The Calamity of Culturally-Driven Worship
Part Two: The Solution
The Holy Counterculture
Isaiah 60:1-3 NKJV
Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
The term counterculture came into vogue in the turbulent 1960’s.
I was a teen during that time, a teen from a Holiness-Pentecostal culture so I knew about countercultures. I loved old movies on TV but couldn’t go to the movie house to see new ones. Our girls didn’t wear “men’s apparel”—that meant trousers. I umpired girls’ softball at kids camp with the girls playing in dresses, a day I will never forget no matter how much I try. We didn’t dance, except when we “got happy” at church. To this day, I only have rhythm from my waist up. My feet just don’t get it. Someday, in the millennial reign, come by and watch me dance. Until then I’ll watch Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and long to express my joy with them, but I can’t. I know about countercultures.
Still, with all the abuses of outwardly measured holiness, we were a community. As Bill Gaither said in his song, “We say and brother and sister around here.” One of the men at the church was an automatic transmission specialist at the same shop where my father was the air conditioner/radiator man. This mechanic was our song leader and he taught the Jr. Boys class. Who was he? He was Brother Ramar, not Mr. Ramar or “A.E.” (He was not called by his first name, but by his initials.) I remember how strange it was among all the other mechanics whose first names were sown into their blue shirts, that I called him, Brother Ramar. Why? Because he was one of us, a member of the counterculture that knew about speaking in tongues and praying for the sick, and singing tricky little songs with vivid word pictures in the text like, “I’ll join the happy angels band,” or, “There is a crimson stream of blood.” His daughter and I were both in the church band. I played clarinet and she played the accordion. She wore her hair piled high on her head in the holiness-Pentecostal style. She was pretty girl who was not hard to spot at school. I played football, was in the band and in a social fraternity, but I was always honored to speak to Dolorous because she was from our church, her sweet nature and teased hair were signs of the covenant.
No measurable system of man escapes the flaws in man’s heart.
As soon as the survivors of my generation came to power we started tearing down the icons of the Holiness-Pentecostal counterculture. We insisted on being called by our first names rather than “brother” and “sister”—that was our moms and dads! We replaced the men’s class, the women’s class, the “fellowship” class and the “homemaker’s” class with topical classes. Soon we had to create small groups—hmm, I wonder why? Our kids dressed like the world, went to “worldly amusements” like bowling alleys and rollerinks and ballgames and even dances. They had all the fun we couldn’t have. We raised them with children’s pastors and youth pastors who tailored everything for them. We sent them out of the “adult” services so they could have their music as loud as they wanted it and we didn’t have to hear it. We didn’t want to lose them. Now they are pastors, worship leaders and board members and they still want it the way they want it.
What has happened to us? Our point of reference has shifted down. We no longer set our compass by an elevated star that shines above each generation. We are leading from street level frantically guessing at each intersection which way we should turn. Street signs guide us: One Way, No Right Turn on Red, Hollywood and Vine, Broadway and 42nd Street. If we would only lift our heads we would see a shining star against the black night sky—Jesus, the Morning Star—beckoning us toward streets that each generation can walk together, the intersection of Spirit and Truth.
Biblical Elements of the Christian Counterculture
We need specifics. We have to see the scriptural elements of culture that may or may not be reflected in the culture around us. We need to sort out God’s preferences, not as they resonate in our culture-clad hearts, but as they are objectively set forth in the Bible. As Isaiah said, we must “tremble at his word” if we want His presence dwelling with us.
Isaiah 66:1-2 NIV
This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
Instead of trembling at His Word, we cower before the preferences of people.
What are some of the biblical aspects of worship that should be present, no matter what the culture of the worshipers might be?
The Heart. Worship begins in the heart of the worshiper. The essence of worship is humility; pride repels God. The worshiper should have a deep passion for God—his Word, his Kingdom, His mission, and his will. True Worshipers will have compassion for man—for the church, the community and the world.
