Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
This episode of Sound + Doctrine is the first of five focusing on what really matters to God in our Sunday gatherings. Devon Kauflin joins us as we talk about the importance of our meetings being God intiated and exalting.
Scriptures referenced: Eph 2:18, 1 Cor 1-2
Resources referenced: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/worshiping-the-infinite-and-intimate-god
Have a question about this episode? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
David Zimmer: This episode of Sound Plus Doctrine is the first of five focusing on what really matters to God in our Sunday gatherings. Devon Kauflin joins us as we talk about the importance of our meetings being God initiated and exalting.
DZ: Welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine Podcast. I am David Zimmer.
Bob Kauflin: I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And we are joined by none other than Devon Kauflin.
Devon Kauflin: Great to be here guys.
BK: It’s great to have you.
DZ: It’s wonderful when Dev can join us.
BK: Thanks for joining us.
DZ: Bob, what are we gonna be talking about today?
BK: Well, we’re gonna talk about something that I think will relate to anybody who plans and leads corporate worship, which is kind of what this whole podcast is about. But specifically, we wanna talk about the values of our corporate gatherings, like when the church gathers that kind of transcend culture. Sovereign Grace has been a family church for about 40 years. We’re now… Have churches in a number of countries and relate to people from all over the world and I’ve seen a lot of changes in how we do things, and there’s always pressures, I think, from culture to do things a certain way. So over the past few years, really, we’ve been trying to come up with some specific values that we can emphasize that we can encourage people in in terms of… It doesn’t matter what country you’re in, what city you’re in, what town you’re in. These things are things that God really values as we gather. And we’ve come up with five, tried to… I think when we first started talking about this, we had like 10 or 12 or something and that’s… The guys said, “Can we narrow that down so… ”
BK: So Devon do you have anything to add to that?
DZ: That’s great.
No, I agree with all of that. I think it’s just so important to recognize that the Gospel is both trans-cultural in that what we affirm transcends culture, but it’s also intercultural where it engages us where we’re at in every culture and it’s relevant to every culture. And so with that in mind, it’s what then should we be about as we gather as churches? And so that’s what this is all about.
BK: Yes, so I think we should just jump right in.
DZ: Yeah, that’s great.
BK: So the first value that we’ve… It’s pretty obvious, all of these are really obvious, nothing’s like shocking like, “Oh, you’re kidding.”
DK: Hopefully, nothing new here.
BK: Hopefully, but we’ve realized that unless we are focusing on something, unless we’re aiming at something, we tend to do things that may not be helpful, that aren’t helpful. We tend to do things that seem pragmatically helpful, but in terms of what God really desires from us in terms of our gathered worship, they may not line up with that. So the first…
DK: Well, our planning and our leading, like there’s no neutral.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s going somewhere.
DK: It’s gonna go somewhere and the culture, whatever culture we’re in is going to push it in the direction and that’s our historical culture, that’s our local culture, that’s our church culture, there’s all kinds of different forces at play. And so, again, so we’ve gotta be aiming… We’ve gotta be purposeful to go in a direction that lines up with the word of God in order to serve the people of God.
BK: Yeah, and I would add… before we get into it. One approach to this is to try to come up with a liturgy that is practiced universally for all time, and God did not give us a specific liturgy, one that we can turn to go, “On page 762 that’s where God says this is what you do.” He’s given us practices, he’s given us principles, but we have to read God’s word carefully to discern, okay, God has always gathered His people together to… In his presence and what are we supposed to value when that happens? Something’s happening that’s significant. From the beginning, really, in the garden of Eden, God would meet with Adam and Eve, He fellowshipped with them. Then after they fell, God would be calling people to Himself, people would bring… Build altars where they had encountered God, and then the moment when God gathers… Delivers his people from Egypt and meets with them at Mount Sinai and says, “You are my treasured possession, you are a people for my glory.”
BK: And then throughout history God has gathered His people together. So rather than saying, “Okay, well, what’s the liturgy look like?” We wanna give… We wanna have values that we say these are the things we’re aiming at. So the first is our meeting should be God-initiated and God-exalting. And we get this from a number of places. Psalm 34:1-3 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be in my mouth, my soul will boast in the Lord, let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” So we’re seeking to exalt God, but we start with God-initiated, and I’m gonna let Devon talk some about that. And yeah, we just wanna talk about that phrase, God-initiated and God-exalting in terms of our gatherings. Why should they be that?
