "structure of worship" or his "worship by faith" was in error.

I'm certain we recognize the Bible is filled with examples of those who are caught in the crucible of friction, who are acting under great stress, and who must choose between alternatives that contrast self choice and God's directives. Indeed much of classical Christian worship centers on this very aspect of structure/friction/stress which tends to underscore our need for the covering of Christ's atonement.

We might rather "worship by faith" thinking that our individual personal worship actions are somehow acceptable to the Lord, but I think Scripture paints a different perspective.

Could it be that our Heavenly Father desires that we grow ever more completely conformed to His will in all things including our style and substance of worship?

Seems to me that to argue otherwise leads down that proverbial slippery slope of "I'm OK" and "You're OK", and however we each may choose relate to the Creator is equally "OK"... And if left to my choice, I'd like to party hardy in the sanctuary and cut the heavy stuff.

One might suggest this is exactly the track followed by many well intentioned worshippers seeking to express their choices in worship over that of seeking God's guidance in how He desires to receive our worship.

Guess that's why I'd argue that true worship must touch some elements of structure/friction/stress. In the absence of these elements it seems that we've elevated our worship form to equal status with the Heavenly Relms where all is pure and Holy.

Perhaps then it is a discounted form of "worship by faith" that licenses the puesdo Christian behaviors more suited to the club scene than the church sanctuary. Guess that's where you might say we need the whole counsel of the Word in teaching before licensing "worship by faith".

Thank you for allowing my random thoughts offered at the end of a very long day. Bless you.

At 1:26 PM, October 13, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

worship must stem from faith.....that is perfect!

throughout my studies i define faith as your personal intimate knowlege of the person, identity, and plan of God, that enables you to discern what he intends to do, so that you can act in harmony with him....and using what a significant foundation of faith is (which is LOVE),
we go even farther-

worship must stem from faith, and faith must stem from love. we love him, because he first loved us. Gods love inspires faith in us, and that faith inspires worship. and worship is the prerequisite to the miraculous....

MMMM.....God is Great, and greatly to be praised!!!

(The One God Man)


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