Sunday, January 25, 2009

AN EVANGELICAL'S LAMENT AND JOURNEY: One Final Word about Worship

THE CENTRAL ISSUE: Worship (lack thereof)
One Final Word

I have hit some of the main points about worship that have influenced my journey from being a non-denominational evangelical to a mainline Lutheran. There remains just one thing to be said.

Of all that might be said about worship practices, we must not leave this subject without emphasizing THE fundamental truth about worship. It must be said, because in my opinion our worship practices fall short mainly because we forget this truth.

The rest of the story...

Here it is: WORSHIP IS WHAT GOD'S PEOPLE DO FOR GOD.

We have been conditioned to think, on the contrary, that worship is for US.
  • That worship is where I go for my weekly spiritual inspiration.
  • That worship is a habit of godliness that keeps me on track in my walk with God.
  • That worship is where I go to get spiritually fed.
  • That worship is where I go to stay in fellowship with God's people.
  • That worship is where I go to get blessed and filled so that I can go out and face my daily life with God.
  • That a worship service is where unbelievers come to hear the Gospel and get saved.
Because we think worship is primarily for us, we get concerned when someone no longer "goes to church." We think of going to church and attending the worship service primarily as something beneficial for people. And of course, it is! However, we must understand that the benefits we gain from worship are byproducts that accrue from participating in it.

Worship is for God. Worship is what we do for God. Worship is God's people coming together and participating in actions that are directed toward God.
  • Bringing offerings to God.
  • Giving gifts to God in response to the gifts he has given us in Christ.
  • In the call to worship, we are invited to actively praise God.
  • In confession, we acknowledge our sins to God.
  • In the Creed, we affirm to God that we believe in the revelation of his mighty deeds.
  • With our voices and hearts, we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to him.
  • We present to him our material and monetary offerings.
  • We also offer God our thanks and receptive hearts when we humble ourselves to partake of his Word and Sacraments.
Worship is for God, and worship is what his people do. Worship is not a service we attend. It is not a concert. It is not a preaching service made up of preliminaries and then the "real thing"—the message and invitation. It is not a missionary endeavor in which an audience of unbelievers is confronted with the Gospel through public proclamation. Nor is it a Bible study or Christian meeting designed primarily for a believer's spiritual growth and development. All these conceptions of worship assume that the service is directed toward the congregation, that those up front or on the "stage" are those who act on behalf of God, and that the main purpose is for them to give something to those in attendance.

This, however, is not the meaning of worship. Worship is what God's people do for God. Each worship service is like a special occasion on which we honor our great Hero and celebrate his accomplishments in winning a decisive victory. If you and I were invited to participate in a ceremony honoring a war hero, what would that be like?
  • We would come together to express our appreciation through words, gifts, rituals, songs, and other activities.
  • We would decorate the hall with banners and flags and emblems of victory.
  • We would put our hero front and center.
  • Every activity would be planned for the purpose of honoring him, all the focus would be on him, and all applause directed toward him.
  • Special speakers would tell his story and pronounce his praises.
  • The community would feast together.
  • Neighbors and family members would give testimonials.
  • Presents would be lavished on our hero, and each member of the community would want to say "thank you" personally.
Now, let me ask, would that occasion be a blessing to those who participate? Of course! Such a celebration would uplift and inspire everyone in attendance as well as encourage and challenge them to live a better life. But not because they came in order to receive a blessing. No! Those who came gathered for one purpose—to honor their hero. To lift up his name. To tell the glad story of his achievements. To express appreciation and gratitude to him. To participate in activities that magnified him. As a result, they themselves were blessed. The natural byproduct of honoring another is the blessing that accrues to those who participate.

Of course, God meets with us in worship. Of course, God blesses his people with his presence. Of course, God teaches us from his Word. Of course, God's Spirit fills us and transforms us. Of course, we receive food for our journey through the Sacraments. Of course, we are spiritually formed and edified when we meet together in Christ's name. Of course, if unbelievers join us, they may respond to the Gospel and experience God's saving grace.

These are all good and necessary things. But the question here today is, what is worship? In order to get the genuine byproducts of it, we must pursue the genuine article. As Robert Webber said so succinctly, worship is a verb. We don't attend worship, we worship.

It is what God's people do for God.

4 comments:

Damaris said...

Excellent simile! I'll use it.

AZ said...

>> We would put our hero front and center. <<

Indeed we would.


Mike, this has been a very good series of posts. You've done a good job of explaining the Bible-based, eternal reasons for your own recent decision.
Perhaps you've meant it to be only that. But I ask you to go further.

I agree with you and all your points and I agree with the conclusions you've drawn and the decisions you've made. But I also think that our opinions ought not to enter into it. If you pick a church and a style of worship that appeals to you and I endorse what I agree with, we are no different than others who pick different churches and endorse different practices.

Are we right? (If we are, its no thanks to ourselves but only to the light in us.) How much of what you've written in these several posts is true and right and absolute -- as opposed to our personal preferences?

It is wonderful that God has given mankind such a wide degree of latitude in the way they gather in His name. I wouldn't want to criticize anyone's exercise of that God-given freedom. But if people and churches are actually coloring outside the lines, we ought to know it. Now, I know that our biggest responsibility is to live peaceably with others, so I'm not asking you for ammunition to fight the worship wars. I'm asking for conversational salt (Colossians 4:6).


Gosh, what a long-winded way of saying, "Good post. Write more."

Michael Mercer said...

AZ, thanks. I hope I've communicated that our choices haven't been based on a "style" of worship that we like, but on some fundamental principles that evangelicalism has forgotten and that some mainline churches may be renewing.

I think it was C.S. Lewis who once said that one of the greatest tests of a person's holiness was the ability to graciously sing a hymn he didn't like and offer it as worship to God. If we are part of a church community that is led in genuine, active worship, questions of style are secondary.

AZ said...

I'm not sure if comments to these older posts get noticed, but here's a bit of encouragement.

a church in the north side of Indianapolis, built along the contemporary evangelical lines more than a decade ago, has recently made a change: the bought hymnals and now use them in all their services.

I hope and pray this will happen more often.