The Substance of Worship

Steve Viars June 15, 2003 Isaiah 6:1-8

- In his book Shepherding the Church, Joe Stowell, the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago discusses the difference between form and function.
- function is what an entity or object is supposed to do.
- form is how that entity or object accomplishes its purpose.
- Stowell refers to the well-known quote by renowned architect Louis Sullivan who said “form ever follows function”.
- in designing a building, you always first decide what you want the facility to do, then you decide the shapes, and the style, and the arrangement.
- you’ve probably been in buildings where it seemed like the process was reversed...
- so maybe it looks good, stylish, or modern...but it doesn’t work very well...
- more of a monument to the architect than a facility that accomplishes its purpose.
- Dr. Stowell suggests that this is what is happening in the church of Jesus Christ...
- he speaks about the many disagreements over worship style and music and ministry methodology, and he says this...
Joe Stowell - But if at some point the discussion does not deal with the preservation and promotion of the fundamental functions of a biblical church then we have lost our focus.  Too often biblical functions get lost in the discussion of the forms through which the functions flow.  Yet, the specific tasks, not the stages on which they’re played out, are the critically strategic issues of ministry.
- for a church, the fundamental functions have to do with the understanding of sound theology...truth about God from His Word that redeems and changes people...but in our culture, too often we’re more into style than substance...
- and that tendency can even impact Christ’s church...
-  Os Guinness – Today theology is really more than marginal in the church growth movement at the popular level.  Discussion of the traditional marks of the church is virtually nonexistent.  Instead, methodology is at the center and in control.  The result is a methodology only occasionally in search of a theology.  After all, church growth…is a self-professed “science,” not a theology.
- Stowell goes on to say this...Joe Stowell - That is not to say that forms are not critical. The functions God divinely prescribed need to have well-constructed forms through which to flow—passageways that reflect an understanding of the mind-set of the culture into which ministry is making its way.  However, forms must honor and support biblical tenets.  We must always be on guard lest changing forms eclipse or erode changeless function.  Forms can never become an end in themselves, nor can any one form become the fashionable and final statement of authentic ministry.

- This summer we’re doing a series entitled Passionately Pursuing our God in Worship and Music.
- I’m sure you can see how this matter of function, what a church is supposed to do, on one hand...and form, how a church is supposed to do it...is an important piece of this discussion...
- far too often, an inordinate amount of attention is given to form, without first thinking carefully, and clearly about function.
- So, this morning I’d like to speak to you about The Substance of Worship.
- with that in mind, would you please open your Bible to Isaiah chapter 6 [page 491 of the Bible under the chair in front of you].
- I don’t think we could have a series on worship without including this great passage of Scripture.
- I realize that some of you here today are just getting started in your study of the Scriptures...this is one of the central passages of God’s Word.
-  just like your computer allows you to put certain web sites in your “favorites” list...
- if you go through a similar process mentally with the Bible, Isaiah 6 belongs on that list.

- Isaiah was called to be a prophet to the southern portion of the nation of Israel known as Judah.
- politically, they’ve had the same king for 52 years, a man named Uzziah.
- his reign has been marked by a measure of economic and military strength, but regrettably the spiritual condition of the people was slowly getting worse.
- so God in his grace raises up Isaiah to give a series of prophecies of coming judgment on His people...and Isaiah is asked to begin these prophecies in the same year that King Uzziah died.
- so to strengthen him, and encourage him, and humble him...God allows Isaiah to see a marvelous vision of His power and majesty.
- and also because of God’s grace, this vision is recorded for us in the pages of scripture, so that we too can more passionately pursue our God.
- Read Isaiah 6:1-8

- We’re talking this morning about the substance of worship, and I’d like to suggest to you that in these great verses, we can find Three truths to direct our primary focus to the substance, or the “function” of worship.

I.  God’s Central Attribute is His Holiness.


- of course this event occurred before the Bible was completed...and God revealed Himself to people in many ways...
- you may remember that the book of Hebrews begins with the words - Hebrews 1:1-2 - God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son...
- well, one of those many ways in the Old Testament was through visions and dreams...
- what we’re reading here is that...
A.  Isaiah gained a fresh understanding of the character of God.
- the days in which he was living were filled with unrighteousness, even among God’s own people.
- and this prophet had been given the task of delivering a challenging message...
- and the only way he was going to fulfill the purpose God had given Him was if deep in his heart, he had a better understanding of God’s character.
- otherwise, he would have been overwhelmed by the size of the mission...
- or he might not have seen the dire importance of the mission, and all that was at stake...
- so God opens the veil, and let’s one of His children see Him as He is...and I’m sure you noticed...
B.  God’s majesty was overwhelming.
- did you notice the phrases in the text that try to describe the awesome character and power of God?
- the Lord sitting on a throne
- lofty and exalted
- the train of His robe filling the temple
- [verse 3] – the whole earth is full of His glory
- [verse 4] – the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out
- the temple was filling with smoke

- friends, God is not a glorified Santa Clause...
- He’s not a senile deity who’s bitten off more than He can chew...
- He’s not an overworked administrator who can’t quite get a handle on the details of the universe...
- His power, and wisdom, and majesty absolutely defy explanation and description...
- Isaiah was overwhelmed by this increased knowledge of His God.

