Monday, December 14, 2009

What is worship?

Recently I had a "church" experience that caused me to think "What is Worship?".  A church member was going to play an offertory on the piano with an accompaniment CD and words displayed on the video screen.  When it was mentioned it might not be possible to have the words displayed, the piano player said, "I just want a worship experience".  My thought was: "I guess before there were video screens and accompaniment CDs, no worship experience was possible".

In light of this experience, I believe my question is significant: What is Worship?  To have a worship experience, is it required to have video screens, CD tracks, computers and other 21st century equipment?  Can worship be achieved with only a Bible?  What about without a Bible?

As with salvation, worship is a uniquely personal experience.  The word seems to have become a punitive delimiter to determine if a believer has experienced God during a church service - "If you didn't have a worship experience, you didn't experience God today". 

Worship is a very broad, expansive term that each person must define and experience for themselves.  Worship may be experienced alone, in a small group or a large congregation.  Worship is encountering God where you are and having a personal interaction with God.

Worship can be as simple as experiencing a dramatic sunset "painted" by the Creator.  A song that captures your Christian experience can lead to worship.  Worship can be following Christ's lead to minister to non-believers in need. 

As with attempting to define God, it is not easy to put a boundary around worship.


JonoShea1 said...

I've done a lot of thinking on this matter. You may disagree, but ought to find it well within biblical understanding as well as within the cultural understanding of Jews, Greeks, and Romans at the time of the writing of the events recorded in Scripture.

In a word, worship is "sacrifice." The primary acts of worship mentioned in the OT refer to sacrifices in the Temple. This was the heart of Judaism. As time progresses, we find reference to a "sacrifice of praise." Such an understanding was later associated with singing the psalms (often if one was unable to attend the Temple, whether it be destroyed or one lived too far away).

This understanding similarly entered into Christian usage, as the practice of chanting or reciting the psalms at fixed points of the day was an early development of Christian worship. This eventually developed into what is called the "Divine Office" ("office" being a far too literal rendering of the Latin "officium", which means "service"). This practice is retained, if even in vestigial forms, in the historical forms of Christianity (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the ancient Middle Eastern Churches which rejected the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon, as well as later churches such as the Lutherans and Anglicans).

The sacrifice par excellance in early Christianity was, of course, the Eucharist. In this case, one is seen as uniting oneself and one's community in the Paschal Mystery of the Sacrifice of Christ for humanity, receiving his Body and Blood in the form of Communion. It is often debated whether this was merely symbolic, or whether the early Christians believed that the bread and wine literally became the Body and Blood of Christ (though the historic churches in the end appear to have landed on the latter understanding). In this case, it should be understood that it is God himself who provides the sacrifice (the Lamb, if you will), while individuals unite themselves with God.

In keeping with this idea, people have "offered up," their own sufferings throughout the centuries as a way of giving thanks to God even in difficult times. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving may all be seen as acts of sacrfice, and hence acts of worship. The Gospel of Matthew advises strongly against being showy about such things, perhaps precisely because they should be sacrifices to God, rather than to our own image in front of others.

Which is another point: if worship is about us, it isn't worship. Or rather, it becomes self-worship. It is about what we give to God, no matter what he gives back in return. He may send consolation, joy, elation, or nothing at all. Dryness is also a gift, and can be purifying. God is not a sugar-daddy, he's God. He'll give what we need. Worship is trying to give something back.

David said...

Welcome to the Pagus, JonoShea1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I have to give a hardy "Amen" to your "if worship is about us, it isn't worship" statement. To many times, people seem to equate their self serving service as worship.

Emily said...

Jono, so good to see you here! As always, I know we can count on you for thought provoking observations.

Your comment falls in line with our latest endeavor, Splendor and Holiness, a seminar over worship. I will be teaching about worship from an Old Testament and Jewish perspective. Nathan will pick up in the New Testament and Historical approach. Cultural understanding of our faith is crucial to proper interpretation.

The thing is most people do not know what worship is about. It is simply another mini-concert they attend every Sunday or so hoping to be entertained, but as it has been pointed out - THAT'S NOT WORSHIP.

Our primary premise is that true worship springs from a place of awe and wonder. Why does this Holy God allow us to engage him, at any level?

I love your point on how offering up our suffering as an element of worship. Too often we think of worship as the "party time" of our Christian faith, and yet over and over again in Scripture we find that this willingness to share our wounds, our pain, and own insufficiency to meet them lead us to place where we can acknowledge God's infinite power and mercy.

Look forward to hearing more from you.