Reformed Baptist Fellowship

With Reverence and Awe

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on June 3, 2010 at 7:52 pm

The worship of God is the duty, delight, and privilege of the people of God.  However, God alone has the right to determine how he is to be worshiped.  In this matter, His people must listen carefully to the instructions and directions He has given them in His word and follow them, if their worship is to be acceptable to Him. Men may not determine for themselves how God is to be worshiped.

However, when people grow tired of the worship God requires of them, and think they can improve upon it by changing it, they begin to introduce into worship attitudes, practices, and behaviors that God has neither required nor authorized for worship. Such humanly devised worship is neither pleasing nor acceptable to God.

The 1689 Confession states in 22:1 that “ the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”

Many churches and believers lose sight of this basic principle. The result has been a drastic decline in the purity and godliness of worship in our day. Church worship is often perverted in a carnal effort to please the people and appeal to the unconverted, all in the name of contextualization and relevance.

Albert N. Martin has preached a wonderful message that takes us back to the first principles regarding worship, and the foundations upon which it must rest, if it is to be pleasing to God. It is refreshing in its clarity and relevance to the need we have to maintain and strengthen biblical God honoring worship. It may be listened to here.

Max Doner, pastor
Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Lebanon, Oregon
  1. Many years ago when one went looking for a church it was to find one that made you feel good. After the service you expected to take with you that same good feeling. I fell victim to this idea until I came to understand the Doctrines of Grace and what it means to worship God. I wonder if that same idea is still going around today.

  2. I notice that you have posted a pic of Mark Driscoll’s infamous Mickey Mouse t-shirt.

    The choice of this photograph at the top of this article, unfortunately, focuses our attention primarily on the issue of manner of dress and not deeper issues.

    A personal aside:

    I labor in a jungle area, where the people have very ratty and ragged clothes (and sometimes no clothes). And the churches all throughout the province have a tendency to stress the external over the internal and focus on issues of smoking, church attendance and outward dress while ignoring deeper doctrinal issues. In fact, several of my Dani evangelist co-workers have brought suits and ties down to their jungle villages. Being dirt poor themselves, they have (at great effort) bought and packed up these formal clothes, and on Sundays, they put them on to preach to the people. The churches are all dirt-floored, and the people, again, have just plain shorts and ratty shirts. But the preacher has a suit and tie that he wears for religious services.

    I purposely preach in these villages wearing the best of my everyday wear, which consists of a clean pair of shorts, t-shirt, and barefoot. This is an intentional choice. It is hard to gain indigenous ownership of the Gospel, local people owning the True God as their God, when they believe that, in order to approach God, they must adhere to a standard of dress that is very difficult or impossible for them to attain. Dressing like the preacher gets equated with personal holiness.

    I have met and dissuaded several of these Dani preachers from wearing these suits and ties while preaching to jungle tribes because one of them, in a sermon, too closely tied his manner of clothing to the effects that the Gospel brings. We, instead, stressed that God can be approached by the poor and that there is always a danger when we over-stress the external over the internal.

    I possess not a single suit or tie. This is because I live and work in an impoverished region and was not overly wealthy myself while I was raising support. It is also because, upon returning to the US, a formal suit was not high on my list of priorities to buy. This was not due to any lack of reverance or awe on my part.

    I was invited to Monteville, NJ last year to attend the pastors conference. I wore the most formal clothes I had, Indonesian batik. I entered and was surprised at the utter conformity of dress of the Reformed Baptists men that I met. There was little variety in dress at all. I felt like the odd duck out.

    Possible interpretations:
    One possible interpretion for casual dress in the church might be poverty. Another is that some people have not been enculturated as to how people should dress for church in any given region.

    Another interpetation, however, is that some people and pastors dress-down, not out of lack of reverance and awe towards God, but intentionally to oppose the real or perceived overly-external focus that possesses much of organized religion.

    Also, there is the issue of contextualization as well. I believe that Reformd Baptists need to discuss contextualization more deeply and resist the urge to view this word merely in a negative light. We need to wrestle with the high degree to which Jesus, His disciples, and the Apostle Paul tailored their teaching to their audience and to the local context, even while never changing eternal truth. That is contextualization.

