Interactive Worship

  • Read Exodus 15:1-21 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (November 29) you can listen to it here.

There’s a chance I’m constructing a soapbox with this week’s sermon.  It shared several similarities with my recent talk at the Rochester Unity Service.  I’m convinced that our worship has to be relevant to its context.  Although I didn’t spend a lot of time discussing Exodus 15 closely, I believe we learn from the spontaneous worship the Israelites offered God after He’d rescued them through the Red Sea.

When we define worship as beginning and ending with an opening and closing prayer on Sunday, we not only place God in a box, we limit our relationship with Him.  The Bible undeniably teaches that we should make place in our lives for contemplation and adoration, after all, “Who among the gods is like you, Yahweh?  Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Ex. 15:11 tniv)  But that’s not the full picture.

In this verse we can contemplate God’s holiness and glory in abstract terms, but the reference to “working wonders” or “performing impossibilities” should cause us to reflect upon our experiences of God.  What wonders does the text refer to?  Has God really intervened in the natural order of things, performing impossible acts?  If He has, we must worship Him.  Much as we applaud a musician whose skill inspires us, or an athlete whose performance we find amazing, we must worship this God of Wonders.

Yet, if this is so, why is it so easy for our worship services to become generic?  If we sang the same songs on the first Sunday of every month for a year, how long do you think it would take people to notice?  Exodus 15:11 follows the description of God’s rescue, His mighty works.  When we look at the Psalms we find the majority of them providing a context for their worship.  They’re psalms questioning their misfortune, or praising God for His role in their lives.

Many of the psalms’ headings, which are not original or inspired, provide information about the circumstances in which they were written (eg. Ps 59, 60, 63).  Yet our worship can often take place in a vacuum, overlooking the events we experience outside of the designated “worship hour”.  We rightly sing many songs about the cross, and loving Jesus but we struggle to verbalise the reasons why.  I believe that we need more spontaneity in our personal worship as well as when we come together.  Our worship needs to interact with our lives, celebrating God’s victories, voicing our questions, and presenting our needs.  We should praise and thank God for mighty works He actually performs in our lives, not just generic words.

  • What does the term “personal worship” mean to you?  Do you ever interrupt a day to sing a song or offer a prayer?
  • Ex 15:11 alludes to both contemplative and celebratory worship.  I assume that both are equally acceptable to God, but which do you find more meaningful?
  • Do you have any suggestions how we can allow our worship services to better interact with the events and reality of our lives?
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6 comments

  1. rob

    What does the term “personal worship” mean to you?  Do you ever interrupt a day to sing a song or offer a prayer?

    Personal worship is my interaction w/ God on my personal level. How I read his scripture almost daily and think about what God has to say as : All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Tim 3:16). I often will pause during the day and say a “quick prayer” or sing “low in the grave” my all time favorite song.

    Do you agree that “technically correct biblical” worship services can sometimes just involve people going through the motions?

    No, I don t agree, if people were focusing on the commands and what God wants instead of worldly desires they would be ok. Technically Correct Biblical is the only acceptable worship to God: Our hearts in it, a cappella singing, the 5 acts of worship done separately, praying for our sister congregations that are caught in sin, world leaders, etc.

    Do you have any suggestions how we can allow our worship services to better interact with the events and reality of our lives?

    1) We need to stop having two (2) acts of worship at the same time. While we are passing collection plates and singing songs we have two acts of worship going on. We certainly would not sing while someone is praying or preaching. We certainly do not sing during the Lord’s Supper. Why then do we sing when we should be thinking about the giving?

    2) Go back to the bread for the Lord‘s Supper. . The wafers are not scriptural as they can not be broken. All three Gospels (eg. Matt. 26:26) and I Corinthians 11:23-24 clearly state that the bread must be broken not cut into little wafers.

    3) Go back to being the True Church of the First Century. We are seeing a departure from the being New Testament churches, adding to the Bible as they please (saying that we don’t need commands to do things, there are more than commands), the churches as a whole are getting away from “worshiping in spirit and truth.” We have had an influx of preachers who think that they know more than the Apostles and the Prophets of the first century and of all the preachers who came before them. God designed the Bible for anyone to read and understand it meaning, I know of one preacher in the ministry who does not believe that you can find the Church w/o being taught by a preacher and that preacher is wrong. My grandmother Lee read the Bible and prayed for God to send someone from the Church to save her and her family. My dad was at a Methodist school to become in West VA and was approached by a church of Christ preacher who converted him and he in return converted my entire family on his side. Due to that one prayer and her understanding of baptism for the remission of sins, I have three cousins who are deacons and an uncle who has been an elder for around 30 yrs.

