The Impact of Worship

Steve Viars July 13, 2003

- Have you ever been in a conversation where people weren’t speaking your language?
- it was English, but not words that made any sense to you?
- and you find yourself saying, or at least thinking...what?...what?...what?
- and the people who are talking don’t seem to be too concerned that you don’t understand...in fact you even suspect that they are choosing those kinds of words to make the subject harder to understand...just to make them look smart and you look dumb...
- it’s like they know something that you don’t know and they’ve got you over a barrel...
- have you ever been there?...probably all of us have...

- then let me ask you this...what does that feel like?
- what words would you use to describe what’s happening inside when people are treating you that way?
- frustrating, angry, offended, put off...
- you were already a bit on edge because you didn’t understand something you really wanted to, or needed to...
- but now they’re compounding the problem and adding to the difficulty...
- in fact, when you think of the two guys in our sketch a moment ago, they were just being selfish...
- they were being smug and haughty with the knowledge they possessed....

- on the other hand, have you ever had an occasion where someone was kind enough to communicate with a concern that you really understood?
- We were on a mission trip in the West African country of Ivory Coast, we got to the airport the night we were to leave and found that our flight had been cancelled.
- so one of the missionaries who was with us began a rather animated conversation with the person at the ticket counter in French, the native language of the Ivory Coast.
- it was a bit tense because we weren’t sure how we were going to get out of the country after our flight was cancelled, and there were a lot of people in the terminal with the same problem...so it was somewhat emotionally charged to begin with...
- and I don’t know any French at all...and its not the kind of language where there are some similarities with English so that if you listen hard enough you can get some rough idea of what’s going on...
- but what I appreciated was...this missionary would stop after several sentences and say, in English, here’s what she just said...here’s the situation...what would you like to do?
- see, he could have made a lot of hay over the fact that he knew a language that I didn’t...and made me feel entirely out of place and ignorant...
- but instead of being selfish, he chose to be a servant...
- instead of being smug, he chose to be humble...
- instead of being aloof, he chose to stoop down and help...
- and that had such a calming effect...the situation was already confusing and tense enough, but his kind approach made things much easier to handle.

- now, friends, you have two different approaches to communication...the selfish computer guys who didn’t care if the person understood what they were saying, and the servant missionary who went out of his way to speak in language that I could understand.
- who would you prefer to talk to?
- who do you believe is most honoring to God?
- now, here’s the most important question so far...who should the church of Jesus Christ be like?
- I’m asking you about the issue of the intelligibility of worship...in other words, should any attention be given to whether we are making our message as understandable as possible to the people to whom God has called us to minister?...in this community, in this day, and in this culture?
- and as individual believers, how much attention should be given to developing the skill of communicating God’s truth on a personal level to others in a way that they can most easily understand and receive?

- with that in mind, I’d like to invite you first to open your Bible to the Gospel of John chapter 1 – that’s on page 71 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you.
- at our church we’re doing a series this summer entitled Passionately Pursuing our God in Worship and Music.
- I realize that when I announced that we were going to take 11 weeks to discuss this topic, some thought that was a long time, and perhaps too long a time.
- the truth is, the Bible addresses this topic from many key perspectives...and I’m convinced that one of the reasons the issues of music and worship are so controversial in so many churches is because people have not taken the time to carefully study the Scriptures and build a biblical theology of this topic.
- you may remember that I quoted Milo Thompson on our first week together who said... As we ask ourselves why all this controversy, it may very well be that a lack of biblical understanding is a major contributor to this adversarial experience (Eph. 4:13).  It seems that many have not really thought through the biblical theology and principles pertaining to this matter of music.  Many have used a proof texting approach of incorporating the Scriptures, without the benefit of addressing God’s Word exegetically and allowing the text to dictate belief and practice. 
Hence, they are deriving their musical belief and practice predominately from personal man-made preference, taste, traditions, and culture, which in many cases they have elevated to the level of the authoritative God-made Scriptures and make it a test of fellowship.  Hopefully, the church will exercise diligent study of the more than six hundred passages in the Scriptures that will gradually define this issue of musical belief and practice in more biblical terms based on solid exegesis of God’s Word.

