Just and the Justifier

A Christian Distinctive

Worship

Yet I will show you the most excellent way.1

I heard another sermon message today, with one of its themes referencing worship. And as usual, I find it disappointing, even wrong-headed; although, this particular manner of presentation is common in Evangelical churches.

Worship is not just something that happens automatically. We choose to make it happen. It is a decision we make.

There is an element of truth in the above statement. The first step on the descent towards depravity in Romans 1 involves the failure to honour God or be grateful. However, intimated in the above comment is that worship is some self-propelled act generated ex nihilo. It can be appreciated that one ought to praise and honour, regardless of circumstances. It is less credible to expect genuine praise and honour, regardless of knowledge of God that one is persuaded of.

True worship is an act of Eros. And here, one must define terms because of common misconceptions of Eros and because of delicate Evangelical sensitivities. Eros extends well beyond its physical manifestation. It is the desire and the delight to be in the presence of and attached to the sublimely beautiful and excellent; however that is defined. Thus, it is quite valid and proper to speak of spiritual worship in such terms.

However, a disingenuous definition of spiritual Eros pervades in Protestant/Evangelical theological circles; denigrating Eros spirituality by suggesting that it invariably leads to efforts to forge one’s own salvation. One could be flippant and suggest that this understanding may proceed from these theologians’ self-centered behaviour in the conjugal bed; which thereby colors their view of Eros. Or it might proceed from an obtuse insistence by a continued pathological Christianity towards Eros, which insists on categorizing, constructing rigid borders between and layering in orders of intrinsic worth “The Four Loves”. However, this is beyond the ken of this article.

Eros begins in the object that is beautiful, which attracts that which properly appropriates the beauty in that object. And the person who appreciates the beauty wants both to possess and be possessed by that object. “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”2

However, if one lacks knowledge of God, Christ and the Kingdom, one can hardly know the beauty and excellence. What is to attract a person to them? One’s praise becomes that to an Islamic-like inscrutable God. Thus Christ said “Learn of me”3for good reason and worship ought to automatically flow down (although it often does not). Therefore, it is more prudent and useful to transmit a faithful depiction of God and His Kingdom than to instead expend large investments on high tech paraphernalia and props. For, if an individual is ordained to respond and be regenerated/converted, true knowledge of God will surely provide the means. If a faithful rendering of God and the Kingdom cannot attract a person, surely nothing else worthwhile will.

This is not to suggest that the paraphernalia and props might not be necessary. However, let us not mistake the handmaidens of worship for the bride. I love a full rendering of Handel’s Messiah. But enveloped within the pleasant melody and harmony is Scriptures expressed verbatim.

At the largest Orangeville church, I became irritated by a worship team that would make vacuous Hallmark declarations how about great God was. God is great (“Allahu Akbar”) is a Muslim motto. After the umpteenth of hearing, I was truly tempted to stand up and ask in what way God was great.

My own conversion experience at Camp Widjiitiwin was one of a literal swooning like a school girl; of a taste a pristine natural beauty, of a kindly social setting proffering a sense of finally belonging somewhere, of a sense of primordial existential mystery, of the goodness and excellence of the Kingdom and of its Governor, of a promise of becoming part of that Kingdom and being conformed to its beauty. One of the unfortunate consequences for my wife was that I fell in love with a God most excellent; that everything afterwards seemed comparatively mediocre.

True worship naturally flows towards wishing to emulate that which one finds beautiful and excellent. It ought not to be such a willed effort and duty. The old pagan religions, in which sexual acts were means of worship, would encourage the worshippers to copulate in the perceived manner of their animal gods (i.e. Aaron’s Golden Calf). The sad irony of Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” is that the worshipful son, who declared “I’m gonna be like you dad. You know I’m gonna be like you”, did become that, which he worshipped.

Another nostrum that escapes Evangelical preachers’ lips is that the act of praise worship will mysteriously bless the worshipper as some kind of divine reward apart from the praise. However, my limited observation is that the depiction of God and His Kingdom, in that which is sung or spoken, is that which inspires the blessing. For, the would-be convert or new initiate, the attributes of God and His Kingdom is one of fantastical hope, which the initiate ought to work to confirm its real validity. For, the mature veteran, good worship brings to mind, remembrances of experiences that often draw a welling of the eyes.

In summary, I find preachers too often seek to prod their parishioners to rightful duty. I have rarely heard the attributes of the Kingdom or the character of its Governor preached from the pulpit; although such abound in Scriptures. Preachers prod instead of letting the beauty of their Creator pull. They seek to whip instead of letting Christ woo. It makes for an ugly and desolate Christianity.

NOTES

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:31
  2. Song of Solomon 2:16
  3. Matthew 11:29
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