    4) Stop saying that all people who say that they are Christians are Christian, a good example of this is that the Disciples of Christ and Christian Churches were disfellowshiped from as they were sinning when they added to the Bible and worship service by introducing instrumental music and the Mission Society (much like the Church of Christ Disaster Relief Fund that some congregations support now). The sinful churches are not part of the brotherhood and are not accepted by God. Once these congregations repent of the sins then they would accepted back into the brotherhood, just as a person who commits adultery and repents would be accepted.

    5) Go back to just preaching the Bible. We have seen an increase in ministers in the churches departing from preaching book, chapter, and verse. The preaching has become more liberal, and in turn the members of the church do not know why we do or do not do things. The Bible is the one and only authority, as there is no other. Instead of saying if you would turn to so and so in your Bible, they say “if you don’t believe me just look it up on the internet.” This type of preaching has to stop.

    6) Stop teaching that the Churches of Christ were established in 1832 (restoration movement), as the Lord’s Church was established on the day of Pentecost and has been in existence ever since. If the church was established in 1832 as what one preacher taught, then he actually called God a liar and we know that God does not lie (Heb 6:18). Jesus said “upon this Rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail.” If the church went into hibernation from around 100 AD until 1832, then Jesus was a liar and we know that he could not lie as He is God.

    7) Stop preaching Human Tradition is okay (i.e.: that the Jews celebrated Thanksgiving and “I love Christmas time.”) Not only have the churches gotten away from condemning Christmas and other unapproved Holy days, but some sinful congregations say “come celebrate Christ’s Birth with us.” Some congregations (preachers) say that if we do not have an idol in the building then it is ok to celebrate the human tradition as it is part of our lives. Some say: “God did not give me a calendar as to what to preach.” Now I am not saying that it is wrong to celebrate these on you own, but as a Church it is.

    God did say: Gal 4:10-11, “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” He condemned the gentile Christians for either 1) celebrating Jewish Holy Days or 2) Pagan holidays.

    Either way God said don’t do it.

    Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

    In Mark 7:1-13 Jesus condemned the Pharisees for human tradition. In v9 he says, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” And in v13 he says, “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

    I don’t see idol mentioned in these verses but God condemns human traditions.

    Everything must be done in love, that includes if we are caught in sin we need to correct that sin, even if we like (the sin) that we are doing. Satan makes sin look good, otherwise why would we do it?
    We need to unhardened our hearts to God’s word before he passes judgment on us.

  2. ozziepete

    Rob, I appreciate your willingness to invest so much energy into this discussion. I agree, my second question wasn’t a good one, so I’ve changed it.

    I’m not going to address the rest of your concerns here, as they don’t really relate to the blog post or the sermon. I didn’t ask for a description of all the biblical worship concerns. I asked how we can better make our “corporate worship” interact with and reflect the ups and downs of our daily lives, and I’d like to keep this post on track.

    I’m sure we’ll have opportunity to discuss your concerns in person or by email.

    PS. I shortened your comments a little by summarizing the passages you quoted and giving the references. I made no other changes. I’m not gagging you, just making the blog easier for people to read.

  3. blcasey

    Peter, I think you’re asking a few good questions here. Personally, the “personal worship” notion doesn’t resonate with me much in my current phase of life, because I’ve seen too much supposed personalness degenerate into worship of the personality or worship of the worship instead of worship of God. But that doesn’t negate the need to, as you say, let worship interact with real life. First, I think we must be taught by scripture and by the God of history. Then, we can dare to apply to our lives today. If worship isn’t genuinely offered, it isn’t along the lines of John 4. (See seven versions of 4:23-24 at http://blcasey.wordpress.com/worship-mountaintop-passage-1-john-4/) Worshipping “in truth,” as Jesus spoke it to the Samaritan woman, has very little to do with doctrinal correctness, although correctness is also important. It has more to do with worshipping *in reality,* genuinely, truly, as it were; and perhaps with cognizance that Jesus embodies truth in the gospel of John.