- compare that to the world in which we live...
- theologian Carl Henry wrote – Our generation is lost to the truth of God, to the reality of divine revelation, to the content of God’s will, to the power of His redemption, and to the authority of His Word.  For this loss it is paying dearly in a swift lapse to paganism.  The savages are stirring again; you can hear them rumbling and rustling in the tempo of our times.

- also compare that to what God said about His people through the prophet Hosea...
- Hosea 4:6 - My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
- I want to ask you to especially focus on the phrase “I will reject you from being my priest”...
- He’s talking to them as a nation...they were represent Him to the other nations around them...but because they had rejected knowledge...they had rejected substance...they had rejected their function...
- they lost their ability to impact their culture around them...and even their children would suffer as a result.

- friends, I wonder what God would say about the church of Jesus Christ today.
- is the American evangelical church’s primary focus on substance....on our function...on our knowledge of the character of God and our passionate desire to find ways to communicate that to others who don’t yet know Him?
- or is it all about the forms, the style, the successes, the popularity, the preferences, and the opinions?

- of course the most important thing we could say about these first 4 verses is that...
C.  The focus was on His holiness.
- these angels, just like the scene in Revelation chapter 4, continually praise God for His holiness.
- can you just imagine in your mind’s eye this heavenly scene where over and over these angelic beings are crying “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts---the whole earth is full of His glory”?
- Theologian Millard Erickson reminds us that “There are two basic aspects of God’s holiness.  The first is his uniqueness.  He is totally separated from all of his creation.  The other aspect is his absolute purity or goodness.  This means that He is untouched and unstained by evil in the world.”
- a great verse to summarize these attributes is Exodus 15:11 - Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?
- and of course the answer to that question is...no one!

- John MacArthur - God is holy.  Of all the attributes of God, holiness is the one that most uniquely describes Him and in reality is a summarization of all His other attributes.  The word holiness refers to His separateness, His otherness, the fact that He is unlike any other being.  It indicates His complete and infinite perfection.  Holiness is the attribute of God that binds all the others together.  Properly understood, it will revolutionize the quality of our worship.

- the point of all of this is, Isaiah 6 kind of worship is all about substance, truth, doctrine, the attributes and character of God...one of God’s servants is coming to a new, and fresh, and enlarged knowledge and understanding of his God.
- now, let’s take it one step further....


II.  Proper Worship Leads to Confession, Forgiveness, and Cleansing.


- Isaiah says - Isaiah 6:5 - Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
- in other words...
A.  There was a renewed sense of the gravity of sin.
- Isaiah might have been one of the godliest men in the entire country at this time, but when he received a fresh realization of God’s holiness...he immediately became aware of his own sin, and need, and unworthiness.
- John MacArthur - There is much supposed worship going on today that does not genuinely regard God as holy, and thus it falls woefully short.  A lot of nice songs are being sung, nice feelings are being felt, nice thoughts are being thought, and nice emotions are being expressed, without a genuine acknowledgment of the holiness of God.  That kind of worship bears no relationship to the worship we see in the Bible.  It may be more psychological than theological, more fleshly than spiritual.

- one of the points I’m trying to make to you this morning is that too much of the average evangelical church’s focus in worship is on style, not substance, on form not function...
- and perhaps many of God’s people need to have a similar experience to Isaiah’s...
- and you could rightly ask...in what ways is there too much emphasis on style and form in worship?
- I think there’s at least two obvious ones...
1.  Some of the contemporary worship movement is pretty thin soup...
- there’s not a lot of doctrine...
- there’s not a lot of substance...
- that’s not true of all contemporary music by a long shot, but it true of a fair amount of it...
- and in many cases, the desire seems to be to help people feel good about themselves, and good about God, apart from a recognition of His character, and their character...and a careful understanding of the process necessary to be rightly related to Him.

[if time, read from Greeting Card Worship article]
- I’m suggesting to you that what’s at stake here is the very gospel itself... Joe Stowell - We must resist the temptation to popularize the gospel and thereby trivialize the depth and power of the gospel.  Gospel presentations that speak merely of finding peace in Jesus, that claim that the gospel is about thinking positively, or that we’re really here to help people recover and feel good about themselves leave the essence and issue of the gospel in jeopardy.  Attempts to entertain people into the kingdom and to put only the foot forward that is going to be accepted and applauded by the culture without also putting the essence of the gospel forward creates an environment in which we discount the very heart of Christianity.

2.  Now, if you really liked that point, please listen carefully to this one...too many on the rigidly conservative side of this discussion have become so focused on their conservative worship forms, and their conservative worship styles....
- that the attention is riveted on the perceived conservativeness of the style, not the accuracy and importance of the doctrine.
- that is an equally heinous sin.
- and I’d like to call all of us to seek an approach to worship that seeks to focus first and foremost on the substance...on the truth...
- what can I learn in this song, in this prayer, in this sermon about the character and attributes of God...even if it delivered in a form that might not be my first choice?
- because friends, if we really believe that these doctrinal truths are important, we would not want any needless style or form hinder anyone in this culture from coming to grips with the truth...would we?
- 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.

