On Friday night at WorshipGod09, Jeff Purswell interviewed CJ Mahaney and me about some things we had learned over thirty years of leading, much of that together. From the early 90’s I was involved in leading the music at various Sovereign Grace conferences, and then in 1997 I became the worship pastor at Covenant Life Church, where CJ was senior pastor. CJ has been the most significant influence in my life when it comes to the focus and practicals of leading congregational worship.
During the interview, Jeff asked us about different topics including the role of the senior pastor in planning/leading corporate worship, encouraging your musicians in natural expressiveness, and why the cross should play such a central role in our singing. CJ posted his answer to this last question over at his blog, which I encourage you to check out. Here’s what he said:
First, since the cross is the storyline of Scripture, it should be the storyline of our corporate worship. The cross is the matter of “first importance” and it should be reflected in our singing on a weekly basis (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Second, we must never leave the impression during corporate worship that we do not need a mediator. There isn’t a moment where I don’t need a mediator. In light of the Father’s holiness and my sinfulness, I cannot approach him directly apart from Christ. It is quite possible for us to sing songs that are accurately extolling the attributes of God. But if the cross is absent, we leave the unintended impression that somehow I can approach the Father apart from a mediator—that I can experience intimacy with God apart from the One who died for my many sins.
Third, cross-centered songs imitate the heavenly model. In Revelation 5:1-14, for example, we catch a glimpse of eternal worship and our heavenly future. Jim Elliff has written, “One is taken aback by the emphasis upon the Cross in Revelation. Heaven does not ‘get over’ the cross, as if there are better things to think about; heaven is not only Christ-centered, but cross-centered, and quite blaring about it.” Amen! Every Sunday should be a heavenly preview as we survey the wondrous cross and as we sing of the Lamb who is worthy of our praise.
Forth, cross-centered songs affect our souls. You’ve heard the Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote about how most of our unhappiness comes from listening to ourselves more than we talk to ourselves. In light of this, corporate worship is a serious gift! Singing in corporate worship is a means of talking to yourself. This provides us an opportunity to stop listening to ourselves, to stop listening to sin, legalism, condemnation, and to begin singing and talking to ourselves. And by the end of corporate worship there is a good chance that we will experience the joy of the gospel. Not very often in our noisy world do we have such an opportunity to talk to ourselves. So what your church is saying in these moments of corporate singing is very important. And what a unique opportunity worship leaders have to transfer the hope of the gospel to people in corporate worship. And to think, you can do this each and every Sunday!
You can download a Quicktime version (550 MB) over at the Vimeo site.
“Not very often in our noisy world do we have such an opportunity to talk to ourselves”
Very true – thanks for sharing this…i’m off to check out CJs blog now!
Being full of the Spirit includes speaking to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:18-20). Having the word of Christ dwell in us richly with all wisdom includes teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). So the two things we need most – the Spirit and the word – which Christ uses to quicken and purify His body, the church (Eph 5:26), are connected to our singing, along with expressions of thanksgiving (mentioned in both passages). We could legitimately connect this to the full armor of God, too, in preparing us for spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10-18). Christ died that the nations might sing God’s praises (Rom 15:8-13). What a high priority God has made of our worship and so should we. It is integrally innerwoven with our spiritual growth and health as the body of Christ. It is the fulfillment of God’s grand eternal purpose in Jesus Christ.
“It is quite possible for us to sing songs that are accurately extolling the attributes of God. But if the cross is absent, we leave the unintended impression that somehow I can approach the Father apart from a mediator—that I can experience intimacy with God apart from the One who died for my many sins.”
Wow. I’d never thought of that. I’m always super-keen to sing about God, focussing on him, completely aside from how he relates to us (partly to avoid us singing about ourselves when we should be focussing on him), how he is worthy/holy/good/etc/etc in his own right.
But this on its own, by the very fact that we are sinners doing the singing, could be conveying such an incorrect message. Yes, we should sing of God just for who he is but never fool ourselves to think we can do this or experience God through it. (…I’m not sure the bit about Revelation 5 is entirely correct, given that the worship focuses around God’s holiness & worthiness before turning to the Lamb who died for the world)
After all, even God’s enemies could tell you what he’s like, but that’s not worship.
