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Theocentric worship begins with God and is about God; it does not begin with us nor is it about us. Worship that is Theocentric is also Christocentric and Trinitarian. It is through Christ that we are able to worship God the Father. Christ is the very image of God incarnate who has made knowing and worshiping God possible (John 1:1-5; 14). Theocentric worship is also Trinitarian meaning that the Holy Spirit enables our worship (John 4:24) and the filling of the Spirit empowers our worship. It is important to note that congregational singing and praise is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

See Paul’s argument in Ephesians.

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:18-21

Theocentric worship is another of the worship values at Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can see all the values listed in a previous post or here on our church website.

What is Theocentric worship? Theologian J. I. Packer argues:

The history of the word gives us our answer. The noun worship is a contraction of WORTHSHIP. Used as a verb, it means to ‘ascribe worth’ or ‘to acknowledge value.’ To worship God is to make recognition of his worth or worthiness–to look Godward and acknowledge in all appropriate ways the value of what we see. The Bible calls this activity glorifying God or giving glory to God. It views this as our ultimate end and, from one point of view, our whole duty. ‘Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name’ (Psalm 29:2; 96:8). ‘Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

J.I. Packer, Knowing Christianity, 135-6. 

God’s glory and worth deserve our praise and honor. This is why the focus must be on God in our worship. True worship begins with God, not with us. In our worship services at Wilkesboro Baptist, we begin with Scripture (revelation) and then move to songs of praise and adoration. The very majesty and worth of God deserve our worship and invite us to respond to God.

I’m writing these posts for those who are believers. My audience is primarily made up of Christians and church attenders, but note the following observation by Eugene Peterson on the desperate importance of Christians centering their lives on God.

In worship God gathers his people to himself as center: “The Lord reigns” (Psalm 93:1). Worship is a meeting at the center so that our lives are centered in God and not lived eccentrically. We worship so that we live in response to and from this center, the living God. Failure to worship consigns us to a life of spasms and jerks, at the mercy of every advertisement, every seduction, every siren. Without worship we live manipulated and manipulating lives. We move in either frightened panic or deluded lethargy as we are, in turn, alarmed by specters and soothed by placebos. If there is no center, there is no circumference. People who do not worship are swept into a vast restlessness, epidemic in the world, with no steady direction and no sustaining purpose.

Eugene Peterson, Living the Message, 74.

Here are some observations about our Christian lives regarding Theocentric worship.

  • When God is not the focus or center of our lives, we will fail to worship properly. This is the single most unfortunate reality of human experience. Sure, people worship many things besides God. The problem is that only God deserves our worship; only God is worthy of worship. Worship in our temporal lives is merely a tune up for worship in our eternal lives. Forever, we will either worship in the presence of the only One worthy of worship or we will be damned to ourselves, our idols, and our demons in eternal torment. It would be wise of us to worship now in preparation for worship then.
  • When God is not the focus or center of our worship, we will trend toward the preferential and self-absorbed. There is nothing wrong with having personal preferences in life, Christian experience or even worship. But God does not receive more or less glory because of how our worship experiences feel to us or whether or not they affirm our preferences. That God is Savior of the nations and the peoples of the world means that he receives worship in a vast variety of languages, songs, styles, and methods. Christian, the next time you are at church and the song, sermon, or structure of the service is not your preference, pause to remember that if what is said or sung is true, then it is glorifying God. God’s pleasure, not our own, should drive our worship.
  • When our worship is Theocentric, Christocentric, and Trinitarian, we are able to reset our daily Christian experiences to be satisfied only with God. C. S. Lewis once observed that our problem is not that we are satisfied with too much, but with too little. Peterson’s observation above reminds us that without proper worship our fears and temptations drive us to restless lives and unfulfilled purpose. Is this not the reason for so much despair that surrounds us? Beloved, we need God, and when we find and experience him, we must and will worship.

Would you make plans to gather with God’s people this week and worship? When you do, would you pause before you enter your worship space and remind yourself that the gathering, the songs, the sermon, the structure, the giving, and all else are all about, for, and to the One Living God? Would you let your private and your public worship reset your heart on the God who is worthy?

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

If worshiping is rendering homage and adoration, then believers have a glorious privilege of worshiping God, together.

God does indeed save individuals. In order to experience forgiveness and eternal life, we need to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. This must happen personally. No one can believe for you. You must believe as an individual. While this is absolutely true, God did not merely save individuals, he saved a people. God redeemed the people of Israel in the Old Testament and called out a people for himself in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:9).

And as a people who have been redeemed, we have the privilege to gather for the purpose worship. As followers of Christ, we need both private worship (quiet times) and corporate worship (congregation). Here are some passages of Scripture that undergird the necessity of corporate worship.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let the godly exult in glory;
    let them sing for joy on their beds.

Psalm 149: 1, 5

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:17-21

These verses indicate the need of the congregation to participate in worship. The gathered church is not an audience to be wowed or individuals to be entertained. The gathered church is the “assembly” of God’s people declaring praise to God and singing truths to one another.

In their book, Sing, Keith and Kristyn Getty remind us that the congregation is “the ultimate choir. The true beauty of such a congregational choir is that our voices and our hearts are knit together in praise.” (pp. 3-4).

They continue their emphasis on congregational praise:

It may sound like a rather obvious statement to make, but in the assembly each of us will not be in the majority. That means you are going to be singing songs you may not have chosen because they are not your favorite, to arrangements or with accompaniment that you may not have chosen because they are not your favorites. You are going to need to be willing to lay down your own tastes for the good of the wider assembly. For as long as we have the health and the ability, we are each called to sing with the people of God, and to love our people enough to serve each other in the way we sing.

Keith and Kristyn Getty, Sing, 15.

For our worship to be congregational, it needs to be participatory. Here are some ways we are trying to invite participation in our gathered worship.

  • We emphasize congregational singing. While not all of our musical worship has to be congregational, the vast majority is. Remember, we are not an audience, we are a choir. We attempt to sing songs that are “singable” emphasizing the role of the congregation rather than highlighting special musicians or singers.
  • We invite congregational participation. Through giving, quoting our monthly memory verse, praying together, and celebrating the ordinances, it is our desire that all attenders become participants in the worship service.
  • We encourage note-taking. Worship must be Scriptural and following our Reformation tradition, expositional preaching plays a central role in our services. While we realize that hearing the Word preached can be passive, we encourage note-taking and internalizing Scripture. Several of our Sunday School classes now use sermon-based discussion questions for their curriculum which invites a deeper study and application of the weekly sermon text.

Congregational participation in worship is life-giving and God-exalting. If we are a people redeemed by grace, then our gathered experiences should show it. When we participate meaningfully, we bless one another. You and I need gathered congregational worship for our own souls. Our neighbors need gathered congregational worship to experience the validity of the gospel in lives of believers.

This is the first of ten posts on our worship values at Wilkesboro Baptist Church. You can see all the values listed in a previous post or here on our church website.

Reader, consider this your invitation to congregational worship. Would you return to gathered worship if you’ve been away for a while? We would love to see you this week.

Grace and Peace