Monday, September 7, 2009

Worship thoughts Pt 1: Definition of Worship



Let’s start out with a wide angle lens and then focus in.

For the sake of time, I won’t define worship as anything other than the worship of God. Obviously people can and do worship other things, people, etc. But instead of going into the philosophical and cultural nuances of all that, I’ll just give you my definitions of worship as they relate to the Jesus-following life. I think it’s pretty easy and appropriate to use those definitions to talk about any sort of worship (i.e. to take the God-words out of my definitions and insert other words), but that’s really out of the scope of what I was doing at the seminar. I was speaking to Jesus-following leader-types who hopefully have some mechanism for rooting out idolatry in their lives. So again, let’s just assume that we’re talking about worship of the Trinitarian God here. Cool?

Moving on.

Broadly speaking, worship is simply this: in view of what God has done and is doing, we offer ourselves – momentarily and continuously – to the Lord as living sacrifices. If that sounds familiar, it’s supposed to. I took it from Romans 12. I like using that passage as a blueprint for worship, simply because that’s what it claims to be. I like the idea of saying “sure, singing is worship, but this says that real worship is the lifelong act of offering our bodies up for God’s discretionary use.”

The word-picture is rich: one of a person voluntarily taking on the role that – in the Jewish or Roman (etc) heritage – would’ve been occupied by a valuable, but dead, animal. (Lots of stuff in Leviticus if you want to read up on this.) As a general concept for worship as life, I think this is a pretty great way to go at it.

So, again, if we look at worship from a broad, lifestyle perspective, we’re simply defining it as intentionally devoting oneself to the Lord, over and over, deeper and deeper, throughout life.

Any issues with that? Comments are welcome.

Now let’s get more narrow. After all, most people, when asking for a definition of worship, are probably trying to hone in on something that they can apply in the more specific context of “what are we supposed to do when Christians get together and say ‘let’s worship’?”

That definition has a little more texture, a little more complexity. There will definitely be disagreement about this among varying religious upbringings and spiritual leanings and such, but here’s what I think.

Narrowly defined – and for the purpose of use in basic Christian dialogue and practice – worship is the collective, corporate and unified expression of the people of God, in acknowledgement of Who He is, in appreciation for all He does, and in participation of His Kingdom work. That’s wordy, I know, but this ain’t something that we want to just rush thru. This is the worship of God we’re talking about.

But I know that definition is long, so let me do it another way. Worship is what happens when people who know God get together and agree about – and with – Him (think Acts 2-4, 1 Corinthians 12-14, etc).

Better? Well, either way, now we have a good starting point.

That’s about all I have for this first entry, but let me say this.

Some of you might think “but what about private worship? What about the me-and-God times of intimate praise?”

I’m not saying those times aren’t worship. According to my broader definition, they absolutely are. Time alone (mediation, prayer, fasting, study, etc) is hugely important to the Christian life, but I’m not sure that I’d ever want to call that my primary “worship” time. I’m not trying to be legalistic here. Again, remember that using the broader definition, all that stuff is worship. But one of the things that I’m learning is that we really are missing out on all that worship is if we undervalue the “believers gathered together” aspect of it.

I mean, think about how many times Paul talks about what should be happening in the group as a whole versus how much he talks about personal quiet time. It ain't even close.

And honestly, I just think those personal worship times have been heavily overemphasized in recent years, to the detriment of our corporate, unified worship times. Again, I"m not saying people are praying and meditating too much. I'm saying that sometimes we treat our corporate worship times as personal worship times, and that's not really the point.

Way too many times, we stand in a room full of several hundred people and sing songs about “me.” Way too often, we hear “it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, you need to worship God in your own way.” There’s some truth and value in that sort of thing, but there’s some potential harm there as well.

I’ll cover all this a lot more in the “Why does “corporate” matter? sections, but for now, just know that I am trying to get to the heart of what it means to deeply enjoy the worship of God, in all its facets. So I want to make sure define worship in a way that brings balance among those facets.

To that end, let's spend some time talking about the power of unified Jesus followers agreeing in song (and otherwise) that God is great.

More to come.

We’re in Tyler, TX tonight and tomorrow for Naomi’s adoption finalization hearing, so I will probably post part 2 of this on Wednesday or Thursday, and then another entry every 2-3 days.

So…

Thoughts? Disagreements? Questions?

9 comments:

Jeffrey said...

Hmm, I'd like to bring up disagreements but I liked everything you had to say. I was intrigued about when you said "Way too often, we hear 'it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, you need to worship God in your own way.'" I'm not going to form my opinion on that until I hear your more detailed explanation. Although I do find it interesting because sometimes I worship with some people who like to dance around all over the room during the worship time while I usually prefer standing, eyes closed. I think both are perfectly fine ways. You think there's some potential harm in doing it differently? How so? Maybe lack of a feeling of community among the worshippers?

