Worship brings participants close to God. One of the significant characteristics of both believers and seekers as we transition into the 21st Century is a deep-felt desire to actually experience God—not just hear about God. The experience of God is life giving, hence “vital.” This may be the fundamental criterion for evaluating worship. Not “Did it feel good?” Not “Was the truth expounded?” Not “Did I enjoy it?” But “Did participants actually draw close to God and experience renewed life?”
Church worship occurs in the context of congregational fellowship. Congregational worship is not the same as personal devotion. Both are needed—to choose one over the other results in a weak Christian life. Close to the desire to experience God, is a great longing for community. Worship as a gathered community is an empowering event. When I worship in community, I am reminded that I do not worship God in isolation; that God’s interest also includes my neighbor. I cannot worship God at the expense of my neighbor without interfering with my own worship experience. One of the most important questions about worship forms may be, “Did it help my neighbor worship?” not “Did I worship?”
Worship carries the Good News of Christ from one person to another to the ends of the earth. An important focus of worship is the Good News (the Gospel). And it is infectious! That dovetails with the notion of congregational worship above. God’s Spirit truly sweeps through those who are worshipping, and it wraps around the globe binding all believers together. Thus, a question about worship might be “How was the Good News evident?”
Healthy worship is theologically sound. This is tricky, especially for us Baptists. Nevertheless, the New Testament describes believers as “devoted to the Apostles’ teaching” (Acts 3:42). At the very least, this means each and every component of worship should be tested against a theological yardstick. Further, the teaching component of worship should emphasize those theological themes that Scripture emphasizes, and reserve those “debatable things” for a more appropriate setting. And how many of us think theologically about the music we sing?
Worship is contextually appropriate. What is right for the church in Rostov, Russia probably is not right for the church in Rockford, Illinois. There are many forms of worship. The truth is, not a single Baptist church is worshipping the way the Jerusalem church worshipped—mainly because we can only guess how they worshipped. Worship leaders need to take the time for prayer and study to understand their congregation and community, and make use of those tools in worship which are most conducive (and not obstructive) to worship.
Psalm 148, 149, and 150 conclude the “Jewish hymnbook” with a description of all creation in worship of God, using trumpets, and tambourines, and dancing. But, even in the midst of this grand celebration, worshippers are called to “sing a new song” (Psalm 149:1). This theme is picked up in Revelation where the redeemed “sang a new song” (Rev 5:9).
Though Revelation anticipates an expansive worship as the telos of all creation, it is marked by “a new song.” A new form? It suggests that we will all have to learn new songs one day. The predominant song of heavenly worship will not be A Mighty Fortress is Our God, or The Old Rugged Cross, or Amazing Grace, or Awesome God, or God Will Make a Way or Majesty, or … you get the point. Likewise, there is no mention of a pipe organ—or an electric guitar. None of our songs or worship forms is guaranteed eternal significance.
I suspect that worship, which is supposed to bring participants closer to God and one another but is, in fact, divisive in its effect and idolatrous of its form , is a disappointment (if not an offense) to God.
Worship warfare is incongruent with the God who told us to “be still—and know that I am God.”
© American Baptist Churches
of the Great Rivers Region
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