How do we decide the best way to worship corporately? Do we rely on tradition or cultural innovations like sitting down and reading by electric light? Most importantly, what does the Bible have to say on the matter? Pastor Mark Driscoll finishes out our sermon series, Religion Saves and 9 Other Misconceptions by answering the question, “do you believe that the Scripture not only regulates our theology but also our methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?”
You’re listening to Religion Saves and Nine other Misconceptions, a sermon series in which Pastor Mark Driscoll answers nine controversial questions about Jesus and Christianity. The following is a presentation of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. For more audio and video content, please visit marshillchurch.org.
Well, howdy, Mars Hill. My name’s Mark, if you’re new. I’m one of the pastors of the church. This is Tim Gaydos. He’s also one of the pastors of the church. One of the things that’s really working for us and we’re really thrilled about is our multi‑campus approach. We’re meeting in I think 16 services now. You’d know more than me. Sixteen services now in what’s gonna be six locations here shortly. Pastor Tim will inform you about that. We’re opening a brand new campus in Downtown Seattle in the Belltown area. He is the campus pastor spearheading the charge.
So I brought him for a couple a reasons. I want him to just tell you a little bit about his story and what God’s doing so that if God should want you to be a part of that, we’d love to have you join the core and help launch the downtown campus. And if nothing else, you can all be in prayer for he and his team as they’re gearing up for the March 16 debut. So why don’t you start, buddy. Let ’em know kinda who you are, where you grew up, a little bit of your story, and then we’ll jump in on the launch March 16.
Tim Gaydos: Yeah, cool. I’m a native Seattleite, born and raised here in Seattle. Not many of us, but definitely have a huge love for the city and for Seattle. Grew up in a Christian home, basically turned away from the faith, turned away from Jesus growing up, and basically used the city and used it to pursue my own saturation, my own pleasure, my own fulfillment. Pillaged it, abused it. And shortly before my 21st birthday, Jesus absolutely grabbed me, changed my heart, gave me new desires, new distinctions. And from that point on, really, he’s given me a heart to serve and love our city which I abused, really, and consumed and Jesus audibly called my wife and I to serve here at Mars Hill and to serve in the downtown core. So we’re just excited to be able to bring hopefully what Jesus is gonna do of vival in the heart of Seattle.
Mark Driscoll: Explain the vival versus revival.
Tim Gaydos: Right. Well the vival something that we’re praying for because there really is no re. We’re praying for a vival ’cause we’re in a pre‑Christian state here in the downtown core. God’s gospel really hasn’t penetrated the downtown core, and so that’s what we’re praying for and we’re really expecting God to do huge, miraculous things downtown.
Mark Driscoll: Explain the place God gave you and the building he’s opened up. It’s a cool story.
Tim Gaydos: Oh, man. It’s amazing. Back in September or so, God opened up a door. We were able to get a building significantly under market value. Just so happened to be No. 1 on Mayor Nickels’ hit list of clubs that he wanted to get rid of. There was a couple things – some shootings and stabbings and things like that, nothing too terrible, but just a couple things like that. But anyways, over the last few months, we’ve seen just a massive redemption and transformation take place in that building. Condom dispensers are not turned into baby‑changing stations, and the go‑go dancer cages are now it’s gonna be used as a coat rack, just great things are happening there. So we’re –
Mark Driscoll: All true stories, by the way.
Tim Gaydos: So we’re just – and so many people are moving into the downtown core, so many culture‑makers, and culture‑creators. And a lotta churches are actually selling of their properties, but we’re going into the heart and we’re just excited for what God’s gonna do.
Mark Driscoll: And you guys are launching when officially?
Tim Gaydos: Launching March 16th, two weeks from today. And we’re gonna run a – start with a 10:00 a.m. And a 6:00 p.m. Service, and we’ll just see what happens.
Mark Driscoll: So you guys, though, too, are already meeting presently. Your core’s been meeting last week and this week. How’s that going and what about those who would want to show up next week to help get ready of the March 16 push?
Tim Gaydos: Yeah. We would – any of you that have a heart for downtown and the downtown region, we are definitely calling on everyone to come shoulder‑to‑shoulder with us as we take the message of Jesus and plant that flag in the heart of Seattle. And we started kind of an underground core group launch last week. Had close to 400 people come out, which was fantastic. And so we’re just – man, we’re exciting for what’s going on. Next Sunday, 10:00 a.m., 6:00 p.m. We have children’s ministry services both services. And then we also are offering free parking right across the street at the Art Institute garage, so we got a great parking scenario there.
Mark Driscoll: Yeah. For those of you who are families, it’s interesting. I went down there this week and place looks absolutely belt. They did a phenomenal job. It’s a great location. It’s actually the best pick‑up/drop‑off children’s area that we have. I was shocked it was downtown. Pull right up to the family entrance, let the kids out, nice and safe and easy. And then there’s something next to the building that no one at Mars Hill has ever seen. It’s a piece of land with nothing on it where you can put your car. Apparently they call it a parking lot, and so there is actually one at the building. So for families, it’s actually the easiest pick‑up/drop‑off and parking situation that we have, so we’re hoping that it would include a lot of families who have a heart for those who are students, those who are living in condos and are not yet married or don’t have kids. And there’s just a wide breadth of socioeconomic need in the downtown core. So where can they find you online, and anything else they can be praying for you about?
Tim Gaydos: You can find us at marshillch.org/downtown. You can find out all the information and details there. And just be praying for us. Going into the city and going on the front lines, a lot of attacks and just a lot of warfare there in a lotta ways. So we would really appreciate your prayers for my team.
Mark Driscoll: Cool. We’ll pray for you right now, bro. Lord God, I thank you for Pastor Tim and his wife. I thank you that you’ve called ’em to Seattle and the Mars Hill Church. I thank you that they live right downtown in their condo right in the heart of the work. And so, Lord God, they know exactly needs to be done and they see the need every day. God, I pray against the enemy, his servants, and their works and effects. I pray for safety. I pray Lord God, for courage and love. I pray that the whole city would feel love by that campus and that, Lord God, they would be able to do good for all who live in the city in the name of Jesus. God, as well, I pray that their launch, March 16, would be fruitful and faithful. I pray that everything would go well at both the 10:00 a.m. And the 6:00 p.m. I pray well, Lord God, that so many people would meet Jesus so quickly that they need to additional services to accommodate more worshippers. And, God, I thank you for giving us the former Tabella Nightclub. I thank you for giving it to us under market value. I thank you that it looks great and that what used to be a place that was dedicated to nothing but sin can now be used for the purpose of the Savior. And so, Jesus, we’re just exceedingly glad. And I pray for my friend and his team in your good name. Amen. Cool. Thanks, bro.
It’s really exciting. I mean, literally, it is right in the heart of downtown and we could not be more thrilled. And you can pray. It has been a lotta work and we’re ready for a great start.
Two last announcements before we get to work. One on this week’s topic. It is fairly technical and so I’ll post a blog this week with further recommended study and one shameless plug for something I’m actually really excited about. My new book, Vintage Jesus just dropped this week, and I just wanted to make you all aware of it. First hardbound copy. Published it with Dr. Gerry Breshears, a very dear friend of mine. And you could buy here or online or at B Dalton or Barnes & Noble or a Christian bookstore or wherever. It’s available everywhere. It’s based on the preaching series I did here. And I would say as well that I’m actually really encouraged by the book and I like it. Not everyone thinks it’s funny, but it is. And the fact that they don’t think it’s funny is kinda funny, too. But it is pretty funny. And if you buy a copy here at Mars Hill, you’ll get it at a discount. And I’ll just say this so that there’s no questions. All the proceeds from the book sold in Mars Hill, go to Mars Hill, not to me, not so that like my wife and I could get a bigger gold throne to sit in at our house. And additionally, we’ve set it up so that even from the external sales, Gerry Breshears, my co‑author, and Mars Hill and I are splitting royalties. And when all is said and done I make less than Gerry Breshears or Mars Hill. Mars Hill will actually make more than me on this book. And the reason being is I love the church and it’s a gift and an honor to be able to financially contribute something back. And I just wanna make sure that you all know that I’m not trying to use this church to make myself rich, that I’m trying to use my gifts, and in so doing, revenue comes back to the church. And I praise God for that because I believe in what we’re doing. So if you wanna buy a copy, that would be great. And if not, I totally understand, though, I’ll be very sad.
