Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Mission Mandate of Worship

    What is the driving force of mission? It's commanded? True. Jesus means so much to us? Of course. People are lost without Him. Yes. But is there an even greater motivation?  The most basic belief we have about God is that there is one God, and only one. The Jewish shema says this clearly in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel. The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Jesus prefaces His Great Commandment with these words.
     Australian Anglican John Dickson points out in his great book on evangelism in the church, The Best Kept Secret of Chrisrian Mission, that monotheism has everything to do with mission because if this is so, then everyone has an obligation to worship the one God.
     Psalm 96, written to the Jews, calls for the whole earth to praise the one true God, and it starts right out of the gate in verse 1:
     "Sing to the LORD a new song. sing to the LORD, all the earth."
     But how will this happen? Only when God's people spread the Word about Him. So the Psalmist goes on in verse 3 to say:
     "Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples." And one primary way we do this is in our corporate worship.
     "Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascrive to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth. Say among the nations, 'The LORD reigns!'" (verses 7-10)
     Notice the elements of worship included in these verses: praise and adoration, the presenting of offerings, and proclamation/testimony. The Psalm ends by stating that ultimately, the goal is for the entire creation to worship God, but it begins with the peoples of the earth.
     So again, we have evidence that God's plan was always to have His people comprised of all nations, not just the Jews. He called out this small nation for this very purpose. The tragedy is that, for the most part, the Jewish people neglected or ignored this mandate. They either practiced syncretism and attempted to blend the one God in with all the other "gods" of the earth who were not really gods at all. Or they went to the opposite extreme (after the return from exile) and shut the nations out of their "chosen people" status.
     But it can be documented that, at times in their history, the Jews sought to obey this mandate. If only they had stayed with it and taken it more seriously. But it is not for us to point out their flaws but rather, to examine our own practices.
     The atmosphere of this Psalm is public worship within earshot of the nations. Today the churches here in the United States, almost without exception, meet within earshot of the nations, because the nations have come here.
     We who have discovered that the one true God is actually one God in three Persons need to be aware of the presence of the nations around us and take seriously the command to declare His glory among them. This means we watch for them, we invite them, we seek to be culturally sensitive to them, we celebrate each advance of ethnic diversity within our churches, we disciple them into full membership and, when possible, leadership.
     If nothing else, it means we pray for life to come into our worship services. A.W. Tozer wrote:
     One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football teram. The first requisite is life, always.    
     I'm not talking about style, but atmosphere and attitude. Life can happen in liturgical churches with robes and candles, and in casual worship with bands and screens. Or not. The choice is ours. But if it's real, and there is true joy, contrition, adoration and awe, and the message is biblical understandable, guess what?
     "...they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (1 Corinthians 14:25) This is what it means to ascribe glory to the one true God in earshot of the nations. Worship planning groups, pastors, worship leaders, instrumentalists and singers, and all members - this is part of your mission mandate. It can still happen on Sunday morning - if you'll let it. Don't let your worship be about you, and how you do things, and how you've always done things, and what will please Brother Sam or Sister Edna. Let it be about the one true God and what will reach the nations for that one true God, displayed in Jesus Christ, His Son, and revealed by the Holy Spirit. Why?
     "For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in His sanctuary." (Psalm 96:4-6)
     When it's truly about Him, it will truly be for everyone.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Image Bearers

     One of the basic tenets of this ministry is that there really are no such thing as races, only ethnicities, nationalities, cultures. But there is one race, the human race. I was pleased to see that noted pastor and author David Platt agrees with me. In his newest book, which I am reading now, entitled, A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture, he addresses many current issues from a Christian perspective. One of those issues is ethnic diversity. (I confess, I jumped ahead some chapters to see what he had to say.)
     Platt suggests that in this day of so much conversation about race, so much of it divisive, the church needs to change the conversation itself by pointing out that the Bible does not make distinctions based on race. If it did, we would have to ask the question, "What race were Adam and Eve?" Platt responds, "The answer is both obvious and simple: the human race."
     Then we might ask, "No, we meant, what color were they?" Now we have two problems according to the author. First, we don't know because the Bible doesn't tell us. While we have pictured them traditionally as being white, we have no basis for that at all. For all we know, they were any one of a multitude of colors - or they may have been different colors. That first marriage in Eden may have been an intercultural one. The greater possibility is that they were dark. But the point is, we think and talk about them in terms the Bible does not use. Second, the Bible doesn't tell us what color they were because God does not equate membership in the human race with skin tone.
     We all have the same roots, we are all part of the same race.
     When we talk about "races," says Platt, we undercut our unity in the human race. This he calls a gospel-less starting point. It's far more helpful to see that the Bible grounds our understanding of human diversity in human ethnicity. As Platt puts it, "To use the language of Genesis 10, we comprise 'clans' in separate 'nations' that speak different 'languages' in diverse 'lands.' And with the globalization of the world and the migration of men and women across continents and into cities, these clans from separate nations and with different languages now often live in the same land."
     At least in the church, especially in the church, we need to change our categories to show a better way. One of our theme verses is Acts 17:26: "From one man He made all the nations..." Every one of us can trace his or her ancestry back to one family, the family of Noah, in Genesis 10-11, and beyond that, to one man and woman in the Garden.
     Several lessons can be gleaned from this. One is that if Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God, as they were, then every one of their descendants has that same image and likeness in them. At the very least, it means that we are to treat every other person with dignity  We are not all brothers and sisters in Christ (that requires faith in Him and repentance), but we are all brothers and sisters in the human race. So it is natural that Jesus would teach us to "do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12). We would all like to be treated with dignity and respect, even by those who may disagree with us. We have the best reason of all to do this, the theological one: every person we know, every person we pass on the street, every person we have contact with, is an image bearer.
     Second, the gospel announces the Good News that among the things the Cross accomplished is the breaking down of barriers between human beings (Ephesians 2:11-22). It is important to think about the vertical cross beam that points to heaven. Reconcilation to God is fundamental. We are ambassadors for Christ, pleading with others to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) But we cannot forget that horizontal cross beam. We work to bring persons into a new family made up of all peoples, tribes, nations, and languages. This is part of that new creation Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It's not just each of us as individuals who are made new, but we are made new as a people. Paul would look at the church today and be shocked at how segregated we allow ourselves to be. And I am not only speaking to white churches. He would say, "If I could bring Jews and Gentiles together into one body, what are you waiting for?"
     Finally, though not exhaustively, if we are all image bearers, then we also share the sin of Adam in us, so we all have the same great need. Our biggest problem is not social injustice or poverty, bad as they are. These are symptoms. Sin is the disease we share in common, and there is only one cure. The cross of Jesus Christ, where He bore our sins and from where He offers us His righteousness so that we can have the hope of standing before a holy God and gaining entrance to eternal life. Whatever your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, your religion, your socio-economic status, you need Jesus. More than anything else, I pray that this ministry will lead more of you to Him. But if it doesn't, I will still treat you with the dignity you deserve - because you are an image bearer.