- and I’ve had a number of people say to me – at first I thought 11 weeks was a bit of overkill, but now I’m seeing that this topic is more involved than I realized...and if we’re going to study it...let’s study it thoroughly...
- I appreciate that attitude and I believe it characterizes the average person who comes to our church...
- now, the question before the house this morning is this...should churches and individuals be concerned about the issue of intelligibility?...about making the message of God’s Word as understandable as possible to others?...
- so we’re talking this morning about The Impact of Worship -- and I’m not wanting us to answer that question on the basis of logic or human reasoning...I’m asking if there are any biblical reasons that would motivate us to be concerned about this issue of intelligibility.
- in a sentence, I’d like to suggest to you this morning that Worship in the Church Should be Fresh and Understandable.
- now, there are many places we could start on this one biblically...but John 1 is especially helpful...because it teaches us that....


I.  God has Gone to Great Lengths to Reveal Himself to People.


- Read John 1:1-5
A.  Jesus is the light of the world – John 1:3
- one of the great metaphors to describe our Savior is that He is the light.
- The prophet Isaiah predicted this about the coming of the Messiah - Isaiah 9:2 - The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
- what a wonderful way to describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
- have you ever been in the dark?...in a way that was frightening?
- on that same trip to Ivory Coast...we were speaking to a group of missionaries at a camp...and we were staying down the road at a guesthouse.
- I was there with Randy Patten...and we were sharing the teaching load...so sometimes when I wasn’t teaching I would walk back to the guesthouse to get other materials or whatever...and it was relatively safe...
- it was a dirt road, and there was a big wall around the camp property and there were other nationals who lived and worked in the area...but I didn’t mind walking it...in the daytime...
- but one evening I did that, and when I went to the guesthouse, it was still light...and I wasn’t really paying attention to what time the sun went down...and when I went back to give the next lecture, it was dark out....
- but they did have some kind of street lights....with a lot of darkness in between, so I thought---Steve, this was not your smartest move...but here goes...
- so I get about halfway in between the guesthouse and the gate to the camp property...and I’m going from streetlight to streetlight...
- when all of a sudden all the lights go out, everywhere...
- and I hear these people screaming in languages I don’t understand...and no, I didn’t have a flashlight...
- and I don’t mind telling you, at that moment, I was afraid of the dark...

- friends, do you realize that people who don’t know God often feel that way?...especially in times of difficulty and confusion?
- and the message of this passage is that God went to great lengths to reveal Himself to people through the light of His Son.
- now, let’s read a little further...Read John 1:6-9
B.  God wants every man to be exposed to this light – John 1:9
- not only did God send His Son, but He sent John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah to prepare the way of the Lord...He wanted to true light to “enlighten every man”.
- now let’s see what happens...Read John 1:10-13

C.  Those who respond to this light will become children of God – John 1:12
- John 1:12 is a great summary of the gospel...
- contrary to popular belief, we are not “all God’s children”...that is, all humanity...
- the fact is, you’re born on the wrong side of the tracks...our sin has separated us from a holy God...which is why, by the way, John the Baptist’s message was one of repentance....
- you can’t be prepared to receive the light until you understand the significance of the darkness...but for those willing to admit their need, and receive Christ as Savior and Lord, they are given the power, the ability to become the children of God.
- that’s what Jesus meant when He spoke about being born again...coming to a point in time when you become a follower of Christ...and God wants people to clearly understand that...
- in fact, Jesus even spoke about as childlike faith...something that even a child could understand, why?...because God cares a lot about intelligibility.
- now, let me just speak for a moment to any person here who is not sure that he/she has a personal relationship with Christ...I would encourage you to make that decision now...while there is time, while God is working on your heart...and while you’re interested enough to listen...

