Expanding Our Understanding of Worship

Read Revelation 4 here.

I’m transitioning my Family Reunion sermon series from discussing our genealogy to looking at some areas of faith and church life that the Restoration Movement has rightly emphasised.  These areas do not necessarily make us unique, but they are still important to who we are.

If your family traveled to Disney World every 5 years, you could never say that visiting Disney made your family unique, but the regularity of your trips and the uniquely shared memories would make those trips an important element in your family’s identity.  In a similar way all churches gather together to collectively worship God. However, the Church of Christ has our own set of customs and emphases around this event that shape our identity.

I believe that deeply engrained in the subconscious of Churches of Christ is the conviction that “our corporate worship must please God“.  In a sense, our acapella singing reflects this conviction.  We might personally prefer singing with instrumental accompaniment (and lets be honest, that’s what 99.8% of us listen to on our radios and ipods), but we sacrifice our preferences to worship God in a manner which he apparently prefers.

Since my roots run on the instrumental side of the Restoration Movement but I now minister in an acapella church, I think I have a pretty good grasp of both sides of that discussion.  That’s not where I want to go today.  I believe that Churches of Christ for 200 years have done a good job of reminding the world that our worship must be God-focused.  This is particularly important in a broader environment where “attractional” models of worship-evangelism continually push the envelope toward mere entertainment.

Sadly, at times our focus has shifted and we have spent more time and energy arguing about HOW to worship and less time sharing WHY we worship. I don’t want to minimise the importance of HOW we worship, but a core purpose in God providing the Bible for us is to demonstrate WHY we should worship Him.  His character, His actions, the love he demonstrates toward humanity, all contribute to the reason we should respond in worship.  Our worship is a response to God. (Psalm 96:4-6; Revelation 4:11)

One of the big topics in any Bible study about worship revolves around the topic of whether worship only happens in designated acts and at designated times (eg. 10am Sunday, or prayer at my desk) or whether worship engages the entire spectrum of our life activities. (I recently heard a presentation that suggested that Christian coaches should encourage their players to view their athletic events as worship.)  I believe the answer is Yes.  We should live our entire lives in a way that brings glory and honour to God.  On the other hand, we can’t really equate playing football to singing praise to God with room full of other Christians, or to the broken hearted prayer of a repentant sinner sitting in their car.

I’ve included below a list of definitions of worship I copied directly from Perry C. Cotham’s 2002 book Ceasefire .  You’ll notice that some of these reflect each side of this discussion.  (Where Cotham cites a source I’ve included the original reference of the quote.)

  • Worship is conversation between God and man, a dialogue that should go on constantly in the life of a Christian.
  • Worship is one’s heart expression of love, adoration, and praise to God with the attitude and acknowledgement of his supremacy and Lordship.
  • Worship is an act by a redeemed person (the creature), toward God (the Creator), whereby his will, intellect and emotions gratefully respond in reverence, honor, and devotion to the revelation of God’s person expressed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit illuminates God’s written word to his heart.
  • Worship means “to feel in the heart,” and to express in some appropriate manner what we feel.
  • True worship and praise are “awesome wonder and overpowering love” in the presence of our God.
  • Worship is the ability to magnify God with our whole being – body, soul, and spirit.
  • The heart of true worship is the ability to magnify God with our whole being – body, soul, and spirit.
  • Worship is fundamentally God’s Spirit within us contacting the Spirit in the Godhead.
  • Worship is extravagant love and extreme obedience.
  • Worship is the humbling of self and the exalting of God.
  • Worship is a conversation in progress. Worship is not just a gathering of people at a certain time around a certain idea. (Joseph Garlington, Leadership 20, number 2 (Spring 1999), 25.)
  • Worship in its broadest sense is a meeting between God and His people in which God becomes present to His people, who respond with praise and thanksgiving. Worship celebrates God’s saving deed in Jesus Christ. (Robert Webber in Worship Old & New, rev. ed. (Zondervan) 1995.)
  • Worship is the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his “worthiness” becomes the norm and inspiration of human living.  (Ralph Martin In the Worship of God , Eerdmans, 1982, page 4.)
  • Worship is the reply of the creature to the Creator. It is the response of the ransomed to the Redeemer. Worship is an experience of deliberate focusing on God for the purpose of encounter with him. (Rubel Shelly & Randall J. Harris, The Second Incarnation (Howard Press, 1992), 118.)
  • Christian worship is the active response of a community of believers to the glory of the living God which attributes praise and honor to God for who He is and for what He has done. (James Emory White in Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth (Convention, 1992), 16.)
  • Worship is the act and attitude of wholeheartedly giving ourselves to God, spirit, soul and body. Worship is simply the expression of our love for God, which Jesus said, should involve all our heart, mind, and physical strength. (Gerrit Gustafson in Psalmist (Feb-March, 1991), 31.
  • Worship is the activity of the new life of a believer in which, recognizing the fullness of the Godhead as it is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and His mighty redemptive acts, he seeks by the power of the Holy Spirit to render to the living God the glory, honor and submission which are his due. (Robert Rayburn in O Come, Let Us Worship (Baker, 1980), 20-21.)
  • Worship is taking your body; all the tasks you have to do everyday; take the ordinary work of the shop, the factory, the shipyard, the mine and offer all that as an act of worship to God. (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, rev. ed. (Westminster Press, 1975), 156-57.)
  • And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and to observe the Lord’s commands. (Moses, Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
  • Genuine worship defies definition – it can only be experienced. We might learn much about history, doctrine and styles of worship from reading a book or hearing  lectures abut it but we do not truly know worship until we personalize it. (Perry C. Cotham, Ceasefire (New Leaf Books, 2002), 14.)

I know that’s a long list! 

  • How do you define worship?  Do you agree with one of the above, or does the final conclusion more closely reflect your approach?
  • Notice that all these definitions focus upon our relationship with God. In your experience, do most churches focus upon the HOW or the WHY of worship?
  • How can churches do a better job of communicating the WHY of worship?

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