- when Isaiah was faced with a fresh understand of the character of God...of substance and function....he was convicted...
-  I wonder if some of us would be helped by saying, Lord...in my heart, in my life...
- it’s been too much about the style and not enough about the substance...
- it’s been too much about the form and not enough about the function...
- woe is me...I am a person of unclean lips...and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips...
- thank the Lord for the next portion of the text...
B.  There was a renewed sense of the beauty of forgiveness.
- this angel came and touched Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, symbolizing the forgiveness and cleaning available for all who come to this holy God in repentance and faith.
- what does that mean to us?...
1.  For the person who has not yet trusted Christ, today God would want you to come to Him.  [develop the gospel, esp. imputation]
2.  For those who are believers, I trust that we will ask God to help us worship in the way that makes the main things the main things.
- we’re working on a philosophy of music statement that we’ll make available to you soon, along with a set of frequently asked questions...but let me read a couple of paragraphs from this statement...
Because God is Truth  God expects truth in worship (John 4:23).  All aspects of a worship service should be shaped by and permeated by the Word of God.  Only the truth of Christ (John 17:17) which is word of Christ (Col. 3:16) has any sanctifying impact on the believer and can draw the unbeliever.  Therefore, we will engage in songs that are theologically truthful (accurate).  New choruses that are theologically accurate, traditional hymns that are theologically accurate, and other songs that are theologically accurate are acceptable.  Any instrument, arrangement, sound that detracts from the primacy of the message will be discarded or refined so that it promotes the message of truth.  The musical accompaniment is not be the focal point of worship—the message of truth will be.

Because God Knows Our Hearts  (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:7-9)  God is not pleased with vain worship.  Vain worship is characterized by personal convenience, lack of preparation, mindless participation, and irreverence.  Heartfelt worship is marked by sacrifice, preparation, focus, and reverence.*   True worship comes from the heart of an individual who is allowing the Word of God to "dwell in them richly" (Col. 3:16).  Our goal therefore is to engage our minds and hearts to meditate and apply great spiritual truth put to song and proclaimed through preaching.   Because worship begins with an internal response to the truth of God, we understand that external music cannot create worship and cannot make us feel and/or experience true worship.  Therefore we will not make it our goal to feel a certain way.  Good feelings are a by-product of a heart responding appropriately to God.   Furthermore, we will seek variety in song so as to not be vainly repetitious leading to a numbing familiarity.

- now you might wonder, what does this say about the tone of a worship service?...
- should it be heavy?...should it be light?
- should it be convicting?...should it be reassuring?
- should it be positive...should it be negative?
- should it be law?...should it be grace?...
- and the answer is...yes...all of that and more.
- the tone of the service should be consistent with the emphasis or theme of whatever passage of Scripture we’re studying.
- it also is going to be impacted by whatever spiritual condition a person brings to the equation.
- that’s why we said in the statement... we will not make it our goal to feel a certain way.  Good feelings are a by-product of a heart responding appropriately to God.  
- that’s the problem that we have with what you might call a “feel good church”...
- there’s not enough doctrine there to bring about genuine conviction and change...
- so the feelings are not the by-product of the sanctification process, they’re the replacement of it...
- but in some conservative approaches to worship...there’s not a passion for the truth that causes people to be flexible about the best way to present doctrine in this culture...
- they’re more committed to the form than they are to the function...
- more committed to the style than to the substance...
- that brings us back to the issue of balance.
- John Frame - Although sorrow for sin is certainly a legitimate aspect of worship, it should be understood as only a moment in worship, not a pervasive tone or atmosphere.  In Psalm 51 and Isaiah 6, sorrow for sin soon dissolves into joy as the sinner finds forgiveness through the grace of God.

- the kind of people who have this kind of balance are a delight to be around.
- [develop --- Father’s Day – many of the men in our church --- not particularly flashy, but definitely growing in holiness...
- instead of being a mile wide and an inch deep --- many are the real thing....
- could also develop the issue of men sometimes listening to their wives, sometimes leading them...]

- now, there’s one additional principle in this passage...


III.  Proper Worship Leads to Productive Service.


- the voice of the Lord says – Who shall I send, and who will go for Us?
- and Isaiah said – Here am I, send me.

- a person who’s really convinced about the holiness of God also knows this...
- there’s a terrible price for not being holy...
- when Satan and his host rebelled, Peter tells us - 2 Peter 2:4 - ...God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness...
- regrettably, that same fate awaits the unrepentant sinner - Matthew 25:41 - ...Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
- the only way for human beings to be reconciled to God is to receive someone else’s righteousness...

- and of course that means finding someone who possesses that righteousness...and secondly, someone who loves you enough to give it to you as a gift...
- friends, that’s what the gospel’s all about...
- Philippians 3:8-9 - More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,

- people whose worship is centered on the function, on the substance, on the core doctrines like the ones we’ve been studying this morning...
- they are going to be highly motivated to serve God.

- develop --- upcoming VBS, other service opportunities

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