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‘Worship wars’ are ‘worth fighting over,’ Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The much-discussed “worship wars” among evangelicals over the style and content of church services are battles “worth fighting over,” President R. Albert Mohler Jr. preached Feb. 3 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“There is no more important issue for the people of God than that we worship as God would have us to worship him,” Mohler said during the seminary’s convocation, the first chapel service of the semester.
Noting he spoke on the controversial issue “from the heart,” Mohler told the seminary community, “As I come before you this morning I do so burdened with the sense that we as evangelical Christians have lost a biblical understanding of worship.”
Acknowledging there are many views on the subject, Mohler said “the real issue” for the people of God “is whether or not God himself has an opinion on the issue.” Mohler cited the Leviticus 10:1-3 account of Aaron’s sons being killed by God for offering “strange fire” as a scriptural example of God’s concern that he be worshiped properly.
“I think God does have an opinion about worship,” Mohler declared. “For the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ, the God who has revealed himself in this Book is a jealous God. A God who loves us and is calling us out as a people. But a God who instructs and commands his people that we should worship him aright.”
Noting the standard for determining God’s design for corporate worship is found in the Bible, Mohler said the Protestant Reformers who insisted on the Bible as the sole measure of the Christian faith under the banner of “Sola Scriptura” called the Scriptures “the norm of norms
which cannot be normed.” The Bible is “the norm of our worship. There is nothing external to Scripture that can norm it. … Scripture sets the terms,” Mohler said.
Preaching from Isaiah 6:1-8, the “call passage” of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, Mohler offered four facets of authentic worship.
“The authentic worship of the living God begins with a true vision” of God, Mohler declared.
The cry of the seraphim “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Isaiah’s vision is the “hymn the Book of Revelation tells us we will be singing in eternity,” Mohler said. He noted the repetition of the word is the device in the Hebrew language to show emphasis. The holiness suggested from the passage, Mohler added, is an indication of God’s
“separateness from his creation. He is what we are not. We are finite. He is infinite.” Holiness, he said, can be characterized as God’s “moral majesty.”
A declaration of God’s attributes, as in the Isaiah passage, is a critical facet of authentic worship, Mohler said. “Worship is the people of God gathering together to confess his worthiness, his worthship. And how can we do that if we do not make clear who he is?”
Agreeing with secular philosopher Roger Scruton the most important indicator of what people really believe about God is more clearly indicated by how they worship than by their stated theology, Mohler said, “The haunting thought concerning much evangelical worship is that
the God of the Bible would never be known by watching us worship, by listening to our words, by listening to us sing, by observation of our prayer.”
Mohler deplored one author’s suggestion the “cringe factor” should be removed as an obstacle for worship among non-Christians. “As you read the Scripture, I fear to say there’s a great deal of the ‘cringe factor’ in there,” Mohler said. “In fact, if you’re going to remove the cringe
factor from Scripture, you’re going to end up with a very thin book.”
The state of evangelical worship can be seen in the decline of hymnody, Mohler said. “We see a surrender of conviction and accommodation to the culture and we see nothing less than a dumbing down of its content. We’ve gone from ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to ‘God the Swell Fellow,'” he said.
Mohler was careful to note not all praise and worship music is contrary to the biblical standards. “Much of it is richly biblical. Much of it is taken directly out of the Psalter,” he said.
As people recognize their spiritual condition in light of God’s holiness, corporate and individual confession of sin is the second feature of authentic worship, Mohler stated.
“If we do not come face-to-face with our sin individually and corporately, I do not believe we have seen God. I do not believe we worship him,” Mohler insisted, noting the prophet “sees his sinfulness, he sees himself to the core.”
Rather than brokenness and contriteness, too much confession among evangelicals is more like a child’s insincere “sorry” when caught by a parent, Mohler said.
Authentic worship will result, thirdly, in a “display of redemption” in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Mohler stated.
In Isaiah’s vision, redemption is represented by the seraphim placing the burning coal from the altar on his sinful lips, Mohler said. The act of redemption by God is “unilateral” and is “all of grace and it is costly,” he said. “True worship always proclaims the gospel, the
kerygma, the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. It proclaims the work of Christ and it centers in the cross. With the apostle Paul we say, in the cross of Christ we glory. We proclaim liberty to the captives, grace and pardon to all who believe in his name.”
The final aspect of true worship, according to Mohler, is found in the call for response to the claims of the gospel. Just as Isaiah accepted the call to his prophetic role, Christians bear the burden of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20.
“If our worship is weakened, our missionary witness will be weakened as well, for we will forget the God who has sent us and we will forget the message of redemption with which he has sent us,” Mohler said.
While agreeing worship will always have a diversity of styles, vernacular languages and contexts, Mohler insisted there remains a distinct biblical standard which must be followed, one which has God as its focus. “There must be one glorious purpose, following this clear biblical pattern, measuring everything by the norm of Scripture, by how God has revealed he would wish to be worshiped,” he said.
“We must learn from each other in this process that together we, as the people of God, would get this right as we stand before God and we stand under the Scripture,” Mohler declared. “Together let us heed the words of this Book. Let us worship God.”

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  • James A. Smith
  • James A. Smith, Sr.
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