In the life of the North American church consumerism has had its greatest negative impact upon both our personal and corporate worship. It may require a couple of messages but I want to consider how consumerism has influenced our theology and experience of worship. Let me begin with a core definition of worship.
The very first point of definition you read in the Merriam Webster on-line dictionary is this: chiefly British: ‘a person of importance.’ There is a great deal more to the definition but beginning with this we can immediately conclude that worship is about a person of importance to the worshiper.
If we go back to the Old English the word looks like this: Old English: ‘weorthscipe’ : weorth (worthy); it is ‘worth’ +-‘scipe.’ What we are looking at is: the ascribing of worth. Take that back to what we have already discovered and this is what we have: worship is the ascribing of worth to a person of importance.
What this tells us – right from the get-go – is that worship is never about the worshiperbut is entirely about the object of the worship.This ascribing of worth has nothing to do with how we feel or what our needs are; it has nothing to do with who I am, what I am, or where I am in this moment. It has to do entirely with who, what and where God is in this moment. In other words worship does not at all centre in my view of myself – it centres entirely in my view of God.
Let me share a rather lengthy quote: Worship, at its most basic, is a celebration and a retelling of the story of God. Our lives are bombarded with messages from a noisy world that declares with relentless constancy that our lives are about us, our wants, our desires, our needs. Worship, at its best, exposes this oppressive self-absorption and invites us to root the smaller story of our lives into the larger story of God’s ongoing redemption of humanity and this universe. My life will find its truest meaning and significance not in narcissistic self-absorption but in remembering and rehearsing the story of God. (FROM: Renovation of the Church)
Join this with what we looked at earlier – ‘the ascribing of worth’ – and we arrive at something wonderful: We ascribe worth to God by celebrating and retelling or rehearsing His story. So as we move through this lesson and you hear me reference the word ‘worship’ please keep this definition in mind – ‘ascribing worth by celebrating and retelling His story.’
You can see how this flies in the face of consumerism that constantly tells us that our story is the only story and that all things – including God-things – exist to compliment our story; all things find their true meaning only in relation to our story.
Of all the areas of church life I would suggest that worship – more than any other – is the area where we exercise our consumer choices the most. When this happens it leads to worship that centres around personal tastes and the primacy of personal experience rather than the story of God. What are we most conscious of in our worship – the story of God, or the stylistic preferences of worshipers?
Let’s look at this whole business of worship and styles. On one hand we have high-brow worshipers with highly classical preferences. On another hand we have worshipers who have yet to learn one hymn of the church but have never met a contemporary worship chorus they did not love. And then we may have a stringed quartet in a Gothic cathedral, while across town we have a guitar-driven garage band pounding it out in some rented store front.
To walk into any one of those settings and conclude that you cannot worship God because of the style –I have to tell you this morning, that is a problem. It’s a problem because it indicates that our worship is determined by a style rather than the story of God.Mature worshipers know that true worship centres in the story of God and not particular preferences regarding styles.
This does not mean it is wrong to have a stylistic preference when it comes to worship. In fact let me go beyond that and suggest that there is nothing wrong with finding it easier to focus on the story of God when a particular style of worship is taking place. But here is where it becomes dangerously wrong: when I place style at the centre of worship and am not able to freely worship in a style different than my own.
See if you can relate to the following story: Renovation of the Church – (pgg. 151 – 152. ) I think we can all relate to this. I have had my experiences with it, and more than once.
My intenton is to follow this message with another on the same subject next Sunday. Before leaving this for today I would like to share a couple of additional thoughts.
First, what is the importance of public or corporate worship? Or is it important at all? Does it really matter that we gather together in corporate worship unto the Lord? There is a growing voice in the culture of the church that is telling us corporate worship is less and less important. We are told that real worship happens at Tim Horton’s, or that it takes place in the context of our technological connectedness. My response to that is – read the Bible and read church history.
Something is released when the body of Christ gathers in corporate worship that cannot be experienced in isolation. First we experience some of the relational reality for which Christ prayed in John 17. But beyond that, in corporate worship we are clearly declaring what believe about God and what we believe concerning relationship with Him. In fact it has been said that,when you want to know what a congregation really believes just listen to their worship – their music and songs. That will tell you more than the preaching and teaching. There is some truth in that.
The second thing we need to understand about corporate worship is this: “Every aspect of the time we spend together in the worshiping Christian community influences the kind of people we are becoming.” (Marva Dawn) With this we are back to that term – ‘spiritual formation.’Every person on this planet is a worshiper; a worshiper of God, of self, of money, power, position, fame, youth and ten thousand other things – even worshipers of Satan himself. What we need to know is that in every act of worship – especially corporate worship – we are being spiritually formed to look like whatever we are worshiping.
If my worship centres in God’s story then I become more deeply rooted in that God story. If it is centred in my story I become more self-centred and self-absorbed.
Lets sing, I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship; and who is it all about – and who is it not about?