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Dear Friends Who Play Coldplay Songs in Church Services,
What in God’s name are you doing?
Okay, intentionally inflammatory opening sentence aside, I mean that without a trace of sarcasm: what are you doing in the name of God?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Coldplay. I love U2.
And I love you, too.
(Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I must be honest with the worship leaders who parodied Justin Bieber’s “Baby” for their sermon series on Moses – “Ba-by, ba-by, baby Mo-ses!”. I don’t love Justin Bieber. And while I’m sure Jesus cares for Justin Bieber’s eternal soul, I’m guessing he’s not a Belieber.)
I hope that this is a sincere, non-sarcastic, non-judgmental appeal to rethink just what exactly we are doing when we enter God’s presence in a worship service, and in the process, to consider whether there are things that are simply not appropriate for the sacred, holy presence of God.
I have no doubt that your intentions are good. The worship team that celebrated the beginning of summer by playing “Twist and Shout” was just trying to have some good, clean, lighthearted fun. The aforementioned Justin Bieber parody was a clever way to introduce a sermon series. And my friends who play Coldplay in church services are genuinely pursuing relevance, a point of connection with a non-believer or marginal believer in their midst.
Nor do I sneer at “relevance” like it’s a dirty word. I believe in relevance. If we fail to show our community that the Gospel is relevant to their lives then we will have failed in our most urgent and important task.
But while your intentions are good, I believe they are misguided because they fail to take seriously enough the presence of God. And that, to me, should be the very first criteria when we are planning our worship services – is this right for the presence of God?
If Jesus was in the room, would you waste any time on “Twist and Shout?”
Now before I get all legalistic on you, let’s look at the heart of the issue: how does God himself feel about His presence?
God is Serious about His Presence
Let me ‘splain. No, that will take too long. Let me sum up.
In the Old Testament, God did this crazy thing; He made his dwelling place among the people of Israel, first in the tabernacle, then in the temple. The Ark of the Covenant was the most sacred symbol of His presence, the place where God would meet with Moses (Exo. 25:22). The ark resided in the Most Holy Place (1 Kgs. 8:6), what we often call the “Holy of Holies.”
The presence of God was not to be entered into lightly because His holiness was like a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24). (Am I the only one having Third Day flashbacks right now? [Mac Powell voice:] “Yerrs our God, He is a CON-suming fi-yer…”.)
A bullet point summary of relevant Old Testament encounters with God’s presence:
- When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God could only show His “back,” or Moses would die (Exo. 33:19-23).
- God warned Aaron, the first High Priest, not to enter the Most Holy Place until he had made atonement for himself and the people. Otherwise he would die (Lev. 16:2).
- When the Philistines captured the ark and set it in a temple with their god, Dagon…let’s just say it didn’t go well for Dagon (1 Sam. 5:1-4).
- And when poor Uzzah reached out his “un-atoned-for” hand to keep the ark from falling? You guessed it. Goner (1 Chron. 13:9-10).
- Which helps to explain why Isaiah, when confronted with the presence of God in Isaiah 6, cries out, “Woe to me!” (Isa. 6:5) He thought he was done for.
But Jesus changed everything.
- Jesus – fully God himself – came and made His dwelling among us, and unlike Moses, we have seen the glory of Jesus (John 1:14).
- Jesus became our perfect High Priest by atoning for our sins (Heb. 2:17), symbolized by the tearing of the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the temple (Matt. 27:51).
- Now we, as the body of Christ, are being formed into God’s dwelling place (Eph. 2:22), each of us a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), founded on Christ, the Chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:20, and elsewhere).
So what does this mean?
It means that when we gather to worship, we are actually a group of Living Stones coming together to build the very temple of God in which His presence resides (1 Pet. 2:4-5).
With Jesus as our High Priest we now “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb. 4:16). But this is not because the holiness and sacredness and “other”-ness of God’s presence has been diminished. Rather, it is because Jesus himself has become our atonement (Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17).
This truth now places demands on our worship. We must offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Pet. 2:5).
The Implications of the Presence of God
So what spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God? How should we respond to His presence? Let’s take a quick look through the Bible:
- God’s presence leads us to brokenness. (Psalm 51:17).
- God’s presence inspires joy (Ps. 16:11), thanksgiving and praise (Ps. 100:4).
- God’s presence leads us to repentance (Luke 18:13).
- God’s presence inspires reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28-29, referencing the “consuming fire” passage in Deut. 4:24)
But reverence, awe, brokenness, repentance, joy, thanksgiving and praise in and of themselves are not the point. Instead, each of these is focused on the person of God.
In fact, consider these creatures that we find in God’s presence:
- Seraphim in Isa. 6:2-3
- Four living creatures in Rev. 4:6-8
- Twenty-four elders in Rev. 4:10-11
- Innumerable angels in Rev. 5:11-12
- Every creature everywhere in Rev. 5:13
What do they all have in common? They are eternally worshipping, unwaveringly focused on the person of God.
So What Does This Have to Do With Coldplay?
We should consider God’s presence as seriously as He considers it. That means that even things that are “good” or “innocuous” or “fun” may not measure up to the standard of a spiritual sacrifice that is acceptable to God (seeAmos 5:21-24, which culminates in every worship leader’s worst nightmare, God saying, “Away from me with the noise of your songs!”)
Instead we should simply ask these questions about each element we plan in a worship service:
Does it inspire reverence and awe? Does it inspire brokenness and repentance? Does it inspire joy, thanksgiving and praise? And does it inspire us to be wholly focused on the person of God?
I love Coldplay. And I love U2. But by that standard they just don’t measure up.
Don’t even get me started on Justin Bieber.
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