For those of us whose faith has been so deeply shaped by our worship experiences, the current trend of worship as a professionally programmed performance, can be quite upsetting. Yet, as always, not every challenge to our faith and practice must be seen in a negative light. If those challenges lead us back to the Word and will of God by calling for us to reevaluate our worship tradition in light of God’s will, then this can be very positive. Worship, is after all, not directed toward us but toward God.
It is this fundamental truth regarding worship that I would like to emphasize: Worship belongs to God. He has called us to this event, which we in turn did not create. The summons is not from us to Him. Instead, He has called us to come before him, both privately and as a community. Having done so, he also defines what it is that constitutes worship. Many in the biblical story offered “worship” to God, but only God determined whether or not it was true worship. Just because we feel that what we are doing is worship, does not make it so. This was one of the critical messages from Paul to the church in Corinth. What they considered Table Fellowship, he described as “eating the bread and drinking the cup in an unworthy manner.” They were in danger of bringing judgment upon themselves because of what they considered worship. God did not have to accept it, nor does it appear that he did.
The purpose or direction of worship matters. There has been a big push recently to organize our worship service as a way to attract seekers, in what has been called a “Seeker Service.” The purpose of such a worship is evangelistic, and it is directed toward those attending the service. This is not really new. I have even known some congregations to declare that unless an invitation is given at the end of each sermon, worship hasn’t happened. Worship is seen as the time to invite the unsaved, to proclaim the gospel and to evangelize the community.
There are good and honourable motives behind this push, and I am not opposed to evangelism. It is part of who we are and why we exist as a church. However, evangelism is not why we worship. Worship is directed toward God and not toward the seeker. It is primarily focused upward and not outward. We gather to praise God, to give thanks to Him, to listen to Him, to talk to Him, “singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” (Eph. 5:19-20 emphasis added) The unbeliever may be convicted by our worship (I Cor. 14:24-25), but that conviction comes from a worship directed toward God, not toward the unbeliever. When the direction of corporate worship shifts from God to the outsider and/or is composed primarily of individual expressions, the tendency is to create a “worship” that does not allow the community to commune with God. There are appropriate times to focus on individual expressions of worship, and ways to focus on evangelistic outreach. But when the church assembles for worship, may God always remain the object of our praise and adoration…the one whose glory we extol and whose favour we seek.
Rapid changes in our music have had both positive and negative impacts on our corporate worship. I do appreciate and value those which refocus our attention upon God. Rather than expressing truths about Jesus or about God, they are sung directly to God. They express our praise and adoration in a beautiful way.
Here are a few examples:
You are beautiful beyond description, too marvellous for words,
too wonderful for comprehension, like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp your infinite wisdom, who can fathom the depths of your love?
You are beautiful beyond description, majesty enthroned above.
And I stand, I stand in awe of You. I stand, I stand in awe of you.
Holy God, to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of you.
(Music and words by Mark Altrogge)
Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our God our maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. (Dave Doherty)
I have such wonderful memories of growing up in the churches of Christ and participating in worship. While every congregation that I was a part of was quite small in number, that made little difference to my experiences. I am grateful for those who shared their faith with me and I shall always be indebted to those many hours of fellowship around the Table and the Word.