David Nelson, Academic Dean at Southeastern Seminary, wrote a very good post about worship last week called “A Curmudgeon Weighs in On Evangelical Worship, Part 2“. He begins his post like this:
A substantial amount of what is said about worship by evangelicals today is folderol. That means foolishness or nonsense. I could have just used those terms, but I like the word “folderol” better. Emotional states donâ€™t constitute worship, nor does music, nor does a particular order of service. The genuineness of worship is not determined by the building in which the church gathers, the technology we use in a service, or how trendy our clothes are. In fact, I would argue that worship in the Bible is not even primarily focused on the gathered assembly but is more often a matter of a way of life within the context of the community of faith that lives among the world in order to propose the truth of a better world. Worship is, put another way, the believerâ€™s response in all of life to the Great Commandment (to love God) in light of the Fatherâ€™s demonstration of His immense love toward sinners in Jesus Christ by His Spirit.
I read accounts like this more and more these days. And, I’m excited about articles like the one written by Dr. Nelson. From the articles that I’ve written lately concerning worship (“Worship again” and “Romans and Worship“) as well as some older posts about worship (“Here I am to worship“, “Worship Service“, and “Learning to worship together“), most of my readers know that I agree with him.
But, how does this play out from believer to believer and from church to church? Why do we continue to hear the term “worship” associated with music, a place, a time, an event? Why do we continue to use terms such as “worship service”, “worship hall”, “worship leader”, “worship music”, “worship band”, etc.?
When I think of the times that I worshiped God last week, I certainly recall the time that I met with the church last Sunday. But, I do not consider my attendance to be worship! No, I worshiped when I encouraged, taught, comforted, loved, etc. my brothers and sisters. I also worshiped as we ate together. But, there were other times that I worshiped as well. For example, when our family and some friends helped someone move last week, we worshiped.
Neither time was more “worshipful” than the other, unless, of course, I was being more obedient at one time than the other. Similarly, I cannot separate worship into “vertical” demonstrations of worship (directed toward God) and “horizontal” demonstrations of worship (directed toward other people). When we serve others, we serve God. When we love God, we can’t help but love others.
In reality, understanding worship as we see it in Scripture, is difficult and simple. It is difficult to worship because we recognize that it is impossible for us (on our own) to worship God the way he desires or the way he deserves. We would naturally prefer to worship ourselves. It is simple to worship because we recognized that we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and (super)-naturally everything that we do and say can be worship – a life lived set apart for God, which will necessarily result in a life lived for others.
But, even though we often recognize that all of life is worship – as David Nelson wrote in his article, and as others have written – our culture, our language, and our practices often demonstrate otherwise. I can’t change church culture. However, I can change my language and my practice. I’ve been trying to make those changes over the last few years – often struggling against church culture. I wonder… is there anyone else out there who has started changing their language and practice? Is there anyone else out there who is willing to start?