Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 The Heart in Worship

KEY TEXT: Mark 7:6-8 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."

KEY THOT: Scribal tradition is focused on outward performance of the hands but God is more interested in the inward perfection of the hearts. Worship is in vain when we do the things that please us rather than the things that please God. Worship is not for us nor is it about what pleases us. Worship is for God and is about what pleases Him. The state of our heart is more important to Him than the state of our arts (style, music, or songs).

The state of the arts in worship is cultural and every art is culturally conditioned. Liturgical worship is essentially medieval European (cassocks, robes, 16th-19th century European musical style/rhythm and instrumentation, viz, piano and pipe organ). The so-called “contemporary” worship is essential 20th century American/Australian (casual clothes, 20th century rock musical style/rhythm and instrumentation – acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, drums, etc). However, what has been forgotten in this worship debate is the third style of worship—indigenous worship which is essentially native to the culture (local cultural musical styles/rhythms and instrumentation). In China, the Canaan Hymns written by the peasant girl without formal education (Xiaomin) are sweeping the house-churches and even the Three-Self churches because its musical style, lyrics and instrumentation (hardly) are native to the Chinese culture. After the Communists took over China in 1949, all Western missionaries were expelled and new forms of indigenous worship music and songs replaced the European-style of worship brought in by European missionaries.

Is the European/liturgical or American-Australian/contemporary or Asian/African indigenous the more spiritual style of worship? That is the wrong question to ask. When we ask the wrong question, we can only get the wrong answer. God is not asking that question: He is asking through the prophet Isaiah to examine the state of our hearts, not the state of our arts. For God seeks for worshippers (who we are) not worship (what we do), for what we do (whatever the styles) flows out of who we are—it can be edifying and defiling, depending on the state of our hearts, not the state of our arts.

I must always examine my heart condition when I come before God, for that is what He is seeking for—a heart of worship and a worship from the heart. The style is just a personal preference. God can enjoy worship from any style, provided our hearts are truly seeking to worship God in spirit and in truth. Style is not a substitute for substance.

I believe when it comes to worship style that we must learn to be flexible and choose the style appropriate to our target audience. Our worship should be missional; that is, culturally relevant. Modern pre-believers are steeped in the modern American culture in terms of musical style. They are not imbued with European classical musical style, though some of the more Western educated may be. If we want to become a missional church, our style must be tailored to the contemporary culture. Even “traditional” worship was once-upon-a-time "contemporary" in their generations. But over the centuries, it has somehow attained the status of “sacred” music. 

So, just as cross-cultural missionaries must learn to speak the language of the culture they are are trying to reach, so it’s unhelpful to use medieval European cultural forms (church steeples, bells, cassocks, pipe organs, etc) to reach people in a modern secular culture. We have to learn to speak the language (musically and linguistically) of contemporary culture if we want to reach the contemporary English-speaking pre-believers who are largely Westernnised through American-originated education, entertainment, mass media and technology.

Father, help us to be all things to all men, that by all means we might save some. Amen.

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