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Not so long ago I wrote a post about how there are barriers in worship and we need to bring them down.  Otherwise all we are doing is simply making adaptions.

I said at the time that it is a much longer discussion, and from the feedback that I have seen of the comments made from the massive amount of sharing the post had, not only did it touch a nerve, but it also didn’t really answer any questions.

Just how do we do it?

The answer has to really be in two parts, the first is to say what worship is, and what it isn’t. Its important to ask because as we consider what worship is with children, if we come at it from the wrong root then we will do them a disservice and not enable them to discover the Lord for themselves, and instead be prescriptive beyond good doctrine.

Again, worship is a very contentious issue, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

Then I can get on and answer some of the questions, as well as suggesting some solutions (yes there is one…but its not easy).

So, what is worship?

Ishmael (musician) put it a great way when he said ‘to kiss the hand’ and then wrote a song about it. There is the sense of coming close to God, of his intimacy with us.  That works well.

Then there is the ‘worthship’ idea – giving God his worth.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this.

The difficulty is that that isn’t what we do in practice.  We all agree to it, then get on and say worship is the singing.

OH YES YOU DO!

(see, I could hear the objections right there….).

You see the objections are that the WHOLE of a service is worship…all the words…all the sermon…everything.  But when you invite people in certain sections of the service there is the implicit ‘lets now worship with this song…’

And we break it down even further by calling songs ‘praise and worship songs’ when in fact worship and praise are the same thing, and they shouldn’t all be just about the stuff that goes on with a melody.

But here’s the thing, shouldn’t our whole lives be worship?  What does that mean exactly?

Well Romans 12.1

1Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.…

 

And also Micah 6.8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

These are worship.  So in which case, where does that whole churchy servicy thing come in?

Well Paul also writes:

Hebrews 10.25

25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.

Now Paul was really against any form of religiosity, read Galatians to read the back story on that one.  This passage in Hebrews seems to suggest that the purpose of meeting together should be to encourage one another.

Ah…now how might this work?

Lets have some more verses

Hebrews 3.13

25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.

 

1 Thessalonians 5.11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

 

Ephesians 5.19

speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

 

Colossians 3.16

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

So we need to get together…to encourage one another, and probably sing songs.  Why? Because it encourages one another…it enables teaching…and wisdom.

Er…hang on.  No one is saying anything about songs involved worshipping God?  In fact Ephesians 5.19 says that the songs are from the Spirit.  What does the Spirit do?  Encourages us. It is from the Lord to us…

Let me introduce another important point.  What does worship do for God? And its all based on the development of the understanding of the Trinity.

At first, no one quite got their head around the fact that Jesus was the son of God in such a way that he was of one SUBSTANCE with the Father.  Aka Godstuff.  But was also absolutely unique to Him.

In fact it was another few decades before they grasped that the Spirit could be thought of in the same terms as the Father and the Son.  But here’s their problem.  If the Father and the Son are one in the same (I am in the Father and the Father is in me) just how much? Because we run into the problem of one God, which is at the heart of the Jewish (now Christian) doctrine/belief.

Don’t worry about the Spirit for a second, though you can apply the same logic.  And you can read huge thick books by very clever people, but it all boils down to this logic (and you can only get there by logic…everything else ends up as heresy).

There is One God

There is one God.  But Jesus is part of God.  If that is the case then in what way are the together?  Is the Son less than the Father? No, because1NumberOneInCircle if they are one that would dilute the Father.  Is He greater than the Father? No…because there is no one greater.  So they must be the same in terms of authority and holiness.  A key brick in that logic is that THE FATHER CANNOT BE CHANGED…he is the same yesterday, today and forever. Its more complex than that, but that’s enough for us.  Same argument goes for the position of the Spirit.  And the three of them constantly point the way to the others…which is called the Trinitarian dance, to which we are invited to join in (as the Rublev icon shows).

Now, part of the logic is knowing that the Father can’t be changed, and therefore God cannot be changed.  Our sin cannot change God.  God cannot love us less.  Ancient pagan ritual and belief imagined that if you knew your deity’s name then you could control it with various sacrifices and the like.  Which is why for our Lord to give his name out (I AM…Jahweh…Jehovah) like it was going out of fashion really put him in a vulnerable state…which of course it didn’t because he is the LORD. So holy that he could make himself safely vulnerable, and get involved with his people.