So here’s what we’re doing as well. We’re in the middle of series call “Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions.” We let people post questions online; 343,000 people voted. We took the top nine questions. This week we deal with the regulative principle. It is the No. 1 question, most popular, and I’m sure both of you are really wondering what this is all about. It is, in fact, a very important question and it may seem a little aeriodite and academic, but it is the kind of thing that we pastors and church leaders have to think of because here really is the bottom line of the question. Today a few billion people on earth claim to be Christians. They gather together as we are for church services as this is occurring right now. And the question is: When we gather, what can we do? What can’t we do? What are we supposed to do? What is a Christian church service supposed to look like? And since this involves billions of people, it really is a big deal.
And so here is the question. Do you believe that the Scriptures not only regulates our theology, what we believe, but also our methodology, how we conduct ourselves, particularly in church services such as this. In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not? Good question; well stated. It’s about the role of Scripture in our corporate gatherings or services or meetings of worship on Sunday.
So I’ll start by telling you about Scripture since it is about the interface of Scripture in our worship services. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 says that “All Scripture is God breathed and is profitable for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training and righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That, and other related Scriptures build for us something that we call sola scriptura. We already take that from the Protestant reformers. I’ll give you a few Latin phrases so you feel like you get your money’s worth. But sola scruptura is the belief that Scripture alone is perfectly inspired of God, the Holy Spirit, that the 66 Books of the Old and New Testament is how God has chosen to speak to us in perfect authority. Therefore, the Bible is for us sola scriptura, meaning it is our highest authority. Our highest authority is Scripture alone.
By way of analogy, that would be akin to saying that as Christians, the Bible is our supreme court. There’s no authority above the Bible, and the Bible is final authority, and it’s how God speaks to us. Now that does not mean that there are not lesser courts of lower authority, those who believe only in the authority of Scripture hold a position that I will call solo scriptura. We do not believe solo scriptura, that Scripture is the only authority. We believe sola scriptura, that Scripture is highest authority over such things as reason and science and philosophy and such.
Bu the Bible teaches us that there lesser courts of lower authority under the highest authority of Scripture. I’ll give you some examples. Roman 13 says, “To obey the government, the government as authority.” So let’s say you’re driving 95 miles an hour in a school zone and a cop pulls you over, you can’t say, “Hey, you can’t give me a ticket. You don’t have any verse. There’s nothing in the Bible that says I can’t drive 95 miles an hour. And the top will say, “Ah, but Romans 13” – he’s been reading too, says that you are to obey the government. That would be me.
Okay? You’re all awe. So in principle it establishes government as authority. Likewise, we recently had this even at the Driscoll home with one of my children that will remain unnamed. I tucked all my children in. Then I hear in the other room, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop,” I go in and I see this bump underneath the covers and I pull them back and there is my child sitting there playing a Game Boy when they’re supposed to be sleeping in the middle of the night. And I said, “What are you doing?” and they said, “I’m playing a Game Boy.” I said, “You’re not supposed to play a Game Boy.” The child literally said, “It doesn’t say that in the Bible.” The legalist. I live with a very short attorney.
I said, “Well, the Bible does say to obey your daddy.” My child literally goes, “Oh, shucks. It does, doesn’t it.” “Yes, it does. Yes, it does.” See, the Bible says daddies in authority do, and this would include your boss at work. You’re supposed to obey your boss. This would include your parents if you’re young, teachers if you’re in school. There are lesser courts of lower authority, pastors in the church. Hebrews 13, “Obey, your leaders. Submit to their authority.”
So there are lower courts, lesser courts of authority that we are to obey, providing they are not in conflict with highest authority of Scripture. Secondly then the interface of Scripture and corporate worship. I’ll define worship for you. In the Christian sense, here’s how I would define worship. It is glorifying God the father through the mediatorship of God, the Son, by the indwelling power of God, the spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God, three persons. They’re equal and they’re in loving relational community and communication, and that we’re made in the image and likeness of God to be in relationship with God. And we have sinned and separated ourselves from God. And, therefore, Jesus came, the second member of the Trinity, the Son of God. He was born of a virgin, lived without sin, died on a cross for our sins, and rose three days later for our salvation. He ascended into Heaven. And today, Jesus is alive and well.
And if we ask him to forgive sin, he will. And he will reconcile us back into a living, loving relationship with God. And he alone can do that. Paul tells Timothy there is one mediator between us and God. That would be the man, Jesus Christ, who gave his life, died on a cross as a ransom for our sins. So worship for the Christian is being reconnected to the living God. That means that Holy Spirit dwells in me, God, the Holy Spirit. And then through the mediatorship of Jesus, the church can’t mediate. Morality can’t mediate. Religion can’t mediate. Only Jesus can. He takes away sin, reconciles us to God the Father. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the mediating work of Jesus, I can live for the glory of God the Father in relationship with the loving and living God of the Bible. That’s worship.
Worship includes action and adoration according to Hebrews 13:15 and 16. It says it this way, “Through him,” that is Jesus, again back to our mediator, “then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips, that acknowledge his name.” So part of worship is adoration. It’s speaking well of Jesus because he’s wonderful. It is teaching others about Jesus, sharing the loving truth about Jesus. And it also includes singing to Jesus with our lips, declaring his praises with our lips. But it’s not just adoring him with our lips. It’s also action on his behalf with our hands. And it says this in the next verse. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” That’s action. It’s action. Feeding people, caring for people, loving people, caring for the widow, orphan, those in need, having a heart for the poor.
Action: serving others, doing good is all worship. So worship is adoration with our lips and its action with our hands. That means that worship exists both when we gather as the church, and as we scatter as Christians. Scattered worship is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 10:31, where it says, ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do” what does it say? “Do it all to the glory of God,” which means as we scatter, all of life is sacred. Worship does happen in our church buildings, at our services on Sunday, but it’s not limited to that at all, that as Christians scatter, we worship by living for God’s glory wherever we’re at, whatever we’re doing.
This means that the husband and wife who love and serve and encourage one another are worshipping God by doing so. This means that the parent who reads to their child and changes their diaper is doing sacred acts of worship. Alright? That means that the person his cleaning their dishes or cutting their grass, going to work, they are worshiping God. The student who studies hard for their exams is worshipping God. It’s all worship. We worship God in our cubicle, our dorm room, our apartment, our house our kitchen in our car, at our friends’ house. We worship God at our sporting event, wherever we’re at, whatever we’re doing. And it doesn’t mean that the whole time we’re being those annoying Christians who have to raise their hands and burst out, “Hallelujah.” It means that we’re loving, we’re serving, we’re caring. We’re conducting ourselves in such a way that Jesus is honored, that God is glorified, and that we’re acting as Jesus would have us to act, and speaking as Jesus would have us to speak.
So in one sense, all of life is worship, and what bothers me is when worship is reduced to an event, a meeting, one hour a Sunday, or a form of music. It’s much bigger and broader than that. Though it does include that, that would be gathered worship. When we come together as Christians, we come together for the purpose of worshipping God.
The New Testament Greek word for church is ekklesia. That literally means the assembly, the gathering of people who come together to worship God. My preaching is an act of worship. Your learning is an act of worship. Our singing is an act of worship. It’s all worship done unto God. It’s spoken of this way in Hebrew 10:24 and 25. Worship is in the gathered sense. It says. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.” See, in the Bible, this is a meeting or service or an assembly. That’s why we do this, “as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”
My dear friend, DA Carson – I’m on a board with him. He’s written 45 books, brilliant. I think he’s the best New Testament scholar in the world. If you can find a book by him, feel free to read it. You will learn a lot. He says it this way, “We cannot imagine that the church gathers for worship on Sunday morning if by this we mean that we then engage in something that we have not been engaging in the rest of the week. New covenant worship terminology prescribes constant worship.”
