Worship According to the Word

Great piece from Albert Mohler:

In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor offers this insight into fallen human nature: “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.” Though the Grand Inquisitor falls far short as a reliable guide to theology, at this point he is surely correct. Human beings are profoundly religious—even when we do not know ourselves to be—and humans incessantly seek an object of worship.

Yet, human beings are also sinners, and thus our worship is, more often than not, grounded in our own paganism of personal preference. As John Calvin profoundly explained, the fallen human heart is an “idol-making factory,” always producing new idols for worship and veneration. That corrupted factory, left to its own devices, will never produce true worship, but will instead worship its own invention.

The church is not comprised of those who found the true and living God by experimentation in worship, but of those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, incorporated into the Body of Christ, and are then called to true worship as regulated and authorized by Scripture. Worship is the purpose for which we were made—and only the redeemed can worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

But, do we? The British philosopher Roger Scruton once advised his fellow philosophers that the best way to understand what people really believe about God is to observe them at worship. Theology books and doctrinal statements may reveal what a congregation says it believes, but worship will reveal what it reallybelieves. If so, we are in big trouble.

Just look at the confusion that marks what is called worship among so many evangelicals. Instead of engaging in worship that points to the glory of God, many churches feature services that look more like a carnival of chaos than a Christian congregation at worship. Years ago, A.W. Tozer lamented that many churches conceive of worship as “a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction.” Many Christians, he argued, would not even recognize worship as “a meeting where the only attraction is God.” True fifty years ago, those words now serve as a direct indictment of contemporary worship.

The pathology of our problem must be traced to realities as fundamental as our worldview and as superficial as personal taste. At the worldview level, we must face the fact that modernism collapsed transcendence in many minds. The focus of worship was “horizontalized” and reduced to human scale. Theological liberalism simply embraced this new worldview, and it made the theological compromises that modernity demanded. Worship was transformed into an experiment in “meaningfulness” as judged by the worshiper, not an act of joyful submission to the wonder and grandeur of God.

Now that postmodernism rules the worldview of the cultural elite and the culture’s most powerful centers of influence, the radical subjectivity, moral relativism, and hostility to absolute truth that marks the postmodern worldview shapes worship in some churches as well. Postmodernism celebrates the victory of the image over the word, but Christianity is a Word-centered faith, rooted in the verbal revelation of God and the identity of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word.

Postmodernists assert that all truth is constructed, not absolute. As philosopher Richard Rorty insists, truth is made, not found. Those who accept this radical pragmatism will see worship as an experiment in “making” meaning rather than a discipline of preaching, hearing, believing, and confessing eternal truths revealed by God in propositional form.

While all Christians affirm the necessity and reality of the experiential dimension of faith, the experience must be grounded in and accountable to the Word of God. This is of central importance to the question of worship, for, left to our own devices, we will be inclined to seek worship that meets our desire for a “meaningful” experience or matches our personal taste as a substitute for authentic worship regulated by Scripture and centered on God, rather than His people.

Concern for the proper worship of God was central to the Reformation, even as it is central to our most important theological debates today. Nothing is more important than our understanding of worship, for our concept of worship is inescapably tied to our understanding of God and His sovereign authority to reveal the worship He desires, deserves, and demands.

Hughes Oliphant Old once summarized the Reformers’ understanding of worship in terms of “its sense of the majesty and sovereignty of God, its sense of reverence, of simple dignity, its conviction that worship must above all serve the praise of God.” As Old recognized, this path of renewal “may not be just exactly what everyone is looking for.”

This is surely true, but it is the only path back to the worship God seeks, and to the recovery of our witness to the infinite glory, perfection, and worthiness of the triune God. We will either recover the biblical vision of true Christian worship, or we will slide into some form of pagan worship. There is no third option.

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The President at the Prayer Breakfast

Fantastic post and must read by Al Mohler concerning President Obama’s Prayer Breakfast:

Presidents of the United States are usually awful as theologians. In far too many cases, the closer they get to anything theological, the bigger the mess they make. President Obama seems rather adept at making such messes, but he is hardly the first. The only President of the United States to be baptized while in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In remarks made at the Freedoms Forum at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1952, the recently-elected Eisenhower said: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were probably the most theologically literate, and both claimed deep roots as Southern Baptists. In his infamous Playboy interview of 1976, Carter cited Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich as influences and Clinton seemed cut from the same theological cloth. Both men have, in their own way, distanced themselves rather clearly from the theological and moral convictions held by Southern Baptists. Ronald Reagan’s evangelical faith seemed to be vague and he rarely attended church services during his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush seemed to be a very conventional mainline Protestant of the old establishment but his son, George W. Bush, may well have been the most clearly evangelical president of the modern age.

