Why does a building need a foundation? Is it not to hold up the structure? A foundation gives support to the rest of the building. It also gives it shape. The shape of your foundation dictates the shape of your structure. It also determines height of your structure. Deeper, more massive foundations hold up higher structures. Foundations give stability, shape, and height. We desire our worship at GLC to be sound and stable with a God-given shape and a passionate height.
I hope to demonstrate a compelling need to pursue a theological foundation for worship. I mean, what is going to make you dig a huge hole and start pouring in cement. Maybe you might even have to tear down the building you’ve already built and begin again. Or it might just be some trim work, some polishing up that needs to be done.
Reasons to Pursue a Theological Foundation for Worship
Whatever it may be, we need a theological foundation for worship primarily because it is essential to our relationship with God. Without knowledge we have nothing to believe in (Hebrews 11:6). We would not even attempt to approach God unless we already believed in him. And consequently we would not seek to worship the true God unless we believed in him as he has revealed himself to us. Our fellowship with him will deepen as we more clearly understand who God is and how he is to be approached. Paul links living in a manner fully pleasing to God with all spiritual wisdom and understanding:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;Colossians 1:9-10
In the Old Testament God presents both the means by which his people were to worship him and the pleasure he showed to his people as they followed his instructions in faith. Yet, it also laid out the seriousness with which God views worship when his people refused to follow his instructions or offered worship without faith.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,Genesis 4:1-4
God “had regard” or looked upon it with favor. God took pleasure in Abel’s offering. Conversely, God rejected Cain’s offering. God had no favor, or took no pleasure in it.
but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.Genesis 4:5-7
Then, the sacrifices God commands his people to offer in the books of Exodus and Leviticus are described as pleasing aromas to God (Exodus 29:18, 25, 41; Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, 16; 4:31; 6:15, 21; 8:21, 28, 17:6, 23:13, 18). They bring him pleasure. God delights in worship rightly given. Yet, God also commands his people to take great care in the worship they offer:
You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it.Exodus 30:9
In Leviticus 10:1-3 it says:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.” And Aaron held his peace.Leviticus 10:1-3
Like Cain, God rejected the offerings of Nadab and Abihu. And more so, God punished them severely for their aberrant worship. I am reminded of the aberrant worship of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. They too paid a sever price. I don’t write this to scare you. Worshipping God is a great delight and privilege, but that should never negate the responsibility we have in worship.
God’s pleasure is clearly connected to our worship:
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.Zephaniah 3:14-17
We sing aloud his praises, rejoicing and exulting with all our hearts over his abounding grace to save us. In turn, God rejoices over us with gladness. He expresses his delight in his people’s proper worship. Ephesians 5:10 calls us to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” in all areas of life, including our worship. And 2 Corinthians 5:9 calls us to “make it our aim to please him” which also includes our worship. Wonderfully, these passages indicate that we can please God and that we should endeavor to please God in every aspect of our lives, not the least in our worship.
Therefore, it is essential that we have a theological foundation upon which to enter into worship lest we miss pleasing the One we are attempting to worship and instead fall under the displeasure of our God.
We need a theological foundation because truth and experience are related.
A man who falls from the tenth story may shout as he passes each window on the way down, “I’m still doing fine,” and may mean it, but eventually the facts of the matter will catch up with his experience. We may continue to live on happy for hours and even days after a close loved one, unbeknown to us, passed away, but again the truth will come with crushing effect upon our experience. Since the meaning and truth of the Christian faith will eventually have ultimate bearing on our experience, we must come to grips with them.Millard Erickson
Our ignorance of God’s teaching on worship will only lessen our experience of fellowship with God. Experience is only as real as the truth it is based upon. I desire to experience God’s presence and His fellowship in worship, but if I am not careful to study the biblical view of worship I may find myself settling for a shallow emotionally driven hysteria or an evenly shallow stoic pharisaical piety. It is essential that we have a theological foundation upon which to experience real worship.
