Reflections on Worship (Part 1) – What is worship?

This post will be part 1 of what will be a series of reflections on worship.  Writing helps me process my thoughts, and it is also helpful to hear and receive feedback.  So feel free to critique, question, suggest and agree with any of what follows.

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, Methodism, 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.

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,” (Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 1999]), 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 to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


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