Another author, named Harold Best, who has taught here and is brilliant, has got a book called Unceasing Worship. We would so comment that to you. Pastor Tim uses that for the worship and music department. And Unceasing Worship is lifestyle worship. It’s ongoing loving service in relationship with the living God of the Bible through the person and work of Jesus. So you worship all week and you come here to gather with God’s people to worship together as well.
Now, when we gather together, the big idea is this. We are to worship God according to his terms. We can’t come to God doing and saying whatever we want. If we truly want to honor God, we honor God in the way that God deems honorable. In the same way, I love my children. I’m a daddy of five. But they need to respond to me in a way that I find acceptable. So in my home, that is, “Respect your dad. Talk to your dad. Obey your dad. Listen to your dad. Love your dad. Trust your dad.” That works. If they came to me and said, “We hate you. We’re going to change your name a four‑letter word. We’re going to burn things that belong to you. We’re going to light off fireworks in the house, and if we find your gun, it’s over for you,” I would say, “Those are not acceptable terms for our relationship from – I don’t accept those terms. I don’t like those terms.”
If they were to then say, “Well, then we’re gonna blog nasty things about you and see if we can get a coalition,” I would say, “Those are not good terms for our relationship. As your dad, I have the right to lay down some parameters saying, ‘I find this respectable, this disrespectful. This builds our relationship. This breaks our relationship.’ You need to respect me.” God’s a father. We’re his kids. Our relationship with God needs to be on terms that he agrees to, not just that, terms that he establishes.
Now, what happens is for those in the Bible who don’t worship God according to his standards, they die. So this is a big deal. That’s sort of the point I’m trying to make. You’re like, “Is this is a big deal?” You could die. That’s a big deal. I’ll give you some examples in the Old Testament. God wants to be worshiped the ways or by the forms that he prescribes. And when that doesn’t happen, people die.
One example is Leviticus 10:1 and 2. There are a few guys who bring something that the Bible calls strange fire, meaning they’re trying to worship God, but they’re bringing in ideas from other religions and demons and false gods wanting God to be cool with that. He’s not, and he kills them. If you want to really spook yourself, before you go to bed tonight, I dare you to read Ezekiel 8 and 9. Chapter 8, it lists all the ways that God’s people in their forms of worship, worshiped God in a way that was unacceptable. Chapter 9 then describes all the ways that God killed them. True story. It’s in there.
So it’s the forms. It’s how we worship. You can’t just – I’ll explain this to you in a moment. But then also it’s not just the outward forms. It’s also the inward heart. You can’t just do the right stuff outwardly. You also are to love God inwardly.
I’ll give you an explanation. Cain and Able in Genesis 4, two of the first worshipers in the Bible. They’re brothers. They come before God with their sacrifices and offerings, and that is an act of worship. Both men present to God offerings, sacrifices, that are biblically acceptable. But God receives one man’s sacrifice, rejects the other. The question is why? And the answer is the heart. God looked into the heart, the New Testament teaches, and saw that one man loved him, one man didn’t. It’s not enough just to do what God says, but you also need to love God in the same way.
In my relationship with my wife, I don’t want her to just do the stuff that a wife’s supposed to do. I want her to love me and I want to have a relationship. I don’t want her to just be a robot that I live with. I want her to be a bride. Likewise, God is clearly in Scripture, Old and New Testament, like a groom and the church is like a bride, and the church is to respond to him by not just doing the stuff, but doing it with a heart of love as a bride would to a groom.
Examples of this would also include in the Old Testament in Malachi 6:6 through 8 where God says essentially, “I’m sick of your church services. I’m sick of your offerings and sacrifices. Outwardly, you look lure obedient, but inwardly I know you don’t really care about me. So we are to have hearts that love God and then worship God worship hearts of love that do the things that God says to do, and do not do the things that God forbids to be done.
Now that being said, one of the roles of church leaders like myself is to make sure that when we gather for church that the service that we enjoy has the things that God commands to be done and forbids the things that God forbids to be done. So in principle, that would include a few things. 1 Corinthians 14, actually, the whole chapter is on some basic principle for worship services. I’ll give them to you briefly. One is intelligible.
No people need to understand what is being said. That’s why I speak just plain street‑level English. When they went to write the Bible, they had Koine’ Greek, which was the language of the street, classical Greek, which was the language of the academy, and the Bible was written Koine’. We’re supposed to speak intelligible language, street‑level vernacular for people.
Secondly, it is to be seeker sensible. There is a seeker sensitive movement which says church should be for non‑Christians. The Bible doesn’t say that. Church is for God. It’s for the edification of God’s people. And what he is saying is that when a non‑Christian comes in, you need to be aware that there are non‑Christians there. Some of you are not Christian. On any given Sunday, there’s only 1,000 people at Mars Hill Church that are not Christian yet. We love you. We’re glad to have you. But that means we can’t always just speak to people who are Christians.
So if you’re a non‑Christian, let me explain this. We belong to Jesus. We love Jesus. We worship Jesus. Our God is Jesus. He lived without sin. He died for our sin. He rose for our salvation. And it’s all about Jesus for us. We want to be seeker sensible. We want the non‑Christian to understand, “Oh, they believe in the Bible. They believe in Jesus.” Those are the big ideas.
No. 3, it is to be unselfish. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “When you come together, let all things be done for the building up of the church.” And some people who come to be church and be very selfish and they’ll say, “Well, I want to do this ’cause it works for me. I’m really excited.” Those are people who will bring praise banners and tambourines and run around and flop around like a perch on a dock. You say, “What are you doing, man?” they say, “Oh, I love Jesus and I’m all fired up.” It’s like, “Okay, great. But that’s your personal response and it might be selfish. It may not be building anyone up. People are having a hard praying or thinking about Jesus because you’re so distracting. You’ve made yourself the center of attention. You’ve taken the focus off of Jesus.”
I’ve had some people say, “But that’s my worship of God.” I say, ‘Well, that’s great. Do that at home. Shut the blinds. Keep it to yourself. Run around the house. Run around your yard. Bang the tambourine, “Woo hoo,” blow the horn. I don’t care, whatever. Just don’t bring it here. We will confiscate the horn, because it’s not just about your personal responsibility. When we get together, it’s about the building up of the whole church.
Additionally, then things need to be orderly. 1 Corinthians 14:40. “All things should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Paul was saying you can just go off in tongues in prophesize and sing whatever you want and say whatever you want, do whatever you want, saying, “Well I’m worshipping good,” because we need to be unselfish. We need to consider others and worship together in a way that is orderly.
So moving on, those are the principles for worship. What are the elements of worship? The elements of worship are those things that the Bible says that God’s people should do when we gather together for church services, gathered for worship like this. And the first is the preaching of God’s word. 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul tells Timothy, “Preach the word.” alright? So there is no such thing as a church service. Unless the Bible is taught, just the way it is. May have ministry or fellowship or groups of various sorts and kinds, but it’s not a church service unless there’s the preaching of Scripture. That’s why at this church, I get to preach an hour plus‑ish. We hold preaching high regard because we hold Scripture in high regard. And one of the points of the gathered church services is the preaching of God’s word.
Secondly, the Lord’s Table, or communion, which Jesus instituted at the last supper 1 Corinthians 11 says that when we come together we should partake of the Lord’s table remembering the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus in our place for our sins. We should repent of our sin, confess of our sin, and in preaching, we hear the word. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God, in communion. We see the word through the elements of breads and wine or juice, here depending upon your conscience. And so we do communion here every week which is very unusual for a church of our size. Furthermore, we also have communion meals in our community groups in homes where Christians, like the early church, get together for meals to hang out and love one another and celebrate the goodness of Jesus. And we do all of that because that’s what the Bible teaches.
Thirdly, there is prayer. In 1 Timothy 2:1, Paul says, “Timothy, when you’re leading church services, make sure there are prayers and supplications made for all kinds of people.” So we pray before the service. We open the service in prayer. I pray before I preach. We give you time to pray to Jesus after the sermon, before communion. Campus pastor comes out and closes in prayer at the end. After the service if you have a prayer need, you can come forward and pastors and church leaders will pray for you. So we incorporate prayer throughout the whole service.
