Made for worship

Craig Bartholomew

 

‘But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer Him, to echo Him,

and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him.’

Thomas Merton, quoted in Esther de Waal, A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton [Surrey: Eagle, 1992] p39

 

In these words Merton captures that central biblical insight that we are made for worship. It is in worship that we find the key to our humanity. Why then, do many find this not to be the case? Why is it that we often find worship fracturing rather than healing our humanity?

A major reason is that we often practice a non-biblical understanding of worship. Evangelicals are as prone to this as Catholics! Evangelicals often parody the Catholic monk securely shut away from the world in his monastery in order to escape evil and find God. You have probably come across that saying, ‘You can take the monk out of the world but you cannot take the world out of the monk!’ But is bad monasticism any worse that Evangelicalism with a distorted view of worship?

The New Testament (to say nothing about the Old Testament!) is quite clear that worship is the total life response disciples make to what God has done for us in Christ. The great text here is Romans 12:1ff - the only adequate response to make to God’s mercies in Christ (expounded in Romans 1-11) is to offer our bodies (= the totality of our selves, and NOT just our souls!) as a living sacrifice! Animal sacrifices can normally only be offered by taking the life of the animal, but we are to be LIVING sacrifices! The living dead! Given over totally to God’s service, slaves of Christ.

This means that we are called to worship in every aspect of our lives, and not just in our church or/and evangelistic activities. The emotional, political, economic, sexual, relational, etc, etc, dimension of our lives are all to be part of our worship! A great danger of calling what we do when we gather as Christians ‘worship’ is that we easily forget that worship does NOT stop when we leave the church door. It continues!

But what then is the relationship between what we do at church and the rest of our lives? Church and worship, in this narrow sense, is very, very important, and we neglect it at our peril. Church is God’s ordained place for us to meet with Christ, to hear his Word, and to meet with our fellow Christians. The function of church is to keep us attentive to God, so that we keep serving him amidst all the challenges of the rest of our lives! The more we appropriate a Christian worldview, the more we will discover that this takes us into the battle lines of society, and NOT away from them. And boy, then do we need God!! Do we need refreshment and encouragement and being kept attentive to God? YES, YES, YES.

Evangelicalism - or any other Christian tradition - is dangerous when it defines worship solely as what we do when we gather. Commitment to Christ inevitably then comes to be defined solely in terms of church activities: "if you are really committed, you become a ‘minister,’ etc". And perhaps even more seriously, Christians are not taught how to be attentive to God amidst the rest of their lives, and thus they tend to ape the societal trends of the day, be they racism or consumerism.

The great need of our day is vital ‘worship’ - in the narrow sense - that connects integrally to the totality of our lives so that we more and more see all of life as our response to God. Living coram deo in our societies is not easy. We need all the help we can get - we need God’s grace. The major channel ordained for that grace is our church gatherings. Only as they are healthy and directed towards God and His reign over everything, will we begin to be able to be what God made us to be - homo religiosis, made to answer Him, to echo Him, and even to contain and signify Him.

 

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I love discovering great new worship resources. Recently I met a Catholic composer and he introduced me to a marvellous new resource - 3 volumes of new versions of Psalms!! (Psalm Songs, Cassell, 1998). A CD of a selection of these has also been produced and I am listening to it as I write. (Psalm Songs, Hoxa Sound, Bristol, 1998). This is the sort of contemporary, liturgical music that gives me great hope for the church. It is generally classical but contemporary and so conducive to worship. The version of Psalm 139 is unbelievable and there is a wonderful rendition of Psalm 23 (My Shepherd is the Lord). Lord Take Up My Cause is a version of Psalms 138/9 and it is suggested that this be used liturgically to remember before God the unborn children that get aborted.

 

The Big Picture Volume 2 Advent 2000 p.10