Thanks for the video and text highlights. Reminds me of an article I saw here… http://www.shapingworship.com/articles/index.php?idx=3
This is pretty powerful stuff. Sometimes it seems like these simple truths are too simple to be profound. But the gospel is so deep!
I’ve been plowing through Bryan Chapell’s book fresh of the presses, “Christ-Centered Worship.” The thoughts therein expand on what is said above, and I’m thankful that we’re hearing more and more about the gospel and the cross needing central place in the form and content of our worship and liturgy. Amen!
Lessons learned from 3 decades (plus a couple) of following: pastors work hard! I am humbled and grateful for the tremendous amount of study, discussion and prayer you pastors expend on seeking to lead us so well. It is obvious that you each think deeply about how the cross applies to every aspect of our lives. Thank you for the endless hours of instructing and guiding us on this continuous process of santification. And Bob, thank you for diligently applying your particular gifts in so many ways for these many years!
thank you very much, pastor bob for sharing this to us. we will be viewing this video as a team and i’m sure this will be a tremendous blessing to all of us.
you have an amazing ministry and we are greatly blessed with your faithfulness and humility.
To the praise of His glorious grace!
I’m going to have to do some study now. Current usage of the concept of mediation is not to interpose the mediator between the two parties in need of mediation, such that direct communication is impossible. That concept is anathema to true mediation. Indeed, the parties being mediated MUST dialog and read each others’ inflections and body language to resolve their difficulties. It may be that strange idea is in fact what whatever Greek word has been translated as mediation meant back when the New Covenent was written, but it sure doesn’t feel right to me.
Do you think when we come boldly into the throne room to see our Abba, by the blood of Yeshua, of course, do you think the Messiah has to jump off His throne, instantly teleport over to us, and block us from any and all sensory detection by the Almighty lest we be instantly incinerated? What kind of a father is that? Not the Father I know, that’s for sure. Do you think Yeshua will have to do that into Eternity for every one of us? If not, why would it no longer be necessary? I guess you’ve never hugged our Abba. That is very, very sad.
David, thanks for stopping by and for your comment/question.
I think you might be misunderstanding CJ’s point about needing a mediator when we come to God. Both Old and New Testaments make it clear that our sins must be dealt with before we can have fellowship with an infinitely holy God. In the Old Testament that was communicated through the guilt and sin offerings. After the cross, the need to have our sins dealt with is no less, but we no longer have to offer a sacrifice. It’s already been made by the perfect Lamb of God, and it will never be repeated. Rom. 8:9-17 makes it clear that it is only through the Spirit of Christ that we can call God, “Abba, Father.” But we can tend to forget what Jesus has done at the cross in enduring God’s wrath in our place, and that apart from being clothed in Christ’s righteousness, God’s blazing holiness would consume us.
I’m not sure how saying we need to come to God through Christ leads you to imagine the scene you do, which has no basis in Scripture. Saying we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ doesn’t necessitate the kind of scene you imagine. Ephesians 1:3-14 reminds us that all the blessings we’ve received are because we are now in Christ. God has “blessed us in Christ.” He “chose us in him.” He has “blessed us in the beloved.” I have no concerns about saying that I will need Jesus’ mediation in the new heavens and new earth just as much as I need it now. That doesn’t take away from my experience of God’s love for me. On the contrary, it magnifies it infinitely. God the Father loves me like he loves his own Son. Amazing grace.
Is that helpful?
Not really. I suppose we’re simply talking past each other on these distinctions and we’re all a little too old to break out of our long-held patterns of thought. But if you’re game, I’ll try again.
