Saturday, August 13, 2005

Opiate and an Ancient Creed

This matter of worship should be near to the heart for each of us in the body of Christ. The truth is that we are called to a life of worship. (Romans 12) No amount of singing, praise, preaching or dancing can substitute for a heart that fully yields to God and a will that chooses to obey. Yet today, it seems that many have turned "worship" into a market niche more so than a ministry of leading God’s people from the “outer courts to the inner courts" and into the "holy of holies" – the presence of God.

“Say it ain’t so..” a young boy cries to his hero “Shoeless Joe” Jackson on the heels of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. (Those unfamiliar with baseball might find the story of the 1919 World Series scandal to be an interesting read.) Whilst the baseball analogy may breakdown in translation outside of the States, it may in fact be true that chronic casual (with little cost or consequence) Christianity may indeed be mostly an American phenomena.

In contrast, are you familiar with the Nicene Creed? It grew out of a gathering called by the Emperor Constantine. Its aim was a clear statement of orthodox Christian doctrine. The gathering took place in 325 A.D. The creed reads like this:

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe one holy catholic (universal or comprehensive) and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

Why would I point us to an ancient creed? It is because we Christians today - in American culture- often have it pretty easy. Yet, whilst I do not believe it will stay this way, we – for the moment- live in a society which, at present, requires very little of us if we profess Christ.

Recently in Dallas, TX, a “Madison Avenue-esque” billboard for a “Christian” event at a large coliseum struck me. (Atlanta or a number of other cities could just as easily be the example. I just happened to be working in Dallas when I saw the advertisement.) It really made an impression and it wasn’t the impression the owners intended. The sign was near the exit for Texas Stadium. You could see it along interstate. Big, glossy letters of religious jargon appealing to a niche market of religious consumers that could fork over the cash to hear the latest chart topping “Christian” artists and crowd drawing speakers. However, in many places today, as well as in the history of the church, such freedom has not often been the norm.

It is said of many that took part in the Council of Nicea were Christians leaders from the across the land. Many were “missing limbs or eyes, or bore scars from wounds they had suffered during the persecution under pagan emperors”. As the Emperor Constantine entered the church where they had assembled, he was overcome with awe and compassion upon seeing these confessors of Christ. Approaching them, he bent over and kissed the empty sockets of the eyes many had lost whilst being tortured by the persecutors. Out of veneration for these men of God, the mighty emperor remained standing until the Church Fathers beckoned him to sit. Such a scene is quite the contrast to American Christianity today.

The billboards of our history and the persecuted church of today are not made with “big, glossy letters of religious jargon”. Rather, they are constructed of missing limbs, lost loved ones, jail time, wounds and scars. And, from such a condition, a worshiping church springs forth.

Maybe today, we do use worship as an "opiate"? (To quote Foster) Frankly, to be lost in the presence of God does cause, as the hymn says, “things of earth” to “grow strangely dim.” It should be so. However, may we not forsake the God who is the object of our worship and may we not stop at the emotion but continue on to obedience.

Let me wrap up with a few quotes from others:

John Calvin - "Lawful worship consists in obedience alone."

Geoff Bullock - "We've made worship self-centred instead of God-centred. We lobby for what we want: 'I don't like the songs', 'I don't like the volume'. It's as if we're worshipping worship instead of worshipping God."

"Worship is not a result of how good the music is or whether my favourite songs are sung. It is not a consequence of whether I stand or sit, lift my hands or kneel. My worship must be an expression of my relationship with God - in song, in shouts and whispers, sitting, walking, or driving the car. Worship is my response to God.

A.P. Gibbs - "The term, "worship," like many other great words, such as "grace" and "love," defies adequate definition. The meaning of these words, like the exquisite perfume of a rose, or the delightful flavor of honey, is more easily experienced than described.

Some definitions of value:

"Worship is the overflow of a grateful heart, under the sense of Divine favor." Here the writer has emphasized the fact that worship is a spontaneous thing. It is not something which has to be laboriously pumped up, but that which springs up, and overflows from a heart filled with a sense of the greatness and goodness of God. . . .

"Worship is the outpouring of the soul at rest in the presence of God." Here the accent is on the spiritual condition of the one who worships. The believer is at rest. . . .

"Worship is the occupation of the heart, not with it's needs, or even with it's blessings, but with God Himself." Here the distinction is between prayer, praise, and worship. . .

Charles Swindoll - "We are often so caught up in our activities that we tend to worship our work, work at our play and play at our worship."

A.W. Tozer - "We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God."


Anonymous Liz said...

Thanks for the interesting story on the Nicene Creed.

I don't know what to feel about Contemporary Christian music ... there's so much junk out there, but yet there are some jewels as well. But the trivialising of worship, or the 'worship of worship' is also beyond American shores. Maybe because Malaysian Christians often adopt American trends. We have people saying that a form of worship is better than another ... silly things like that, when worship is more than drums, fancy vocal manoeveurs and tambourines.

Blogger DB said...

An honest look at yourself and as Liz says it is not limited to the US, I see it here and I saw it in Australia. The story reminds me of the church in China where not so long ago people were jailed and tortured for their faith. I suspect that like the Niceans they don't put much energy into debating the how of worship either.

Anonymous Paula said...

Hardly a word about Foster's book. I think I'm beginning to identify more and more with your posts. *smile*


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