Rediscovering a True Worship
Adventist World editor Bill Knott recently sat down with General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson to talk about how a renewed emphasis on revival and reformation affects our understanding of corporate worship.
As I’ve listened to you share many messages from God’s Word over the past 12 months, I’ve heard you often returning to the apostle Paul’s counsel in Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Why has this text become increasingly important to your ministry?
Perhaps, Bill, because it so clearly sums up so much of what God has been laying on my heart and on the hearts of Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders everywhere about the importance of revival and reformation among God’s people. From the very beginning of Christ’s church, His followers were known as the ekklesia, “the called-out ones.” To belong to Jesus, to follow Him as Lord and Master, requires leaving something—and that something can increasingly be identified as the many ways in which we are tempted to follow and imitate the practices of the world in our life together, and even in our worship.
I’ve always liked the way the Phillips translation rendered the first part of the text: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” God’s remnant people in every age, and especially in these last days, will be unusually tempted to accept and adopt practices that are essentially opposed to the purity and truth of the gospel. Reformation has always been the watchword of this Seventh-day Adventist movement, and always should be.
You’ve also focused on the second phrase in Paul’s counsel: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
That’s what revival consists of at its core—a renewing of our minds. Even faithful followers of Christ can grow accustomed to the routines of spiritual life. That’s why church leaders have made such an earnest appeal for a special season of seeking the Lord through prayer and repentance, asking for the power of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on those waiting for the coming of Jesus [see “God’s Promised Gift: An Urgent Appeal for Revival, Reformation, Discipleship, and Evangelism,” Adventist World, January 2011; ]. As we gain a new appreciation for Jesus through deeper study of His Word, as we grow from the precious insights given to us in the Spirit of Prophecy, as we open our lives and our daily behavior to being reshaped by the Holy Spirit, we will be given what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” [1 Cor. 2:16].
Your emphasis on Paul’s counsel has also led you to speak out about the importance of worship in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Why has this topic come to the forefront of your preaching just now?
For more than 150 years Seventh-day Adventists have understood that worship—true, biblical, commandment-keeping worship—is at the very heart of this movement. From our beginnings in the great Second Advent movement we heard and answered the first angel’s call to “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” [Rev. 14:7], to keep holy God’s seventh-day Sabbath. That was quickly followed by a call to come out from those who stubbornly clung to false systems of worship, what Revelation 14 calls Babylon. And the third angel’s message is a call to persistence and faithfulness in worship—to not “let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” Worship has always been at the heart of our message and our mission, and now, more than ever, we need to respond to an urgent call to reestablish our corporate worship experiences on the principles of God’s Word and the guidance we have been given in the Spirit of Prophecy.
Some will say that worship is a highly private and personal experience. Others will maintain that it should be allowed to be shaped by local customs and preferences, and that every congregation can decide for itself what style of worship is appropriate in their context of Adventism.
In the global family of Adventism we of course have many different and varied cultural expressions, including differences in language, musical styles, and orders of service. God does not want, and His church should never seek, for just one expression of worship in a family of nearly 20 million!
I give God the glory for allowing me the privilege of having lived in four different cultures in my life, on four different continents, and having spent almost 20 years living outside the North American culture. I’ve also had the privilege as a servant of God’s people to have traveled in dozens of countries, worshipping with hundreds of local congregations through nearly 40 years of ministry. I’ve learned to respect and appreciate expressions of worship that I did not grow up with.
But when you get down to the basics of life, to the core motivations that cause us to want to worship the One who made heaven and earth, people are generally the same the world over. More to the point, the principles of God’s Word are the same the world over, and apply to all of us. All of that experience has reminded me and many other concerned church leaders that there is a worldly culture pressing in on us, and that there is a biblical/heavenly culture to which we are all called.
Do you believe that worldly culture has been making inroads into Seventh-day Adventist worship in recent years?
It pains me to say so, Bill, but yes, I do. In my travels around the world, through conversations with many church leaders, and through the letters and notes I receive from faithful Seventh-day Adventists, I’ve grown concerned that we are in urgent need of a “renewing of our minds” about public worship.
Many practices that have seemed innocent on the surface have crept into Seventh-day Adventist worship, especially in the areas of prayer and music. As Paul warned us 2,000 years ago, we have to be especially vigilant to “not be conformed to this world.” Prayer practices, including what are sometimes known as “centering prayer” and “labyrinths,” and “contemplative prayer,” frequently draw on non-Christian philosophies that encourage the emptying of the mind. Biblical prayer, instead, draws us into a quiet and focused rational contemplation of God’s Word and His faithfulness that yields in “the mind of Christ.”
Music, certainly one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings, has similarly become a vehicle for incorporating styles and performances that too frequently forget that the great God of the universe, our Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are the real audience. Simple questions will help all of us underline the true and biblical principles of both prayer and music in worship: “Would I pray this way in the very presence of Jesus?” “Would I sing this song—this way—in the presence of the Holy One?”
Are you planning to keep talking and preaching about these themes in the months ahead?
You and the millions of readers of Adventist World can count on that! The Lord has laid a burden on my heart about reviving biblical worship among us as His people, and I won’t lay it down until He tells me to.