    As for what might happen if worship were more relevant, well, I’ve gone through times of excitement about such notions. Currently, that’s not what excites me much, but it’s certainly not a bad idea. I’ll get on my soapbox since you confessed constructing one yourself: I wish we wouldn’t refer to what we do in the assembly as a “service.” “Worship service” and “prayer service” and “song service” are not patently scriptural ways to speak of these activities, as far as I can tell; moreover, these phrasings tend to make us view the activities as pre-programmed checklists. (Compare with the notions of funeral service/ceremony and wedding ceremony.) A checklist of activities will not likely contribute to relevancy. Not to mention that there is nowhere in the NC scriptures a pre-programmed list of things that are supposed to be done in the assembly.

    As for ideas . . . I am interested in such practical oddities as directed, silent worship times. “Being still” comes to mind. More focused prayers. Spoken words of worship echoed by a church. Lament in times of distress, just as in the Psalms, always returning to faith-filled worship of the God who is above all. Like Job, we must ultimately shut our mouths in His presence, and that in itself can be an act of worship. I don’t have any expensive perfume to pour on Jesus’ feet, and His feet are not currently available to me, but I do read that He well received someone who offered a spontaneous outpouring that we can assume was sincere. And I persistently believe we ought to sing more to God than to each other. Many times it’s possible to be with a church for 2 hours and never truly worship God because everything done is horizontally focused.

    Sure, I want things to be relevant, but I guess I wonder who decides what’s relevant! Step into one of our faculty meetings on my campus, and ask me at just about any point during the 105 minutes whether the thing being discussed is relevant. Yet there are those (particularly those interested more in process than in content … more in polity than in teaching . . . ouch, that was harsh) who think every bit of it is relevant. Not relevant to me! 🙂

    In church assemblies, I’m generally an advocate of planned spontaneity. Admittedly, this bit of structure around things can present a conundrum, but it also can help to avoid meaningless journeys down Style Drive and times of enforced nothingness at the hands of someone who has very little of substance to offer. If there is an overall plan that allows for some spontaneity, I’m all for that. Speaking of which … could we put in a few blank spaces in the printed order in the bulletin? 🙂

    Yes, I do find that “’technically correct biblical’ worship services can sometimes just involve people going through the motions.” In fact, I’m afraid that’s the rule, not the exception. Sad but true. It’s not that I want technically incorrect–far from it! But an unintended error of the mind would seem much less offensive to God than a careless error of the heart. A fearful soul may cry “What’s next? Pepsi and cheese doodles for the Lord’s Supper?” The answer (to the fact that a great many of us just go through the motions most of the time) isn’t a free-for-all, of course. I understand the context of this discussion to be those who want to please God according to His desires.

    It may help us to consider thoroughly which elements of our experience are traditions of the Church of Christ (capital “C” on Church here — it’s in the yellow pages!) as a religious group, which elements are unbiblical or abiblical, which are requirements of God, etc. Maybe if we can legitimately distinguish, we can move in ways that please God even more.

    Contemplation and meditation around His character and ways, yes! Adoration and listening, yes! More and more intentional, thoughtful, God-adoring worship — both when saints are gathered and when saints are alone!

  4. ozziepete

    Brian, thanks for taking the time to comment!!

    1. I agree with your understanding of John 4. Truthful worship in that sense requires transparency and vulnerability, certainly before God, and perhaps your fellow worshipers.

    2. I don’t know the etymology of “worship service”, I guess we all know what it refers to and it’s probably preferable to “worship ceremony”. I generally think we make assumptions about the NT teaching on congregational worship that are less certain than we often portray. Churches of Christ have traditionally identified “5 Acts of Worship” but I hardly see that as an explicit NT teaching.

    I always wonder why 1 Cor. 14:26 gets so little attention when we come to discuss congregational worship??? “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

    I guess “decently and in order” has taken priority over spontaneous.

    3. I’ve been giving thought recently to the vertical and horizontal aspects of congregational worship. Obviously we cease worshiping if communicating to God is no longer our central purpose. But the horizontal is also important.