So why when we talk about worship, of any sort in church, do we say ‘we worship because God likes it…’

God loves hanging out with his children!  Its got nothing to do with what we are doing.  There is the sense that we are ‘performing for the Lord’ when we talk about worship and church.  And that’s a slippery slope, it gets the idea of that old superstition that by our worship we can change God’s mind…or even worse, make him love us more!

Theological people will disagree with me, because you have thought about it.  But there is an interesting bit of research which discovered the theology in the pew…that which people actually believe.  And trust me, some regular church goers struggle with Jesus being more than a good man, no matter what they hear from the pulpit or in the songs!

So, what God wants of us is for us to be with him continually…its how we act in response to his love which matters.  And worship, as in what we do in church, doesn’t look like its for his benefit over an above that….so what is it for?  Our encouragement….like Paul said.

Worship is for…who?

You see, it’s my view that the purpose of that act of worship is, in fact, not for God’s benefit.  Worshiping together is for our benefit.  And that has certain knock on effects…

  • As long as it is holy and honourable then it doesn’t matter its form as far as God is concerned.
  • You can’t say what is and what isn’t worship
  • Saying what is and isn’t worship is what causes the barrier issue

So where does the idea come from of when we say something is or isn’t worshipful?  Well actually its how it makes ME (er…you) feel.

Psychology of worship

Lets do a bit of psychology first.  What does singing together actually do – as I said, mostly when people think about worship they mean the singing bit.

When we sing together firstly there is the music.  What does the music do…how does it make us feel by its tune and the accompaniment of how it connects with us on an emotional level?  There is a lot of research around how classical music stimulates the brain, and trance music combined with lighting can create euphoria without drugs, and a beat of 130bpm creates a good feeling too as the beat of the music matches the heart beat of the dancers.  There is something going on psychologically.

Secondly, when we say something all together which we all agree on, which we know well, there is a sense of belonging to one another.

A few years ago a minister who was on his sabbatical came to visit our church, and I got chatting to him.  It had been a particularly good worship service, but he told me it just left him cold.  He was a fantastic Christian, mission, God fearing, everything.  So what went wrong?  He didn’t know any of the songs.

If the songs don’t work, then the rest of the service doesn’t have that emotional content to it (if that is what is expected…in fresh expressions of church we often roll different and seek other ways to help and encourage one another in faith).

So what happens when we sing is a psychological effect of bringing us together to express doctrine, to learn, and to feel we belong to one another.

And if we don’t connect with the music we won’t feel that.

So why do it like that in the first place and look for that feeling?  Well actually its because by experiencing that our faith is encouraged and built up to be able to do the seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly, spiritual act of daily sacrifice we are called to do.  So there is nothing wrong with it in my opinion.

The problem is when we start to say that because I (me personally) didn’t feel anything, then it couldn’t have been worship.

Ie, if I don’t like it, then neither will God. So you are wrong, and I am right.

Oh dear.

But that’s what I see over and over again in the arguments over whether we sing hymns or not in church.

Encourage…one another

And as soon as we start to say that ‘this is worship’ from a selfish basis, we start to direct everything we do in worship towards and end which makes us feel in a particular way.  The service and/or worship leader will do that, creating the worship service and songs playing in that way to achieve a desired response…which means they are trying to get people to a certain predefined goal, rather than letting the Spirit of God work in them as needed.

And as you do so, you then have to make allowances and manufacture alternative provision endlessly to shoe horn those people who don’t have a natural affinity with the process into that shape.

shoes off policy in the house

The children wear shoes too big for them…the adults where shoes too small for them.

When really, they should take their shoes off for they stand on Holy Ground

Is there a way around this?  Well yes there is.

You have to realise that we are there in the Spirit of Christ…we are there to encourage one another.  Its not about me.  Now there is personal preference, yes.  I suggest if you really struggle with worship at a church stop fighting and go find somewhere where you are encouraged and your faith can grow.  But if you are going to stay, then realise that you are there not for you but the person next to you.

And when you do that, things start to change…

Do let me know what you think.  I’ve read many books and treatise about the subject, and been in many discussions.  Leave comments, lets do some thinking about this.

I’ll be writing the next article which takes us nearer to destroying this barrier soon, so make sure that if you want to see where all this is going you add your email address to the wordpress email subscription service at the top right of this page.