Additionally, Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:13, “To commitment yourself dedicate yourself to teaching of scripture. So we do read Scripture. We open our church service with a reading from the Bible. I will quote Scripture and read sections of Scripture throughout the course of my sermon, and we do that as well.
No. 5. Gathering together the elements include giving financially tithes and offerings 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 says to give cheerfully sacrificially regularly. That means that were our treasury is, our heart is like Jesus says. You can give online. That’s fine. It’s up to you. If you’re not Christian don’t give. The reason we don’t pas the communion elements or the offering place we don’t want non‑Christians to feel awkward or pressured. Non‑Christians shouldn’t partake in communion, and they shouldn’t give any money. They’re our guests. We love ’em. We’re not asking ’em to give anything. We’re asking ’em to receive Jesus.
And then communion, we’re remembering Jesus, and in our tithes and offerings, we’re worshipping him. We’re worshipping him, saying, “I love Jesus. And I want my life to reflect that and my finances to reflect that. And I wanna help my church and I want to help the news of Jesus go out.” This is no a stern rebuke, but I would say that one of the disappointing things at this campus, not at all campuses, is that far more people come and partake than give and participate financially. Just statistically, vast majority of people who come don’t give anything. If you’re not a Christian, that’s totally cool. If you are a Christian, I would ask are you really then worshipping if worshipping is inclusive of giving initially, and you’re taking and you’re never giving are you really participating in or are you enjoying the worship of others who have paid your way? And I would ask you to prayerfully consider your giving.
No. 6. It also includes singing songs, and this is worship of song. Colossians 3:16 says, “Leadership speaks of rather, Singing psalms hymns and spiritual songs thankfulness sin you hearts to God.” So it’s singing. That’s why we sing as a church because it’s part of worship. And then this – the debate is often around: Well what is the role of music in church? And they’re are basically three perspectives. Some people basically treat music as if music were God, meaning this style of music, this band, this form, this genre, is like a God to me. I buy the T‑shirts and the hats and the bumper stickers and I without the shows and I log onto the Web sites and it’s my religion. Some people who are Christian then will overreact that say, “Well, some people treat music as God. We’ll treat music as enemy. We’re gonna hate music. Don’t listen to music. Don’t love music. It’s too powerful and dangerous. And then the church will have really bad music so that no one would ever worship it. That’s how we’ll fix it.”
Our view is not that music is God or music is enemy. Our view is that music is servant. It’s servant. I actually stole these three points from a guy named Bob Kauflin who’s writing a book on this, but anyways, there’s my footnote. And he is teaching I think rightly that worship as servant, music as servant is that it grabs our heart, our mind, our emotions. We love music. We’re made for music. God himself is a musician. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “One day God himself will sing over us.” And that we’re made in his image and likens to create music, to enjoy music, and to sing. It can be a servant of Jesus to grab our heart, mind, will, and emotions, and to cause us to celebrate the goodness of God.
So we do all of those things, preaching, communion, prayer, reading of Scripture, financial giving, and singing every service. So part of the role of a church leader is to make sure that what God commands is actually done, and that what God forbids is not done. Perhaps the clearest chapter in Bible on this if you want to read more is Deuteronomy 12. Repeatedly in that chapter, it says don’t worship God like this. Do worship God like this. Don’t worship God like this. Do worship God like this. Don’t worship God like the other religions worship their God. Worship like the Bible tells you to worship the real God. One example is Deuteronomy 12:4. It says simple, “You shalt not – thou shalt not worship the Lord your God that way.”
There are certain ways to worship God that are unacceptable to God. Practically here’s what that means at our church. One of the Ten Commandment is to make no idol or graven image of God. So you should not see a picture of God the Father. Jesus came and so he lived, so he was photograph. It’s okay to have a picture, perhaps, of what we think Jesus looked like. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like dove, so Christians have used that symbol because it’s biblical. But there should be no picture of God, the Father.
The parents took this too far and basically got rid of all artwork and creativity in the church. We don’t go that far. But we do say that were there anything in the church that became and idol – sometimes people that relics or icons or pictures or things have sacred significance. They’re spiritual power. They come there to adore and to worship to give homage to it. We would burn whatever it was that you started doing that to. We’d say, “No. You worship God alone, not something that is made, but the God who made all things.”
I’ll give you one example. Out in the foyer here at the Ballard Campus, we have those triangles that were made out of wood to put visitor cards in and tithes and offerings. When we first opened the building, I was out there in the foyer. A guy walked in, fell down prostate face to the ground, and started worshiping our information kiosk. True story. Only in Seattle.And I go up to him and I said, “Sir, what are you doing?” He said, “Oh, that’s an amazing shape and it reminds me of the pyramids and I felt drawn to it because of its energy.” I said, “Dude, we put our visitors cards in that. You need a bigger God than that.” I took him aside. I said, “Do you know who Jesus is? Do you know he’s the real God? You don’t have to worship our offering visitor card booth. We could go bigger than that. We could do a little better.” But it’s weird what people sort of assign religious significance to.
Secondly as well, that means like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:14‑26. We’re not to go to other religions and paganism and demonism and to take what they do and bring it into the church service. We’re not to do that. So one example would be some churches have something called a labyrinth, a prayer labyrinth. We don’t have one, never will, not as long as I’m breathing. Because here’s the point of a labyrinth. It’s not Christian. It comes from paganism and it’s walking in a circle.
So here’s equivalent of – this is it. And I know it’s not as exciting as some would say. I don’t understand. And the whole point of walking around the prayer labyrinth in a circle is to walk into the center and be by yourself. And the teaching therein is that the goal of true spirituality is to go into ones self to find answers light in truth. That’s exactly the opposite of what we believe.
Alright. If I ever find a prayer labyrinth, I’m gonna start in the middle and walk out as an act of protest because I’m a Christian. The answer is in him, not in me. My goal is not to close in on myself, but to turn from myself and outward to Jesus. So things like that. People say, “Oh, it’s very cool.” No, it’s very pagan. It’s very demonic. It’s physically with your body saying something that is contrary to the Bible.
Another example would be this. I have interfaith friendships, but we don’t participate in interfaith worship. We believe in the freedom of religion. We believe that the religions other than Christianity have the right to exist. We believe in freedom of speech. They have a right to teach what they want. We also believe in the freedom of religion insofar as we’re free to practice our own religion of Christianity.
What that means is I have friends who are Sikh and Muslim and Jew and Buddhist and I love them and I’ll dialogue with them and I’ll talk with them and I’ll share Jesus with them, but they’ll never teach at Mars Hill Church. Never on a Sunday will I bring up – some will say, “Here’s someone to teach you in the Kabbalah.” If I do, run for your life and chuck stuff at me on your way out, okay? Because we love Jesus and we worship Jesus. And unless someone loves Jesus, believes the Bible, and has the Holy Spirit, they’re not qualified to teach God’s people.
I’ve seen some churches bring in a Native American Shaman to lead worship. Native American Shaman literally is someone who is the equivalent of a witch doctor. Say, “Well, then they’re not Christian.” Yeah, I know. They shouldn’t be leading worship because they’re worshipping a different God. I’ve had some invite me to interfaith worship gatherings. I used to get invited. I don’t any more. When you reject the invitation for ten years, then they decline to waste the postage. But I used to get these invitations saying, “Would you like to come to our interfaith worship service?” Well, what’s gonna happen?
“Well, all the religions, we’re all gonna sing to our gods and goddesses and we’re gonna pray to our gods and goddesses and we’re gonna recognize that all religions are the same.” Oh, no. No. I love Jesus. I belong to Jesus. I believe the Bible. And I don’t believe in the other religions. I believe in Jesus. I love the other people in those religions, though I disagree with their beliefs structure. I’ll be friends with them. I’ll have coffee with them. I’ll talk to them. I’ll pray for them. I’ll give ’em a copy of a Bible. But I’m not getting together to pretend like we’re all praying to the same God and worshipping the same God, ’cause we’re not. I love Jesus. I belong to Jesus. I’m a Christian. That’s my allegiance is ultimately to Jesus.
