Saturday, August 30, 2008


Near the close of his great argument for unity in the Roman church, Paul prays thus: “Now may the God of perseverance and encouragement grant to you the same mind among one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord (desire or purpose), you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5, 6).

The Roman Christians were divided – by ethnicity, religious background, tradition. Some (myself included) think that Paul’s main purpose in writing this letter was to bring about a unity in this church. This unity, he seemed to think, would express itself in worship. Perhaps he even hoped that unity would be aided by worship.

How sad that that which was intended to be an expression of unity in the church has become a cause of division, as my previous two posts and the comments on them reveal.

Now I realize that sometimes there are reasons for division or separation, reasons for leaving a church: false or shoddy doctrine; immorality. But it seems like many hop from church to church because of the particular style of worship. And some hold to their stylistic preference stronger than they do to their theology.

I had a friend who retired from preaching the gospel due to illness. He then had a hard time finding a new church home – not because of the teaching of the various churches he attended, but because their music had become too modern. He settled for a time in a church that taught baptismal regeneration. He knew he disagreed with their doctrine, but they sang the old hymns he was used to.

It seems we have forgotten the purpose of worship: to glorify God! We seem to feel that the purpose of worship is our own entertainment. And unfortunately, sometimes those in charge seem to feel that way too. We (and I include my generation) have been entertained almost to death: hours of television, radio, etc., have made us feel that we are entitled to be constantly amused. And we bring that feeling of entitlement to church with us when we worship.

But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be! The purpose of worship is not to entertain me, but to glorify God!

The following lines are attributed to the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in 1846:

“In regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor – not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart.

. . . In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.

. . . God’s presence is the decisive thing that changes all.”

It’s not about me – it’s about Him!

While I as the preacher, or Mike as music director, have other purposes – to teach, to exhort, to comfort, to encourage – our primary purpose is to glorify God, “the critical theatergoer.” And in a real sense, we have not accomplished our primary purpose until we have brought our congregation(s) to fulfill that purpose.

More later.

Bill Ball


Mike said...

"Church," as it has been "done" in the recent past has been something of a spectator sport. There have been performers on stage--the music leader, the special music folks, the pastor--and the spectators, i.e., the congregation in the stands . . . er, the pews.

I think the general trend to try to make worship a more all-inclusive, comprehensive experience for all has been good. The recognition that folks need to be drawn into worship, to be absorbed into worship is a good thing. As you so well pointed out, God is the spectator, and we are, all of us, the performers as we offer our praises to Him to glorify Him.

To use your theater analogy, it is not about us, or shouldn't be. We are all the performers. God is the only one who paid the admission price, so he is the only one who is entitled to get his money's worth. Can you imagine a theater performer who signed on to perform a part, and than walked off in the middle of the show because suddenly he or she decided that they didn't like the script after all?

Thank you for the perspective on this Bill. I think many congregations are making little strides to try to bring the entire congregation into full participation in worship. Such devices as replacing pews with more comfortable individual chairs, praise and worship teams rather than song leaders, theater in the round where folks can see each other, and other similar devices are all good. But many of these changes are as much opposed as changes in music styles by those who are comfortable with the status quo because "that's the way it's always been."

I'm not sure what the answer is to all of this, but I think part of it is leadership. Leadership in any church should set the tone and the direction, and then pull people along. But there needs to be a clearly defined, well thought out plan to move from point A to point B--point B being a fully-inclusive, meaningful worship of our great God.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks, Mike. Well said!