DK: Yeah, to say worship should be God-initiated is saying that before we come as worshipers, God is the one. God is and God is the one who calls worshipers. And so what that looks like in our corporate gatherings is we begin with the call to worship and that call to worship is not, “Hey, come one, come all. Let’s get our worship on”, that call to worship is…
BK: You don’t use that?
DK: That call to worship is God summoning us. It’s not like worship is now starting, worship has been going on, worship is all of our lives, but when we do that call to worship is God summoning his people corporately to exalt His name together. So that’s one aspect of it. Second is that for worship to be God-initiated, we recognize that God doesn’t need our worship, because of who God is in His triune existence, in his eternal existence he doesn’t…
DK: He doesn’t… He wasn’t incomplete when He created man. He had all that He needed in himself. And so to recognize that worship is God-initiated… God’s initiative is to say that God is the one who has given us this gift by which we may enter into the fellowship He experiences in himself. And that has a lot of implications…
DK: On how we think about what we do.
DK: And it puts us in our place in a sense.
DZ: Absolutely. Yeah.
DK: Where it’s not about what I’m bringing and what I’m offering. If we just left it at we want… Corporate worship should be God-exalting. If we just left it there, we might begin thinking, “Oh, this is… Corporate worship is what we’re gonna do, what we’re gonna offer, what we bring to the table.”
DZ: That it begins with us. When we come…
DK: It begins with us.
DZ: Yeah. When we walk into the church service.
DK: Yeah, and we exist in a culture in which, especially, in the Western world, the current of our age is all about us. It always begins with us. Reality is defined by us and as the church we wanna stand, because God’s word stands against that. God is the reality that defines all other reality, puts all other reality in perspective, so worship must be God-initiated. Another thing that God’s initiative implies is that He is the one who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. And so we’re recognizing that nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to his cross I cling, that’s the only basis by which we come. And so it’s God from first to last and we just cannot lose sight of that as we gather as God’s people.
DZ: Yeah. Well, and not to rabbit trail, but even as you’re mentioning that, there’s that trend of we come, we initiate, and we’re sort of the focus. It seems like can be a trend in “modern worship” of these songs are focused at us, directed to us, we’re this front and center, but I just love that that takes it, as you said, Dev, it puts it in our… It puts us in our place. It takes it outside of us.
BK: Yeah, there is this strange tension going on, I think as worship songs… It’s a lot of factors. We’re given to expressive individualism, just our emotions are everything and what we feel is everything. We’ve got the internet that just connects us to everything all over the world happening. And so we see a lot of meetings where people might be singing songs that talk about Jesus, but our eyes and our affections are drawn to the people doing it. And so to say, “Of course, this is God-exalting”, well, of course it is.
BK: Well, there are things that can hinder that and one of the things… As a leader, one of the things that can hinder the… My leadership being God-exalting is by me doing things in such a way that people have to notice me, whether that’s my movements, whether that’s my inflections, whether that’s my… The things that are happening around me, it’s about me. And suddenly, I’m fighting against the very thing I’m saying I’m doing. So I’ve been in contexts where we’re singing some great words, but there is so much else happening that’s drawing attention to the people or the person leading that it’s kind of a disconnect. It’s just, I wanna exalt the Lord, but you seem like… You’re getting a lot of attention.
BK: It’s hard for me to separate those. So there is a, what John Piper calls an undistracting excellence that we should be striving for so that God really can be exalted in our meetings. Although I love the point, that’s still on the exalting point, the point you’re making about God initiating. I think when Jesus was talking to the woman at the well in John 4, he was letting her know that you can… We cannot worship God apart from God.
DZ: Yes. Right.
BK: We don’t come into the room and say, “Hey, I’m just gonna start worshiping God now.” For whatever reason.
BK: I’m here and I’m gonna do it. We cannot approach God apart from His invitation and His mercy and His enabling. And so that’s something that I think I’ve just realized in the last few years, I don’t know, 10, 20… 10, 15 years, that…
DK: Just the last few.
BK: The last few. It’s all relative, Dev. It’s all relative.
BK: Just that if God does not invite us and if He does not initiate worship, we don’t worship Him. I mean, we were created worshipping Him and we rejected that. So unless He takes the initiative to enable us to worship Him again, we can’t.
BK: And that’s humbling. That’s… It makes us grateful that we can even come. And there can be this real mixture of, “Wow, we’re worshipping the Lord so well.” And that’s just the exact opposite of what worship is.
DK: We wanna get to the disposition that I think we should be called to have as humble worshipers where we come to receive what God has for us.
DZ: Yeah. Yeah.
BK: Yeah. Yes. Yes.
DK: Not to offer all that we can do and bring…
DZ: That’s good.
