Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Worship in Order : The Business of Christian Education LXX

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33

            To respond to the chaos of the worship order in the Corinthian church, Paul wrote a lengthy letter in order to educate the congregation there on the proper worship.  Not only Paul directed about the regulation and the foundational theology of the Lord’s Supper, but also he touched many other things in worship, including the comparison between speaking in tongues and speaking intelligible words, even on how to dress, and the offering.  For sure Paul did not only write about formal/corporate worship.  Paul dealt even deeper and wrote in the theological basis and ventured into the spiritual dimension.  One particular highlight from Paul’s teaching is his emphasis on order of worship.  Order in worship is very important as well as the purpose to build up the body of Christ.  The reasoning of order in worship lies in
verse 33 of our passage that states: For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.  Or in other translation: For God is not of disorder but of peace.  This reasoning finds its basis in God’s character.  Disorder is not in God’s nature.  If we remember Genesis chapter 1, we will find out the truth that in the creation narrative it is portrayed that God ordered the world.  Before the creation narrative went to the account of the days, it is said that: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2).  Then the next verses showed that God started ordering the formless earth and put it in order.  The first day God created time by separating light (day) and darkness (night).  The second day God created space by binding water in the sky above and ocean below, and so there was a space between the waters.  The third day God created dry ground on earth by putting boundary around the water so it won’t cover the dry land.  And then God proceeded by commanding the land to produce all kinds of vegetation which will be the food for all living creatures.  On the fourth day God created lights in the sky to give lights to the earth both in the day and in the night.  Then on the fifth day God created living creatures for the sky and the ocean.  The sixth day God created all living creatures on dry land including the crown of creation, humans.  In the order of creation from the first to the sixth day the organization is very orderly.  The first day is parallel to the fourth, the second is parallel to the fifth, and the third to the sixth.  The first day God created the time and the physical objects that shine forth light for the day and night were created in the fourth.  Time becomes the order of all living creatures’ activities on earth.  Second and third were the days of the organization of space, while fifth and sixth the filling in of the space created.  The second day God separated sky above and ocean below, and on the fifth God created the living creatures that occupy those areas.  The third day God made the dry land and ordered food to appear, and on the sixth day all living creatures that occupy the dry land were created.  After God ordered the world properly, then God blessed the seventh day when he rested from all creation work.  Since the beginning God has revealed his orderly nature.  And when we observe nature we will find evidences of order.

            If we read the book of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we will find how God ordered Israel through Moses the organization of worship, of civil order, of social life, etc.  God took the time to explain to Moses in great detail about the order of worship the way he wanted it.  All the offerings that were authorized before the Lord were ordered in full clarity.  The people who were to do all the worship activities were also organized strictly.  If we are careful to read the Scripture we will find that when there were transgressions against God’s order, God disciplined his people.  Order is important.  For in it we can find honor.  In Leviticus 10 we are shocked by God’s strong discipline toward the new priests, Nadab and Abihu – Aaron’s sons.  God killed them because they offered an unauthorized fire in the presence of the Lord.  Order must be preserved.  If order is not followed, then the person giving order is not honored.  Nadab and Abidu did not honor the Lord by transgressing God’s order.  So they had to die.  Even Moses was disciplined by the Lord when he dishonored God (Numbers 20:1-13), and so he could not enter the Promised Land (cf. Deuteronomy 3:23-28).  Order was set by the Lord to organize the chaotic life of the people.  They must not live disorderly as God’s people.  As God’s people they are to learn the orderly way because God is an orderly God.  Even the way the tabernacle was to be built was ordered in very great detail.  And Moses was given specific instruction:

1The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.  (Exodus 25:1-9)

Following this passage, God gave detailed instructions on the step by step of the design of the sanctuary where people would come to worship the Lord.  The order of the worship space was amazing that by following the instructions as written by Moses one may build it properly.

            So both the worship space and the order of worship activities were given including the days to celebrate, so that God’s people may worship the Lord properly.  In contrast, the other nations worshipped their gods in the way they wanted it.  Since their gods were not God at all, they received no instructions on how to worship.  Thus they followed their own wild imagination.  Some worshipped by sacrificing their sons and daughters.  Some worshipped by committing prostitutions.  Others worshipped by hurting themselves like the prophets of Baal when they were face to face with Elijah on Mount Carmel.  All these worship activities by other nations were disorderly.  They did not fit in the pattern of the divine that God had put in every human heart.  Certainly they did not fit in the nature of God.  Therefore, in order to fit the purpose of true worship as God’s image worshipping the Creator, God gave the order of worship in great detail.  Although today we do not follow the sacrificial activities as ordered in the Pentateuch, nevertheless we may learn from it the principles of worship order that stem out from the nature of God.  Order as a reflection and expression of honor is to be kept in mind when one worships the Lord.

            In the Corinthian church, the disorder crept in and created problems in the church.  Thus people no longer honor the Lord.  Each follows his/her own imagination in the act of worship.  This cannot be tolerated.  In the matter of spiritual gifts, everyone desired to show off their gift without the motif to edify the body of Christ.  So Paul had to rebuke them and educate them that their conduct was unacceptable.  In our passage above, Paul had to give the church a boundary of the use of tongue in corporate worship.  Chaos is not a reflection of God’s true nature.  So anything disorderly must not be allowed in the worship.  For God is the God of peace.