    I am suspicious of any church or movement who are not merely content with doctrinal conformity, but also desire their people to conform in more minor details as well, such as dress, posture, architecture, musical forms, precise liturgies, the use of the organ or piano but no other instruments, the use of the red Trinity Hymnal but no other, and other adiaphora where variety is to be expected.

    You are now free to throw your tomatoes my way 🙂

  3. I grew up in a PCUSA church that ironically held to a better understanding of what worship is than many of the more conservative churches I visited when I left. I didn’t grow up with “worship leaders” whose faces filled up entire powerpoint projector screens (that always disturbed me). I didn’t grow up with altar calls either. And honestly there was more prayer offered in the PCUSA church Sunday mornings than some of the solidly Biblical ones I visited later (I gather the church I grew up in was fairly conservative for a PCUSA church- when the session made a decision that they knowingly admitted was contra-biblical, well over half of us left).

  4. Trevor,

    Thanks for your honest and very insightful thoughts. I agree with much of what you say and am thankful for the plain and yet polite manner you expressed it.

    Yet, it seems to me that you have fallen prey to a similar thing you are concerned for. For, as I understand it, the article failed to address dress.

    Yet, your response seemed to place a large focus upon apparel in worship. My thinking is this, we need to put less emphasis upon it, and more upon what matters.

    By the way, I too was at last year’s pastor’s conference at NJ. You never stuck out to me.

    Mike Waters
    Heritage RBC

  5. Hi Mike:

    The very first thing noticeable upon opening this article is the purposeful interplay of, “Reverence and Awe” constrasted with a picture of a Mickey Mouse T-shirt wearing guy (I am asssuming Pastor Mark Driscoll) and the caption, “With reverence and awe?”

    Accompanying artwork, especially at the beginning of an article, sets the tone for the whole article. The implication is that a Pastor cannot be reverential and awe-ful (maybe just awful) wearing a t-shirt.

    (p.s., does Mickey know he’s the object of so much bad press; someone call his publicist!)

    Yes, AMEN, to your comment that we need to put less emphasis on clothes.

    Unfortunately, pictures are worth 1,00 words and Mickey Mouse took up the space equivalent to about 2 small paragraphs of text. It would be logical to conclude that the author had clothing in mind when he posted his text accompanied by this pic.

    If the pic were removed then the entire tone of the article changes.

  6. Mike, p.s. nice to meet you in New Joisey last fall! I am glad you didn’t think I was an odd duck.

  7. I do not believe that Driscoll was sporting his Micky Mouse shirt in a New Guinea worship service. We could profit from hearing Thabiti Anyabwile’s message on Culture from the 2010 T4G conference.

  8. Trevor,

    Thanks for your clarification. May the Lord use you to seek and find “true worshipers!”

    Pastor Max,

    Thanks for the post. I too recommend Pastor Martin’s sermon on worship. Have you listened to the entire “Old Paths” series [he deals with worship but also conversion, sanctification, and the Lord’s Day Sabbath]? I recommend the first time he preached it, at Rocky Mount, NC. I believe it is one of the most important series of messages he has ever preached.

    You can find the sermons on SermonAudio [under Rocky Mount RBC]. It is just good old-fashioned, apostolic, puritanical—preaching!

    Mike Waters
    Heritage RBC

  9. Bob, I thought of that very quote…you should post it here on the blog (or I’ll transcribe your transcription and post it!)

  10. Trevor, Contextualization is an important issue.

    Regarding the picture, let’s deal with the United States of America for a moment. Let me ask 3 questions. Would you officiate a wedding wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Would you officiate a funeral in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Should you stand before men and women to preach the Word of God and the great eternal issues of Heaven and Hell in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt? The answer could be YES to each of these questions — but I think a great many Americans would find the Mickey Mouse T-shirt disrespectful in the context of the first two. They might not the third, because many have no respect for the Word of God preached anyway.

    Appropriate is a good word in regards to dress for men and women. Non-offensive is another good concept. Together, I think they deal with the contextual issues very well.

    Your point is well taken about fancy suits in the dirt-floor buildings. Appropriate fits here as well and takes care of the issue.