Dave said...

Very nice. Along the broader definition of worship as a lifestyle, I like this one: "Demonstrating our love for God." Short and sweet, and it covers corporate worship as well as service to others, both of which I believe are truly worship.

Narrowing the discussion to corporate worship is good. When I go to a "Worship Seminar" it will always be focused on that type of worship, and that's what I'd like to hear your thoughts about too.

Regarding Jeffrey's comment, I don't agree that you are disagreeing with Ross :). That is, I think folks who assemble for Sunday worship are (hopefully) engaging in a corporate worship time regardless of each ones individual activities (dancing vs sitting). By this I mean that worshipers should be engaged with and aware of one another. They are simultaneously aware of and engaged with their collected worship of God as a group. Consider attending and participating in a worship service as compared to simply watching a recording on TV, alone in your living room. You may in fact worship in front of your TV, but that's not the experience I am talking about here.

rk said...

jeff--
in short, i don't think that you and i disagree about this (at least not based upon what you wrote here).

i'll explain more in the coming posts, but i'm mainly talking about the problem of viewing corporate worship as PRIMARILY a group of separate, distinct persons gathered together to engage in private, individual interactions with the Lord. hope that makes sense.

again, i'll clarify more.

thanks for being honest. i love to learn from gracious disagreement.

dave--
really great thoughts. thanks.

brandon said...

First, I want to say that I have an interview you did way back when, and it was instrumental in forming some key elements in my theology of worship, particularly music. The most vivid quip I remember from it went something like, "If fasting were as popular as worship today, we would have Fasting magazing and there would be pictures of famous fasters on the cover." Classic.

I like your narrow definition of corporate worship. I've begun to prefer the word "response" rather than "expression" when talking about worship. In a broad theological sense, I think we agree that we are only able to worship the Trinitarian God because God first came and revealed Himself to us, and our devotion to Him is a response to his pursuit of our rebellious hearts and his enabling grace that brings us to Jesus.

In a narrower sense, thinking of worship as primarily a response to God, especially as a response to the word of Christ (Col. 3:16), has led me to stack my church's corporate musical "response" after the message, and to use songs that lend themselves to appreciation or application of the sermon's text. I think the idea of music preparing us for the preaching is backwards. Musical worship is a result of letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly (aka being filled with the Spirit - Eph. 5:18-21), and what better time to do that than after our hearts have been (hopefully) convicted and motivated by a fresh understanding of God's word? I've been practicing this with my community of believers for almost 2 years, and I feel like the overall worship aspect of the service is the best I've experienced.

Ross, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the idea of using the musical worship as a time of response closely connected to the text being preached (assuming the context of a church meeting). I'm also looking forward to the rest of these posts on worship. You're my worship guru.

brandon

Jeffrey said...

Dave and Ross, after reading ya'lls posts, I agree that we agree. You're saying that as long as there IS a feeling of "you're not standing here, alone, worshipping by yourself". I think a lot of times when you're at a worship service with a band thats so loud that you can't hear the people next to you, much less the rest of the worshippers, you lose sight of the community aspect and forget that there are even people around you

Alex Burdine said...

Over the past 3 years we have been a part of a PCA church and subsequent church plant. "Response" is a great word for our utterings, whether silently as an individual or corporately through song or word. Yet, God makes our worship pleasing to him, so even "response" hints at something man made. So maybe I'd go with "responsive utterings".

Our church designs its Sunday service to reflect the Gospel consisting of four movements: Creation (Worshiping God as the author of everything), Fall (recognition of our brokenness and that of the world), Redemption (Christ's final and redeeming work on the cross and conquering death and sin) and Glory (our response to the beautiful covenant that God has promised those who believe).

Following this model, we have scripture readings, responsive readings, corporate confession (vally of vision), silent confession, offering, weekly communion, a sermon, and oh, some music in there occassionaly.

I guess I just grow tired of people saying "worship" and meaning music. This guy I know once wrote this song that goes "Worship is more than a song."

Maybe it's just me (chief self-lover), but I need so much more than a song to truly confront my true state as the "jacked up sinner" that I am. And yet, sometimes a song can corporately communicate how loved we are through Christ: "My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus' blood and righteousness".

So I suppose, miscommunicating or undercommunicating either of those things in worship (whatever that looks like) can be dangerous.

Stacy said...

Show romanization
I love to see how the worship has become part of our life, like the generic viagra .. Surely happiness takes us to the rhythm of praise

rk said...

great thoughts STACY! My wife's name is STACI, with an "I"! Speaking of viagra! HAHAHA! LOL!

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