I’ve had some say, “But if you don’t show up to pray with them and worship with them, won’t you offends them?” I said, “I don’t know. My goal is not to offend. But if I do show up, I know this. I will offend Jesus. And my allegiance is to Jesus.” And my goal is not to offend anyone. But if someone must be offended, my hope and prayer that it is not him. ’Cause I love him because he loves me and he’s my God and I’m a Christian. So we should do what God commands. We should not do when we get together, what God forbids. But this leads to all kinda problems because then the goal is, okay. I’m gonna open the Bible and I’m just gonna figure out how to do our church service and we’re gonna do it as the Bible says. But it’s not that easy.
Again, DA Carson, my friend, says it this way, “We have no detailed first‑century evidence of an entire Christian service.” He says elsewhere, “The New Testament documents do not themselves provide a model service of church.” John Frame, another theologian says, “We know very little of the church’s liturgy in the first century.”
That raises questions because the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how to do church. It tells us what to do, what not to do principally, but doesn’t tell us exactly what to do. It least to question like, “What time should our services be? Can we do ’em in the morning? Can we do ’em in the evening? How long should they be? How long should the sermon be? It says to sing, but what kind of music? How many times should we sing the chorus? What kind of band? What kind of instrumentation?” Seating didn’t come into churches till the 14th Century. Does that mean we need to get rid of our chairs ’cause they’re not in the Bible and you’re all in sin, so stand up right now? I mean what does this all mean? Is it a sin to use electricity? They didn’t have electricity in the time of the Bible. Are we in sin because we have electricity in our church? Can we do announcements? The Bible doesn’t say about announcements. If someone gets up and says, “Hi,” should we shoot them? All of these questions. What should we wear? Should the pastor wear a robe? Should the pastor wear a suit? Should a guy like me feel good ’cause he’s got pants on and met the minimal requirement? What are all the rules? These are the questions.
And to answer these additional questions, two teams came into existence and I’ll deal with them in succession. The first is called the normative principle. Briefly stated here is the normative principle on these issues. And, again, everyone agrees, do what the Bible says. Don’t do what the Bible forbids. What about other things that we may want to do in church? Can we do them or not?
The normative political declares this. Corporate church worship services must include all the elements which Scripture commands, and may include others so long as they are not prohibited by Scripture. Advocates of this position are Martin Luther, the archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and his book of common prayer. If you grew up Anglican or Episcopalian, you’re familiar with that. The Anglican are Richard Hooker, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists, okay?
I call this the green‑light position. I’ll call it that because it’s easier to remember. Some of you say normative principle. Green‑light principle. That means when we gather for worship, we are to do everything the Bible says, and we’re free to do whatever else the leaders, according to their Biblical conscience feel is right. And we get to do whatever we feel is right providing it’s not in violation of Scripture. So you get to go until you see a red light. Hey, let’s pray to Allah. Red light. Hey, let’s called God, mother. Mm, red light. Okay? You get to go until you hit a red light, and then you stop. You’re not allowed to do that. So it’s the green‑light principle. You have freedom and there are certain restrictions and we are to adhere to those.
Conversely, there is another position called the regulative principle. The regulative principle is more restrictive. It declares that corporate church worship services must include all the elements which Scripture commands, or is a good and necessary implication of a biblical text, and nothing more. Advocates of this are John Calvin, older Scottish Presbyterianism, the puritans, the Westminster Confession of Faith, modern day Presbyterians, and some reformed folk. We’ll call that the red‑light principle. And that is you can’t do anything unless the Bible tells you to. So it’s nothing unless the Bible says, “Do this.”
The Bible says do communion, do it. The Bible says preach, so preach. The Bible says pray, so pray. And if it doesn’t say something, you’re not allowed to do it in the corporate worship gathering. Green light, red light, normative, regulative.
I’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of both to be faithful to the question, beginning with the normative principle. The first is I’ll deal with its strengths, and there are three. One, it sees the Bible as principles and then gives flexibility for methods. Just so you know, the Bible tends to be filled with principles, not methods, because it has to speak to people across thousands of years, all kinds of cultures, languages, races, experiences,. And so the Bible gives principles. It says, “Sing to the Lord.” There’s the principle.
The method, what song. We get to pick. How many times do we sing it? We get to pick. What instruments? We get to pick. What language do we sing it in? We get to pick. Methods, we have lots of freedom, principles come from Bible. Likewise, you husbands read the Bible. It says, “Husbands, what your wives?” Love them. You say, “Okay. What do I do?” Well, you’re gonna have to figure out that method. Women are different and you gotta do whatever’s loving for your wife. Principle, lover, method. You gotta figure that out through your conscience, the Holy Spirit, and common sense.
I like that about the normative principle. Secondly, it allows cultural contextualization. Because depending upon the culture, the church is gonna need to organize itself in such a way to fit that culture, not changing its doctrine, but adapting its style. Give you an example.
Some years ago, I was teaching in East India. I go out to the middle of nowhere to a village. There is no electricity. And I get brought to this little cinderblock wall, sort of thatch roof church to preach, to teach. And I’m standing outside drinking chai, talking to people, which was really cool. I loved the chai, and the people were great. And we’re an hour and a half late to start our church service. So I finally go up to the pastor I’m like, “Dude, we’re an hour and half late.” I said, “When are we gonna start?” Here’s his answer, “We’ll start when everyone gets here.” I said, “What?” He said, “It’s rude to start until everyone gets here.”
So we wait till everyone’s here and then we start church. I thought, “If we did this at Mars Hill, we would never, ever, ever have church. We’re waiting for Hank. Everybody wait. I said, “How does this work?” He said, “We hang out, drink a little chai. The kids play. Everybody visits. We take the whole day of Sunday off. It’s our Sabbath day. It’s rude to start till everyone gets here. We wait for everyone. Some are walking long distances. Some are elderly. Some are disabled. By the time they get here, we go in. The men sit on one side. The women sit on the other. Everyone sits on the floor Indian guru style. You sit on a little platform and teach.” I said, “How long do I teach for?” He says, “Teach as long as you need. When you feel tired, we’ll take a break and eat, and then when we’re done eating, you get to teach again.” I was like, “Now that’s brilliant right there. That’s genius. I’m taking that part home.”
So I taught for a while and I said, “Okay, I’m done.” People break. And you know what? Their day is about church. They show up. They hang out. They visit. The kids play. They get together. They sing. They take communion. They do all the stuff that the Bible says. They then learn the Scriptures from the pastor. They break for a meal and then maybe they’ll do church again. And the last thing I would ever do is walk in and say, “We don’t do it like that. You’re wicked.” I’d say, “That was amazing. I worshiped with God’s people.” It was beautiful, and it fit their culture. The music was different. The instruments were different. The language was different. Same Jesus, same Bible, same beliefs doing the same things in their own cultural way.
I appreciate that freedom in the normative principle. And thirdly, it treats gathered and scattered worship the same. What I don’t understand is why we would treat 1 hour a week by a certain set of rules, and the other 167 hours of the week by a different set of rules. When you were scattered for Mars Hill Church, you lived by the green‑light normative principle. You don’t wake up in the morning acting like a regulativist. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Okay. I need to brush my teeth. Where is that in the Bible? It’s not in there. Golly, I was hoping I could brush my teeth, but I can’t. Well, I guess I’ll have breakfast. Well, the Bible doesn’t say breakfast. It says to eat, but it doesn’t say when. Is it okay to eat in the morning? I’d better pray about this. Okay. I gotta put pants. Uh‑oh, pants aren’t in the Bible. Oh no. This is gonna be a bad day.
“Well, I gotta go to work now. I’m gonna drive my car. Uh‑oh, cars aren’t in the Bible. I guess I’ll walk, show up five hours late with no pants. Boss is like, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m being biblical.” He hands you a computer you say, “That’s not in the Bible. I can’t do that.” He’ll say, “You’re fired, biblically. You’re fired.” We don’t live that way. We don’t sit at home paralyzed saying, “I can’t do it unless the Bible says to.” No. We can live freely and do what Scripture encourages us and what our conscience dictates and what our life requires until we bump up against something that’s a sin, and we say, “No. That’s red light. I can’t do that.” But we live by green light until we see red light.
