Wednesday, March 19, 2008


And now after the Reformed Lessons, we're back to the subject of Worship. With this article on the Discipline of Corporate Worship. Next time we'll look at "Liturgy" and then the idea of "All of Life is Worship." The philosophy of corporate worship is found here: (Psa 87:2) the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

--- adapted from an article by John McFadden & David McCarthy

Coming together to lift up our praise to God in common worship is the central act of the church. As a church member, it is of critical importance that you share in worship on, at least, a weekly basis. It is in worship that we most fully experience our true nature as God's beloved creatures and our distinct identity as a called people of God. Over time, the experience of corporate worship has the greatest power to form your identity as a Christian and nurture a deep faith within you.

Many in our time suppose that private, individual devotions are far more important than worshipping with others. "After all," some will say, "it is my own personal relationship with God that is most important. If the church helps me with that, fine. If not, why go?" This statement misunderstands the very nature of faith and friendship with God. We are brothers and sisters called to a common work: to give glory to God. As human beings, we have been created by God for community with others, and the church is called to be a sign of God's kingdom. We are called to live together in justice and peace, and to offer God's hospitality to the world.

Corporate worship is not entertainment, although it may bring moments of great joy, solemn beauty, or profound emotion. The ministers, priests, or choirs are not "performers" and we are not the "audience." Rather, the clergy are serving in a priestly role in helping us to "perform" for our true audience: Almighty God. We do not motivationally enter into worship to "get our batteries recharged" or to "learn more about the Bible." Rather, we share in this experience in order to render our worship to the One who alone is worthy of our praise and worship.

Corporate worship brings transformation. As we learn how to worship God with all that we have and all that we are, we also learn how to safeguard ourselves from the very real temptation to worship ourselves, our families, our careers, our social privileges, nations and governments, or material goods. The church's worship places the rest of our lives in proper perspective. Corporate worship ought to be the central experience out of which our lives as Christian people flow. In corporate worship, we begin to gain wisdom and courage to live in a new way as God changes us.

Corporate worship brings transformation for the long haul. We worship week to week, year to year, as ordinary people. If worship is the center of our lives, it will NOT be an extraordinary event. On any given Sunday, it is not necessarily the status quo that worshippers will be rapt in ecstasy or have stunning moments of enlightenment. In fact, if worship is a deep part of our lives, it will become "routine" and "normal."

Compare the effect of physical exercise on the body. The "weekend athlete" will find a day of vigorous play extraordinary in two senses. First, his exercise offers an unusual bit of fun. Second, it is an unusual strain on his muscles and joints. Because this exercise is infrequent, his body will not weather the strain better the next time. The body is not strengthened because the "weekend" experience is quite distinct and separate from day-to-day life.

In contrast, the athlete who trains regularly will not experience exercise as extraordinary for the body or spirit. Exercise will be routine; however, the trained athlete will have a deeper joy and a greater (and constant) desire for the sport. He will happily endure the tedium of practice and day-to-day struggles, and he will have very profound moments of insight and joy. For the "weekend athlete," a day or hour of exercise is extraordinary, but for the routine athlete, one's whole life is elevated to a higher level.

This elevation of our whole lives is the effect of worship. When new to the experience, the rhythms and patterns of worship will not fully disclose themselves immediately. They must be experienced over time before they reveal their riches.

The liturgy of the worship service has its own rhythm and pattern that only reveals itself fully as we experience it many times. The liturgy will be different in various Christian traditions, with certain portions of the service receiving greater or lesser emphasis, but always worship is a drama that flows in accordance with its own logic. The community gathers, sings praises, prays for one another and the world, hears God's Word in Holy Scripture, shares in the sacraments, offers its gifts to God in gratitude, and seeks to carry God's blessings and guidance out into the world. There is a specific purpose behind each component in the liturgy. There is a reason for its placement within the worship service. And we should strive to make these as Biblical as we know how. While these purposes and reasons can be explained, the liturgy must be experienced, again and again, so that the deep truths of our worship may grow in our hearts. The liturgy of the worship service is the most fundamental catechism we have.

Sadly, today many people think of even the Church in an individualistic manner, treating it as secondary to their personal faith. This makes of the Church nothing more than a collection of individuals who gather together because they share certain interests and wish to obtain certain services that a particular congregation offers -- Sunday worship, adult education, social fellowship, and youth groups. In our time, many people shop for a church in the same way they shop for a new car, searching for the one that “best meets our needs.”

But Christian faith is a communal experience, not an individual one. We should call the Church “a community of formation,” for it is only as we share in the life of a congregation over time that we are inwardly formed into the people of Christ. Jesus called his followers to be “in the world, but not of it.” The Church at its best is a God-culture-builder, participating in the life of American society while centering itself in a very different vision of how we are called to live our lives in the world. As we share in the life of the Church community over time, this vision begins to reside in us: Christ himself comes to dwell in our (collectively) hearts.

(Eph 3:16-21) That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; {17} That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, {18} May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; {19} And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. {20} Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, {21} Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Corporate Christian worship is not an individualistic act; it is not something we can do alone. When we gather for worship, we each bring with us the Christ who dwells in our heart, uniquely expressed in us. We will not be magically transformed through occasional worship "experiences" or through an isolated hour each week. Worship is our common calling to give glory to God. When worship becomes regular and routine, we will come to know other members of the community in a way quite different from our more shallow social interactions. We go deeper because we have laughed and cried together, prayed and sung together, blessed one another's children and shared the bread and cup together. Worship is what makes us Christians. Worship is what makes us the church.

(Deu 4:6) Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."

No comments: