“The Scandal of Pagans Leading Worship”

It is not a time to celebrate our common humanity with non-believers, it is not a time for cultural, artistic expression and achievement. It is a time to bow before the face of our Holy Triune God and worship him as he as commanded.

worshipteamIn the Philippines, as in America, it’s commonplace for evangelical churches to use (or even hire) singers and musicians who are not members or who don’t even go to their own churches. They’re part of a “worship team” and that’s that. After the “Praise & Worship,” they’re gone to whatever they do on Sundays. Dr. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, writes about the scandal of pagan Canaanites leading Israel’s worship in the Temple. Here are some excerpts:

Collin Hansen has a fascinating series of interviews on the Gospel Coalition today asking a variety of pastors whether they allow those who make no Christian profession, who regard themselves as non-Christians, non-believers, those we used to call “heathen” or “pagans” to lead worship through leading or playing musical instruments… Collin draws attention to the arguments made by Tim Keller (a PCA pastor) in favor of including self-identified non-Christians “in our services” in musical ensembles on the grounds that it fits with Redeemer’s version of the “Reformed world and life view.”

The first problem, however, which Collin’s post doesn’t address, is the very existence of a “praise team.” Before we ask “who should serve on a praise team?” we need to ask and answer a more fundamental question: Has the God that revealed himself in Holy Scripture, whom we worship, required us to create and constitute “praise teams” in corporate worship? [snip]

Embedded in the existence of “praise teams” is also the question of the use of musical instruments in public worship. Where has God commanded his new covenant people to take up the typological and shadowy and bloody musical instruments (covered with the blood of bulls and gentiles)? Sing praise? Yes! With musical instruments? If the original young, restless, and Reformed folk have anything to say to us, they examined the medieval introduction of musical instruments into Christian worship and rejected it, in Calvin’s words, as “stupid imitation” (of the Mosaic epoch). [snip]

We have a fairly clear witness from Paul himself as to how he viewed the role of self-identified non-Christians in public worship. In 1 Cor 14 seems clear that Paul envisioned that “outsiders or unbelievers” (ιδιωαι η απιστοι – 1 Cor 14:23 – “unbelievers” and “outsiders” are two ways of describing same group) would find their way into Christian worship services. He did not, however, seem to imagine that they would be invited by the pastor and elders to lead the service! Rather, Paul envisioned that, when an unbeliever (and outsider) finds himself in a rightly ordered Christian worship service, the unbeliever would be convicted of his sins, come to faith and repentance and fall down before God.

We should also observe how Paul thinks about “unbelievers” and the distinction he regularly makes between them and Christians. The latter are not to take internal disputes (which happen!) among Christians before “unbelievers” (1 Cor 6:6). A Christian spouse shouldn’t divorce a pagan spouse simply because they are an unbeliever, but if the unbeliever leaves the Christian isn’t obligated (1 Cor 7:12-13). Speaking in foreign languages are not a sign for believers, but a sign of God’s judgment on unbelief (1 Cor 14:22). Unbelievers are those whose minds are “blinded” by “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). Believers are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14) because there is a fundamental spiritual antithesis between belief and unbelief ( 2 Cor 6:15). If a Christian man fails to provide for his household, he’s worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8).

What in these verses would cause one to conclude that Paul would support the employment of unbelievers as part of a “worship team” in Christian services? What in these verses would cause one to conclude that the cultural mandate (transformationalism) is such that a session (elders and pastors) is free to employ non-Christians in leading sacred worship? [snip]

There are, however, things we do not share [with unbelievers]. The things not shared are sometimes described as belonging to the “antithesis” between belief and unbelief… Believers belong to Jesus in a special way as his redeemed people. They’ve been bought with a price. The Holy Spirit has been poured out upon them. None of that is true of unbelievers. They do not belong to Jesus in the special, redemptive sense of “belonging.” They do not have his Holy Spirit. They have not been accepted (justified) by God for the sake of Christ’s righteousness imputed and received through faith alone. Unbelievers are under God’s wrath. Believers are under God’s peace.

Nowhere does the spiritual and epistemic antithesis come to a clearer expression in Holy Scripture than when it considers public, corporate worship. We live in the world, under God’s common providence, with unbeliever’s sharing (Matt 5:48) in God’s common gifts to humanity but when we gather, on the Sabbath, for Christian worship, we withdraw from the common into a special, sacred space and time. It is not a time to celebrate our common humanity with non-believers, it is not a time for cultural, artistic expression and achievement. It is a time to bow before the face of our Holy Triune God and worship him as he as commanded (WCF 21.1). In this sense, holiness is about distinction (antithesis) between belief and unbelief. To make something sacred is to set it aside. That’s what we are, in corporate worship, God’s holy people, his holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:5), a holy temple. It is then that we express our status as a “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9).

This is why Paul speaks of unbelievers as “outsiders” because he was distinguishing between that which is common and that which is sacred, between culture and worship. In light of that distinction, in light of what we confess that God’s Word teaches about worship, let us worship God in the way that he has commanded. Let us enjoy and revel in the common as appropriate but let us enjoy and revel in our holiness when that is appropriate too and God has not commanded that his holy people should be led by self-conscious unbelievers in sacred worship.

For a couple of similar articles, please read these:

“Let’s Burn Lambs while We Sing to the Beat of Drums”

“Brand-New Worship Innovation: P&W (Pacquiao & Worship)”

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1 thought on ““The Scandal of Pagans Leading Worship””

  1. “…typological and shadowy and bloody musical instruments (covered with the blood of bulls and gentiles)?”
    hmmmm.
    So i have concluded that both “Lets burn lambs while we sing to the beat of the drums” and this article are specifically about church worship, so, i will address that.
    This is a response to both of these articles but more so “Lets burn lambs…”

    I would like to hear your response to the hebrew word ‘Tehillah’. Tehillah means “offering unrehearsed praises to God”; this would seem to fall in the “uninspired” category of worship you have mentioned. Also, i do not see, in the NT, a specific regulation of how worship should look or sound. Paul clearly talks about the whole of worship meetings in 1 Corinthians but i don’t see evidence to assert that worship should be “preformed” in a certain style or carried out in a certain method. As you also talked about non-believers coming to worship gatherings, i believe worship should be culturally relevant. Paul talked about becoming all things to all men in 1 Corinthains 9:19-23. However, if worship is irrelevant for the right reasons the Church should persevere and thank God that they are able to be part of the Church. Paul also says in Romans 7:6 that we no longer live by the written code (levitical laws including worship) but by the Spirit. Zamar is another hebrew word that references praising God with musical instruments. Why limit what instruments can be used to praise our wonderous Lord? Jesus talked about the condition of our hearts being one of the most important things as well-so why not worship God through every means possible? “Whatever you do wether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jeus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” -Colossians 3:17

    I would also ask a favor of you Nollie. Would you please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I47dDLiaAQ
    and share your feedback with me?
    I believe that the guys in Sleeping Giant are worshiping God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength with everything they do as a band. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

    Grace and peace from your brother in Christ,

    The Other Matt

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