In order to truly worship, I believe that we need to apprehend the grace of God.
Now, most of us in Christian circles have some idea of “grace”. It is by faith, through grace, that we are saved. In fact, grace is probably one of the key distinctives of the Protestant movement. Yet, I believe that we don’t really understand or live in the fullness of grace.
The coming revolution in worship is anchored in a revolution of grace which is already beginning to pervade the church. In the context of worship ministry, it affects everything: how we approach God; who can serve on the worship team; the content of our songs.
I first came across grace theology more than 10 years ago. I was a university student at the time, and some friends of mine had just graduated. Some of them had gone to Singapore to work. One of my friends ended up settling into Joseph Prince’s New Creation Church. I soon found out that one of the things New Creation Church was teaching was that you don’t need to confess your sins to be forgiven. Without much further investigation, I was ready to label the church heretical and I had some words to my friend about why she should find another church.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not really that fanatical. But such a teaching flew in the face of everything I had been taught since I was a young Christian. In fact, within weeks of becoming a Christian, I had to memorise 1 John 1:9 (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins…”) as a key text of the Assurance of Forgiveness.
Then, an influential leader in our church started spruiking grace teachings (primarily from Joseph Prince) and tried to convince me that what I had believed about 1 John 1:9 was wrong (incidentally, I know now that there are more pivotal arguments in favour of the gospel of grace and arguing 1 John 1:9 as the starting point isn’t probably the best idea to convert anyone). Of course, I dismissed him the best I could, but I think he left enough doubt in a number of us that led us to start investigating grace further.
I have since heard other people preach on grace and I have also read books and listened to sermons by Joseph Prince.
I am now firmly entrenched in the grace camp…. Well, sort of.
I agree mostly with the grace teachers. But at the end of the day, grace theology is just that – theology. And theology is just a man-made grid to interpret Scripture and experience. So, I’m not really an apologist for grace theology. I like seeing things through eyes of grace; I like how a realisation of grace has changed my life and my way of thinking, but I think grace speaks for itself and doesn’t really need anyone to stand up for it. I’m not really fussed what people think about 1 John 1:9, or whether Romans 8:1,2 teaches that “there is no condemnation”, period, or that “there is no condemnation” only for those who walk according to the law of the spirit.
But if I were to err, I would rather err on the side of grace.
Grace is particularly transformational if you grow up in a culture of performance. That was the case for me growing up in a charismatic church in the 90s. Back then, our church still had some residue of the strictures inherited from the fundamentalist, holiness movements that was a tributary of the charismatic renewal. There were lots of extra-biblical rules. Drinking (as in alcohol) was frowned upon (even if you don’t get drunk). Guys and gals weren’t allowed to hold hands. In fact, they couldn’t even share a house. A holy Christian did their “quiet time” every morning and memorised Scripture. They also go to every conceivable meeting the church put on.
Whether it was the intent of the church or not, I grew up with a performance mentality. By that, I mean the need to do the right things to earn the favour of God.
How did that play out? If I was leading worship that week, I made sure I behaved myself, confessed all my sins, kept an extra short “account”. If I did all of that, I could be sure that the worship on Sunday would be awesome. The whole church would be blessed on account of, uh, me. If the worship tanked, then there must have been some unconfessed sin which I hadn’t dealt with.
I now understand that God is a lot bigger than my sins. Actually, I think that the church is more bothered by sin than God is. God has already done all that is necessary to deal with sin. We started by grace, not by works, and we continue by grace and not by works.
When I came to a realisation of the grace of God, suddenly there was glorious freedom. I stopped feeling like I had to earn God’s favour. Just as he freely gave favour at the point of my conversion, I believe that he continues to freely give favour in every part of my walk with him.
I’m much more relaxed now when I lead worship. Instead of focussing on me, I now come with a confident expectation that every time the church gathers, God is ready to meet his people, even if his people aren’t quite ready to encounter him. I come knowing that God is ready to bless so that we can be a blessing. I come knowing that, regardless of what the worship team does, God is ready to intervene in and transform the lives of his people.
Encountering grace is truly liberating!
And as a postscript, I am now a fan of Joseph Prince. We visit New Creation every time we are in Singapore.