What's the Point of Presence Without Purpose? part 1

Posted by Malcolm du Plessis on 5 November 2013

In the Bible, whenever people find themselves standing face to face before God Himself, He almost always speaks, commissioning them to some kind of activity that advances the kingdom. True worship of God is a catalytic activity that is inextricably intertwined with mission.

The first ever worship song mentioned in the Bible was the Song of Moses. It was such a significant song of worship that it is recorded in the book of Revelation as still being sung in eternity. However, for Moses, worship was not just about singing songs. It was a dynamic interchange. During a major encounter with God at the burning bush, God spoke to him and sent him to free Israel from their unjust circumstances. In his life, worship, mission and justice were inextricably intertwined.

When Joshua encountered God just before crossing the Jordan he had a similar experience to Moses. He realized he was standing on holy ground and took off his shoes in worship. God have him a strategy to destroy Jericho. Once again, an encounter in the presence of God resulted in action.

When Elijah encountered God in the entrance of the cave and he heard God speaking to him in a gentle whisper, he was sent on a bunch of holy errands.

When Isaiah saw the Lord ‘high and lifted up’, he, too, heard God’s voice. In this situation, God asked for volunteers and the prophet had no option but to raise his hand and say: “Here am I, send me.”

When David was out in the pastures tending his father’s sheep and developing his skill as a worship songwriter, a prophet was sent to communicate God’s call on his life. Once again, a worshiper got thrust into the frontlines of God’s mission.

This pattern exists throughout the scriptures and culminates in the great commission in Matthew 28. When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they fell down and worshiped him and, in this setting, He spoke to them and sent them out to disciple the nations.

When a group of leaders in the church in Antioch were worshiping the Lord, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, sending Paul and Barnabus out as one of the first apostolic church planting teams.

In fact, Jesus simplified the commandments to ‘loving God and loving people’. The apostle John added an extra twist when he asked the question: “How are we supposed to believe that you are truly a lover of God if you are not actively loving people? If you have difficulty loving those you can see, how are you ever going to be able to love someone you cannot see?”

Encountering God in true worship will always result in God tenderizing our hearts for the world around us and sending us out to make a difference. It is in worship that He does His commissioning. 

What’s more, it is impossible to reach out to our world without encountering injustices that make it hard for people to believe there is a God of love. The beauty of social justice is that it is our opportunity to remove obstacles that are stumbling blocks for people to come to faith.

A sobering reality is that our modern praise has been made possible through a history of ‘obstacle removing’ and campaigning for justice in the history of the church. Remember, the word ‘protestant’ comes from the word ‘protest’!

The first pre-reformation expressions of Christianity can be traced back to the 14th Century when John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English so that everyone could read it - not just the priests. Because of his protestations against the injustices of the Catholic Church he was burned at the stake 70 years before Martin Luther was born.

John Wycliffe greatly influenced Jan Hus, the pioneer of the (pre-reformation) Bohemian Brethren. They were persecuted because they took Wycliffe’s logic one step further and protested that every believer should be able to sing in worship and not just the priests. In 1501, 20 years before Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Bohemians created the first-ever hymnal, comprising 89 songs. Eventually Jan Hus was burned at the stake for his innovations. We are where we are today in corporate worship because courageous people like Hus campaigned for the priesthood to be broadened to include all believers. Or, to put it another way, our worship genre has its roots in radical service and transformative protestations. In fact, the story of the restoration of worship throughout the reformation is linked to justice at every juncture.

Martin Luther, the father of the reformation, was not only a theological pioneer, but he also followed on in the tradition of the Bohemian Brethren and wrote songs for worshippers, including the ever-popular ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’. But, he was not just a man of faith; he was an outspoken activist. His revelation of God also caused him to get involved in the transformation of society, protesting materialism and feudalism and championing the cause for education.

John Calvin also campaigned for the song of faith. Just like Hus and Luther, he lobbied passionately for every believer to be able to participate in the worship experience. Therefore, he served as one of the compilers of the Genevan Psalter in 1539, translating new songs that had migrated across borders. He was, however, very protective about the new worship culture that was developing and was quick to protest what he saw as carnal indulgence in the musical instrumentation and harmony singing of the reformation. Not only was he a spiritual agitator, but he also served as a social activist. He pioneered programs for public health, employment and the care of refugees.

The Pilgrims, Puritans and Quakers that crossed the Atlantic in the 17th Century did so for refuge from the persecution they were experiencing in Europe. They fled because their vocal opposition to the corruption within the Church of England made them clear targets. As we know, they brought music with them, including songs by Isaac Watts and other British and European hymnwriters. Isaac Watts grew up in an activist household and his dad was in prison for much of his upbringing due to his protests. Once again, one of the great contributors toward the song of faith grew up with a life experience where worship and activism were closely connected.



... part 2 posts tomorrow

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