            Now, in our context today we also face similar problems.  We debate over worship matter.  Sometimes even to the point of division in the church.  The Corinthian church also dealt with division in the church.  So Paul had to warn them that God’s church was not divided.  There are many issues today that surface in the area of worship.  One of the hottest discussions today is about the music in corporate worship.  Commonly, congregations are divided between the traditional and contemporary.  Those in the traditional side feel more comfortable to worship using hymns.  Those in the contemporary side prefer contemporary songs.  For the traditional, the contemporary songs are distracting.  For the contemporary, hymns are boring.  If the problem is preference, then we won’t be able to solve it even in a million year.  It would be like some people prefer red over black, or some prefer chocolate over vanilla.  The end of the debate can be predicted if preference is the issue.  It would be that everyone is free to choose whatever they want.  Unfortunately, this is the route many have taken.  The problem with this pseudo solution is that God’s church becomes divided.  The same principles that existed in the time of Moses and Paul must be used here.  The principle is order according to the Lord, for such order honors him.  So the main question in corporate worship is whether the worship service is in proper order?  If worship becomes disorder then one should wonder if such is the right way to worship the orderly God?  Second, what kind of order that is being employed in the worship?  Is it the kind of order as clued in the Scripture or is it the kind of order as the world wants it?  Third, when it is already in good order, is it honoring the Lord?  Remember we are not worshipping an idol who knows nothing about our activities.  We are worshipping the Lord of heaven and earth.  Our Lord God is alive.  His order and command is what we have to follow.

            At one time I went to a church.  It was a big church with more than 5000 people worshipping at the same time.  Toward the end of the worship service, the pastor said loudly: “Let us now all pray in tongues!”  And then everyone prayed in unintelligible language they called as speaking in tongues.  The question was: “Is this a worship service that follows the order as described in the Scripture?”  Clearly, according to the passage above, it was not.  Paul instructed speaking in tongues should be done in order and only limited to three in one worship.  They cannot speak at the same time.  They can only speak one at a time.  The first speak and then an interpretation must be provided.  Then the second may speak, followed by the interpretation.  Then the third following the same order.  There cannot be the fourth.  If there is no one interpreting, then no speaking in tongues is allowed.  But my experience in that church disregarded all of Paul’s instruction.  They all spoke in tongues at the same time.  There was no one interpreting.  And there were about 5000 of them.  Is that the kind of worship that honors the Lord?

            At a different time, I went to a church.  In one Sunday morning, about 20,000 people came to worship.  From beginning up to the time of the sermon, the worship leaders stood on the podium to lead the worship.  The worship was very intense that the worship leaders moved and jumped around like vocalists in a rock concert.  The band was very loud, especially the drum and the electric guitar.  It was almost difficult to differentiate the worship service from a rock concert.  They were very professional, though.  They did not make mistakes in their singing of the songs.  None whatsoever.  It was all done professionally just like all others do in music entertainment business.  The question is whether such worship is appropriate in God’s sanctuary?  Is it order as described in the Scripture or is it order as the world created it?  Is it honoring the Lord or is it just bringing satisfaction to express the emotions?  Who were they worshipping?  The Lord or the world?

            One of the most debated items in worship is worship songs.  Again, the hymns versus the contemporary songs.  In any case, song choice should be done carefully.  We are worshipping the Lord of heaven and earth.  In formal occasion such as the presidential inauguration or wedding ceremonies for prince and princess, one must carefully select proper songs that fit the occasion.  How much more if we are going to use music to praise and worship the Lord, the King of all the earth.  Even in music industry, song choice is key for the success of the artist.  Selecting a wrong song could spell disaster to the sale of the album.  The music industry has a very sophisticated market survey in order to figure out what kind of music and songs that would sell.  Now, we are worshipping God, aren’t we supposed to be extra careful in picking out proper songs?  Hymns for sure have been tested for many many years and proven to be standing the test of time.  No doubt that the hymns that we currently preserve are great songs to praise our Lord.  But I do not think that praising the Lord should be limited only to the hymns that we have.  However, this doesn’t mean that any “Christian” songs may be used for corporate worship.  Again, the principle is order and honor.  Contemporary songs have not stood the test of time.  There are so many songs out there that a lot of people just take in and use in corporate worship without careful screening.  Now, if for formal occasion for humans we carefully select songs, how much more we must carefully select songs for the formal occasion of meeting the King of kings.  Even contemporary songs we need to carefully select whether it is appropriate for worship.  Not only the lyrics that we should carefully screen, but also the musicality we ought to check.  What genre of music that is proper for corporate worship must be carefully studied.  For sure we cannot admit just any genre of music for use in corporate worship.  Only songs that are designed carefully for corporate worship may be allowed for use in worship.  Christian song writers must be educated of this matter so they may create proper songs for the right occasion.  Just like we do not sing songs of broken heart in a wedding ceremony, we also ought not to sing songs that project hopelessness in corporate worship.  This applies to the lyrics as well as the genre of music.  When we choose the songs, we always ought to ask whether we promote order in the worship.  And further, whether we honor the Lord with our song choice.  Always remember how God reveals himself in the Scripture, beginning from creation onward.  That is our guide.

            Order is very significant.  Our sinful tendency desires disorder.  But God wants order.  The weakness of the flesh drags our feet to slack.  Naturally, the sinfulness of our flesh avoids order.  Because order means discipline.  Discipline means following God’s will.  Human sinfulness entices us to follow our own will.  Worship does not belong to us.  It belongs to God.  So God has the full right of what kind of worship humans must offer to him.  And God has revealed his will through his words.  We must not replace God’s order of worship with our own and call it worship.  We also must not argue that worship is a matter of preference.  Once we fall into the preference argument, then we are dividing church.  Paul warned strongly against any attempt to divide God’s church.  The only preference that we ought to follow is God’s preference.  And how we know it is by carefully studying and listening to his words in his Holy Scripture.  With this, we ought to be clear that the problem is not about traditional versus contemporary.  But the main concern is about order versus disorder, honor versus dishonor.  Certainly in the Scripture, God reveals himself as orderly God.  Therefore, an orderly worship is the way to go.  For it is the only way to honor God in worship.

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