FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Worship is a lifestyle, and Christians worship only through living daily in God’s presence, said Bruce Leafblad, coordinator of the Worship 2000 conference held Feb. 14-18 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“A denomination that looks to annual revivals for renewal has still not figured it out,” said Leafblad, Southwestern professor of church music and worship. “[Worship] is about living with God in such a way that renewal becomes a way of life and not an episode from time to time. That’s really the secret.”
People from 25 states, 10 foreign countries and nine denominations gathered at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary to examine worship in the 21st century, including current debates over form and style.
All debate is silenced when the reality of whom God is and the glory due him comes into focus, said Gordon Borror, pastor-elder of preaching and worship at First Baptist Church, Milwaukie, Ore.
“To the degree your view of God is distorted, your life is out of focus,” said Borror, who called for a balanced ministry that explores God’s wrath and mercy.
“Don’t just preach and sing what everybody wants to hear,” he said, warning the church not to take its cues from the world. “The collective view of society is more and more distant from the Bible. I challenge you to ask people, ‘Who is God and what is he about?'”
The evangelical world’s lack of confidence in God’s Word can lead to such distortion even in the church, said Anne Ortlund, who with her husband, Ray, addressed the conference. Through their Renewal Ministries outreach, the Ortlunds address churches nationwide.
Anne finds as she polls churches during her travels that many Christians don’t know the Bible because they substitute Bible study with study of books about the Bible.
“We strive so hard to put God’s Word into our own words and to make it relevant. It is relevant. We must have confidence in the naked truth of Scripture,” she said, encouraging Christians to teach the Bible as a book God authored with order and common themes that weave from Genesis to Revelation.
“The Bible is as symmetrical as a flower, and it’s all practical; it’s all hands-on,” she said.
One connecting theme is God’s self-revelation, which Ron Allen, professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, explored in Exodus 15, the “first collective worship experience of the Hebrew nation.”
From the Hebrew, Exodus 15:2 expresses that God is “my strong song, my reason for singing,” said Allen, who referred to the same wording in Psalm 118:14 and Isaiah 12:2.
Noting the passages occur at the “three most critical junctures in the Old Testament,” Allen said in Exodus is Israel’s celebration of deliverance; Psalm 118 is believed to be the song of Passover, pointing to resurrection; and Isaiah 12 is a song for the coming kingdom.
Later, Allen tackled the controversial question, “Isn’t that the devil’s instrument?” by asking instead, “Is that an instrument a believer has not yet learned to play well in praise of God?”
He also asserted that the artistry, music, instruments and dancing of Hebrew worship were learned in Egypt, making their origin pagan.
“Moses had experienced the living God, and he drew upon his background to express it,” he said.
Borror lamented how Americans’ affinity for entertainment causes many people to expect a show at church. Conference speakers said church leadership and congregations share the blame.
“With the TV revolution, we expect the pros up front to amuse us — to make us laugh, cry or feel good,” Anne Ortlund said.
Borror challenged conferees to practice responding to God by viewing worship services as a rehearsal for the performance of life.
“How do you know when you have worshiped?” he asked. “When you obey.”
With this mind-set, Borror said, everyday living becomes an act of worship because the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are made in the image of God.
Not all worship trends, like the seeker movement and church services targeting one specific group, reflect that image, some of the speakers said.
“The church is meant to gather around God,” Anne Ortlund said. “When the audience is our focus, we screw up.”
Lamenting regular services limited to one age group or subculture, she warned of the resulting erosion of biblical knowledge.
“We desperately need the stability the aged bring and the energy the youth bring us,” Borror said.
The Ortlunds said they have been noticing a great hunger for the immediacy of God, songs springing from the hearts of people, more intense reaction to the world’s evil and a more casual worship in which the young and poor fit in.
Such practices comprise the “finish work” of worship, Borror said.
“The church is a spiritual building made of living stones,” he said, referring to Romans 12. “Do we repel the storms that blow against us? Do we reflect God’s beauty and add value to our neighborhood’s property? Are we a liability or asset to those who hold the mortgage?”
Finishing touches are useless unless they’re applied, Borror continued.
“If you see the finish wearing thin, it’s time for revival — confession and restoration of the beauty God intends for his church,” he said.
What God intends — and the heart of worship — is constant focus on him. “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” Ray Ortlund exhorted, “because he’s the author, the finisher and the perfect runner of the race. Fix your eyes on Jesus as you see him in the Bible — on the cross, risen, ascended and reigning right now. Fix your eyes on Jesus coming again, alive and present, revealed by the Holy Spirit.
“Fix your eyes on Jesus … not on yourself, not on the world, not on your finances, not on your sins, not on Satan, not on your prayer life to Jesus, not on your ministry about Jesus, not on your service for Christ, not on some great saint, not on your circumstances, not on your gift, not on your defeats, not on your victories, not even on your faith in Jesus.
“Fix your eyes on Jesus again,” Ortlund continued. “Fix your eyes on Jesus always. Fix your eyes on Jesus right now. Fix your eyes on Jesus only. Fix your eyes on Jesus still. Fix-fix-fix your eyes on Jesus. Now go, and fix your eyes on Jesus.”