Expanding Worship – Vertical & Horizontal

This week I’m posting daily discussion of points I raised in my July 8 sermon on the topic of worship.  The sermon highlighted four pairs of values that often seem in tension with each other.  Here is the third pair.

Vertical vs Horizontal

The primary point of my sermon was that  our worship must be theocentric.  Anything other than that is idolatry.  In Malachi 1 the Jews put money before God, worshiping Him by sacrificing injured and diseased animals.  God didn’t just warn or reprimand them.  He cursed them (v14). As the creator and sustainer of life God opposes any one or thing that seeks to deceive us into thinking they’re more important than He is.  God’s righteousness and integrity demand that we acknowledge his identity and as people who’ve identified ourselves with Him give Him the glory and praise that only He deserves.

Perry C. Cotham in Ceasefire (New Leaf Books: 2002- and yes I like this book) puts it this way,

If there is awe in worship, it is awe of God; if there is praise and adoration in worship, it is praise and adoration of God; if there is response in worship, it is response of humans to the living God.

Worship is not commanded and designed for the purpose of making us feel better and meeting our social and aesthetic needs. (p15-16)

Psalm 29 describes worship in these terms:

1 You, divine beings! Give to the Lord—
give to the Lord glory and power!
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor! (CEB)

However, vertical doesn’t just mean “up”. In worship we encounter the presence of God. No one with an open heart can enter the presence of God and remain unchanged by the experience.  Hicks, Melton & Valentine write that

As we bring our broken and fallen lives into his presence we find healing, comfort and transformation. Through liturgical action, the assembly remembers the story of grace and enables us, like Isaiah [see Isaiah 6], to find our own place in the story. We come to the gathering of God’s people tired and often abused but we leave as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How can this be? Because God, as he has always done, comes to dwell among a rag tag group of aliens and transforms them into a kingdom of priests. (A Gathered People  Leafwood: 2007, p30)

Whether cumulatively or momentarily, worshiping God will transform us.  As we speak to Him, He speaks to us.

However, (and here’s the tension) although God must be the focus of our worship, when the body comes together to worship God, we cannot ignore each other.  In 1 Cor. 11 Paul calls the church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper a mockery, not because they used the wrong sized cups or even because their hearts weren’t God-focused.  They made a mockery of the Lord’s Supper because instead of coming together some ate and drank early with a select group, excluding others. The way they treated others determined the worthiness of their worship.

This reminds me of Hebrews 10:24-25 which tells us not to miss getting together as a church, because we have a responsibility to encourage each other toward love and good deeds. The horizontal aspect of worship is clear in this verse because although the church assembles to worship God, we influence our brothers and sisters also.  God is not ignorant of this effect.

Consider the function of preaching. It’s worship because we give our (maybe mostly) undivided attention to the Word of God.  But it’s also worship because we allow that Word of God to transform our hearts, minds, and actions.

1 Corinthians 14:23-25 also makes the point that our times of worshiping together have a horizontal aspect because we also convey a message to outsiders who may be visiting that day.  We’re to conduct our times of worship in a way that will cause an outsider to exclaim, “God really is among you.” (tNIV)

In a similar vein 1 Corinthians 11 describes our participation in the bread and the cup of communion as fulfilling the function (surely not the only one) of “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.” The Lord’s Supper is missional as it reminds us of the the Good News of the cross.

So we’ll always encounter some people who want worship to be dry and boring convinced that their style pleases God as they deny their own enjoyment. Then there’ll always be people who choose to attend a particular church because it makes them feel good. I hope we can promote a healthy third path that always seeks to honor God but in a way that is meaningful to us.  It’s very hard to give God our best when we’re singing about “lifelines” and things we barely know.  But when we give God our best, he moves through us, touching those around us, proclaiming His Good News to all who will listen.

Worship, it’s vertical, and horizontal.

  • How do you experience corporate worship horizontally?


  1. Kim

    For me, the most powerful example has been looking over to see my preschooler singing wholeheartedly and joyfully in worship. It happens more often when we’re singing to the radio in the car than in corporate worship, but its meaningful regardless of the setting.

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