Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Is your worship eroding? 

Erode means to destroy gradually, wear out, gnaw away. It’s the action that grinds down mountains. 

So, is your worship being destroyed gradually, worn down, gnawed away?

Before I give you six ways in which the erosion of our worship can be reversed, let me tell you about a boxed set of music that was loaned to me. 

The Best of Live Worship

The title of the boxed set was “The Best of Live Worship.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

How can this three-disc set of mediocre modern American Christian music be the best of live worship?

First, I questioned how recorded music could be ‘live’ – but I let that go.

Second, I wondered how it could be the ‘best’.

“In whose opinion?”

What about the myriads around the throne in Revelation 4-5 or, for that matter, Handel’s Messiah

Had this music producer considered other centuries, other cultures, or other media?

I let that go too as a bit of marketing hyperbole – “salesman’s puffing,” if you will.

Third, was the real question: “Is this ‘worship’?”

What on earth are we doing to worship? 

Misusing language

How we use language is important.

George Orwell, the author of the novel 1984, also wrote an essay called “Politics and the English Language.” In it, he criticizes the misuse and corruption of words. 

The corruption of words allows people, literally, to get away with murder.

Here's an excerpt from Orwell’s essay:

Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification

We can think of numerous examples of the corruption of words in our current events. One that I came across was “post-conception contraception” in place of the word ‘abortion’ – the killing of an unborn child. 

When we corrupt the meaning of words, we corrupt ideas, and we will suffer the results. 

Misusing ‘worship’

How do we normally use the word ‘worship’? 

In my experience, many (if not most) modern Western Christians have reduced the word ‘worship’ to Christian music. That’s what the producers of “The Best of Live Worship” did.

Then the ‘worship leader’ refers to a person who leads the music; the ‘worship team’ is a group that sings or otherwise performs music.  

I admit that worship can (and does) include God-exalting music – but when we use the word ‘worship’ predominantly (if not exclusively) for Christian music, are we not eroding the biblical concept of worship?  

What is ‘worship’?

In previous posts we explored some of the biblical language for ‘worship’:

This week I've been reading and thinking through Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace by James Torrance.[1] In it, the author describes worship as: 

… the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. 

This definition is consistent with my understanding of what the Bible says about ‘worship’. 

This is not something that can be limited to music. Neither can it be reduced to experience, nor historical events such as the crucifixion, nor theology such as the atonement. 

For example, if theology becomes the ‘end’ or goal of our worship then we are not worshipping God, we’re worshipping a theology of God.

Gordon Fee makes this point clearly: 

… the proper aim of all true theology is doxology.  Theology that does not begin and end in worship is not biblical at all, but is rather the product of western philosophy.[2] 

So, if 'worship' is reduced to music, or experience, or memory of historical events, or theology, then our worship is not only eroded – it's in danger of becoming counterfeit.  

What about you? 

Let’s consider adding Torrance’s definition to our understanding of worship: 

… the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. 

Here are six ways of intentionally testing and adjusting how we think and speak about worship. The purpose is to reverse the erosion of our worship. 

1.       Worship is active. Worship is not passive; it is the activity of “participating” with God. 

2.       Worship is responsive. God is the initiator. It is “through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.” Are we responding to the initiative of God? 

3.       Worship is about the one true God who has revealed and is revealing himself as Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the unique center of worship: “fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Hebrews 3:1). Is He the unique center of our worship? 

4.       Our ‘worship leader’ is Jesus Christ alone. He is our leitourgos – the minister or servant in the sanctuary (Hebrews 8:1-2). In turn, all the people of God are to be the “worship team.” Is this nudging us toward a more biblical use (and practice) of our 'worship' language? 

5.       Worship takes place in community. The “Triune God” is, in essence, community. We (not simply ‘I’) are invited to participate in that community with others.  

6.       Worship is engaging our whole being and our whole life. Worship is not to be reduced to a one hour Sunday morning religious event, it is to be the way in which we live all of life. 

What more can you add?

How do these insights help in your understanding and practice of worship? 

 

For the podcast CLICK HERE

BACK TO The Dangerous Act of Worship        FORWARD TO Why it Matters What You Worship

[1] James B. Torrance, Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1996). [2] Gordon D. Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2000), 5 (emphasis added).

Photo Credit: OmMane via Compfight cc

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