The Bible is a big book with a lot of information, and worship is a huge subject.
How do you discuss God and spirituality in a non-evangelical, non-Christian culture?
How do you bear witness to the Gospel,Â in a post-modern, post-communist, post-Christian context?
How do you explain worship in cultures unfamiliar with, or even antagonistic to, the Bible?
How do you instruct those who disciple others – pastors, teachers and leaders – with an understanding of worship they can effectively teach and apply in their context?
Where do you begin?
There are truths inherent to the human experience that are universal. Truth agrees with truth, and truth is bigger than dogma. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
Could a conversation based on observable truth lead to the source of Truth?
I discovered the teaching of Ken Rideout, a member of my church and a missionary to Thailand and Asia for over 40 years. He developed a dialogue that convincingly shares the Gospel in non-christian contexts. He explains it in the bookÂ “The Truth You Know You Know: Jesus Verified in Our Global Culture.” (link to sample chapter)
A complimentaryÂ apologetic for young adults was penned by our friend Karen HenleyÂ “Love Trumps Karma, Uncovering the Truth You Know You Know.”Â
“Things of the Spirit need no proof. Our Maker has written His image of love and moral righteousness upon every human heart.“
Today all around the world, there are serious, valid questions raised by non-believers that require thoughtful response. What we profess about God, his heart, his character, and his love has to ring true.Â
It is the Spirit of Truth that leads to discovering “… the way, the life and the truth.” The human heart, created in the image of God, is designed to resonate with the truth of God’s nature and character.
How do we get there?
Let’s have a conversation based on what we have in common as human beings, through simple observation and “common sense.”
We’ll explore three contexts.
I. Personal Observation â€“ An Examination of Self
Look within ourselves individually. What is our reality as we perceive it, the true state of our humanity and our human condition? What are the things we know to be real about ourselves, that we can say through observation are facts of common knowledge?
1. First, humans are physical beings.Â No need to debate this. People do physically exist on planet earth. We live and breath, eat and drink. We do physical stuff -we sweat, we make love, have babies, get sick, get old and die. We feel pain, we are alive in physical bodies. This is real. This is true.
2. Second, most of us would agree that people are emotional beings â€“ we think, we feel, we dream, we aspire, we have times of happiness, times of sorrow, time we feel exhilarated, times we feel lonely or depressed.
The area of the mind, the will and the emotions is called the soul. Our souls are needy; all human beings have desires and natural drives for â€œlife, liberty and the pursuit of happinessâ€ especially the desire to love and to be loved. Further observation from common knowledge bears witness that most humans are aware of a basic morality of what is right or wrong, what is good or evil.
3. The third observation is – people are spiritual beings. People are curious and inquisitive. They are seekers. We seek something transcendent, beyond ourselves. We seek divine guidance and understanding.
Humans innately seem to want a connection with the supernatural and divine.
Sometimes this takes a very carnal direction and we fill our lives with things, entertainment, or addictions to mind altering drugs or alcohol. Nonetheless, we could agree from personal experience that we search for some kind of spiritual reality or experience.
Conclusion: These simple everyday observations imply that all humans have some common denominators. These physical, emotional and spiritual similarities affirm our natural desire for love and morality and become expressed in various ways as worship.
Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
II. Anthropological Observation – Communities Worship
A casual examination of the history of civilizations reveals that â€œeverybody worshipsâ€ someone or something, somewhere at some point in time. This again is demonstrated through observation of common anthropological, Biblical and mythological knowledge.
1.Â First consider what can be observed through the study of anthropology. Anthropology, according to the Encarta World English Dictionary is: the study of humankind in all its aspects, especially human culture or human development; and the parts of Christian doctrine that are concerned with the nature, origin, and the destiny of humankind.
We see the search for divine connection throughout ancient human history, with various pagan deities, cultures making gods or goddesses out of the sun or moon, nature, animals, etc. In short, humanity has instinctively sought a religious expression with the invisible, transcendent â€œOtherâ€.
This common thread among countless people groupsÂ is the instinct or impulse to worship something.
The religious impulse is manifest as a universal urge to believe in something beyond ourselves.
2. Secondly consider historical Biblical observation. A frequent storyline through out the Bible itself is the competition of worshiping false or foreign deities such as Chemosh, Baal, Dagon, Asherah, etc.
The Bible recognizes the historical trait of humans to worship various idols,Â those that are not the true God.
3. Finally, consider what can be deduced from observing mythological phenomenon.
The search for divine understanding gave rise to ancient mythology.
Mythology is â€œ1) a group of myths that belong to a particular people or culture and tell about their ancestors, heroes, gods and other supernatural beings, and history; and 2) a body of stories, ideas, or beliefs that are not necessarily true about a particular place or individual.â€ Well known examples include the Greek and Roman mythological gods such as Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollos, Mercury, Cupid, etc.
III. Contemporary Cultural Observation
Let us further consider three observations of contemporary culture:
1. Today many people seem to be interested in connection with the divine, but they make up their own framework for understanding it. They invent their own approach to spirituality. They mix and match ‘a little of this’ and ‘a little of that’. They get their spiritual ideas from a variety of sources – Oprah and other media spiritual guruâ€™s, the self-helpÂ industry, or … wherever.
So, many will say “I believe in God” but they don’t necessarily mean the God of the Bible; the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
They will say “I have faith” but it is not Biblically based faith. It’s faith that “everything will work out ok.” It’s a blind faith in faith itself.
2.Â People seem hungry for connection with others, for community.
So we see communities form and tribes assemble at bars, coffee houses, and around special interests like sports teams, music groups, etc.
We do not want to be alone.
3. Masses of people are lost in our generation.
â€œThere is no lighthouse keeper.
There is no lighthouse.
There is no dry land.
There are only people living on rafts
made from their own imaginations.
And, there is the seaâ€
John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.
From the book “My Soul Purpose” by Richard Parrott
In this section Iâ€™ve attempted to show there is a natural human propensity for worship both as individuals and as communities. This innate tendency is noticed individually via personal observation, communally through anthropological observation, and currently by reflecting on contemporary culture.
The understanding that â€œeverybody worshipsâ€ was a game changer for me. Deep down all people have a â€œDNAâ€ for worship. So it seems reasonable to expect people to worship in response to the revelation of God.
It takes the Holy Spirit to reveal God, to give people a revelation that inspires worship. But God is in the revelation business. Planners of worship can apply this knowledge by cultivating sensitive strategies for drawing out the â€œheart of worshipâ€ in â€œnon-worshipersâ€ and reluctant worshipers alike.
This is a point Harold Best says succinctly in his book Unceasing Worship,Â â€œnobody does not worship.â€
â€œWe are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever, for eternity is an infinite extrapolation of one of two conditions: a surrender to the sinfulness of sin unto infinite loss or the commitment of personal righteousness unto infinite gain. This is the central fact of our existence, and it drives every other fact. Within it lies the story of creation or final loss.â€
My paraphrase of this concept:
â€œEveryone is a worshiper and will be for eternity.
Eternity for each of us will continue,
in the direction of either sin
for total loss, grief, pain and sadness;
or in the direction of holiness
for never-ending love, joy, peace and pleasure.â€
Simply stated: Everyone worships, all the time.
The question is not – â€œare you a worshiper?â€ You already are.
The critical question is â€œwhat is the direction of your worship?â€Â
Is it headed for eternal â€œgoodâ€ or eternal â€œnot goodâ€?
This understanding is important for worship leaders because our task becomes one of facilitating the direction of worship.
The answer to that question, depends on the STORY that you live out of. That’s the topic of our next post.
Wow, that was a long post! Thanks for reading. I would love your feedback.