Why is it that we live by normative green‑light principle until we get to church, and then we have to live by regulative red‑light principle just for an hour a week as if there’s not a blur in between the lines? We also have other church gatherings, meetings, Wednesday night classes, community groups. Do they count red light, green light? The whole things gets very confusing. I think we live our whole life by the same principles, whether we’re scattered or gathered for worship, it’s green light. We’re free until we see something that is sinful and forbidden, then it’s red light and we stop.
Here are the weaknesses of the normative green‑light principle. One, it can’t allow too much. It’ll lead to pagan syncretism. Some churches go way too far and they allow things in from other religions that they should not. Number two, it can make our enjoyment and not God’s pleasure the object of, quote/unquote, good worship, meaning some people will come to Mars Hill and say, “How was church today?” “Oh, the sermon was alright. And the band was decent, so it was okay.” Is that the mark of good worship? Well, who do we worship? This is very important. God.
So we are worshippers and we worship an audience of one. So it’s not about your glory. It’s about his pleasure. It’s not about what you like or I like. It’s about what glorifies God. So you may say, “I don’t like the band,” but did it glorify God? You may say, “I don’t know if I dug the sermon.” But did it glorify God? That’s the big issue.
We exist to glorify God. It’s not that we perform to entertain you. Okay? That’s very important. And the normative principle can confuse that because it keeps seeking to add things into the service so that people would like it more. And, number three, it can elevate unbiblical elements to the degree that they push out biblical elements. So the Bible says to have preaching and communion. And some churches don’t have much of either because they have other things that they’ve added, like drama. This is my example.
Now I’m not saying drama, ’cause drama is legitimate theater and I actually really like theater. But drama is a skit. It a church skit. Usually a goofy one where in three minutes somebody always gets saved no matter what. Right? It’s drama. Now some churches do drama every week, but they don’t do communion but once a month, once a quarter, once a year. I’ve asked some churches, “How come you have such a short sermon and you really do communion?” They say, “Oh, well, we need to make time for the drama.” They don’t unbelievable that word, but that’s my word. And I said, “I don’t mind you doing drama. But if the Bible says to have preaching and communion, shouldn’t we make sure we get that done, and if there’s not time for that and drama, shouldn’t drama lose? Shouldn’t we cut the drama? Or do both but don’t cut what God says to make room for what God didn’t. In the normative principle leaves that possibility.
Now moving forward, three strengths and weaknesses of the regulative principle. Here are the three strengths. One, it seeks to define worship by God and his Word, not by us. Secondly, it really in theory is trying to honor the Bible and hold it in high esteem, which I greatly appreciate. And, number three, it does plow a nice ditch between the world and the church saying “Synchronism, paganism, other religions, compromise and worldliness. It’s not gonna get in here because we’ve drawn a clear line.” I think it’s drawn a little too tightly, but it does effective accomplish that task.
The three weaknesses, one, again, it separates gathered and scattered worship. When you walk in the building, you flip into a totally new paradigm as if Jesus wasn’t Lord over all, as if he ruled in the church in a special way that he does, and as soon as you step outside of the door, very peculiar. Number two, it’s not sufficient. It doesn’t answer all the questions like technology and announcements and seating. Additionally, it becomes legalistically applied. And for those who are saying, “We’re just trying to obey the Bible, they end up making lots of goofy rules sometimes with extreme applications that are not in the Bible.”
I’ll give you two examples. Some of it will disposition the regulative red light say, “We do not allow instruments in our church.” Hmm, it’s interesting because the Bible has a lot of them. How can you be biblical and not have what the Bible says? The Psalms are filled with instruments, and when we get to Heaven Jesus itself it says in Revelation, hands out harps, instruments for people to play. And those who don’t believe instruments are gonna be on the real horns of a dilemma. Jesus is gonna hand them a harp and say, “Okay, you’re in the band.” They’ll be like, “We don’t believe in the band.” It’s like, “Well, you believe in me. Strum.”
The other think of example of a legalistic application of this doctrine is what is called Psalms‑only worship. And that is we only sing the Psalms. That’s really weird for a few reasons. One, that would mean practically all the other song in the Bible are a sin ’cause they’re not singing the Psalms. When Miriam danced and sang after the Red Sea was parted, somebody should have rebuked her. When Jesus’ mother, Mary, found out she was giving birth to the Messiah and she sang a song, somebody should have rebuked her ’cause she wasn’t singing the Psalms.
Now the Psalms are great songs of worship, but they’re not the only worship songs in the Bible. Furthermore, if we only sing the Psalms, the Psalms do speak of Jesus, but they never speak his name and that would mean that a church would be in sin if they ever sang the name of Jesus. I asked a hard‑core Cruel Calvinist this question. I said, “Is it okay in the church to say the name of Jesus?” He said, “Yes. We should.” I said, “Is it a sin to sing the name of Jesus?” He said, “It is a sin to sing the name of Jesus ’cause we should only sing the Psalms and Jesus’ name is not in the Psalms.” I said, “Dude, if you think it’s a sin to sing the name of Jesus, you’ve gotta rethink everything you believe.”
Additionally, the Psalms say to sing a what? A new song. _____ say, “Well, that means a new Psalm.” I’m like, “Only to you.” When the Psalms say, “Sing a new song,” that means we should sing more than just the Psalms. We should sing the new songs.” And when Colossians and Ephesians say to sing hymns, Psalms, and spiritual songs, we sing the Psalms. We also do redo the old hymns Mars Hill style, and we write our own spiritual songs. We do all three. We’re biblical. And to say what that means is not hymns, Psalms, and spiritual songs. It means Psalms, Psalms, Psalms, no, no, nom no. You’re crazy. That’s not it. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner means breakfast, breakfast, breakfast. No it doesn’t those are different.
And with this, those who hold a hard regulative principle, and those who hold a soft regulative principle are different. But those who hold a hard regulative principle, here’s my problem. They’re not biblical. They’re hypocritical in this. They say, “We just do what the Bible says at our church.” And I like to ask questions like this. “Well, it says in Psalms 63:4, Psalm 134:2 to raise your hands in song. Do you do that? It says as well in Psalm 47:1 and 97:8 to clap. Do you ever clap? Then you’re in sin. It says as well in 1 Timothy 2:8 that when we pray, men should raise their hands. Do your men raise their hands in prayer? And 1 Corinthians 14:16 says upon occasion you just gotta bust out with a good old‑fashioned amen. We’ll practice it now. One, two, three?
See, we’re biblical. Now my question to the hard‑core regulativist guys, when I go to their church, I said, “I didn’t see anybody raise their hands. I didn’t see anybody clap, shout, say amen? How come?” And I always get this answer. “Well, we’re not charismatic.” I said, “I thought you were biblical. If you’re biblical, you’ll be a least a little bit charismatic ’cause you’re supposed to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Usually, the answer is, “No. We love the Lord with all our mind. Then we read the footnotes and we go home.”
No, it’s a whole body. God redeemed all of you, right? Your mouth, so sing and shout. And God redeemed your hands, so clap and raise them. And God redeemed your minds, so think his thoughts after him. It’s the whole person responding. And those who would sometimes be very legalistic saying, “Well, we only do what the Bible says,” I say, “Man, I been to a lot of your services. I don’t see nearly the enthusiasm that the Bible would proclaim.”
So the question is, in other words, do you believe in the regular principle? If so, to what degree? I’ll quote a few theologians. DA Carson, New Testament scholar, says it this way. “Theologically rich in serious services from both camps often have more common content than either side acknowledges. Sometimes there’s not as much distance as would be perceived.”
Richard Pratt, a great reformed Old Testament scholar says, “The regulative principle is quite biblical if it is properly understood and applied. Unfortunately today, it is very often misunderstood and misapplied.”
