by Rick Pidcock
The Church has never been as diverse as it is today in the area of worship. No longer is worship defined by theological terms, but it is defined by music style. People enter “Worship Wars” with one another over which music styles are the best for worship. And some have spent their entire lives focused on this one thing.
The disagreements are strong. The positions are polar opposites. And yet, the ironic thing that that in most cases, the goals are the same–to have God-centered worship.
How can we have such a passion for God-centered worship of the same God, and be worlds apart from each other philosophically and applicationally? I believe that the answer is due to the fact that we do not really understand what God-centered worship is. In our feeble attempt to understand the nature and character of God, we are trying to wrap our minds around something that is incomprehensible. And once we grasp an aspect of His character that we can understand in a limited way, we jump all over that one characteristic as if it is the summation of who God is.
It is with that in mind that I move on to the second part of this God-centered worship series. In the first article, we found that God-centered worship begins with a God-centered view of God. God is all about Himself. Everything He is and does is ultimately for Himself. And today, I would like to explore the second idea. God-centered worship begins with a God-centered view of the gospel.
In a previous series, we discussed the Content of the Gospel, the Character of the Gospel, the Irresistible Gospel And Missions, and the Purpose Of the Gospel. If you noticed, each article about the gospel revealed the centrality of God, not man, in its work and purpose.
The Content of the Gospel revealed the holiness of God, the helplessness of man, and the hope of Christ.
The Character of the Gospel revealed that the gospel is news, rather than instruction; grace, rather than merit; the reversal of the weak and the strong; that it is transformation, rather than information.
The Irresistible Gospel And Missions revealed that God will fulfill the Great Commission, irresistibly draw His chosen ones, and gather His elect.
And finally, the Purpose Of the Gospel revealed that the ultimate end of the Gospel is to permit us to see and savor the eternal glory of God in Christ. We noted that this alone is ultimately what makes this news good.
Each of those articles is important in showing that the gospel is radically God-centered. I would like to briefly take a look at two passages to show how this God-centered view of the gospel relates to worship.
1. The gospel is dependent upon God.
“In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works, but because of His call…So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy…So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.” –Romans 9:11, 16, 18.
The doctrine of election is something that is argued about almost as much as music is. In an attempt to make God appear more loving and to place the burden of dependency on the sinner, many Christians deny this simple and absolutely essential foundation to a God-centered understanding of the gospel.
God’s work of election does not depend on our works. Every Christian must believe that in order to be saved. However, it also does not depend on human will either. God is the one Who chooses who He wants to harden and who He wants to have mercy on. And it has nothing to do with either our works or our will. It has to do with His purpose.
2. The gospel is for the glory of God.
“For this very purpose I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth…Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory.” –Romans 9:17, 21-24
The gospel does not exist for the ultimate purpose of saving man from destruction. It exists that the name of God might be proclaimed in all the earth, to show God’s wrath and to make known His power, to magnify His enduring patience, and to make known His rich glory.
When we make the gospel out to be merely God’s attempt to make us eternally comfortable in heaven, we are making the both God and the gospel centered on man. But God and the gospel serve themselves, not us. We are simply the product of God’s self-service through the gospel. We are merely clay that God is forming into either vessels of honor or dishonor, based not on our works or our will, but on His purpose of glorifying Himself.
3. God-centered worship is a natural response to a God-centered gospel.
“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” –Romans 11:33-12:1
The first eleven chapters of Romans are filled with explanations of the God-centered gospel. And then, Paul bursts forth into a proclamation of how all of this God-centered gospel points to the glory of God.
Then, the natural response to the glory of the God-centered gospel of our God-centered God is worship. And this worship is also God-centered. It is God-centered because it is motivated by the mercies of God, wholly surrendered to the will of God, consistent with the character of God, by faith in the Son of God.
Evangelical Examples of Man-Centered Worship
Evangelicalism is filled with examples of how a man-centered view of the gospel will lead to man-centered worship. For example, one prominent evangelical leader says, “If we don’t use contemporary music to spread godly values, Satan will have unchallenged access to an entire generation.” Oh really? I can just imagine standing before God on judgment day and Him telling me, “I’m sorry. Before the foundation of the world I elected you. But the church in your neighborhood did not use contemporary music. So they have veto power over me. I wasn’t able to gain access to you.” This is a man-centered view of the gospel. God’s election does not depend on music style any more than it does on my works or will.
The natural result of this man-centered view of the gospel is that his ministry is centered on man. Their music is chosen in order to get more people to come in and get saved. Their sermons are designed to make it more attractive for the world to come. His man-centered worship is a direct result of his man-centered view of God.
However, many conservatives who would consider themselves polar opposites to the attraction model of ministry are also man-centered. I will never forget when one prominent fundamentalist leader came and spoke at my school one time. In his attempt to bash CCM, he was using an example of a song called, “I Believe.” The words to the chorus say, “I believe. I believe because He made me believe.” He said, “God does not make anybody believe. We are not robots. He made the possibility for us. And now we have to choose.” Just like the first example, this man believes in a gospel that is dependent on the will of man, for the purpose of saving man.
His view of the gospel makes itself evident in his entire philosophy of music. He believes that only classical music can be offered to God for worship. In other words, what he is actually doing is making acceptable worship dependent on our adherance to an extra-biblical standard.
A few months back, another well-known fundamentalist music giant spoke at a pastor’s conference out here. He spent the entire time talking about all that he has done in music. Then, afterward I asked him, “What makes our worship acceptable?”
And rather than speaking about the perfecting work of Christ as our High Priest, he said, “You begin with God. And then you try your best to figure out what style of music should be offered to him.” Once again, this is man-centered worship because it is dependant upon man.
Please do not misunderstand me however. Being a “Calvinist” does not guarantee that you will have God-centered worship. If we have a God-centered view of God and the gospel, but have a disconnect with how that fleshes itself out in worship, then we will have a wierd mix. But you cannot have God-centered worship as a product of a man-centered gospel. It may look different in different contexts. But God-centered worship must begin with a God-centered view of God and the gospel.
Once again, this is yet another illustration why we should keep the glory of God and the gospel central to our churches, homes, workplaces, and even blogs. It is only then that we can hope to see real progress and growth. God-centered worship begins with a God-centered view of God and His glorious gospel!