Saturday, 13 September 2003

The heart of worship? Two cultures collide.

I’ve been reading in blogs by those I respect recently about different people’s versions of worship, making it a lifestyle thing etc. and some of these have caused conflict for me. For this reason, rather than comment, I’ve tried to hold back until thoughts had distilled. That now seems to have happened, so here goes.

I struggle with the idea of acts of service being an act of worship. Through everything that I’ve read in the bible (filtered through my understanding, granted) and in my experience, worship involves closeness, intimacy, waiting on God. And it’s in this area that I see the main conflict – specifically, external activity needs to be excluded.

God seems to have copied many of the things from heaven for our use on Earth. Symbolically worship has been linked to acts of human physical intimacy. The bible uses VERY unambiguous language about those that worship other Gods. At the same time the church is repeatedly called ‘the bride of Christ’. For me there is a clear symbolic link between worship and physical love. When we are with our partners in this way then nothing else should intrude: we are there for the time between us, and externals that draw from that are an intrusion and distraction. To combine acts of service with worship would be like saying “would you mind if we made love in the car, because I have to get the kids to school”.

So where does the issue of collision come in? I believe that human religious culture and practice still plays a major role in modern thinking. It replaces the awe of God with ‘reverence for the sanctuary, the mystery of God moving us with a spiritual sounding liturgy and a suggestion that we are unable to see God at work because he’s too mysterious. This religious culture sanctifies things, using the concept of “this activity is so good/holy/sacrificial/whatever that it must be valid”.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am very much in favour of the body serving people both within and without. I can see that by giving ourselves “first to God, then to each other” we are honouring God in our bodies. I also firmly believe that worship is a 24/7 attitude and not something restricted to a Sunday morning. I DO have a major problem with the idea that acts of service can be substituted for corporate worship, and time of drawing close to God.

Finally, bringing up a point from a recent blog by Randall, I’d just like to comment on the role of songs and music in worship. I have a place where I know I’m in God’s presence – a place where I feel I’m prostrate before him, laying there in awe, yet at the same time being held with loving arms. Very often songs and music can help me reach that place. Sometimes God just calls me there alone. But by singing the songs and getting involved in the music I can often find that place more easily, however they’re just tools to help get me there. That’s my place of worship.

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