- because here’s why...while it is true that God wants to reveal Himself to people...God is not obligated to reveal Himself in the same way, to the same degree of intensity, at all times...
- if you’re saying, well I’ll receive Christ later...don’t count on the fact that you’ll always have that opportunity...
- you say, why?...because here’s the other side of the truth we’re talking about...
- a companion text to this is Romans 1 --- we just don’t have time this morning to thoroughly study that one...
- but Romans 1 tells us that God revealed Himself to people in creation, and in the human conscience...
- in other words...every person is born with the knowledge that there is a God...
- but here’s what many people do...they suppress it...in other words, they don’t walk towards the light, they walk away from it...
- and here are the haunting words that are used over and over in Romans 1...God gave them up...
- in other words, Her allowed their rebellion and suppression of His light to take its natural course...
- He gave them up to themselves...and you don’t ever want to find yourself there...
- in fact, Hebrews 6 would describe that terrible condition as being “beyond repentance”...so yes, God goes to great lengths to reveal Himself to people, but there are serious consequences to those who repeatedly reject His light.
- now, back to our verses in John 1 – Read John 1:14-18
D.  Jesus reveals God’s fullness, especially His grace – John 1:16.
- God had already given the law, which was intended to show people their need and inability to save themselves...
- but so many had twisted the law, and added to the law...that the things of God had become a burden, or a set of lifeless rituals...
- and in the fullness of time, God said...It’s time to turn on the light...
- it’s time to help people see exactly who I am...
- it’s time for them to learn about grace, and mercy, and forgiveness...
- not that those doctrines were entirely absent from the Old Testament but they had been so obscured by the religiosity of the people...
- and the best way for that to be revealed was through a person...the One who was full of grace and truth.
- now, what’s the point?
- God is not like the two computer geeks in the introduction....
- He cares deeply about the issue of intelligibility...if people are going to reject the gospel, it can’t be because it was too hard to understand...
- it’s not because people couldn’t believe it...its because people chose not to.
- now you might say...PV, that’s well and good...but John 1 is not necessarily a worship passage...aren’t we making a bit of a logical leap when we apply John 1 to worship in Christ’s church?
- that would be a fair question, but in this case, unnecessary...here’s why...this same topic actually comes up in a big way in a passage that is undeniably about worship in Christ’s church...let me ask you k=now to turn to I Corinthians chapter 14...[page 137]

- we started in John 1 because I wanted to make the case that this issue of intelligibility is consistent with the character of God...but it is also a direct command to the church of Christ...
- in this passage, Paul is discussing the issue of speaking in tongues...
- tongues in the Bible was a special spiritual where a person could speak in a way that the recipient heard the message in his own language though the speaker had never studied that language.
- the gift was given both to authenticate the message of the apostles and also as a sign of judgment on the nation of Israel for rejecting Christ.
- it was also temporary---I Cor. 13 makes it clear that the gift would die out and it did.
- however, in I Cor. 14, the gift was still being exercised...and this chapter is given to regulate the way tongues were exercised prior to them dying out.
- by the way, most charismatic churches entirely ignore these principles...because the chapter says that there can never be more than three people speaking in a service, it can only be one at a time, an interpreter must always be present, and the gift can only be exercised by males...
- let’s jump in at verse 6 – Read I Cor. 14:6-25

- now, obviously this is a worship context---this is all about what is supposed to occur and not occur when God’s people come together...but you saw the overarching concern wanted believers to have when they came together...


II.  God’s People Should Go to Equal Lengths to Make Him Understandable to Others.


- now let me be sure that I’ve said --- obviously we’re speaking humanly here...
- no one is going to come to Christ, or grow in Christ, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit...
- however, we’re not responsible for what the Holy Spirit does...
- we’re responsible to be sure that we don’t hinder what the Holy Spirit is seeking to do.
- now let’s focus especially of verses 23, 24, 25 and 26 for a moment, because this is the meat of the argument --- what are the principles here?
A.  One of the signs of immaturity in the church is a lack of concern for making God’s message plain and easy to understand – I Cor. 14:23
- that’s why Paul said in verse 20 --- don’t be children in your thinking.
- it goes back to the computer guys at the beginning of the service...

- they might think they were hot shots --- they might think they knew a lot...
- but God would call attitudes and actions like that childish...
- to be haughty and unconcerned with whether the message is getting through is greatly displeasing to God.