  11. Yes, Steve, I am not a fan of Mickey Mouse behind the pulpit either. Poor taste, however, is not always sin.

    I do wish that the fine text of the article didn’t begin with this pic of Mickey as a lead-on to set the tone.

  12. Brother Trevor,

    1.) Pastor Doner did not choose the picture, I did.

    2.) If you give the sermon by Albert Martin an honest hearing, you will perhaps think differently.

    3.) The man behind the mouse shirt is not a poor man that could claim to be wearing “the best of my everyday wear.” He is known for regular use of coarse and irreverent humor in the pulpit.

    While you may not see wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt as a sin, to many of us it is a clear display of a pastor lacking reverance and awe for the Triune God.

  13. Brother Johnson,

    Let me offer a few comments:

    1.) Pastor Doner did not choose the picture, I did.

    2.) If you give the sermon by Albert Martin an honest hearing, you will perhaps think differently.

    3.) The man behind the mouse shirt is not a poor man that could claim to be wearing “the best of my everyday wear.” He is known for regular use of coarse and irreverent humor in the pulpit.

    While you may not see wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt as a sin, to many of us it is a clear display of a pastor lacking reverance and awe for the Triune God.

  14. David,

    The picture does set the tone for the article, and the first thing one sees is the question, “Reverence and Awe?” and clothes, i.e., Mickey Mouse. Coarse humor and irreverent talk cannot be readily ascertained from a picture of clothes and the fine article could have been better served by another accompanyine picture indicating what we as a movement stand FOR instead of what we as a movement are standing AGAINST.

    Thank you for your comments.

  15. “The result of neglecting the God-ordained perspectival antithesis between Christianity and the world is, as one might naturally expect, a failure of nerve in maintaining any distinctive and unqualified religious truth, a truth which would stand out clearly against every view which falls short of it or runs counter to it. “Nobody is wrong if everybody is right” has become the unwitting operating premise of modern theology.” Greg L. Bahnsen

  16. “Regarding the influence of the culture in the church, Paul’s approach to engaging the culture is to engage the church and to push the church up into Christ, have the church adopt Christ as its philosophy, and then to live out that philosophy.

    How then do our various cultures relate to that pursuit? How then do we, coming from the various cultural backgrounds, in one church, together live out a Christian life that is not dependent on those cultural things that are part of the world.

    I would suggest to you that every human culture is fundamentally apostate. I think that is the gist of Augustine’s quote that there are two cities, the city of man and the City of God. Now if every human culture is fundamentally apostate, and we are all saved from all those backgrounds and cultural backgrounds into this new humanity, into the church, I think that it implies that part of what it means for us to push our people up into Christ is for them to be a little like snakes, shedding their old skin, shedding their old cultural skin, their old cultural expectations, shedding their old ways of being.

    You see, every people has a culture. Every people are defined in part by their culture. What does it mean for us to be God’s people? Does it not necessarily mean that God gives us a culture, a distinctive cultural way of being, a distinctive cultural practice?

    [he illustrates this by Abraham separated from his old pagan culture and made into the new people of God, Israel]

    “They were then given a distinct culture, which set them apart from the world. God then gave them a law to live by, and that law was going to address their cultural, civic, and religious life. They steadily acquired as a people a different culture, marked out from the world.

    Does that process stop with Israel? Look at the Acts and the Epistles, the whole Gentile question, then the Jerusalem Council addresses the cultural tension, the question of what does Gospel life look like. These clashing cultures are directed to live together as a new people, with a new culture, and a new practice consistent with the Gospel.

    As pastors, we need to help our people shed the old snake skin and live in this new skin of Christ, this new man of Christ.

    This attempt to acculturate the Gospel, to make it fit into our own culture, confines as we engage the culture. It is an adjustment of the Gospel, and it is less than the Gospel.

    When we say church, we need to think people, and not just people, but by definition nations. The church is a multiethnic thing. It is Biblically multiethnic, but it is not multicultural. It is multiethnic, but it is monocultural. And it is not any of our native cultures. It is this new way of being that God has created in Christ.

    – Thabiti Anyabwile

  17. The whole study of culture and meaning is interesting and ever changing. Take the simple issue of “hair”. The Bible states that it is a shame for a man to have long hair. Growing up as a Fundamentalist Christian in the 60’s and 70’s the natural question we always asked was “how long is long?”. I never did hear a good answer to that question — but it became obvious through the 70’s that the answer was always changing.