And John Frame, a great thinker on this issue says, “The Westminster confession is entirely right in its regulative principle that true worship is limited to what God commands, but the methods used by the puritans to discover and apply these commands needs a theological overhaul. Much of what they said cannot be justified by Scripture.” I agree with him. I love the puritans, but I believe on this, they got too tidy, too legalistic. So do we believe in the regulative or the normative principle, and the answer is yes.
It is yes. And it depends in large part how it is defined. The reformers also taught semper reformanda that the church is always reforming. And on this principle, I think it does need a reformation. So in theory, we hold the normative green‑light position. We do. But in practice, I don’t think there’s anything we’re doing that a red‑light regulativist who is loose and has a sense of humor wouldn’t agree to. We have communion every week. I preach for an hour. We pray, repent of sin. We give tithes and offerings. And we don’t really do much more than that. We have a pretty plain service, like the puritans were advocating.
So we agree theologically that we have a lot of freedom, but practically, we don’t use all of it. But we want to keep it in case we ever need it. You should do the same in the your life. God gives you great freedom, and you need not exercise it all.
For example, on the issue of alcohol. Very debated issue. If you are over 21 don’t break the law, or cause anyone to stumble, or get drunk, biblical principles, you’re free to consume alcohol in moderation. You’re free, green‑light. But some of you say, “Nah, for me it’s red light. I’m not gonna touch the stuff.” And what we would say is, “Praise be to God.” You have freedom and you don’t need to use all of it. Some say, “If we give ’em freedom, they’ll use all of it.” No, they won’t. The Holy Spirit’s in ’em. They’re conscience, their friends. We have to give people a little more value and dignity than that.
Our church holds the green‑light normative principle practically speaking pretty much abides by the red‑light regulative principle, but we’re not going to get rid of our freedom because someday we may choose to use it. And we like our freedom, and we don’t like to give it away, because if God gives it to us, we want to keep it. There may be a day that we really need it. We may need to make some adjustments to how we do things, and the normative principle would give us position to do so. And we believe biblically that would be fine.
That being said, since we have principles, I wrote my own. I’m not sure it’ll end up in 500 years of debate as this one has. It would be exciting, but I don’t think it’ll happen. I call it the “Missional Worship Principle.” It’s essentially what we’ve adhered to since the beginning of our church, I ran it by Tim Smith, who’s our worship pastor and here is – he agreed to this. So here is my position. I’ll read it to you. It’s one long sentence.
All of Christian life is ceaseless worship of God the Father through the mediatorship of God the Son by the indwelling power of God the Spirit doing what God commands in Scripture, not doing what God forbids in Scripture, in culturally contextualized ways for the furtherance of the gospel when both gathered for adoration and scattered for action in joyous response to God’s glorious grace. That’s my definition of worship, as we perceive it biblically at Mars Hill Church. Okay? I’ll read it again. And unless you seem excited, I’ll keep reading it over and over and over. No. I’m just kidding.
All of Christian life is ceaseless worship of God the Father through the mediatorship of God the Son by the indwelling power of God the Spirit doing what God commands in Scripture, not doing what God forbids in Scripture, in culturally contextualized ways for the furtherance of the gospel when both gathered for adoration and scattered for action in joyous response to God’s glorious grace. That’s how we define worship. Okay? Now that being said, I need to apologize to you. As I was thinking on it this week, I would say that I have always been a little bit discouraged by the corporate singing at Mars Hill Church.
And I think there are some reasons for that. One is on any given Sunday, 25‑30 percent of the people here aren’t even Christians. Don’t expect them to be great singers to Jesus. Additionally, many of you are brand new Christians. I mean before this service, I met two people that became Christians in the last few months. One came out of a bizarre cult, and other was a meth‑head. And they’re both loving Jesus and just trying to figure it out. There are people who are in process with Jesus, and I thank God for that. And that may account for part of it.
Furthermore, I think that my teaching has contributed to the lack of corporate participatory singing in this way. Worship is the response to God’s grace. And I got this this week. We had a conference here, 1,200 people, 11 nations, 46 states, tons of young pastors, great Bible teaching. It was an honor to be served and to learn so much. One of the preachers was a man named CJ Mahaney who’s become a dear friend of mine, a guy I love, great pastor and writer. And he gave this great sermon out of 1 Corinthians on the grace of God and how worship is our response to God’s grace.
Therefore, he said we need to always be constantly searching, seeking, looking for God’s grace. And then we respond to that. And I thought that’s been part of the problem with our singing at this church is my teaching, I’ve not done the best job setting you up to sing. So I ask your forgiveness on that and let me explain how I failed you. And it wasn’t intentional and it’s something I’m convicted of and I’m processing even as I speak. I focus on the person and work of Jesus, he’s great, holy, and good, and how sinful and wicked we are, and how much we need to repent and trust in him.
And I’ll never repent of that. I’ll always teach that. But I haven’t followed up with as clearly passionate a declaration of the ongoing presence of the grace of God in our lives individually and corporately. The result is that you know you’re a sinner and you know the Bible and you know Jesus and you’re repentant, but you don’t move forward to be a worshipper. In the same way, if I came to you and said, “You’re disgusting. You’re totally depraved. You sicken me. Your whole life is nothing but corruption and evil,” and then walked away, you wouldn’t feel like, “I love that guy. I wanna friendship. I wanna go vacation with him. We need matching sweatshirts. I feel tight.”
And so when I present God in that way, it can feel like God is sort of cruel and harsh and overbearing, and if you represent he’ll forgive you. And all of that’s to some degree true. I do believe in the wrath of God and the holiness of God and the repentance of sin. I believe in all of that. But here’s what I really need you to know. God is a God who is abounding in grace. He really loves you. Jesus died for all your sin, past, present, and future, and there is now no condemnation in Christ.
I had a gal earlier this morning came up to me and she told me some sins she had committed in her life, and it was horrific. The things she has done are horrific. She looked at me, she said, “Can Jesus forgive me?” I said,”Do you believe that he died on a cross in your place for your sins?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Then he already has. He died for all your sins in the past, present, and future, sins you haven’t even committed yet. He is omniscient. He knows all. He died for those, too.” She looked at me and she said, “Is that true?” I said, “I promise you it is. You’re forgiven. Go and sin no more.” She started bawling. She looked at me, she asked, “Is God that good?” I said, “He is and his name’s Jesus.”
See, it is grace that says, “You are loved. God knows you. God pursues you. God cares about you. His name is Jesus. Jesus will answer your payer. Jesus is humble. Jesus is love – he loves to serve.” He’s for you, not against you. He’ll never leave you, never forsake you. And so when I move beyond your sin and I want you to know your sin and repent of it, and I move to God’s grace, then it should warm your hearts saying that, “I wanna love Jesus and I wanna know Jesus and I wanna be close to Jesus. And I wanna hang out with Jesus. And I wanna be like Jesus ’cause he’s the God of grace and that’s what I need.”
So what I need to do is start emphasizing in addition to God’s holiness in our sin, the grace of God. And I was talking to Pastor CJ Mahaney and he said it this way. It was very convicting. We had a time together. It was very encouraging. He said, “Mark, in an average week at Mars Hill, you all get to see more of God’s grace than the average ministry sees in a lifetime.” I believe that. It was deeply conflicting.
Because I’m that guy – I don’t know if you’re like me. I see everything that’s wrong. I see everything that’s not done, everything that’s incomplete, imperfect. I see all the problems. I’m just that guy. I’m the guy can walk into the spotless perfect house and immediately see the one thread on the floor that the vacuum cleaner missed, and that’s all I’m thinking about for the rest of the day. I’m obsessed with it. I’m that guy. Alright?
And so what can happen for me is I overlook all that God is doing and I look at all that we still have to get done. I could overlook all the people whose lives have been changed and I could focus on the one person who’s hard‑hearted or rebellious. The result can be I get discouraged. I get frustrated. And when I come to teach, sometimes my tone is too stern and my attitude is too harsh.
