Saturday, May 17, 2014

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Our True and Proper Worship

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

This blog has had much to say on the topic of corporate worship.  Some of these posts have sparked a degree of consternation among the brethren, for many of whom the new, "contemporary" conventions have rapidly become as sacrosanct as the old "traditional" ones once were.

These discussions are important, because it is vital to know what exactly we are seeking to accomplish when we come together as a body.  It would be foolish to hand-wave the issues away under an easy cliche of "freedom", for if we accept that worship is truly about God, we must also believe He has something to say about the matter:
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Yet the intensity of the debate over style and methods can turn the very idea of worship into a caricature, wherein certain high-profile aspects are further exaggerated and distorted.  When this happens, other crucial features are lost.

For example, for many of us the de facto definition of the word has devolved into a corporate activity that takes place between roughly 10:30 and noon on a Sunday morning.  But even this may be too broad ... perhaps for many of us, "worship" has basically come to mean that part of the service involving music.

Nobody would admit to such a narrow definition as this, of course.  But honestly, if we were to word-cloud of our normal language patterns about worship, what would really stand out?  "Service"?  "Liturgical"?  "Contemporary"?  "Team"?  "Band"?

Perhaps we need to take the entire line back to formula and ask the fundamental question:  What exactly is "worship"?

Well, let's start with this:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1-2)
In his Readings on St. John's Gospel, Archbishop William Temple unpacked a definition of worship along these lines that is as magnificently poetic as it is mind-blowing:
Worship is a submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. 
Now that's a pretty tall order for any pastor or worship team!  But of course that's the point, isn't it?  There is no ecclesiastical figure or institution created under the sun that can produce in its congregants this kind of whole-life surrender within the span of three praise songs or a 90-minute service.  Or as John Frame makes clear in his book, Worship in Spirit and Truth:
Redemption is the means; worship is the goal. In one sense, worship is the whole point of everything. It is the purpose of history, the goal of the whole Christian story. Worship is not one segment of the Christian life among others. Worship is the entire Christian life, seen as a priestly offering to God. And when we meet together as a church, our time of worship is not merely a preliminary to something else; rather, it is the whole point of our existence as the body of Christ.
I really like this definition, with one caveat:  our congregational worship is certainly not merely "preliminary", but nor is it the "whole point".  Our corporate worship is an essential expression of the all-consuming "priestly offering" that is to mark our entire worshipful existence before the face of God.  When we come together on the Lord's Day to worship our risen Savior, it ought to be the culminating event of one week and preparation for the next, each moment of which is then to be spent in God-glorifying obedience ... which is itself our "true and proper worship".

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