    In the 60’s long hair had a “meaning”. It marked defiance, rebellion, drugs, sex and rock and roll. But, interestingly enough, the styles became mainstream and lost their meaning along the way. Christians are still against defiance, rebellion, drugs, illicit sex — but rock and roll has been rehabilitated and brought into many churches.

    Back in the good old days, Country Music was at war with Rock Music. Think of “Okie from Muskogee”. Then, watch the “Country Music Awards” of today. If someone from the 70’s could flash forward 40 years they would be quite surprised! There is no doubt styles and culture change, and people embrace as mainstream what they once fought against.

    The beauty of Christianity is that it is timeless and that it fits into every culture. The things that represent evil and anarchy to a society should be shunned by the Christians in that society, lest the world equate those things with Christianity. When dealing with the Word of God we should avoid those things that smack of evil, irreverence or just plain silliness, lest the world equate that with our message.

    Mark Driscoll’s wearing of “Mickey Mouse” is not an accident, and no doubt is meant to be ironic and probably also cool. I can think of many “layers” of thought the preacher in a Mickey Mouse shirt would elicit — and many of those thoughts would be good ones against the folly of modern society. But I also can’t help but wonder how many lost men and women look at that, smile to themselves and think, “Yup, Christianity is just what I thought it was.”

    BUT — let me say — EXCELLENT ARTICLE MAX!

  18. “When we say church, we need to think people, and not just people, but by definition nations. The church is a multiethnic thing. It is Biblically multiethnic, but it is not multicultural. It is multiethnic, but it is monocultural. And it is not any of our native cultures. It is this new way of being that God has created in Christ.”

    What an excellent truth. Thanks MarieP for posting it. I heard the sermon back when he gave it [or right after]. It needs to be listened to by us all. Several times!

    Mike Waters
    Heritage RBC

  19. The fact that there even exists such a thing as “Mark Driscoll’s infamous Mickey Mouse t-shirt” speaks volumes. I cast my vote for serious, faithful, reverent men of God who are content to be such, and shrink back from even the thought of being “celebrity preachers.”

  20. Tony,

    I agree. Bless God for the simplicity of Biblical worship—worship characterized by joy and trembling.

    One preacher laments the trend of some to deny this simplicity,

    “By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theater. They turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political or philosophical essays. In fact, they exchange the temple for the theater, and turn ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to entertain men”—C.H. Spurgeon, 1880’s

    May the Lord forever keep us from such folly. Let us approach Him tomorrow with joy and trembling!

    Mike W

  21. Pastor Doner, excellent article and much needed.

    I listened to the “Old Paths” series Pastor Martin preached in Rocky Mount. Like Pastor Waters, I highly recommend that series. It is coming from a man who has stayed marvelously consistent over the course of his entire ministry.

    I would also recommend Pastor Mike Water’s messages on Worship from his series on the Basics (of the Christian life) from the summer of 2008. They are suberb and can be found here…

    MarieP, thanks for sharing that quote – that was excellent…

    The battle for innerancy has been won. The battle is now being waged over the sufficiency of Scripture. As Pstor Doner said, “His people must listen carefully to the instructions and directions He has given them in His word and follow them, if their worship is to be acceptable to Him.”

  22. I just delivered a sermon from Isaiah 6:1-8 and if this is an example of the way we should worship our Holy God…then we should worship Him in this manner. There are so many scriptures that give us examples on worship. I give God the glory that by His grace I can worship Him in spirit and truth. I cannot imagine standing before God in any other way than the description that Isaiah gives in this text as he was confronted by our Holy God. The confrontation will most certainly bring about confession that He is a Holy God. This confrontation will bring about a radical change in the life of the man that was confronted by God. The confrontation will bring about conviction. His Holy Word will convict and covert or condemn. He will cleanse and then He will commission His elect for His glory! Notice the seraphim had six wings…he used four wings for worship and only two for service. God allowing us to serve Him is His gift to us by His sovereign grace…not that He needs anything from man. I am so grateful that God has allowed us to worship Him…the true living Holy God!
    Thanks for this article.
    To God be the glory!

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