musings on worship

We worship the way we do because of the God that we have. The first thing that might come to mind after reading this are the various issues involved with running a church service. We think of the traditional elements, especially those aspects like preaching, baptism, and Eucharist that seem to be part of Christian worship from the beginning. But this isn’t a one sided statement. We worship the God we have, and in our worship we are expressing to ourselves, to those around us, and to the wider world the God who we serve. This is not always reflecting the God we might say we have. There’s often a divorce between confession and action, between liturgical statements and liturgical order.

Even as we complain that the people who attend services often are bifurcated—having a church life and a ‘world’ life—we don’t notice that this attitude is taught in our churches. We have a God who we confess, which is a certain kind of God, and we have a God we worship, who reflects the habits, patterns, space that we have put together, not always with consideration as much as harried frenzy.

Honestly, this isn’t surprising. There is a fair bit of the Gnostic about Christian theology and practice. We have split the church between those who lead and those who follow, between those who speak and those who listen, between those who master the intricacies of increasing esotery, and those who are told to trust the masters, for they know what they are talking about. We bifurcate our churches into the active and the passive, then wonder why so many do not engage their faith in more active ways in the midst of their own family and vocational callings.

This is not a recent issue. Indeed, this is something that has developed over the centuries, leading to expressions of worship which may have functional reasons or disciplinary reasons or simply convenient reasons. When stronger theological considerations are brought to bear the purpose is not as much spiritual formation as avoiding heresy. The people might err, so we have to create systems which keep the church as sterile and controlled as possible. Do this long enough the defensive nature of the liturgy becomes enshrined as tradition, as the way things are just done, and in doing this when people are not encountering spiritual growth they are often blamed for yet more litanies of spiritual maladies.

Harried pastors preach to distracted congregations, many of who are not there simply to fill space but really would be interested in consistent spiritual challenge and transformation. But, the mode of church that has become their tradition has different purposes in mind for both the leaders and the congregants.

What if there was a move to re-integrate theology and spirituality purposefully into our liturgies, not simply in making sure we formulate the right sorts of words, but see how every part of a worship service indicates and reflects a kind of theology. If we are intentional in our theological and spiritual re-integration, we can assess better, more holistically, what it is we do when we gather, no longer settling just for showing up, with everyone playing predictable roles week by week. We can go beyond this and push for a transformative worship that leads to a liberated life with God, for God, in this world. This is a liberating worship that trains and encourages, providing space for participation and maturation, each in their own way and for their own place in faith.

God, after all, does not need us to worship. Rather, we are invited to worship because it is in the presence of the God who calls us that we are transformed by the Spirit into becoming the people God has called us to be, as particular persons and as a gathered community. In this transformative, liberating worship we learn to be in the church who we are to be in this world, resonating the wider work of the Spirit beyond our gatherings into our families, and workplace, and wherever we are.

This makes the consideration of worship a lot more intricate than yet more approaches to get more people in the seats. We need to look theologically at worship so that our worship, in all its forms, best reflects the God who we say we are worshiping. In doing this we reflect God in all we do, celebrating this work in our churches and in our communities. As we worship in this way, theology and spirituality become more than esoteric exercises for the leisurely academic, and become more obviously applicable in our lives. For it is true that our confession of the Trinity is more than just a hard to explain concept we’re supposed to accept without understanding. And it is true that when we say Jesus is God and Jesus is man this has a significant effect on our worship. Even what might be considered theological minutiae affects how we worship, because whether we want to admit it or not, when we gather before God in formal worship we’re gathering in a way that reflects to each other and to this world the sort of God we’re worshiping. We do this oftentimes without reflection or purpose, leaving Christian formation off to the side in Sunday schools or specifically theological lectures or spiritual retreats.

What would our worship look like if instead of every week putting together a rote worship for a rote people, we consider more fully and consistently what it means for our worship to be transformative event that leads to a transformed people? Thoughtful, holistic practices that illustrate a liberating worship liberates people from being stuck in a spiritual status quo and points to the possibilities that come with participation with the Living God.

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