Worship that is authentic and true

Dear fellow worshippers,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

I recently saw an anonymous blog post titled, The Church Service of the Future. I think you’ll enjoy this slightly modified version:

Pastor: “Praise the Lord!”

Congregation: “Hallelujah!”

Pastor: “Please turn in your tablet, iPod, iPad, cell phone, PC or Kindle to 1 Corinthians 13:13, then switch on your Bluetooth to download today’s sermon notes. You can also logon our church Wi-fi using the password, ILOVEGCI777.”

[P-a-u-s-e]

bible-app
Source

“Now, let’s pray, committing this week to God. Please open your Apps, BBM, Twitter and Facebook and let’s chat with God…”

[S-i-l-e-n-c-e]

“And now as we give our tithes and offerings, please have your credit or debit card ready. Those preferring electronic funds transfer, go to one of the laptops at the rear of the sanctuary, or use your iPad or iPod. Those preferring telephone banking use your cell phone to transfer contributions to our church account.”

[As the ushers circulate, mobile card swipe machines in hand, the holy atmosphere becomes electrified as cell phones, iPods, iPads, PCs and laptops beep and flicker.]

[Then at the end of the service comes the final blessing and closing announcements:]

“This week’s ministry cell meetings will be held on the various Facebook group pages where the usual group chatting takes place. Logon and don’t miss out! Thursday’s Bible study will be held live on Skype at 1900 hours GMT. Don’t miss out! This weekend you can follow me on Twitter for pastoral counseling and prayer. May God bless you—have a wonderful week.”

While I enjoy the use of technology to enhance church services (and I’ve been known to use my phone to look up a Scripture from time to time), I think you’ll agree that technology cannot replace worship: It can’t replace prayer, it can’t replace study groups or small groups, and most importantly, it can’t replace fellowship and the sharing of the story that gives shape to and explains why we worship.

texting
Used with permission

A story of real relationship

Authentic and true worship is about a story of real relationship that affects all humanity. That story tells how the world became dysfunctional due to the sin of its inhabitants who developed a storyline other than the one their Creator intended. It tells how humanity rejected God, seeking its own way, leading to lawlessness, jealousy and hate. But it’s also the story of God and his gift of redemption, forgiveness, adoption and love. Were we to focus only on humanity’s side of the story, we’d have no cause for worship. But God has written already the end of the story, and continues working to bring it about. The story tells us that our Creator became our Redeemer and that our Redeemer is Jesus—the truth who sets us free (John 14:6; 8:36). By, through and in him we worship God in gratitude for the fact that we are included in God’s story—a story that tells us how God got involved in the chaos of humanity’s mess and redeemed and restored us so we might fulfill his purpose for all creation (humanity included).

Created for worship

Human beings were created to worship their Creator and Redeemer with all they are and all they have. For humans, the ultimate fulfillment in life is being in right relationship with God. We see that fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus who not only shows us who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but show us who we are as humans in right relationship with God. Jesus shows us that we were created to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we ourselves are loved by God. In Jesus, we hear and see this purpose lived out to perfection. He alone perfectly fulfills the two great commandments that sum up all of God’s will and ways. And by the provision of his grace, accomplished in his cross, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has included us in his circle of perfect relationship and, by the Spirit, calls us to participate in his ongoing worship of God and his love for all people.

Embrace the true narrative, reject the false

Various religions have devised narratives to describe their particular conception of God and his relationship to the world. Some of these conceptions are noted in the chart below. We believe that the most accurate understanding of who God is and how he is related to the world is found in Scripture and in the creeds of the early Christian church—a narrative identified below as Trinitarianism (under Monotheism).

theisms

One of the other narratives is Panentheism (under Polytheism). It’s gaining popularity in North American and Western culture, with some offering a “Christianized” version (Christo-panentheism) in which the God-world relationship is seen as a unity of being between the triune God and creation. Although those who teach this story acknowledge that there is more to God, creation is held to be naturally divine and naturally in right relationship with God—a relationship that is built-in, behind-the-scenes, on auto-pilot. This relationship requires no costly personal intervention by God to put things right. The “unity” and “love” in this narrative is impersonal, requiring no repentance or transformation, and no worship. It’s a very different story than the Christian gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Christo-panentheism’s easy and automatic nature makes it attractive to some Christians. In this issue we’ve included an essay that I asked Dr. Gary Deddo to write to spell out for us the key elements of Christo-panentheism, showing how it diverges from the biblical narrative revealed in Jesus Christ. I encourage you to read it carefully.

