"When a local congregation creates a culture of church entertainment in an attempt to build a congregation, it will only be a matter of time before they begin to experience the negative consequences that emphasis will bring." - Christian Leaders
Bitterness often begins as a normal—maybe even healthy—response to the losses, disappointments, failures, and unfairnesses of life. In that sense, the term “bitterness” is pretty much synonymous with mental, spiritual, emotional (and often also physical) pain.
But the Bible reveals that when indulged and nurtured, bitterness becomes an infection of the inner man that taints—and has the potential to corrupt—all our activities and relationships. I’ve written about the forms and harms of bitterness previously (see Bitterness Happens, and Six Ways Bitterness Can Poison Our Lives).
The good news is that both Scripture and experience (as application of biblical principles) point us toward some practical strategies for overcoming bitterness in our lives before, or even after, it becomes a chronic problem.
Worship is not an “experience.” In Scripture, worship is a set of attitudes and beliefs finding some form of expression. Acceptable worship is the right attitudes and beliefs finding a right expression, in the context of a right relationship. That’s a lot of things to get right. But it all begins with the attitudes.
Much has been written about the attitudes of worship, but for now we can simplify: at their core, these attitudes are humble, submissive, repentant, thankful, and joyful.
Read Part 1.
At this point someone will certainly raise the objection that judging music is terribly subjective. For example, some musicians have taken traditional hymn texts and reset them in a contemporary style. Who is qualified to say whether the older or the newer style better accords with the truths in these texts? If serious and devout people cannot agree on these issues, is that not an indication that these are merely matters of opinion? There are several answers here.
Sustained disagreement, even among sincere believers, is far from an adequate reason to declare a matter to be mere preference.
Surely we realize that in matters of doctrine and practice, Christians of tremendous intelligence and piety have unresolved differences. The fact that such disagreements have not been settled—and show little prospect of ever being settled before the return of our Lord—does not justify our concluding that there is no truth of the matter. While reasons may exist for thinking that music is a matter of preference, a lack of consensus alone is not one of those reasons.
Scripture itself calls us to make exactly these kinds of judgments, and our progress in them is a decisive mark of spiritual maturity.
God created man for worship. Jesus declared that the Father is seeking worshippers who will worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Not surprisingly, the Shorter Catechism begins by affirming, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” But this raises the question, “How should God be worshiped?” To be more precise, “What kind of worship pleases God?” The answer is vital. Thankfully, it’s not that complicated. Even a child may understand.
It may seem a bit stifling to start with a negative. But that’s where God begins:
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them (Exod 20:3–5 ESV).
We can’t just approach God on our terms. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether it seems good, feels good, or looks good to us. God doesn’t accept “manmade” religion (Matt 15:1-9; Col 2:20-23; 1 Tim 4:1-5). As the Supreme Object of human worship, God reserves the right to define the terms by which men may offer to him acceptable love, service, and devotion. And when God says, “You shall not!” we must not. Period! In the words of the Baptist Confession, “The acceptable way to worship God is instituted by Him, and it is delimited by His own revealed will” (22.1).1 Which brings me to the next point.
Ye humble souls, that seek the Lord,
Chase all your fears away;
And bow with rapture down to see
The place where Jesus lay.
Thus low the Lord of life was brought;
Such wonders love can do:
Thus cold in death that bosom lay,
Which throbbed and bled for you.
A moment give a loose to grief,
Let grateful sorrows rise,
And wash the bloody stains away,
With torrents from your eyes.
Then raise your eyes, and tune your songs,
The Savior lives again:
Not all the bolts and bars of death
The Conqueror could detain.
High o’er the angelic bands He rears
His once dishonored head;
And through unnumbered years He reigns,
Who dwelt among the dead.
With joy like His shall every saint
His vacant tomb survey;
Then rise with His ascending Lord
To realms of endless day.
Philip Doddridge (d.1751)