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The Best Intro for a Theology of Worship Ever!

...At least it's the best one I've ever read. I can't believe I haven't come across this earlier. It comes from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. They have put together an amazing resource similar to The Book of Common Prayer called The Worship Sourcebook, the prologue of which lists "eight foundational principles for a theology of worship". Here is the conclusion of this one pager:

Conclusion: These norms, which are more illustrative than exhaustive, point to enduring lessons of Christian wisdom drawn from two thousand years of practice and reflection. And because they are so important, these basic norms must not simply reside in books and websites about worship, they must function habitually in the working imaginations of worship leaders and worshipers each week. Those who lead worship and those who gather in the pew have the joyful task of imagining how worship can be truly biblical, dialogic, covenantal, trinitarian, hospitable, and excellent.

Click here to read a concise one page articulation of what we have tried to say in seventy plus posts here at Reform worship.

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Praise You Won't Despise


Ever wonder why there are more accounts of false worship in the Bible than true worship? Flip through the Law and the Prophets and you'll encounter some pretty enlightening stuff, especially in terms of worship offerings and the consistent failure of the children of Israel to please God. The language of abomination and hatred fill these pages of how God feels toward the sacrifices of His people. We don't need to read for very long before encountering Cain's unacceptable offering to God in Genesis 4. Or how about what God has to say in Amos 5:

"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

And why else would King David identify a pure heart as one which is humble and contrite, out of which comes sacrifices God "will not despise" (Psalm 51)? He was obviously conscious of another kind of worship, the kind God hates.

But even David's definition of God-pleasing worship is not enough for us to really engage God in true worship. Indeed, all of the popular, contemporary talk of the "heart of worship" only brings us half way down to the root of true worship. If worshipers are left only with the admonition to "worship from your heart," where will that take us? What does that even mean? And yet more Contemporary Praise and Worship songs use this abstract, half-rooted, heart language rather than the language of what, or Who, really makes our offerings of worship acceptable to God...Jesus Christ.

The story of the Old Testament is easy to tell: God creates, man fails to worship God. God re-creates, man fails to worship God. God establishes another covenant (Abraham) and chooses a nation for His own (Israel), man fails to worship God. God gives His people the Law, man fails to worship God. God builds a Temple, man fails to worship God. Do you see the pattern? God sends his people into exile, man fails to worship God. God brings them back and builds a new Temple, but man still fails to worship God. I hope you see the impossibility of man to worship God, because it is only in the knowledge of this that we see the necessity of the person of Jesus Christ. God came down (incarnate) to do for us what we could never do for ourselves, namely worship God: love and adore and serve and live for Him and not ourselves.

Any other offering, any projection of our heart to God apart from Christ, is despised by God, no matter how contrite we appear to be. It is idolatrous, self-seeking nonsense. Jesus Christ, who He is and what He's done, is the only way by which we can humbly worship our Creator. Our songs should be filled with this truth, and we should be filled with joy, knowing our worship is not an abomination to God through Jesus Christ. He is our Mediator, our Intercessor, the True Worshiper. He is the High Priest and the Lamb that was slain. He is our everything, without Whom we could not possibly please God.

It is of highest importance for us to understand this even today, especially today, when so much of our worship is unitarian and ultimately displeasing to God. You may think that simply living in A.D. church times, the New Covenant, assures you rightstanding with God, in worship and being, but I assure you, unless you are participating by the Spirit in Christ's sacrifice to the Father, you are not truly worshiping God. Can we be participants without this knowledge? It seems to me this knowledge is the very heart of the Gospel. Jesus Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The waters of justice have rolled down to us in the death of Christ, making right our sacrifices to God; the ever-flowing stream of righteousness is the blood of Jesus, making the worship of us sinners pleasing in the ear of God.

Woe is me for I am lost and full of sin
Take the burning coal and touch my unclean lips

Jesus, Savior
Took my sin that I might live forever
Ever worshiping God

Sacrifices please You only if they're right
Place upon my lips, Lord, praise You won't despise

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Christ Plays in Prayer 3


We have been looking at prayer in the context of community from Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Peterson uses St. Luke's Pentad of Prayers (Five prayers) at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke to show how prayer was the language of the community of believers in the early church; the way they participated in what the Spirit was doing everywhere. I have been applying this to the order and function of prayer within our own community, searching for how we can better be Spirit-led participants in our worship. In the last post we looked at the two prayers of petition, the first and last of Luke's Pentad. Here I will talk about the second prayer, a prayer of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

This prayer comes immediately after Elizabeth blesses Mary. Mary recasts the prayer of Hannah and identifies "three great reversals in the way we experience the world when God conceives new life in us: God establishes his strength and disestablishes the proud (v.51); God puts down the people at the top and lifts up the people at the bottom (v.52); God fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty (v.53)." Peterson points out that Mary's prayer, this biblically-informed response to God's blessing, brings us into the world of God's promised Word being fulfilled before our very eyes. "Prayer enlarges our imagination and makes us grateful, joyful participants in what has been and is yet to come" (274).

In light of Mary's praise we must ask ourselves a few questions:

1. Are we biblically-informed in our praise? Mary knew the history of her ancestry (the Scriptures). Even at such a young age she was well aware of the way God works according to His Word. She was very familiar not only with Hannah's prayer from 1 Samuel 2, when in her barrenness she conceived Samuel, but also with the way God has always and will always work; lifting the needy from the ash heap, exalting the lowly, conceiving new life in the most unlikely people. Mary could not have prayed a more befitting prayer than Hannah's, and she knew that.

2. Do we know the Word? Are we preaching and hearing it from our pulpits? Are we reading and meditating on it every day? I stand by this truth: it is impossible to praise God apart from His Word. He speaks to us NOW through His Word. Or in our preaching are we merely appealing to our people with watered down, self-edifying, psychological principles that we can get from Dr. Phil and Oprah just as soon as from the pulpit? In our hearing are we merely applying God's promises to our wants and felt-needs? Or

3. Are we Spirit-led participants? Have we given up everything in the knowledge that we no longer belong to ourselves, but to God, for His service and glory? Have we received God's blessing of undignified conception with praise on our lips? Without the Spirit's leading we have no way to respond to God, no way to participate in what He is doing; filling the hungry, strengthening the weak, and exalting the humble while putting down the rich, strong, and proud. Spirit-led praying and praising according to God's Word (in response to His Word) will give us greater insight into the creative imagination of God and will lead us into a joyful participation of all that He is doing.

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