DK: To God. And we just… We forget that. I love how in Psalm 50, how… God’s speaking and he’s saying that, “I am God. I don’t rebuke you for your sacrifices or for your burnt offerings which are continually before me. I will not take a bull from your household or male goats from your pens for every animal of the forest is mine.”
DZ: It belongs to me.
DK: “The cattle on a thousand hills,” I have it all, I don’t need this from you, but then we recognize it. Wow, God in his grace, his abundant grace, gives us this gift by which we can relate to him, not only can we relate to him, but we can exalt him and that totally changes the terms by which we come, ’cause it’s not about us earning anything or accomplishing anything or feeling anything necessarily, although all of those things should happen, those are secondary to what God is already doing.
DK: So when we gather together we don’t evaluate, “How was the time together?” We don’t evaluate based on, “Well, I feel great today or I got to do this.” So I got to preach this past Sunday. So it was great.
BK: I got to play the… Like the guitar.
DK: Or I got to play or I got to the sing solo or whatever it is. It’s not about those things. What happened…
BK: Are you sure?
DK: What happened is that God was present with his people and he was speaking to them through His word, and what an amazing privilege that is.
DZ: Oh, it’s so freeing. Yeah.
BK: Yes. Yeah.
DK: When the, well… I mean, it’s the independent, eternal, transcendent God condescends to speak to us and invite us into just all the joy in life that’s found in him.
BK: I just think of how often… Just what you were saying there reminds me of how often we evaluate the meeting on the part we played and… Especially for those in leadership.
BK: And to sit out in the congregation or stand out in the congregation and to be a part of a meeting, it’s just… You’re not the same. It’s just… It was good. I mean, it was good. But when you’re there in front and you’re contributing in some way, it’s like, “Oh, that… ” Well actually it varies. If you did great the meeting was great. If you messed up the meeting was terrible and that just plagues us and that… Our meetings aren’t supposed to… They’re meant for us, they aren’t meant for our glory. If anything, we’re just jars of clay so that it may be seen that the all surpassing treasure is God, that the power comes from him, not us. And so when we say, meetings are to be God initiated and exalting, it means God is clearly seen. He’s clearly preeminent. He’s clearly honored and I would say clearly treasured, because we can go through all the right motions and say all the right things and not treasure this relationship that God has invited us into. So it is very much about experience, but it’s about an experience rooted in the fact that we find our greatest value and our greatest treasure and our greatest glory in God himself, and not what we do for him.
DZ: Yeah, absolutely.
BK: So I didn’t mean that to stop the conversation.
DK: You’re shutting it down.
BK: So what… What practices contribute to a God-initiated, God-exalting gathering and what practices hinder it? I’ve talked about some, but… Of course, our meetings are supposed to be God-exalting.
DK: Yeah. Well, just to spell out what we’ve been talking about, and there is this affirmation that our worship is God-initiated and should be God-exalting, that’s denying that it is man initiated and man exalting. And so again, we don’t come with all that we are and all that we bring, that’s not where the gathered worship of the church begins, it begins with the prior reality of God and his revelation to us. And so then practices that we… I think we want to… Ways that we can reflect that are through call to worship and letting God and His word be the primary voice that speaks as we gather. And so we often say in our gatherings, we begin with God’s word and God calling us to continue our worship as we come to him together, and then we’ll conclude our service with God’s word again. And this is God, God’s blessing to us his sending us out to continue our worship as we go about our daily lives. So that’s just one expression of a rhythm that we can have that just reminds us that, no, this begins and ends with God. It’s God beginning to end, and then just regular habits of reading God’s word publicly, the public reading of Scripture. It’s something that Paul talks about and…
BK: Which we’re gonna do another podcast on…
DK: And I think just churches often neglect, though.
BK: Yes, yeah.
DZ: Yeah. Right.
DK: The priority of just reading scripture, reading scripture together. What other practices would you add?
BK: Well, I was just thinking, if we’re truly gonna exalt God for who he is and as he is, we wanna make sure that our meetings are trinitarian, and that’s gotta be a category of coming to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 2:18. We, in him… Usually, have it memorized, but not at this moment. Of course, on the podcast, I never have things memorized on the podcast.
DK: Well, one thing with that is just that worshiping the Triune God is what makes our worship distinctly Christian.
BK: Yes, yeah, yeah.
DZ: Oh, yeah. Well said.
DK: And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important. Recently, there was a study done by Lester Ruth and he looked at the top 100 songs, CCLI over the past, I think it was 20 years or something like that, and it was shocking how few of those songs referred to God as being triune or referred to Father, Son and Spirit, but something that’s so central to the Christian faith. If we neglect that, we’re failing to really recognize, “This is who God is” as we exalt him.
