Diversity in God-Centered Worship
Unfolding Bethlehem's Fresh Initiative #4
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED THEE FELL UPON ME." 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; 6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Ponder these especially in the light of the difference in preferences regarding worship forms at Bethlehem.
1. Strong and Non-Strong Christians
Verses 1–2: There are strong Christians and non-strong Christians in the church.
- Romans 14:2—those who have faith to eat anything, and those who eat only vegetables
- Romans 14:5—those who regard one day above another and those who regard all days alike.
2. The Differences Can't Just Be Wiped Away
Verses 1–2: Paul assumes that these differences cannot be wiped away simply by his teaching or praying, for he gives instructions for how to live with them, not how to remove them so that you don't have to live with them.
3. Edification and Self-Denial
Verses 1–2: The way to live with these differences and move beyond them is by putting a premium on edification and self-denial.
- Verse 2: seek to please others for their edification—what will build the faith of others and help them to live more by faith in future grace? This will move the weak toward strength and guard the strong from presumption.
- Verse 1: so don't make it a priority to please yourself. Be the kind of person who finds more satisfaction in denying your preferences for the good of others.
[NOTE: this is a mindset that sets the stage for solving problems of diversity; but is not the solution to what food will be served or days celebrated or music played.]
4. Christ Is the Example and Empowering Inspiration
Verse 3: Christ is the example and empowering inspiration for us in these two things: he did not please himself, but he took on himself reproaches that were not his to bear, so that good could come to others.
[NOTE: He was trying to bring about change in the world. He was not out to simply take people where they were and please them in their corrupt preferences. The point is not that we have no desire for others to change, but that our strategy is to suffer for them.]
5. Scripture as a Hope-Sustainer
Verse 4: Scripture is held out to us as our source for perseverance and encouragement to sustain our hope in the sometimes frustrating experiences of self-denial and love.
6. The Prayer for "the Same Mind"
Verse 5: The prayer that God give us the same mind (to auta phronein) does not mean immediately that he give us the same preferences about foods or days (or music forms), but that he give us the same spiritual values referred to here in these verses. When he says "according to Christ," it's the same as Christ's being given as a model in verse 3—a model of these values:
- the value of doing all for the edification of another's faith;
- the value of self-denial in that ministry;
- and the following value of exalting the all-satisfying value of God the Father through Jesus Christ.
7. The Aim Is Authentic Worship
Verse 6: The aim of all this way of living together with common values of building faith and denying self is that we might worship as we ought—"glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
- with one accord—that's the inner unity of verse 5, the shared spiritual values, not the shared preferences.
- with one voice (literally: mouth)—this is the outer form unity that has to be found for a congregation.
[NOTE: It need not imply, I think, total dilution of all cultural differences into one service form or language. For example, I think that language differences can be respected and probably others things as well in separate services. But the tendency here, as last week in Colossians 3:11, is that we aim at overcoming the non-essential things that divide us and work toward expressing and experiencing unity in the spiritual values—especially, now the main aim and value of all, GLORIFYING GOD THE FATHER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.]
Diversity in God-Centered Worship
Now this leads to our Fresh Initiative #4, Diversity in God-Centered Worship. Read it in the light of the 13 value statements on page six of the mission/vision statement booklet.
Observations on Fresh Initiative #4:
1. The Foundation of God-Centeredness
The abiding foundation of our corporate worship is God-centeredness. This is implied in our Mission Statement—a passion for the supremacy of God. We need to feel this from beginning to end, that we are driven by a passion for the supremacy of God's worth and greatness and the manifold beauty of all his perfections.
2. Subpoint 1
- "focused": minimize neutral minds and distracted heads and disengaged hearts. Engagement, intensity, earnest communion with the Lord. Thinking and feeling directed to him.
- "free": saying amen, lifting hands, clapping, standing or sitting, using overhead or hymnal, kneeling, praying aloud when the opportunity is given.
- " . . . lingering": not feeling rushed from one expression of worship to another and not leaving a truth or a moment of encounter too quickly. Using simple tunes and lyrics to assist in assimilating more rich and complex texts. For example, following the five verses of "Amazing Grace" with the repetitions "Hallelujah" to the same tune. There are reasons for repeating a song text two or three times: a) getting familiar with the words and tune; b) being relaxed in them; c) connecting with the Lord with no work on the text and music.
- " . . . in the presence": a sense of the Lord's nearness to receive our worship. A speaking directly to him and not just about him to each other, though that is biblically legitimate.
3. Subpoint 2
"Reflect diversity of our congregation and culture."
- We are diverse in what helps us connect with God. We want to expand the range where we can meet each other. This was implied last week in the "significant range" of Fresh Initiative #2.
- This is not to be conceived as a variety show or worship mall each Sunday, but as a new unified personality that will be uniquely us. It will be influenced mainly by these things: 1) the Holy Spirit; 2) the Bible; 3) the inevitable influence of our history; 4) this mission-vision document; 5) the fleshing out of this document by the worship and music task force in its documents; 6) the ongoing input of the congregation in its responsiveness to what is happening; 7) the gifts and personality and musical breadth and spirituality of the new lead worshiper; 8) me.
- The culture is not unimportant: we are not going to use instruments only familiar in Bangkok or Kankan. We will try to find a balance between being so unlike our culture musically that there is little natural resonance; or so like our culture that there is little sense of the uniqueness of God.
4. Subpoint 3
"Interweave values of intense God-centeredness and more personal ministry to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit."
Examples: including in the service things like praying for a missionary family at the offering time; praying for the Larson's in their crisis a few months ago; praying in clusters at certain crucial points in the church life; inviting the people to come forward for prayer about missions three weeks ago; encouraging ministries to one another before and after the services in this room; other possibilities where God may want to bring the Word more immediately to bear on individuals in the services.
The key will be that Christ is all in all.