“Welcome, one and all to this mornings worship at _____________ church. We’re so glad you’re here.”
These are the words you may here at any given church on a Sunday morning. For the most part we are so used to hearing them in connection with church that we simply let them glaze over our minds as we begin a church service. I would be willing to bet that most of us tend to think more in terms of “going to church” than we do “going to worship”. But worship is the activity of the church, and not a mere add-on to the church.
So, what is worship?
We usually evaluate and critique worship in light of our personal preferences or emotional responses to the stimuli that is worship. But we rarely if ever consider worship to be a verb – something that we do! It is more something to be consumed and critiqued than actively engaged with our full participation.
Why? Where does this come from?
It seems that our worship expressions and expectations are conditioned more by our culture than on Scripture and more influenced by TV and media than truth and tradition.
That’s a loaded word – tradition – but it is a viable aspect of our worship. No matter where you stand on any spectrum, you come to anything with a “tradition” – a story that has led you up to this point.
Some people come from a formal church tradition such as Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Catholicism, where worship reflected a strong stand on history, usually at the neglect and expense of innovation. I would call this “traditionalism” – where everything we do is based on the way we’ve done things in the past, rather than careful reflection on the historic applications in light of contemporary audiences.
There are others of us who come to church and worship with no formal background, yet, we find ourselves shaped by suspicion of any and all authority structures (e.g. “traditionalism”). Our tradition is “skepticism”, and the burden of proof lies on everyone else to convince us that what is being said, taught, instructed or done is really “true” and the way it should be, and that I should do anything about it.
Both ends of this spectrum represent a fallacy to worship. In both instances, worship is something that is done for me, rather than something that is done for God, and subsequently our benefit.
If worship is to be truly biblical, faithful to the tradition of the Bible and rooted in history to Christ’s church, and engaging His church in the world today, then it must be, what one author calls, “a royal ‘waste’ of time,” where God is both the subject and the object of our worship, where we spend ourselves in the splendor of our great creator and covenant keeping King, and where we delight our selves in, and subject our emotions to, the full-hearted devotion to His Son that His Spirit enables.
Worship then is the engagement of our whole being in faithful service as the right response to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is after all what Paul the apostle says after making perhaps his greatest theological understanding of God and the gospel in Romans 1-11
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” - Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
What does God-centered worship mean and what are its implications?
Put simply, worship that is God-centered is worship that revolves around and proceeds from God, not any human ingenuity, program, paradigm or plan. It keeps and maintains that the highest end and the compelling reason to worship is God Himself – responding to who He is and what He has done.
So what then are the implications of God-centered worship? I think Marva Dawn, in her
book A Royal “Waste” of Time has several insights in the following quote I have found helpful in thinking along these lines; she writes:
I think our churches need to do much deeper thinking about what it means to worship God, what it means to nurture and to live the life of faith, what it means to be a Christian community that offers alternatives to the world, and how we can best reach out to our neighbors with the gospel and in service to them. In order to do all that we have to stop asking which style of music to use and ask instead what will help us keep God at the center.
God-centered worship has then the following implications:
- God honoring
- Character developing
- Alternative-community forming
- Mission equipping
- Kingdom extending
These are implications rather then characteristics. What I mean is that when our worship of God has Him as the subject and object, when He is the center of our worship, it will honor God in His worthiness and glory over the world, develop our character as His people following after Jesus in the world, form our corporate life into an alternate community within the world, equip us for our mission to participate in God’s saving, restoring gospel work to the world, and extend His reign and rule throughout the world.
These are the results we should see and expect when we have God as the center of our worship.