Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Credible Christian Worship


Churches do many things, including things that look rather political. They can engage in charitable activities, advocate for social justice, provide social outlets (often called fellowship). But at the heart of the church is, I believe, the worship of God. It is worship that defines the mission of the church, so that it is more than "outreach." I realize people come to church buildings and join congregations for many different reasons, but are they formed by what happens in worship? 

I recently re-read Craig Watt's powerful and provocative book Bowing Toward Babylon (Cascade, 2017) --- and my review of the book should be up tomorrow --- which speaks to the way in which nationalism too often malforms our worship, which leads to the malformation of the Christian. The question is --- what is credible Christian worship? That's a question that I, as one who is engaged in planning and leading worship, that I have great interest in.


Craig writes: 
Whenever worship is not at the heart of the church, the church ceases to be itself. Its purpose and identity go astray. The church dissolves into a mere service organization or social club. Worship is what keeps the character of the church intact and insures that the central focus of the church remains where it should be---on God. Worship does the same for the character and focus of each individual worshiper. It grounds the life and identity of the believer in God. Worship draws attention away from the personal preoccupations, directing it to the one who is worthy of all praise and loyalty.  (p. 40).

There is nothing wrong with service organizations or social clubs. They have their place, but they are not the church. Worship reminds us that our ultimate loyalty or allegiance is to God, and that this allegiance to God crosses national and ethnic boundaries. Unfortunately, as Craig points out in vivid terms, we are often tempted to shift our attention in worship away from God to other designs on our allegiance. Again, the biggest challenge is nationalism. I will say more in my review, but I'd like to suggest that those of us who are Christians consider carefully the role of worship in forming us into the people of God. But what happens in worship doesn't stay in worship. True, credible worship leads into mission.

Again, I let Craig speak:

In celebrating who God is and what God has done we are challenged to see everything in a new way. What we do as the gathered church does not stay at church, not if we worship with an attentive faith. It provides us with a lens through which we see ourselves and the world around us and shapes our predispositions so we will live faithfully. The presence and character of God honored in worship touches everything. Likewise, any notion of how we are to live in the world that makes sense apart from worship should leave people of faith ill at ease.  (p. 40-41). 
 How then does worship form us and provide us with a lens to view the world in which we live?

1 comment:

John said...

How we design worship will be affected by how we understand what takes place in a worship encounter.

I take issue with your comment that the [b]iggest challenge is nationalism. This is too limited, and too limiting, and such a narrow focus comes from asking both too much and too little from worship. The purpose of worship is not to form us as citizens of our country, the world, creation, or even of the Christian Church. However, we can anticipate that our perspective and self assessment of our role(s) ought to be profoundly altered by our time spent in communion with the holy.

Worship is not a reminder of anything. It is both an invitation and an opportunity to spend time with the sacred, with our hearts open to the wonder and nourishment that can only come from such an encounter.

The greater challenge then is for those present to break down the interior barriers, even if just for a few moments on a Sunday morning, which prevent them from moving from the mindset of a spectator at a worship event into that of a participant in a spiritual encounter with the God of creation, to become sacramentally present in the moment.

That is the ultimate challenge which those of us engaged in the design and presentation of a worship service need to keep uppermost in our minds. The goal is to provide an environment which is sufficiently invitational and engaging to allow those present, each in their own way, to let down those barriers.

Like the Emmaus encounter, once we have intimately encountered the Lord of all, rest assured we will be changed, we will be naturally, and fundamentally transformed into citizens of the Kingdom.