The heart of worship

The story of our Triune God (which includes creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and re-creation) shows forth the glory of God and the true nature of our ongoing relationship with God. The dynamics of the relationship between the Triune God and his creatures, through Christ, and by the Spirit, is the heart of worship that is authentic and true. This worship not only involves praising God for including us in his story—it also has to do with participation in that story in our individual lives and in the life of the church. This worship occurs in churches where the truth about what God has done and is now doing is lived out in his people.

Appreciating worship that is authentic and true,
Joseph Tkach

4 thoughts on “Worship that is authentic and true”

  1. Thanks much for addressing Panentheism. The current leanings in some Christian circles towards various forms of mysticism also brings to mind elements that have been a part of the so called “New Age movement”. At times some of these developments border around ideas found in historical Gnosticism where false notions about spirituality were widespread. The result is a rather fuzzy and confused theology often centered on the self and on the created order. In our multi-cultural post-modern relativistic world there is a great need for solid teaching that is firmly rooted in the Christ and the true Gospel. Jesus is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life.

  2. Dear Moderator(s),

    This Weekly Update touches upon a number of important aspects of God’s relationship with his creation that are of interest, as well as some difficulty of understanding for me. The last paragraph states: “The story of our Triune God (which includes creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and re-creation) shows forth the glory of God and the true nature of our ongoing relationship with God. The dynamics of the relationship between the Triune God and his creatures, through Christ, and by the Spirit, is the heart of worship that is authentic and true.” It also says, “Authentic and true worship is about a story of real relationship that affects all humanity.”

    The subject of our relationship with God; how we are/were made by God; the dynamics of the fall by Adam and Eve; the “establishment,” or forming of humans to function the way they do, leads to an inevitable connection and interrelatedness with various other topics and doctrines with relevance to our existence and relationship with God.

    Instead of continuing with a longer introduction, I think I’ll just cut to the chase: Since God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46: 10), and Jesus was “foreordained before the foundation of the world'” (1 Peter 1: 20), then it appears it was inevitable that humanity would, and was inevitably destined to sin.

    Next, Adam and Eve’s “functionality” is important to consider. How did they function? How did they “tick”? What characteristics of reasoning, personality, temperament, character, intelligence, thinking, (being) etc., did they have, and how did they come to have these features (both strengths and weaknesses; and positive and negative)? God created them, so they were “determined,” that is, their “parameters” were given by God.

    This is where it gets difficult, I think: How “independent” (ie., “separate”) from God were they, since all they were was created (put together) by God? Were Adam and Eve not guilty of sin then, because they were created with weaknesses that would cause/lead them to sin? Could they then not be held responsible for their actions (again, “their” actions being, to some extent, a consequence of the way they were “constructed”). It does not seem logical to say they were not responsible for their actions.

    Many questions remain, such as whether God could have created people who would be “independent,” thinking with free will and choice (to a high, but indeterminate degree), and with a (“natural”) capacity to not sin (like Himself)? Possibly, He could have. It appears somewhat of a contrast for God, who has never sinned, to form his creation so it would sin. This may be the way, however, that God has determined to work out his plan.

    As mentioned in the Update, “That story tells how the world became dysfunctional due to the sin of its inhabitants who developed a storyline other than the one their Creator intended. It tells how humanity rejected God, seeking its own way, leading to lawlessness, jealousy and hate.” A little further on, the Update continues, “But God has written already the end of the story, and continues working to bring it about.” It seems to me that the way the world is now, and the storyline of man that developed, is exactly what God knew, saw, and possibly planned for it to be. Witness the eschatological scriptures in the Gospels and Revelation. In Matthew, where the well-known verse says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

    God is no doubt working out his plan for the world. Relationship with, and worship of God, as well as relationship with fellow man is central. But it is difficult to understand how things work and “fit together.” We are left with a variety of contrasting and contradictory views on numerous topics including these:

