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.

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