BK: Well, and that’s a difference between going for emotionalism, trying to move people and speaking to people’s affections. God as He is should move us more than anything, but if… And He’s revealed Himself to us, who He is. In His word. So if we don’t know God in His word, we’re not presenting to people who He really is. So we’re going to tend to default to things that move people quickly, a modulation, a big sound, big instruments, cool arrangement, those kind of things, because we don’t have confidence that exalting God in Christ and the power of the Spirit is enough.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: We gotta do more.
DK: Well, we also end up defining God on our terms. So not only do we go to those things that have…
BK: Right. That’s right. Making Him in our image. Yeah.
DK: Those emotional appeals, but we do the same thing with how we view God. And so we prioritize, and you recently wrote on prioritizing immanence over transcendence.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DK: And where God is just our friend who has revealed Himself in Jesus and Jesus is our homeboy. I mean, like that kind of theology and those kinds of ideas. God has come to us in Jesus Christ.
DK: But we also need to speak about the glory and the holiness and the other-than-ness of God in order to appreciate all that he has done for us in Jesus Crist.
DZ: Right, right.
BK: Yes. Well, I remember, you were referring to a Desiring God article I did, and I can’t remember the name of it, but it was on God’s…
DK: Some brilliant title, I’m sure.
BK: Yeah, God’s immanence and transcendence. And I remember in writing it, just having the realization freshly, that God’s not sometimes transcendent and sometimes immanent.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: He’s both all the time for all eternity and that’s just… It just humbles you.
BK: It’s mind-boggling and that’s… But that’s what we… That’s what we need to be presenting to people, and we need to be realizing, this is the God we’ve gathered in the presence of. Scripture I was trying to quote earlier, Ephesians 2:18, “For through him, Jesus, we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” So being Trinitarian isn’t just doing songs that, you know, first verse Father, second verse Jesus, third verse Spirit, it’s doing what the New Testament writers do, interweaving references to the different persons of the Trinity in the way that scripture models for us. So it’s not… Some people would say, “Well we just need more songs to the Holy Spirit.” I don’t think we do, ’cause the Holy Spirit… I mean, we might, but that’s not the problem.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to magnify Christ. The Father delights when we magnify His son, and the Son came that we might magnify the Father. So there’s this interplay of the three persons of the Trinity in the one God, that as people come to our gatherings week after week after week, they should learn not only to see that, but to treasure that.
DK: Amen. Amen.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: God the Father, God the Son are with us through God the Spirit here in our midst and how encouraging is that? I imagine there are some people listening… You know, our church… They’re thinking, “My church is 40 people, I don’t… I can’t… We don’t never experience that.” Or “Our church is 60 people.” The same God who’s with the church of 3000 is with the church of 40, he’s no different. And if we are exalting Him… And realizing that we can exalt Him, because He took the initiative. It’s not like we gathered a group of people… And this is a church planning mindset sometimes, “We’re gonna get the best people, the strong people, we’re gonna be amazing people, an amazing church!” And now you know what, you’re just ordinary like everybody else, but you have an amazing God, you have an amazing Savior, you have the Holy Spirit with you. And because of that, if you make much of Him as you gather, you make much of Jesus as you gather, people will be amazed, people will be affected. They’ll see something there that they don’t see anywhere else.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
DK: Yeah, it’s incredible to… I love going back to 1 Corinthians 1, 2, and how Paul reflects on his ministry to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 2, he says, “When I came to you, brother and sisters announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom.” So when we think about corporate worship, oftentimes we do go to categories of, well, we won’t use that language, brilliance of speech or wisdom, but that’s what we’re talking about.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: Yeah, brilliant worship leader or great song choice or whatever.
DK: I decided to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And so then he says, I came to you in weakness, in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. And this is why, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power. And one of the things I love about being in a small church is that when we gather, what a demonstration of the power of God there is.
BK: Yes, yeah, yeah.
DK: Because in the world’s eyes, it might look foolish. In the world’s eyes it might not be impressive, but what’s put on display there is the power of God through His Spirit and what a privilege that is to be a part of that.
DZ: Yeah, excellent.
BK: Can you imagine like doing a promo for your church, “Come here, so and so, pastor. He’s weak. He’s fearful. He trembles a lot.”
DK: Not persuasive, not very wise.
BK: That’s what Paul said, this is how I was with you, but that exalts God.
BK: So another thing would be just the… You can’t present God as amazing and be amazing yourself at the same time.