So as an act of repentance, I want to talk to you a little bit about the grace of God in my life and how I’ve seen it this week and in our church. I’ll start by telling you I’m seeing the grace of God in my health. This time last year, I hit the wall. I was in bad shape. I’m sleeping great. I feel great. I’ve got a great doctor. I’m healthy. I feel great. My energy levels are good. My clarity is good. I praise God for the grace of good health. Also, my wife and I, March 12, we celebrate the 20th year of our first date. And I can honestly tell you I love her more. I’m more drawn to her, more attracted to her in every way, more satisfied with her, more curious about her than at any point in our lives, and I’ve always loved her.
She would tell you the same thing. By God’s grace, 20 years into it, it’s the best it’s ever been. We have five beautiful kids that are all healthy. I praise God for them. They’re grace in my life. They love Jesus. They love mommy and daddy. We have lots of fun together. We laugh all the time at our house. It’s a ton a fun being a daddy. This last week, Pastor CJ Mahaney sat me down respectfully, not mean in any way and said, “I love you. I love Mars Hill. Here’s what I’m excited about. Here’s a few things that I think you need to grow in, pray through, work on, consider, so you could be a better pastor to your people that they would know your heart more clearly.” I said, “Praise God. That’s a grace to me. That’s a total gift. That helps.”
Pastor John Piper, a man I deeply respect was here preaching as well, did the same thing. Sat me down, said, “I love Mars Hill. Mark, I love you. I’m for you. Here are some things in your character that you need to repent of. Here are some ways you need to grow. Here’s some things you need to consider.” I received those and I thought, “This is the grace of God to me, somebody who loves Jesus, knows their Bible, has borne much fruit, somebody I really respect, flew across the country to teach at Mars Hill, to sit me down, speak into my life so I could do a better job being a pastor.” That’s a gift right there.
I got a call this week from Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California. Huge church. He’s got a huge church, best‑selling author, and he’s trying to stop the AIDS pandemic in Africa. He’s got a lot to do. That’s a lot. And he called up and I was like, “What do you want?” I’m thinking, “What have I done wrong? What have I done wrong? What have I said? What do I need to write a press release and apologize for? What have I done now?” Grace was like, “What –” my wife asked, she’s like, “What did you do?” I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
I’m always thinking the worst case. And he said, “I wanted to tell you I love Mars Hill. I’m praying for Mars Hill. People around the world are talking about Mars Hill and we’re exciting for you and we’re proud of you and we’re cheering for you and we’re praying for church. Is there anything we could do to help? Is there any way I could encourage you?” I thought, “Oh my golly” There’s a lotta people who love this church. I love this church, but there’s a lotta people who love this church, too. Many of ’em pastors from around the country and the world love this church and are praying for us and wanting to help us be more like Jesus and to do a better job with Jesus.
So I asked him a few questions and, honestly, he had brilliant counsel, super helpful, made a big difference in my life. God’s grace to me. My life is filled with God’s grace. I’m like a fish who lives in water and can’t see it because it’s everywhere. That’s the grace of God in my life. And I’ll tell you what it looks like for us in our church as well. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Mars Hill is he healthiest it’s ever been and getting better. I praise God for the campuses. I praise God for the campus pastors. I praise God that people are meeting Jesus.
Do you know that I meet people all the time who meet Jesus at this church? I gave a lecture at the University of Washington not long ago. Met hundreds of students. I stood out there and shook hands, and literally two thirds to three fourths said, “I became a Christian at Mars Hill,” this last year, six months ago, three months ago. I met a couple guys. I said, “Oh, cool. When did you get saved?” They said, “What is it? Thursday? Sunday. How many day is it?” I was like, “Wow. Welcome to the family, brother. Nice to have you.” I mean hundreds of people. Today, after every single service I’ve met at least a few people who’ve become Christians here in the last few months.
Before this service, some in the back. A gal comes up. “I was in a bizarre new‑age cult. I came here a few months ago. I read the reviews online. I knew I was gonna hate it. And Jesus changed my heart and I’m a Christian. What do I do now?” “Okay, cool. Welcome. Nice to have you, sister. Welcome to the family.” She’s like, “Now I’m reading my Bible and I love Jesus. What do I do with that?” I’m like, “Praise God. Jesus saved you.”
I met a guy this morning, came in from outta state just to visit, drove here. I met another guy this morning. “I came to sing with the congregation.” I just sit down next to a guy, grabs me, “Oh, cool. I gotta tell you my story.” Okay, cool.” “I was in a bizarre cult. They had control of me. I was listening online about the grace of God and my life’s changed. And I came to Mars Hill.” He’s from out of area, “and the cult’s trying to suck me back in and stalking me and they’re crazy. But I wanted to come to Mars Hill just to see if it’s real that people actually believe what you teach that God is a gracious God and he loves people, and he doesn’t work through fear and intimidation and control, but through love and encouragement and mercy.” He gave me a hug and prayed for me. The guy I sat next to. This wasn’t like a guy we sought – he’s just sitting there. And these kinda people are everywhere, all across the world tuning in, coming to Mars Hill, getting saved.
I get to see people become Christians. I get to see people get married, make babies, fall in love, serve Jesus, lives change, see it all the time. God’s grace is everywhere. Our ground war’s growing. The best biblical counseling organization in the world is helping us to architect our redemption groups and community groups so that we’re more effective, carrying for more people, not just having great events, but having great relationships where people’s lives are changing around justice. Easter’s coming. It’s our biggest Sunday of the year. People meet Jesus every year. We’re gonna pastor new Christians on Easter. What’s cooler than that? April 21wst. We’re gonna have a all members meeting. We haven’t had in years. We can now have one at each campus. We can finally meet. We’ve never had the seats to do so.
April 22nd, we’re calling the church to a day of fasting and prayer. And then the next week thereafter, we’re gonna launch something called the city. Our tech guys have written the code for an online social networking community, bigger, badder, and than any member site we’ve ever had. So that our people can love one another, connected with one another as we started more campuses around the city, around country, around the world, digitally connecting. Those who are paid and unpaid have actually written the code for a whole new way for us to communicate digitally as a church, even invented that. With the grace of God, that kind of giftedness. So I’ll close with this. I ask for forgiveness if I have not rightly lifted up the grace of God as the motive for our worship, our response should be an enthusiastic, joyful, heartfelt response in worship to the grace of God. Now I have not stressed that as I should, and I ask your forgiveness. But as we now come to worship, I’m going to invited you if you’re not Christian, to become a Christian, to give you sin to Jesus, receive his saving grace. If you are a Christian, to confess sin and receive his saving grace. To reconcile with anyone that you’d need to, to join us in communion, remembering the body and blood of Jesus ’cause he instituted that.
So join us as well in giving tithes and offerings as an active of worship, and then to stick around and to sing with us, to respond to grace of God, and I would ask this, where is the grace of God in your life? What has got loved in? How has God changed you? What has he taught you. Shaping, forming? What things have transformed in your live? Who has he brought to love and teach you? Who has he brought for you to love, teach, and serve right now in this moment? What is he informing you about? What is he maturing in you? What is he opening your understanding to?
And as you go to worship, think of a few key ways that God has poured out his grace upon you. And then sing in celebration of worship and response to the God of all grace. We’d invite you to join us for son. I’ll pray and then you can stand. And here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna worship by the power of the Holy Spirit through the mediatorship of Jesus to the glory of God, the father together as a church.
Father God, you are, as Scripture says, the God of all grace and I thank you for your grace up on us as a people individually and corporately. Lord Jesus, I ask your forgiveness. I haven’t taught in such a way as to elicit the kind of heartfelt worshipful response that you are worthy of. And Lord God, I thank you for those men who love you and love me and love us enough to point those things out so I could learn and grow and be a better Christian, better worshipper, better pastor. And God, I thank you for the grace that was poured to me through them this week in their teaching and friendship. I pray for our church, Lord God, that we would be people who deeply are aware of our sin, but are inspired to worship because of your abundant grace.
And, Lord Jesus, you are the God of all grace, and you have been good to every one of us. You love us. You died for all our sins. You rose for all of our salvation. You will never leave us, nor forsake us. You are nothing but good all the time. And to that, with all of our hearts and all of our minds and all of our strength ,we want to raise our hands and raise our voices, clap, shout, say amen, partake of communion, confess our sins –