B.  Churches should always be sensitive to the presence of men and women who do not know Christ – I Cor. 14:24
- many of us have heard over the years from conservative music experts that music and worship should not be used evangelistically.
- friends, I want to be kind...but I am convinced that too many music people do not study their Bibles.
- how could it be any clearer?
- and I am not saying that we should design our services exclusively to minister to those who don’t yet know Christ...but if we don’t at least have one eye on that issue, according to this text we are immature and our hearts are cold to the things of Christ...[and I think some people have some repenting to do on that particular issue]
- Psalm 40:1-3 - I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will trust in the LORD.
- the point is, if God went to great lengths to make His truth clear and understandable to people, we must passionately do the same.

C.  It is possible for churches to worship in such a way that unbelievers would conclude “God is certainly among you!” – I Cor. 14:25
- truth that was so understandable [remember, that is the context]...so powerful...so passionately held...that an unbeliever would say --- God is here, He is alive, He is real...and I want to come to know Him right here, right now....I want what you have...
- every one of us needs to ask the question, do we worship in such an understandable and passionate way that an unbeliever would have cause to say that?

- and I hope we would also say...we would gladly give up any or all of our preferences in order to make the message more understandable...more easy to grasp....more gripping and compelling...
- and friend, listen...music is a language...
- and we can either use musical forms that communicate to people in today’s culture...or we can insist on forms that communicate to us because we grew up in the church and let the rest of the world go to hell.
- and I’m not talking about using anything that would even approach sinfulness by a reasonable biblical definition...
- you know I don’t believe in becoming like the world in order to win the world...
- but a heart that yearns for intelligibility will never insist on any form that might make the content more difficult to grasp.

- the summary of this is verse 26 – READ
D.  Worship services should be designed for the edification of all – I Cor. 14:26.
- that’s why we’re making some subtle changes in our music and worship style because we want to minister to a broad variety of people.
- when I say that we are seeking to be a 4 out of a possible 10 when it comes to acceptable worship styles...a lot of what we’re talking about is variety...
- so there will be different kinds of music intended to minister to different kinds of people.

- so if you don’t like a particular song or musical element, the mature thing would be to say what...God must have allowed that one for someone else, I’ll patiently wait my turn.

- now, where does all of this leave us?


III.  Each of Us Should Ask – How Much Do I Really Value Intelligibility and Contemporaneity?

- I’ll say more about that second word in a minute, but please think carefully with me about the first one.
A.  Intelligibility.
- friend, how important is it to you that our message be clear and understandable?
- what if that means reviewing some concepts that you already know?
- what if that means that parts of the service might cover topics at a somewhat elementary level?

- one of the things I have appreciated over the years at our church is people who often come up to me and say, PV—go as long as you want—whatever it takes to make it clear to everyone.
- I’ll try not to take advantage of that spirit...but I believe that is line with this text...

- let me shift gears a bit on this one...what about how much you value intelligibility in your own life and ministry?
- how hard are you working at knowing God’s truth so well that you can explain it to others?
- 1 Peter 3:15- but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

- Can I challenge you with something?
- what about this Bible Institute in the fall?
- [describe the classes]
- is it possible that by you saying in your heart, I’m going to invest time in taking one of those classes this fall, so that I can understand my faith better, so that I’m in a stronger position to communicate God’s truth to others in an intelligible fashion.

- here’s another challenge...
- if you value intelligibility [others understanding God and His truth], why not ask the Lord right now to help you identify someone in your life that you could tell about the Bible Institute...
- some of the classes are specifically designed for those who do not know Christ, or are not in a church [develop]

- one other issue about this matter of intelligibility --- it comes around and impacts the importance of children’s ministries [thank the many who signed up to serve in children’s ministries --- shows a heart that values intelligibility for a very important ministry segment of our culture].

- now, what about this second word...

B.  Contemporaneity

John Frame [in his discussion I Corinthians 14]– Intelligibility requires contemporaneity.  When churches use archaic language and follow practices that are little understood today, they compromise that biblical principle.  There is no reason why the church cannot attain both historicity and contemporaneity.  Most of the historic practices of the church are quite intelligible today and can be stated in contemporary language.  But we should avoid slavish imitation of older practices without attention to the matter of communication.  To say this is merely to call us back to our fundamental task, which Jesus set forth in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)—the task of discipling, baptizing, and teaching all nations.  That divine mandate, rather than any human traditions, must ultimately guide our decisions about the order of worship - p. 67