President Obama identifies openly with a very liberal version of Christian thinking and reasoning. He cites religious concerns from time to time, but he seems to operate more as a secular cosmopolitan. When he does address religious thoughts openly, as at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, he made a considerable mess.

That he holds to a universalistic understanding of religion is not in doubt. President Obama spoke of faith, of his own “faith journey,” and “professions of faith.” The common denominator in his thinking seems to be faith as an act without any concern for the content or object of that faith. Thus, “part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”

When people do evil in the name of faith, the President asserted, it is because the faith has been perverted or distorted. Any faith can be perverted in this way, Mr. Obama said, and no religion is inherently violent. In his words: “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”

The fact remains that Western civilization — and much of the world beyond — is directly threatened by a militant form of Islam that has the allegiance of millions of Muslims. While the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not fighters in a jihad against the West, and for that we must be thankful, the fact remains that the President’s own national security authorities directly disagree with the President when he recently said that “99.9 percent” of Muslims do not back Islamic terrorism.

On Islam, President Obama is not the first to sow confusion on the issue. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush argued over and over again that America is not at war with Islam. We can understand why a president would say this, and we also need to admit that there is an important element of truth in the statement.

The West is not at war with Islam if that means a war against all Muslims and against all forms of Islam. But, true as that statement may be, we must also be clear that we are facing a great and grave civilizational challenge from millions of Muslims who believe, quite plausibly, that their version of Islam is more faithful to the essence of Islam and the Quran. This understanding of Islam is growing, not receding. It is now drawing thousands of young Muslims from both Europe and North America to join the jihad. We have seen the hopes of a moderating Arab Spring dashed and we have seen the rise of even more brutal and deadly forms of jihad in groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, there are millions of Muslims who do believe that God condones terror. They celebrate the fact that Muhammad was a warrior, and they understand that it is their responsibility as faithful Muslims to bring the entire world under the rule of Sharia law. Their actions are driven by a theological logic that has roots in the Quran, in the founding of Islam, and in the history of Islamic conquest.

And yet, at virtually every turn, President Obama and his administration remain determined not to mention Islam in any negative light, and even to redefine some acts of terror committed in the name of Islam as “workplace violence.” His refusal to acknowledge the worldview of those who declare themselves to be our enemies is neither intellectually honest nor safe. It is a theological disaster, but it is a foreign policy disaster as well.

In the most controversial portion of his address, President Obama said:

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

President Obama would not mention Islam by name, but he did bring judgment on the Christian past, with specific reference to the Crusades. At that point a good measure of Christian humility and honesty are called for. The centuries of the Crusades were a brutal epoch in which horrible things were done, often in the name of Christ. The union of medieval Catholicism and the power of kings was disastrous, and there are lasting stains on the Christian conscience from this era. The same is true of the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States.

But honesty is hard to come by when it comes to distant history, and that is why we should be rigorously critical when it comes to the very real and horrifying reality that terrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. At the same time, historical honesty and humility demands that we acknowledge that in the age of armed conflict between Christian kingdoms (as they claimed to be) and Muslim armies, even the stoutest secular critics of Christianity must recognize that our current age would be very different if Muslim armies had won, for example, when the forces of the Ottoman Empire were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. All those professors of gender studies and post-colonial literature in European universities might well be professors of the Quran, instead.

Even as the West is not at war with Islam, in the sense of being at war with all Muslims, the existential threat to western freedoms and liberties is real, as is the fact that millions of Muslims (and their current governments) offer aid and support to groups clearly involved in jihad. There is reason to believe that groups like the Islamic State are also now understood as a existential threat to any number of Arab regimes and Islamic communities. After all, most of the victims of Islamic terror groups have been fellow Muslims.

Intellectual honesty also demands that we recognize that going back centuries to the era of the Crusades is not really helpful when looking at the fact that the current threat is a resurgent Islam, which understands full well that the modern secular West lacks a worldview that can lead to an adequate response. Secularism and Islam are not evenly matched.

Theological honesty further demands that we acknowledge the vast difference between a theological system centered in Jesus Christ, who told Peter to put away his sword, and one that takes as its central example Mohammed, whose status as a mighty warrior is an issue of enduring Muslim pride. The strategic fact of our current times is that the terrorism feared by the West is deeply rooted in a theological worldview, and that worldview is Islam.

The real problem with President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast was not his reference to Christian history, but his refusal to acknowledge the reality of our current challenge — a refusal growing more dangerous by the day.

