Convicting Clarity

According to the Bible some practices are more profitable than others during the assembled worship of a church. Paul emphasized the value of prophetic utterance over tongue-talking in 1 Corinthians 14. He esteemed speaking “to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (verse 3). Such profit requires intelligibility, using language with discernible meaning communicated to minds outside of the speaker’s. Such manifestations build up the church (verse 12).

What is edifying clarity for the church is also a convicting clarity to unbelieving visitors.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24–25)

Truth, like light, reveals hearts, and the clarity brings conviction, possibly consolation in Christ, but not comfortability. The outsider–one outside of Christ, not a part of the church–is convicted, accountable, exposed, and humbled as God’s Spirit works. This reaction enables him to confirm that God is present.

An unbelieving guest may or may not hear more than one voice, but he should be able to watch the response of the church to truth understood. The believers’ hearts are exposed and they humbly fall on their faces to worship God. The outsider is convicted by seeing the insiders convicted.

Our weekly confession of sin is part of our corporate witness. When God is really among us, we are not running from conviction and accountability but rather responding to it. A whole church falling on their faces will be a potent proof of God’s presence.

The Gunk on Our Glasses

What is the purpose, could we even say benefit, of planning a time in our worship service every Lord’s Day to confess our sins? Is our focus on sin a way of worshipping sin? It’s certainly not meant to be. Is worship with a focus on our sin a guilt-producing event? “You probably haven’t felt as bad as you should have this past week, sinner. Don’t you realize what a worm you are?” Did God created us and then reveal all the ways we’ve failed so that He could rub our faces in it? “You will never be Me. You will never be as good as Me.”

God’s law does reveal that all of us have sinned and fall short of His glory. We have broken His Word and failed to reflect Him properly as image-bearers. His Word cuts and convicts. His Spirit grants mourning over and repentance from sin. But all of this is a blessed burden because it brings us to know Him better. That is the purpose and the benefit of confession: that we learn more about who God is.

Worship is an expression of love for God. Confession of sin, and the process to get to that confession, reminds us of the holy and righteous character of God. His holiness is part of His excellence, a reason for highest praise. His holiness is part of His beauty, a reason for deepest admiration. Our sin not only blinds us from seeing Him, sin also makes us think something other about Him. If we ask Him to open the eyes of our hearts so that we can see Him, confession is cleaning the gunk off of our glasses.

The exhortation to confession–no matter the specific subject or if that particular week’s address pierces your conscience–is an act of theology reminding us that God is holy. He calls everyone to worship Him, but in order for us to worship Him rightly, we must worship Him as holy.

Before or After?

Most of us are familiar with Paul’s warning about eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner. Unworthy eaters “will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). So a person should “examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (verse 28).

Some Christians with sinful attitudes towards another person, let’s say toward their spouse, do not eat or drink at the communion table. Something isn’t right there, so something isn’t right here. Their marriage affects their worship.

It goes the other way, too, doesn’t it? If something isn’t right here, something won’t be right there. Worship affects relationships, including marriage. It is unlikely that a man will be faithful, engaged, eager to commune with God week by week and then be a hermit at home, at least he won’t be that way forever. It is unlikely that a woman will be humble, teachable, eager to commune with God and then be a spoiled, cold brat at home. If either, or both, are half-hearted, motion-goers here, their marriage investment probably won’t amount to much either.

Which is worse, disunity before or after worship? Which is unworthy, fussing with your spouse before taking communion or after taking communion? Paul warns about unworthy partaking not so that we will get our hearts right for this Table and then relax. The point isn’t to survive a communion table gauntlet only to be a pain in the butt at the lunch table. The point is having our hearts right for whatever table we’re sitting around. The communion table reminds us of Christ’s work that makes wrong hearts right and ready for communion wherever.

Before we eat and drink, let us examine ourselves. And after we eat and drink by grace, let us examine ourselves to see if we are guilty of profaning the image of God by our unworthy attitudes toward one another.

The Whole Row

One attribute of God in Genesis one that isn’t always mentioned by commentators, theologians, and preachers is that our God gives. All of creation is overflow. He doesn’t make anything because He needs it, or so that He could take something back from it, or so that He could have servants who will do work He finds distasteful on it. Look at the creation story less as an answer to scientific questions and more as an answer to sociological questions. If this is God, and He made us to bear His image, what should we do?

There is no relationship under the sun unaffected by that constant catechism. But since we have a parenting seminar coming up at the end of this month I thought I’d take a moment to apply creation theology to dads and church. How do Genesis 1, parenting, and liturgy fit together? Is there application for fathers when they recognize that creation sings the Father’s song?

God made us to be particular kinds of people. We are worshippers, but even how we worship should show something of what He’s like. For example, He is a God of order. Our worship should not be chaotic, but should include structure and regularity. Also, God is a God who gives. God gave a place for men, God gave food to men. He gave us stars and seas, fruits and veggies, birds, bugs, and birthing bovine all for man to receive with thanks and joy. God made it all and gave it to man.

That means, among other things, that dads should give to their kids, and the corporate meeting of the church for worship is no exception. Give a place to sit, maybe the squirmiest one right next to you. Give attention. Give direction. Give an arm around his shoulder or a pat on her back. Give a small piece of candy (one they won’t choke on, and maybe unwrap it a bit pre-service if necessary). Give some paper to color. Give encouragement. Give example.

You may need to plan how to make church sweet. But shouldn’t you? I’m not talking about turning your pew into an amusement park. I’m talking about dad leading in giving in such a way that the kids receive these ninety-plus minutes as good. This isn’t just to keep them quiet. This isn’t just because God takes worship seriously. It’s because we are showing what God is like even now.