    In 1 Cor. 14:22-25 tongues are presented as valid worship to God, but problematic because they exclude outsiders. Also, both Eph 5:19 & Col 3:16 seem to refer to singing as a means of horizontal encouragement as well as worship offered to God.

    For others who may be reading this post with an interest in worship related topics I recommend you visit Brian’s blog as a good source of discussion.

  5. blcasey

    I appreciate that you appreciate that I posted here. And I appreciate so much of what you responded with. 🙂 These things are important to many of us!

    2. I certainly agree that we have traditionally made less-than-valid assumptions about the NT teaching on congregational worship. I’ve recently been seeing anew that the 19C Restoration leaders were even more interested than I thought in shucking denominational trappings. Such passion for moving away from human inventions — a passion I share! — would naturally lead a movement to look ardently for lists and blueprints and requirements and laws among the NT writings, wouldn’t it? No Calvinism, no Baptist doctrine, no creeds — no superimposed, divisive doctrinal statements. Only scripture! But there’s so little found in scripture about assembly protocols . . . so little that unequivocally, specifically relates to what God wants of His people when they’re gathered. It would be easier if He had specified more. (Or would it?)

    Although I am interested in etymologies in general, in this case, I meant to be emphasizing not the derivation of the term but the ramifications and implications of what I believe is an errant concept: I suspect that the term “worship service” prods us further down the path of thinking the inspired writers of the NT intended to dictate specific orders and “acts” and such. Thinking of the activities of assembled Christians as a “service” relates, for me at least, to the human invention of “five acts of worship.” Since we can find no such list of “five acts,” I think we may rightly question whether God has many specific expectations around those “five acts.”

    Yeah, we know what we mean when we say “worship service,” but I suspect that that thing — the stuff we identify as “worship service” — is an inherently flawed thing. That’s my problem with the term. The more we use it, the more we pump up the balloon and let it float over us. Sorry to ride this horse, but it’s important to me. I wonder how many issues would dissipate if we retreated to a more biblical view of the assembly without the smoke-colored glasses that have us seeing everything through the hazy lens of the “service” or “ceremony,” complete with its liturgical expectations.

    The resistance in some circles to performing simultaneously two “acts of worship” seems to me to be one natural result of thinking there is a list of “acts” that must be checked off in the first place.

    If my inclination is to view phrases I find in isolated scripture passages as discrete matters to be obeyed or performed (or ignored, to my peril), it will naturally be problematic for me to consider two of these things at the same time. What to do, for instance, with a song that is textually a prayer? Is that singing, or is that praying? Which one am I doing, and which am I temporarily omitting?

    I may sincerely want to obey all those things I see as God’s laws, but it’s difficult to step back and see the bigger picture — dare I call it the larger, more cohesive “Law of Christ” — as opposed to legal details that compare more readily with the details of the Old Law.

    More in a 2nd reply (sorry so lengthy!)….

  6. blcasey

    I always wonder why 1 Cor. 14:26 gets so little attention when we come to discuss congregational worship????

    Great question! That snippet seems to me to relate much more directly to congregational worship than Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16. You think? There is much to discuss here, not the least of which would be a) the apparent focus on the individual and b) the implied spontaneity.

    I’ve been giving thought recently to the vertical and horizontal aspects of congregational worship. Obviously we cease worshiping if communicating to God is no longer our central purpose. But the horizontal is also important.

    I certainly didn’t mean to be saying that horizontal things aren’t important. Rather, it’s that they aren’t worship, literally speaking. Not everything done in the assembly is worship, nor should it be. Aside: if we call it all “worship,” we may attach more significance to some aspects than is necessary. If every footstep and microphone and table and vocalization and plastic fork relate to “worship,” then it would stand to reason that we would have to be really intentional and careful about the tiniest of details, since after all we are approaching God.

    You might not intend to be taken as literally as I’m taking you here, i.e., in distinguishing between worship things and other things done in the assembly. But I have surmised that the *order* of Jesus’ “greatest” and “like the first” commandments was intentional, and I have further surmised that there is no greater likelihood of well-edified church, a built-up church, than when that church is truly worshiping. Put another way: when we get the God-orientation in line, the others-orientation will naturally follow.

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