Thursday, March 27, 2008

Arson or Spontaneous Combustion

Worship. The source of conflict in the modern church disproportional to the amount inspired by the Holy Spirit about it in the NT. Among the more charismatic of us, it can take on a mystical, superstitious, or even shamanistic flavor (i.e. it's seen as the means of conjuring up the presence of God). Among the less charismatic, it is just part of the package of techniques employed to appeal to this generation of potential pew sitters. In way too many churches it is nothing more than a crowd-warming preliminary to the supposedly more important art of the preacher. In other churches (the more liturgical among us) it has no separate identity at all, everything that happens is part of the worship service.

What do we actually know from scripture about the practice of worship in the church? We know Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Lord's supper. We know that songs in tongues and in understood languages were part of the corporate worship at Corinth (and presumably elsewhere). We know worship was participative, consisting of individual and corporate expression simultaneously. And [insert drum roll] we know that there was no recognized anointing or gift of worship leading [cymbal crash]. We do have that wonderful instance where the curtain to the heavenlies is pulled back to reveal that loud, boisterous worship is part of the milieu of the throne room. Beyond that, we really know very little. Truth be told, our practices of contemporary worship are more informed by the OT and the surrounding culture than they are by the NT.

Just for the sake of clarity of argument, however, let me propose a definition:
Worship is those acts, both inward and outward, that focus attention specifically on God and thereby distill within the soul an awareness of his presence and arouse reverence toward and elicit surrender to him.
If we combine that definition with the NT understanding of what it means to be born again (and thereby become the temple of the Holy Spirit), it seems to me that worship teams (bands, leaders, choirs, combos, or whatever) should never be considered the sources, starters or sparkers of worship. We already bear the presence of God within us, so why would we need to be "inspired" to experience it? If one requires such inspiration, it would raise questions regarding whether or not he or she was truly born again! If we are depending on the skill of a worship leader to get us into the presence, worship is not what's happening-- manipulation is.

What happens in worship gatherings today often resembles rock concerts and stage shows more than the throne room of God. It's a cheerled spectacle of star power, a clamor of flesh and self-indulgence. Please, don't infer from those words any critique on the type or style of music used, that really doesn't matter one way or the other. At best, worship leaders are, in fact, nothing more than accompanists, a utilitarian backdrop to what's happening among the folk, between the folk and God. And therein lies the problem with much of today's worship-- is something happening between the folk and God?

We can't make people know God, love him, or express true worship to him. It has to come from them because of what God has done in them. Unless the Lord builds the house, the labor is in vain. Worship is about opportunities not compulsions. It seems to me, worship ought to be more like spontaneous combustion than arson. Sadly, there's getting to be fewer and fewer who understand the difference.