If often surprises people to learn that God is not always pleased when people worship him. We might be inclined to think that God should be thankful for any attention we give him out of our busy schedules. But worship is not about God’s thanking us; it is about our thanking him. And God is not pleased with just anything we choose to do in his presence. The mighty Lord of heaven and earth demands that our worship—indeed, all of life—be governed by his word.John Frame
We need a theological foundation because of false teaching. I will not spend much time here. I think we all know that there are many religions in the world claiming all sorts of thing. Even in the realm of “Christianity” there are a variety of teachings, some mutually contradictory. The approach cannot be that all are correct, nor can it be that we choose the one that sounds the best. It is essential that we have a theological foundation to determine true worship.
Hopefully my argument so far has demonstrated a compelling need to pursue a theological foundation for worship. But what does a theological foundation for worship look like?
Descriptors of a Theological Foundation for Worship
First and foremost, a theological foundation for worship is biblical. Its source is the Bible. To develop a theological foundation for anything would take an in-depth study of what the Bible say about the subject. We must utilize the tools and methods God has given us to dig into the Scriptures and see the revelation that is placed there by God Himself. Our foundation is strong because it is built with awesome material: God’s Word. Our foundation is also trustworthy because the manufacture of our material is perfect, faithful, and can be completely trusted. Therefore, problems do not come from the material or the manufacture but from the workers that lay the foundation. We must be ever wary of our own desires and not enter with predetermined notions about the foundation we are building. It is to be set a certain way, placed and finished with certain tools. We must not be afraid to break it up and repour our foundation if it turns out different than the manufacture said it would. Maybe we did not follow the instructions on the materials correctly. It may need to be refinished, trimmed up, or parts chiseled away. This is where humility comes in. It won’t be perfect, but we hope it will get close. We’re human. Our finite minds cannot full comprehend all that God has revealed but this should not stop us from trying. We must learn all we can about our material—the Bible—so that our foundation will hold fast. We must admitting the whole time that we are inadequate to do the job that we should, but with God’s help we’ll do the job as best we can. It takes diligence, determination, endurance, and plain hard work so that the foundation looks as much like the foundation God would have us build.
A theological foundation for worship is systematic. It draws upon the whole Bible, rather than isolated texts. Systematizing seeks to relate the various parts to one another. It takes the diverse teachings and combines them into some type of harmonious whole. Like the material in building a foundation is made up of a certain mixture. The right combination of ingredients makes for a strong material to lay as the foundation. A wrong combination could lead to disaster. Our desire should be to combine the different texts of Scripture in a way that lays out the most Scriptural foundation for worship. It takes into account all the teachings of God on worship and fits them together as best we can. Again we are human beings so our mixture will probably not be exactly right, but we strive to be as close as we can.
A theological foundation For worship is contemporary. While the theological ideas are timeless, coming from an eternal God, God chose to communicate in a way we could understand, so our foundation should be understandable in our contemporary culture without distorting the meaning. Our material is fit for the climate and location in which we are building. An example would be bible translations. Also, it should to some degree address the questions and challenges encountered today along with reaffirming past issues and anticipating possible future issues.
A theological foundation for worship is practical. It’s not just about believing but living. Our foundation is not just the affirmation of truth but the fleshing out of truth into our lives. If you believe your building is unsafe and unstable you will evacuate the building and tear it down or fix it. If you just said you believed it, “Oh, yah, the buildings going to fall in,” and did nothing but turn back to your desk and start your work again, I would say you didn’t really believe it. Think of a fire drill in grade school. You lined up and ho-hummed out of the school. We would expect you to act quite differently if you believed the building to really be on fire. Our theological foundation is meant to change the way we live by changing the way we think.
So hopefully you have seen that our worship foundation is to be the Word of God in a practical, contemporary, systematic way. We must go to the Word. It gives the right shape to our worship. It has the depth to support the height of our worship with stability. It is sufficient to define and direct our worship.