The Liturgy. The liturgy of worship (the words and works of worshipers) should include psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, confessions of belief, and common prayers. The content of worship should be centered on Jesus with a Trinitarian emphasis, approaching the fullness of the biblical revelation of the Triune God. The liturgy should be trans-generational, trans-cultural and trans-personal, transcending all the cultures within church while simultaneously embracing them. The languages of worship should be vernacular and inclusive, worthy of the subject matter but within the reach of the people.
The Service. The worship service should function in three-dimensional time as past, present and future converge before the Throne of God.
- We should celebrate our heritage; we must not forget what God has done.
- We should encounter Jesus in the present; we must hear what He is saying and receive the gifts He is bringing us.
- The service should also be prophetic, taking us a step nearer our destiny in God.
The service should follow the pattern of Scripture which is the pattern seen in heaven. This “reasonable service of worship” is the progression of:
- Entering the Lord’s Manifest Presence through the Gates of Thanksgiving.
- Proclaiming the Lord’s excellence and humbling ourselves in the Outer Courts
- Praying and declaring the Word of God in the light and Power of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Place.
- Waiting in the Manifest Presence of God; receiving from Him in the Holy of Holies.
The service of worship should be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. That is, it should be:
- Centered on Jesus,
- For the edifying of the Body,
- Presented in a fitting and orderly way with
- The appropriate Gifts of the Spirit in biblical operation.
- Signs of the Ministry of the Spirit: anointing and laying on of hands should be prominent.
- The preached Word should be confirmed with signs following.
- The service should also include the public reading of the Scripture. It should be interactive and participatory according to the biblical disciplines of public worship.
The Community. The community of worshipers should be marked by the signs of the New Covenant. Water Baptism is the sign of entrance into the New Covenant and the Lord’s Table is the place of New Covenant renewal. The church should be a trans-generational community—a complete family of faith. It should also be trans-cultural reflecting the town, city or region of its location. The community shares and lives by the teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is the common ethic and code of conduct. The biblical images of the community of faith are present realities to the people. They are the Family of God, A Holy Nation, A Holy-Royal Priesthood, the Army of God, and the Body of Christ.
The Arts. The arts of worship are community arts. Music is the principle art of public worship in two broad dimensions.
- Community music performed by congregation and
- Elevated artistic presentations by more skillful members of the congregation to communicate truth and commemorate special events.
Worship music should include both instrumental and vocal music reflecting the size and sensibilities of the congregation and community. Music is a primary tool of discipleship for all ages and it is a primary tool of outreach. The artists of the church should be engaged in the full 3-fold mission of the church:
- touching God with worship arts,
- touching the church with anointed works of art, and
- touching the community by telling and retelling the Jesus story through the arts.
Worship Arts should be presented in the vernacular languages of the community avoiding clichés or haughty self-exalting presentations.
The Impact. The congregation who truly worships God will impact the surrounding community.
- Worship should bless the Lord as it enables the people of God to lift their hearts to God in community. This has a healing effect to the worshiper and is a pleasure to the Lord Jesus.
- Worship should bless the church as it enables the people of God to lift their hands to God in biblical purity with Jesus as the focal personality. This has a discipleship effect.
- Worship should bring justice to the world as the church proclaims the presence and power of Jesus to unbelievers who witness it. This has an outreach effect.
Glory or Calamity?
This biblical vision is an exalted one! I know of no single church or church group that is doing all the biblical things well. It is time for us to renew our commitment to doing renewal, that is, obeying God. If we pursue these things we will see His glory. We will be amazed at how “effective” the Lord’s manifest presence will be in “growing” our church. If we do not pursue these things, calamity will be the result: souls lost for eternity; people living in spiritual poverty; our part of the harvest neglected, and the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit happening somewhere else. Please continue reading the next two articles to see the glorious of details of culturally expressed worship.
© 2019 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved