Tuesday, October 05, 2004

the Worship experience

While I'm not as well versed as some people, I believe that my own unique backgound (not merely evangelical, but also a strong charismatic bent) might shed some light on a different perspective.

Frankly, I think Christians use the word "worship" loosely, like english speakers use the word "love." Clearly I don't "love" raspberry chocolate truffle ice cream in the same way that I love my closest friends - the emotions are much stronger with the ice cream - but I use the same word to describe both. Similarly, people often use the word "worship" to describe many different things: a life attitude toward God (as in, "I want to have a worshipful life"), an attitude of the heart (having an "attitude of worship"), but also the physical act of singing that goes on in a service ("this is the worship time").

At first glance this does not make a lot of sense, unless you impose a more fundamental definition on the whole thing, something like "an offering of adoration and devotion." In that light, the "act" of worship (the singing) becomes an offering, and so do all the other definitions used for worship. Viewed this way, the "worship" element of a church service is distinguishable from the Word and Sacrament by virtue of it's objective: the worship is what we present to God - an offering of adoration and adoration. This is why worship is often called "praise."

This type of adoration has roots back to the earliest Biblical narratives. The Old Testament is full of examples of Israelites singing the praises of God. Miriam (Moses' sister) sings an entire song of praise after the Israelites cross safetly over the Red Sea. David danced before the Arc of the Covenant when it returned to Jerusalem, and the entire book of Psalms is a compilation of songs of devotion to God, often sung by the people in a religious context. I imagine that these songs were deeply personal and emotional, and evoked a strong personal response in the singer that helped draw the singer in to that posture of worship before God.

This is essentially what bothers me so much about "traditional" worship - its complete lack of emotion. I'm sure this is not true in all situations, but in every traditional service I have attended, the "worship" segment is a bunch of people singing in a musical style they have no familiarity with, their heads buried in a book to read the lyrics, and no sense of any emotional connection to what they are doing. If there is real emotional connecting going on, it is well hidden. The most you can often get out of people is that they enjoy the comfort of tradition, or the sense of continuity with songs they sang as children. The Bible is full of so many wonderful worship stories - of hands raised and people clapping. I just can't see Miriam passing out hymnals to everyone and having them sing in an old-fashioned style a song of celebration.

This is why evangelicals (and charismatics especially) revel so much in worship, and experience such a strong connection to the divine in the act of worship. It seems that God somehow wired us to experience music emotionally (and emotively). Any musician will tell you that it is hard to really sing from your heart and not experience a powerful connection with the subject of your song. Charismatics often say that they experience God's presence more strongly in this
context than anywhere else. While "emotionalism" is always a concern, it's hard to fault that kind of passion and zeal. Those Christians who have never experienced the overwhelming presence of God in worship - where you often can't even speak, or the tears just won't stop coming, or all you can do is smile - while obviously still "Christian" in every objective sense, are missing out on a powerful and potentially life-changing element of the Christian life. It's not
"required," but would you set out to build a house, and limit yourself to only 1/2 of your tools?

These are my thoughts, and I'm happy to discuss them with anyone...let the castration begin.

Grace & Peace

Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?--Henry Ward Beecher