It’s early … and I’m sitting in a very quiet, beautiful place allowing myself the privilege of pondering many things. I love nature! Looking out over the mountains listening to the sound of nature I am drawn into the presence of the One that created all of this and I grow thirsty for worship. Worship that is free of the pressure of the secular society in which I live. Worship that is free of the microscope of intellectualism. Worship that lives in the mystery that God is with us, right now. The following is what has matriculated out of my soul this morning in the midst of His beauty.
My own soul is refreshed by the beauty of His Creation.
It is obvious that we live in a secular age. There has been a lot written about secularism and it’s affects on the Church and Christianity in general. Surrounded by His creation, listening to their worship is very refreshing.
I remember many conversations concerning worship. To many in fact. Conversations that have brought me slowing into a place where I can no longer ignore the influence of secular culture in and on the way that Christians worship.
I have begun to see that secularism is, at it’s essence the negation of worship, in fact is opposes Christian worship. Is worship, as someone just suggested to me, merely a thing to attract people to your church. I understand that it is not the negation of God or His existence, as a higher being of some sort, it simple negates man as a ‘worshiping being.’
Secularism denies that worship is essential to man’s existence. It rejects the fundamental truth of worship as the essential act that both “places” humanity in creation and “fulfills” it.
The conversation surrounding worship has been focused on finding or inventing a worship that is more acceptable or “relevant” to the modern man’s secular world view. Len Sweet once said to me, “when we seek to be relevant we become irreverent.”
This is simply a marketing mindset that has invaded the Church. It’s fully understandable in this consumeristic culture of individuals searching for the latest or newest thing. In response to this mindset the church has responded by attempting to accommandate the voice of the culture.
My own emerging awareness of “secularism” has had a profound affect on my own willingness to accommodate secularism within a discussion of worship. Let me be clear I am not suggesting that secularism is atheism. However, I have come to believe that if we accommodate secularism by adjusting worship we reduce the gospel that we seek to convey. We reduce Christianity to a product to be acquired.
In my opinion worship reveals not only man’s relationship to God but also to the world (the created order) in which we live. The “world” (creation) accepted in it’s totality as cosmos, or in its life as becoming time and history is an epiphany of God, (a means of His revelation, presence and power.)
Paul said, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20).
If, as I believe the world (creation, matter) is an “epiphany” of God, then is cannot be sought as a product to be consumed. The matter, creation, the world that Christ came to save, (the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) is or was created so that we might better know God Himself.
The world truly speaks of Him and is in itself an essential means both of the knowledge of God and communion with Him. Man finds his identity as one who worships the God who created all things. It is through Christian worship that humanity begins to see God as a rationally acceptable cause of his own existence and for that matter the world in which he lives.
Man is essentially a worshipping being.
“You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:22-24)
Maybe the church has too many Samaritans within and is needing a conversation by the well.
It is only in worship that man can possibly come into the knowledge and communion with the One who is represented by or through all things ‘created.’ Worship is based on the intuition and experience of the world as an “epiphany” of God, thus the world, in worship, is revealed in its true nature and vocation as “sacrament.” Simply stated a ‘sacrament’ is the visible sign of an inward grace.
It appears to me that we need water and oil, bread and wine (a trip to the well) in order to be in communion with God and to know Him. I have come to believe it is this communion with God by means of “matter” that reveals the true meaning and purpose of “matter” and hence the world (creation) itself.
Worship takes place in “time” and yet transcends us beyond time thus revealing the meaning of time by renewing time for us. We worship with our body, not separate from it, but in full connection to it, thus it is in worship that the true reason for our body is revealed to us.
Worship re-orders man’s purpose and the purpose of the world in which he lives. Worship places man and the matter around him in proper perspective. Worship is the essential means that man knows God and knows himself and relates to the ‘matter’ of the world.
The incarnation of Christ is of course the ultimate “epiphany” of God!
The incarnation of Christ is also the ultimate “epiphany” of man as a worshiping being.
This union of Creator and creature is the revealing of God’s divine will towards His creation. It occurs to me that Christian worship finds it’s foundation and fulfillment in the Incarnation, the death and the resurrection of the Christ. We all recognize that on the cross, Christ removed our sin and restores our relationship to the Father. It is through Him that we receive new, abundant and eternal life. He is our life!
