(Continued from Part 2)
In discussing true Christian worship, there is only one satisfactory place to start and that is by asking: Who is God? What is he like? How must he be worshiped? Even more importantly: What are the long term consequences to worshipers when these questions are not satisfactorily reflected in worship?
CONSIDER THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP
In addressing the essence of Christian worship, the first question is always: who are we worshiping? Animists believe that every tree, rock, or animal has a spirit and this belief regulates how and where they worship. Polytheists, such as Hindus, must of necessity figure out how to give many gods their due, and Pantheists like New Agers must design ways to worship themselves.
So too, for us, questions about worship must begin with clear apprehension of the God we worship. The Scriptures of Old and New Testaments tell us abundantly: He is the God who spoke the universe into being, and so ours is a God of omnipotent power. He is the God who summoned Abraham to a pilgrimage of faith and appeared to him at least nine times, so he is a personal God who addresses his people person-to-person. Our God gave Moses his divine law in the ethereal reaches of Sinai, so he is a God who not only protects but makes moral demands on his people in accordance with his own character. Through Amos, he rebuked his chosen people (and us today) with stern promises of judgment for the wanton disregard of his moral law; through Hosea he assured them (and us) of his unrelenting love. This God repeatedly told his people, “I am holy.”
Above all, in the incarnate presence of Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, God made full revelation of himself to his world. “For In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). When we examine Jesus’ life of service, his love for sinners, his reproach for hypocrisy of all kinds, his readiness to offer forgiveness at great personal cost, we know we are seeing what God is like. He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
All this is where any discussion of Christian worship must begin. This is the God we worship when we bow down (one meaning of the word) and the God to whom we offer our services like a slave to a master (another root meaning of the word).
Across two millennia, Christian minds, both brilliant and devout, have attempted in creeds and articles of faith to summarize who God is. For example, in 1571 English Reformers set forth the following statement under the heading, Of Faith In The Holy Trinity: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible. And in unity of the Godhead there are three persons of one substance, power, and eternity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This lofty and enduring statement came only after several decades of wrestling and reflection.
But what happens when an elevated vision of God no longer dominates every part of corporate worship, allowing it to become a combination of the lifted up and the banal — or even utterly casual? Congregations may still enjoy being together, but a serious malnutrition of the spirit sets in; style dominates substance; the horizontal lines of human fellowship may remain intact but the vertical lines of adoration and awe weaken; worship leaders become verbose because the whole event is not regulated by a deep sense of reverence; worship and entertainment become confused with each other; and God’s people leave the event lacking the cleansing and renewing effect of true worship.