We can only enter Abba’s presence covered by the Blood. You are saying It is not a once-for-all solution because we persist in missing the mark after we accept His Sacrifice for us. We cannot come into the throne room boldly, we must first pause at the door, look in the mirror, and be absolutely certain all sin engaged in since our last visit has been purged, especially the ones we are blind to. Once we have performed this ritual, THEN we can boldly enter. But what if we unknowingly sin while we’re still in the throne room? How can we relax in His Presence? How can we possibly be bold about going in there if we’ve got to perform this ritual nonstop to be sure He won’t have to incinerate us because we didn’t dot an i or cross a t?
What you say makes me think Yeshua is some kind of overly bulky spacesuit I must be wearing in Abba’s Presence lest He somehow be able to perceive my presence in any possible way. So, He can’t see my face, only Yeshua’s. He can’t hear my voice, only Yeshua’s. He can’t smell, taste, or even touch me, just Yeshua. I probably won’t feel the pressure of His arms around me so He won’t feel the resistance of my imperfect body to the pressure (or maybe He THINKS it is Yeshua’s body’s resistance He feels).
You say I must focus on the cross. Which is greater? The two 4x4s or the man/God entity who allowed Himself to be put to a grisly death upon them? And why did He do that? So I could worship some lumber? No, He did it so I could have a relationship again with Him and Abba. If I must focus on something other than Him, wouldn’t His Blood make a lot more sense? At least His Life is in It. My experience is He wants us focusing on Him during worship and all He’s done, is doing, and will continue to do. Why does He even regard us at all? Because He _likes_ us. Warts and all. He knows about them, you know.
Come back to the heart of worship. It’s Him–not His cross, not His Blood, not even what He’s done for us, it’s Him. He created mankind for relationship. So relate!
Thanks for engaging in this discussion. If nothing else, maybe we’ll learn how to express our thoughts more precisely!
Again, the scene you describe bears little resemblance to what Scripture means when God tells us we need a mediator. However, it would fit well with the Old Testament sacrificial system where God’s people were never to appear before him without a sacrifice. The issue we’re seeking to address in making this distinction is the not-so-subtle tendency Christians have to assume that we have somehow earned God’s favor and love, rather than reveling in the fact that he loves us in spite of all we’ve done. It’s true that God loved us and chose us to be his own from before time began. But we can only experience and receive that love because of what Christ has done and our union with him.
When I use the word, “cross,” I’m using it in the sense of Gal. 6:14: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” “The cross” is shorthand for Jesus and all he accomplished for us at Calvary – serving as our substitute, purchasing our forgiveness, ransoming us from the grave, and reconciling us to God. It’s noteworthy that in Revelation 5, the angels and living creatures declare that Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, is worthy to receive praise because with his blood he ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. The hosts of heaven make no apologies for drawing attention to Jesus’ death as they worship him.
Our responsibility as forgiven sinners is to remind ourselves continually of the means by which God reconciled us to himself, resulting in joy, gratefulness, humility, obedience, and astonishment in this life and for all eternity. That “means” is also the object of our worship, Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Because Jesus, through his death, has opened up a new and living way into the Father’s presence, we can now draw near with confidence. The issue is not whether or not we come into the Father’s presence with boldness, but whether or not we realize how our access was made possible and continues to be made possible.
Yes, heaven mentions His Sacrifice during worship, but only to magnify the point that He chose to make it. And that point is made only to make the point that He alone is worthy to receive praise and worship from His Creation, not because He’s all-powerful, not because of what He has, is, and will accomplish, but because He is who He is and that explains the why of what He does. If this is not the center of our worship, we misworship. And I believe we quickly get deeply into misworship when any aspect of our existence enters the imagery. To focus on our complete unworthiness is in my analysis a stealthy manifestation of ego and pride, which is extreme misworship.
These insights seem simple, but they’re profound. Thank you. Swimming around in my head is point 4. Point 2 makes me wonder how that’s accomplished amidst songs or liturgical elements that aren’t explicitly pointing to the mediating role of Christ. We quickly forget, don’t we?
As you’ve pointed out, as well, the best defense for point 1 is the first half of Bryan Chapell’s book, Christ-Centered Worship. Your review is great! If people are interested in even something more lengthy, check out: http://www.zachicks.com/blog/2009/9/25/review-of-christ-centered-worship-by-bryan-chapell.html