Christ said to us, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). It is through Christ that we worship God the Father. It is through Christ and His obedience to the cross that our hearts are opened to the truth of who God is.
“As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:30-32
We need “burning hearts and open eyes.” It is in this moment that we have the “epiphany” of the presence of the risen Christ. The Christ that is with us constantly, though perhaps invisibly. Worship gives us “burning hearts and open eyes.”
In worship we bring the bread and the wine of the world ( the matter, the symbol of the world) and it is lifted up from the world (ascends) and is filled with the glory. The Holy Spirit makes “all things new” (not new things).
Christian worship is the “remembrance” of Christ “in the flesh” and therefore it is also the anticipation of His Kingdom. Worship then is essential to man’s participation in the Kingdom. The Kingdom that is invisibly present, and made visible in the worship of the church.
A secular person may believe God originated the world. He may even believe in God’s intervention in the world. He may believe in life after death. However, he primarily sees the world as something which he experiences and acts within, based on his own terms. This is the rejection of the world (creation) as the “epiphany” of God. It deminishes the presence of the Christ.
This rejection leads to the use of the world or matter as society sees fit. It has led to consumerism that now drives the economy of the world. This is in direct opposition to the economy of the Kingdom. Christian worship is meant to reveal and restore the proper order of all creation including the way in which man lives in relationship with both God and the world.
In rejecting Christ the world continues to spiral out of order. Society left to its own intellect has simply become consumers competing for the things of the world. In rejecting Christ the world rejects is own destiny and fulfillment.
The secular culture negates (rejects) the idea that worship is the key way in which man realizes ( has an “epiphany “ ) his relationship to God, to his fellow man and his proper response to the world. Worship in word and sacrament, under the power of the Holy Spirit, removes the chaos and continues the creative process (re-creation) of the world that God spoke into existence.
Ironically the secular culture is obsessed with worship. The modern secularist wants to celebrate everything. They are looking for things to celebrate and ways to do so, thus proving that essentially man is a worshiping being. They create their own symbols and construct elaborate ceremonies to fulfill a basic human need.
In the absence of true worship the secular society makes up its own and thus goes through motions trying to experience something higher than itself. This is the futility of the human performance. Secularism has indeed crept into the Church affecting the way we worship and this has created lots of confusion among Christians themselves.
Our personal preferences, our theological interpretations, our denominational history and our personal experiences have distorted worship. These distortions have separated the church from itself. On top of that in the last twenty-five to fifty years church grow has become very good at marketing itself to the present culture. All of these things have reduced worship to something far less that it was intended to be.
What does all this mean? I think that a secular man wants to experience worship, but within his own construct, in other words, without disturbing his own perception of the world. Worship without any transformation or transfiguration leaves humanity empty. Secular celebrations or ceremonies are void of any thing other than humanities intellectual design.
The purpose for this meandering piece is to try and spark some more thought about what we as Christians participate in and call worship. I am beginning to think that in it’s attempts to accommodate the secular culture the church has lost its focus and thus it’s essential purpose. Many voices defend this accommodation as being contextual. A contextualization that answers the missional call upon the Church.
I wonder if this accommodation has led to spiritual confusion. Confusion about who man really is, who God is, and how we are to relate to the ‘matter’ around us. Worship wars, battles over style and preference have been going on for centuries, however, the essentials of, the focus of and the form of worship was handed to us by Christ Himself.
The world is thirsty, (not unlike the woman at the well). I believe that society desires an encounter with the Man who waits at the well. The world needs to experience and encounter God. They need an “epiphany” with God. The world needs to worship NOT with a secular mindset, but with a heavenly directive. Worship is to be “the work of the people” that remembers the ultimate “epiphany” of God, The Christ!
I am suggesting that the church needs to encounter the Christ who is waiting for them at the well. A Christ that offers the water that truly satisfies the thirst of every soul.
What we need is a recovery of the true meaning and power of worship! Worship that opens our hearts to the Presence of God. Worship that is not merely intellectual or contextual, but worship that is the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation of The Christ.
The remembering of the death and resurrection of Christ that has opened the Kingdom up to each of us both today and in the future.
Worship can transform our culture! But first we must transform our worship!
As I prepare to press publish … I wonder if I should….