Albert Mohler: Seminary President, Generation Changer

“An institution has to decide, and it’s not just an option, it’s a responsibility, how much diversity can be tolerated….When a denomination begins to consider doctrine divisive, theology troublesome, and convictions inconvenient, consider that denomination on its way to a well-deserved death.”

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (born 1960) is an Southern Baptist, evangelical Calvinist. He presently serves as the ninth President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been a member of the board of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family since August 31, 2004. He is married to the former Mary Kahler. They have two children named Katie and Christopher.

Mohler is a native of Lakeland in central Florida. As a child he attended Lake Yale, a Florida Baptist campground. During his Lakeland years he attended Southside Baptist Church.

Mohler attended college at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, Florida as a Faculty Scholar. He then received a B. A. from Samford University, a private, coeducational Baptist-affiliated college in Birmingham, Alabama. His graduate degrees, a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. in “Systematic and Historical Theology,” were conferred by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also known as Southern Seminary.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Seminary)
Mohler joined the staff of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky in 1983 as Coordinator of Foundation Support. In 1987 he became Director of Capital Funding, a post he held until 1989. While still a student he served as assistant to then-President Roy Honeycutt.

In February 1993, Mohler was appointed President of the Seminary by conservatives on that institution’s board of trustees, succeeding Roy Honeycutt. The seminary soon saw a wholesale shift towards conservative theology (characterised by Mohler as a move toward “confessional fidelity”) and a rapid exodus (both voluntary and compulsory) of more than 60 percent of the faculty. Diana Garland the dean of a unit of the Seminary, the Carver School of Church Social Work, was fired over a conflict with Mohler. The Carver School was eventually dissolved as the new administration judged social work to be out of keeping with biblical doctrine. In 1999, nearly a million dollars of its endowment were returned to the Women’s Missionary Union in accordance with the terms of an undisclosed settlement.

One departing faculty member, G. Wade Rowatt, referred to the new regime as “a Baptist version of the Taliban.” (Mohler shakes up Southern Baptists)

Other, more conservative Baptist leaders were elated: Paige Patterson, another Southern Baptist Convention seminary president, said Mohler’s leadership “will mean that they recover their evangelical emphasis there” and that Mohler’s Presidency meant that “the worst of the problems” were over: “Al Mohler has the brains of Erasmus and the courage of Luther.”

The move to conservativism also proved much more appealing to those in the Southern Baptist Convention as enrollment has multiplied several times over since Mohler took office. The seminary is now one of the most endowed and largest seminaries world-wide.

The “Conservative Resurgence”
Mohler was also instrumental in the mid-1990’s restructuring of the Southern Baptist Convention, which saw the Convention shift from a mixture of moderate and conservative voices to a solidly conservative base.

He was involved in the drafting of the controversial 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message, which added an exhortation to wives to “submit graciously” to their husbands, and removed a clause referring to Jesus Christ as the standard by which the Bible is to be interpreted.

A deadline was set for foreign missionaries to confirm their allegiance to the Baptist Faith and Message in written form. Those who did not were dismissed or resigned. Although adherance to and respect for the creed had been a matter of course historically, this marked the first time that a signed written statement of fealty was mandated in the form of an ultimatum.

Media and Editorial Work
Mohler served as editor of The Christian Index the biweekly newsletter of the Georgia Baptist Convention. From 1985 to 1993 he was Associate Editor of the bi-monthly Preaching Magazine.

Mohler served on the Advisory Council for the 2001 English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV.)

Starting July 29, 2003 and continuing to the present (November 2005), Mohler blogged on CrossWalk.com, a web site maintained by Salem Web Network of Chesterfield, VA.

He presently is heard on a nationally syndicated radio talk show, The Albert Mohler Program, and also maintains a web site, http://www.albertmohler.com.

Professed Theology
Some references state that Mohler was initially liberal in his theology, particularly during his years as a seminarian, prior to the rise of the conservative movement within the Southern Baptist denomination. One source states that Mohler experienced a conservative epiphany growing from conversations with Carl F. H. Henry, whose essays Mohler later edited. (Realms of Faith: Christian Authors Database at propadeutic.com)

Shortly after his term as President began, Mohler drafted a policy (which was ratified by the trustees) that the Seminary would only hire professors who believed that the Bible prohibits the ordination of women as preachers. Some women already in teaching positions at the Seminary, or who served outside the Seminary in a missionary capacity, were stripped of their posts.

Theologically, Mohler respresents conservative fundamentalist Christianity, and for this I am thankful.

Why?

Because in a day where no one stands for much of anything anymore, Mohler stands for the Biblical truth – and through His ministry God has given myself and, I’d argue, an entire new generation of young men firmer footing in standing for the gospel as well.

Forever thankful for this man, especially his work with Together for the Gospel.