- now, if you say, well, why do we have to have both?
- the answer is, because our culture is constantly changing...
- therefore, churches that are not able to adapt to the changing way the culture communicates is becoming less and less intelligible by the week.
- let me remind you of a quote from Joe Stowell I mentioned several weeks ago - Joe Stowell - we must realize that those of us who are unwilling to wrestle with the issues of a radically changed society and who assume that the old forms are the best and only forms will soon be presiding over ministries that are passing from the scene with the passing of the last generation that understands those forms.  In light of our changing society, reevaluating and reconfiguring forms within a proper theological context, without compromising biblical functions, may no longer be a preference but a necessity given the fact that the thought paradigms and cultural languages of modern Americans have radically changed.  Reaching and discipling them demands a clear understanding of the appropriate and effective passageways to their heads and their hearts.

- now, I realize that someone might say --- Well, the apostle Paul certainly never accommodated his language and presentation to best communicate to the his audience...
- really --- friend, yes he did...which is why his presentations in the book of Acts are so varied...so much so that some liberals think they weren’t even given by the same person...
- but that’s what people who really are passionate about ministering to others do...
- not compromise the truth...not water down the message...
- but also not allowing anything to needlessly hinder the clear communication of God’s Word in a way that people today can process and understand.

- someone else might say --- well, this is just modern day thinking that has come into the church....no exactly....in fact, we’re actually dealing with a very important doctrine of the Scriptures that was known during the Reformation in the 1500’s as the...
Perspicuity of the Scriptures – The Bible is clear and lucid in what it says.

- the reason this was an issue in the Protestant Reformation is because the Roman Church would not allow the common man to have access to the Bible...
- the view was that the Scripture was mysterious and obscure and could not be understood by anyone but the priests...who were very busy adding all kinds of fanciful interpretations in order to rob the people of their money...
- and the common man had no way to check out to see whether what the priests were saying was really in the Bible...

- and the cry of the Reformers was, Sola Scriptura...the Scriptures alone...
- and they articulated the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer...that every Christian was a priest before God because of his relationship with the high priest Jesus Christ...
- and because the Bible is living, and powerful...it is relevant for every person in every age...

- it’s timeless – the grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever...
- so the reformers spoke of the perspicuity of the Scriptures....

- Charles Hodge said it this way – Protestants hold that the Bible, being addressed to the people, is sufficiently perspicuous to be understood by them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and that they are entitled and bound to search the Scripture, and to judge for themselves what is its true meaning.  Romanists, on the other hand, teach that the Scriptures are so obscure that they need a visible, present, and infallible interpreter; and that the people, being incompetent to understand them, are bound to believe whatever doctrines the Church, through its official organs, declares to be true and divine. (Systematic Theology, Volume 1, p. 106)

- the point is, when the church does anything that needlessly obscures the message of Scripture to contemporary man, they are making an error that was a central thesis in the Protestant Reformation.
- and since the matter of the sufficiency of Scripture is such an important issue to our church family, and rightly so, ideas like intelligibility and contemporaneity ought to fall right in line.

- Milo Thompson said this - In Psalm 96:1 it is possible that the word “new” could again be a reference to the freshness of a song that had not existed before and/or new in spiritual experience.  Every generation needs new songs coming from the hearts of those experiencing the grace of God, along with the best of the old, to express its faith.  New songs say, “God is doing something here and now, not just a hundred years ago.”

It seems the Hebrews preserved their old songs, sang contemporary songs, and looked forward to the composition of yet unwritten new songs.  In other words, the Old Testament Psalms, which someone has referred to as Israel’s hymnbook, display the same respect for variety and tradition that the New Testament affirms (Eph. 5:19).  The Psalms span about a thousand years, dating back to Moses (about 1400 B.C.), to David (c. 1000 B.C.), to the post-exilic period (c. 400 B.C.), and still others call for a “new song.”

- after our Biblical Counseling Training Conference here in February, we ask our guests to complete evaluations.
- one young person wrote this about me – “As a teenager I look to adults for guidance and example.  I find that the ‘hip’ vocabulary is out of taste from the pulpit, and would prefer more literary terms to communicate such important truths.”
- develop

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video