    • Predestination, determinism, Arminianism
    • Predestined to salvation or predestined to damnation?
    • Free-will and free choice versus partial free-will and choice
    • The existence of hell—why hell? Was hell there (ie. planned/provided) from all eternity?
    • Salvation: going to heaven, the rapture, or at the resurrection?
    • The resurrection “body”: spiritual (“like the angels”), or some “composite” (Spiri-material)?
    • What about the uncalled (now and in the past)?
    • General calling and particular calling)?;
    • Universalism?
    • Evil in the world (both moral and “natural”): where did it come from if it didn’t exist before God created anything. This means God created what he created (eg. angels) with the capacity to sin and do evil (maybe not on the godly plane?).

    Could it be that God planned things to be the way they are so he can work them out in such a way that all will work out well, and for his glory, and that we will all share in His eternal life for eternity? During this eternity of living and growing in God’s life, could it be that God’s plan provides for a measure of semi-autonomous functioning for His creation (instead of total adherence), since all (everything) comes from, and exists, only because of God, in the first place?

    With all these questions to think about, as well as “navigating” normal daily life, I find my relationship with God to be a difficult and at times bewildering one. Numerous disappointments and discouragements have been experienced. Miracles like those in the Bible have not occurred. Hopes have not been realised. Time (decades) have passed without the realisation of hoped-for dreams. Prayers have not been answered. Eventually, some little “progress” has been noticed in one’s later years, but unfortunately it seems to be too little, too late. And yet we (I) go on hoping for some recouping of something (a small “golden era”) before the end of one’s life.

    A “still small voice” from God would do fine to encourage me; to enhance a somewhat tenuous relationship with God.

    There are many other questions and points that I could include, but it probably would not serve any purpose. To me, there are more questions than answers. That’s Ok. I believe in God. I don’t know how he works, nor why so many things are the way they are. But I would like to add that it would be a lot more credible if more Christian denominations admitted that there are many doctrines and questions of logic, theology, religious philosophy, where not much is known or understood—at least in terms of being able to explain them (how they “work”).

    We are told in Peter to be ready to explain the reason for our faith and hope, but if I was asked to explain quite a number of subjects and religious views, I would probably have to respond: “I don’t know”; or, “It’s a mystery.”

    What I have written here I have also written to God. Therefore I am being upfront as much as possible in all directions, so to speak. As mentioned above, more could be written, but this is all that is possible in one sitting, at the moment.

    Thanking you for reading this comment.

    Yours faithfully,
    Peter Grach

    1. Thanks Peter for your heart-felt comment. Our hearts (and prayers) go out to you in the struggles you mention.

      Dr. Tkach asked that I (Ted Johnston) reply to you on his behalf. All of us on the GCI Weekly Update editorial team resonate with the questions you raise—indeed these are many of the ones we have wrestled with over the years as the Spirit has led GCI through a massive doctrinal and theological reformation. What has been a key for us in addressing such questions is learning to always go first to what we see as the founational (most important) question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” Exploring the answer to that question takes us to the bedrock “truth of all truths,” for Jesus (as both God and man) is the truth about both God and humanity. Knowing who Jesus is does not necessarily answer every question we might have, but it does place us on a firm footing and sends us on a line of thought that aligns with the reality that God is, and the reality of his creation (humankind). Standing on that footing, and headed in that direction, we are then more able to seek answers to other, secondary questions, including those you mention.

      I encourage you to read the other articles posted on the Weekly Update blog, and you will find many more on our website at https://www.gci.org/ and on The Surprising God blog at http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/. May God bless you on your journey with Christ, even if it’s a bit difficult at times.

  3. Peter Grach: Your views are similar to what mine have been historically. I always felt that the accumulation of apologetic knowledge would one day equate to faith. It does not. We will always see through a glass darkly. I recommend that you read the book entitled “The Sin of Certainty” by Peter Enns. He characterizes the difference between belief and trust and explains that there is an “anyway” clause associated with trust. The book is well worth reading for anyone who is recovering from a church driven by the need to have the elusive “correct knowledge.”

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