What are you showing? How are you helping to lead your family in joy? When we think about it that way, who needs to grow up most? It isn’t only our kids, it’s the whole row.

Loathsome Liturgy

Those of us who know so much, we who have been given so many biblical vistas of God’s glory, will naturally struggle to match our hearts with His majesty. Our feet are too small for the worship shoes we have to fill. There is a very real danger to give up, not entirely, but in certain religious ways. Rather than fight against sin and fight for fuller affections, we settle for worship motions.

We’re not the first or only people to ever be in that dangerous spot. Psalm 50 helps us even though it wasn’t written to us. It was for Israel, written by Asaph for Israel to sing. The choir were the “faithful ones” (verse 5), or “godly ones” (NAS), “saints” (NKJV), “consecrated ones” (NIV). The Hebrew word is hesedi, a derivative of hesed which we repeatedly heard last week: “for his hesed endures forever.” This psalm is addressed to recipients of His hesed, His-mercy-have-gotten ones.

But Psalm 50 is not a song of consolation. It is song a judgment because God is angry. “The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth” (verse 1). “God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest” (verse 3). He comes to “rebuke” (verse 8), with “rebuke” mentioned again in verse 21 as He “lays [the] charge” before them. God the LORD, the mighty, devouring, righteous judge has come into the universal courtroom to testify against His people. Why?

The indictment can be found in verses 8-21. God did not charge them with failure to offer sacrifices. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burn offerings are continually before me” (verse 8). Nor did He charge them with ignorance of His statutes. His question in verse 16, “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?” assumed that they were singing or speaking His law. The people knew who He was. They knew what He revealed. They knew what He required in worship. They knew what He had given them.

Yet two things made their liturgy loathsome to God. They were not depending on God nor were they obeying Him. God hated their liturgy because their hearts weren’t in it. The gestures of their worship were false signals.

Wrong-hearted liturgy is worse than worth-less, it is worth His wrath. The more we have to live up to the more tempting it is to make believe. As we get more excited about growing in our understanding and practice of worship, some may appear to be excited who are not actually more grateful and dependent on Him. That doesn’t mean we need to close up shop, stop learning new songs and new parts, but it does mean that we must always remember that God is looking at our hearts.

Not a Waiting Power Outlet

Weekly worship on the Lord’s day isn’t only hard, it’s impossible for those who aren’t spiritual. In order to worship the true God who is spirit, we must worship in truth and in spirit. We too often assume that we can worship Him in truth and in flesh.

Take confession of sin for an example. We absolutely must acknowledge and confess our sin, as well as seek forgiveness and cleansing from our sin if we would draw near to the holy God. We need to confess and we need to want to confess, otherwise we’d merely be going through the motions. But we can’t comprehend our sin, let alone want to confess our sin without God’s help, namely without God’s Spirit.

We assume that we have the ability to repent whenever we want. We assume that we have access to forgiveness whenever we want. We act as if we can decide to flip a worship switch on Sunday and make it happen. We act as if we can do spiritual activities without the Spirit.

The assuming mindset is an unbelieving mindset. We do not believe God’s Word to us about the deceiving and enslaving power of our flesh. We do not believe God’s Word to us about the illuminating and delivering power of the Spirit. We do not believe God’s Word to us about the personhood of the Spirit, that He is a person that blows where He wishes, not a power outlet passively waiting for us to plug in whenever we wish.

We assume we get can ready and do this worship thing on our own. We need to confess our fleshly, unbelieving independence from Him who is our life and from the Spirit who gave it to us.

Two Great Things

Two great things go together: the great commandment and the great commission. They do not compete with each other, they compliment each other (and they do so even better than peanut butter and chocolate). Obedience to the great commandment makes obedience to the great commission a no-brainer. Obedience to the great commission requires seeing others become obedient to the great commandment.

So evangelism and worship meet in the disciple-making process. That’s why worship can have an evangelistic impact. That’s why evangelism isn’t finished unless it leads to worship.

We Call It Choice

Every culture can be identified by its worship and all worship can be identified by its sacrifices. Some of the most grotesque, almost unimaginable sacrifices were offered by Israel’s pagan neighbors in the Old Testament. In order to please Molech, the Ammonites slaughtered their own children. We are horrified that any society could condone this sort of religion. What kind of god accepts child sacrifices as worship?

Our society doesn’t call it religion or worship, we call it choice. We call it reproductive freedom. We call it surgical procedures. And most Christians appear only mildly disturbed that our culture murders unborn children at the rate of over 3000 per day for the last 39 years.

These sacrificial killings are performed at the altar of the god of self, the god of pleasure, the god of convenience. Our culture’s god isn’t Molech, the god is almighty Me, and the people love her, or him.

What should we Christians do about abortion? We should start with worship, the foundation of our anti-idolatry campaign. People will not stop serving sin apart from repentance and belief in gospel of Jesus Christ. We who proclaim the gospel must believe it and worship Him as Lord.

The first thing we should do in our worship is confess our sins. We also are tempted to serve the gods of self, pleasure, and convenience. We ought to confess our own abominations, including our apathy for the Triune God and life in Him. Judgment is already on our country and the household of God should get right first.

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For more on our culture of death, read Abortion Is as American as Apple Pie by Al Mohler.

Spiritual Assets

Do believers gather together on the Lord’s day to give or get?

Faith will never reach that degree of maturity where it could live without receiving. A grateful reception of God’s gracious gifts will always remain the task of Christian worship, for it is impossible to evolve a church service out of the spiritual assets of believers.

—Vilmos Vajta, Luther on Worship, quoted in The Lord’s Service by Jeffrey Meyers, 94.