This last week, Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC held a human scheduled revival in which we prayed for God to move. Though I am not sure the true benefit of having a human scheduled revival, I am sure that asking God to come and to move has powerful consequences, even if we do not get to see those consequences. As we went through the week, I committed myself to learn whatever God would show me and I now wish to share what I have learned. Thus, my next few articles will reflect the things that God showed me this week specifically in the services we called revival.
As my wife and I stood to practice the songs we would play one of the services, one of the precious ladies there asked what our philosophy was on leading worship. This lady had never heard us lead worship and, I’m sure, had pure motives in asking. She wanted to know how we would lead the congregation into the presence of Christ, how we would encourage them to participate and how we would create a worshipful atmosphere through music. Though I do wish to deal with the idea of worship, I specifically want to, here, deal with the idea of trusting our brothers and sisters under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Let us begin with scripture:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. so also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”
The tongue can help of hinder
One thing should be very clear to us: the tongue can either be used to build up or to tear down. It is the tongue by which people are judged to either be wise or foolish. It is the tongue by which people are deemed either as arrogant or humble. It is the tongue by which others get to know who we are and who we hope to be. Ultimately, we are who we make ourselves out to be by our words. Do we spend our time complaining about everything? Do we praise men more than we praise God? Do we spend all of our time criticizing others? Do we spend our time worshipping ourselves? Do we only speak with sarcasm or can we have a serious conversation with someone else? Do we spend our words solving problems or creating them? One of my fears is that our churches (both the leaders and the laity) have not worked to control the tongue, which can destroy entire nations or save an entire peoples.
The teacher complex
James begins this section by warning against the want that seemingly every person has to become a teacher. He warns of this just before citing the tongue as the most dangerous muscle in the body; of which no man can tame. The reason man should be skeptical of becoming a teacher is not because his judgment will be more harsh (though it will be), but because if someone fails to tame his tongue while having the authority of a teacher he will undoubtedly tear down instead of build up. Sadly for us, no man can tame the tongue!
Does this mean, however, that no man should ever become a teacher? In all of scripture, over and over again, we constantly see God appointing teachers and prophets and apostles. What, then, must this implicate about a man’s ability to teach and a man’s control of his tongue?
- It implicates that it is God and God alone that provides control over man’s tongue. For, just as we believe that no man can change himself by his own power, we must also know that no man can properly control his tongue by his own power. He must rely on the Holy Spirit of God. This, consequently, is the only way it is possible for any man to act in wisdom. All else is foolishness.
- It implicates that God, after enabling the control of a man’s tongue, appoints those who are fit to serve as leaders and teachers: who simply show God’s power in their own lives while not claiming a certain power on their own. A true teacher, therefore, never boasts in his own action, but in God’s action!
- It implicates that if anyone wishes to appoint himself a leader or a teacher, he acts in direct contradiction to God. Teachers must be placed by God for the benefit of God’s glory and of God’s Church. If we have a desire to become a teacher or a leader, we must be even more careful to seek God’s will concerning that desire: for God may intend for us to serve in such a capacity, but He also may not allow us to do so.
- It implicates that teachers, of all denominations, religious convictions, political persuasions and ethnic congregations are held accountable directly by God. If we teach what is wrong, God will hold us directly responsible and will judge us accordingly. There is such a great urgency to teach what is true and only what is true. Thus, there is also a danger when we are dogmatic or unteachable in our own life and in our own convictions concerning what we think to be right.
Above all, we must remember that we are not the procurator of our faith, God is. It is God’s faithfulness that enables our trust (or faith) in Him. Though He has entrusted the faith to us, that faith is, and will always be, dependant on His perfect faithfulness. When we assume a teaching position on our own basis, we take advantage of the faith that God has provided for us and render it no longer dependant on God’s faithfulness but our own. This, needless to say, is a dangerous place to find ourselves in.
Criticism: a tool of the tongue
Now, considering the role of teachers and the role of the tongue, let us step back to review the initial scenario. The sweet lady I mentioned earlier criticized us before we even started practicing for the night. She had, I believe, pure motives in doing so; nonetheless I felt a pronounced distrust. Leading the songs in a worship service is a huge responsibility because, as described above, to lead in any manner is to take on the role of a teacher. To criticize in any manner is also to take on the role of a teacher. The consequences of both actions as teaching actions are of great consequence, either for the building up of God’s Church or the tearing down thereof.
Concerning the leading of music, as the above portion of scripture relates, without God’s direction, anyone would fail. Thus, it is necessary for me to conclude that it was not my job as a music leader to lead others into the presence of God and it most certainly was not my job to make everyone participate in a certain way. There are many ways to participate (e.g. actively listening, prayerfully considering, standing and singing). By God’s own word, it is Him who leads His people into worship. Mankind cannot lead mankind to God! God reveals Himself and He does so powerfully! This is one of the ways that God convicted me throughout the revival. We, as western Christians, find some responsibility in revealing God to others whether through argument or through the reasoning out of scripture. To take on this role is to commit blasphemy because we assume a role that God claims for Himself. It is time for Christians to start relying on God in this capacity.
Concerning criticism: we make a fool of ourselves by criticizing anyone without a proper basis for criticism. Needless to say, I wanted to leave that night and not go back. The impression I was left with was that this sweet lady did not think that we could rightly worship God. We can’t! Not unless we completely rely on God. That goes for every believer. Furthermore, unfounded criticisms highlight our reliance on other human beings instead of on God. We do not need a ‘worship leader’ to worship God because it is God who leads His people into worship! Finally, James 1:2-4 equates persecution to blessing. So, according to James, it is okay to rebuke others if it is necessary. Rebuke is not a curse on another unless it is unfounded. This is why, sometimes, we must refrain from speaking until we actually have a reason to speak (e.g. after the song service is over, after we actually hear a fallacy that needs to be addressed.)
So, Christian, stop making the faith a faith of fools! We serve a great God, a God who commands control of the tongue. He is stricter than our mothers! Not only should we refrain from what we consider curse words, but also from curses, which include unfounded criticism and any words spoken (or sung) in vain. Let everything that comes from our lips serve to edify God’s Church and to advance God’s very real kingdom on this earth! Amen.