DK: So how do you think about the pursuit of excellence…
BK: Yeah, yeah
DK: In the context of… And let’s draw that specifically to music and singing, ’cause that’s something that we often talk about. We want to be the best, because God deserves our best, that kind of thinking.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: Yeah. Well, it’s the aim of it. It’s both the motive of the excellence and the aim of the excellence. So the motive is, what do I want this excellence to produce? Do I want this excellence to produce people saying, “Jesus Christ is a glorious Savior. He’s the Son of God. God is with us by His Spirit. God is Creator, He’s Redeemer, He’s worthy of my love, my passion, my obedience, my submission, my treasure.” Is that the aim of my excellence? Or is the aim, “And I hope someone notices like, what I did. I hope someone… ” And I mean, I’ve been there. Like for years, that’s all I ever thought about, “I hope someone notices.” And it came through, because I was nervous when I led in front of people I respected. That’s what showed what my aim was.
BK: So your aim, but then also, what it… Your motive, but then the fruit it produces. Does it produce people saying, “Wow, when I’m under your leadership, I get a clearer picture of who God is. I love Him more. I see Him more clearly. I understand better who He is”? Or is it, “Man, that… ” The more common response, “That arrangement. That was amazing. I love the way you arranged that song.” Or even “I love your passion”, which is not a bad thing, “I love your passion.” But I want you to love my passion because I love Jesus, and I want you to see that He’s the glorious one. So what kind of excellence serves that?
BK: I think that does put a bar, a limit, a governor on how much excellence we can show, of a technical excellence, because… I was a piano performance major, and if I showed everything that I learned as a piano performance major when I led on Sunday, it’d be very distracting. I couldn’t play it now, anyway, but if that was my… If that was the fruit was that I was… I thought I need to do all this stuff. I need to show how fast I can play my riffs or what complicated beat I can play on the drums, that’s like the wrong… You’re aiming for the wrong thing, and the fruit’s gonna be wrong. That’s the wrong kind of excellence. So excellence, we could do a whole podcast on this, is what makes your church sing with faith-filled hearts magnifying the glory of Christ in the power of the Spirit. What produces that? That’s excellence.
DZ: Yeah, ’cause you can… You can be distracting on both sides of the spectrum.
BK: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, Yeah.
DZ: You can be really bad and…
BK: Yes. Which we’ve done, yeah.
DZ: And working really hard and be distracting to what you’re trying to have people focus on.
DZ: Which are the lyrics and singing the songs and reflecting on the lyrics. And then you can be distracting in the excellence category, where you’re overplaying and trying to prove so much.
BK: Yeah, and even playing great kicks, great riffs together as a band, and like you just got a bunch of them down, and just… People start to notice the riffs, it’s not… It’s just hard not to do. They start to notice the riffs more than what we’re singing, and… I mean, there’s a… There’s a certainly subjective element to it, but it seems to point in the direction of, less is more.
DK: But I think that it’s pointing to the fact that there’s a greater aim than excellence, and that’s God’s exaltation which…
BK: And that’s… I would say that’s what you use the excellence for.
DK: Right. But so then… But that also means there are other ways… Excellence isn’t the only way that we exalt God.
DK: And so David was highlighting that content, but you’ve… Even that category of edification, and so there might be things that you do that edify that aren’t necessarily…
BK: The most excellent…
DK: Excellent in a technical sense.
DZ: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
DK: But you do them because they are God exalting.
BK: Well, that’s the governor I was talking about. I mean it just…
BK: You cannot do whatever you want to do, and as musicians… And we’ve done some podcasts on the role of instrumentalists, but as instrumentalists we can’t find our joy in just doing things we like to do. I wanna learn to like what serves the congregation.
BK: That’s what I wanna learn to like. And as we… I know we’re pressing to the end of the time here, but as I think about meetings that are God-initiated, God-exalting, I think it’s helpful to just keep in mind, that’s what the end of all this is gonna be.
BK: You know, when God gathers His people together.
DK: When He gathers.
BK: When He gathers…
DK: He takes that initiative.
BK: His people together, we’re not gonna be looking at each other thinking, “Aren’t we something? This is amazing”, we are going to be glorying Him, wanting everything we do to exalt His triune nature that the Father, Son and the Spirit, and finding an incredible joy in doing that, and that’s what every meeting we have now is meant to be a fore taste of.
DZ: Yeah, yeah. We’re practicing that now. We’re preparing for that day.
DK: That’s so great.
DZ: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Well, thank you, Dev, for being on this podcast. We’re gonna continue this conversation in the part two. So thanks for joining us.
BK: And we’ll see you next time.