Worship and worldview


Martin Heyns and Jan Neider-Heitmann

Worship is in the spotlight in almost every church and denomination across the world. There is a hunger in our time, haunting lives and hearts. For some, the hunger is amorphous, but for others, it is recognisable as deeply spiritual in nature. Even so, traditional patterns of worship and religious life simply seem inadequate to satisfy this hunger.

Our pluralist society and our late modern lifestyle have shaken the very foundations of most Christian traditions. In the Reformed tradition, from which we write, we presently lack clarity as there is little or no consensus about what a proper response to the quest for a living encounter with God in our time and place entails. How should we authentically worship God before a watching world--encountering him with integrity and in all honesty?

The present paradigmatic shift in our culture causes us to experience a condition of "liminality," of being betwixt and between, of not being any more what we used to be, nor knowing who we are now, or what we are becoming. This condition evokes different responses in respect of worship. One particularly popular approach takes its point of departure uncritically from our popular worldview, specifically in respect of the way we view humankind. Features of the conception and structure of the modern self that guide this approach, are that of individuals being consumers and persons searching to find meaning by exploring feeling, experience, and desire (See the Gospel and Our Culture Network’s flagship publication Missional Church, 1998, 25-31 for a full discussion of the modern self). Consequently, worship effectively becomes a commodity to be consumed. The modern self’s craving to find meaning in feeling, experience and desire, has to be met in worship. Worship leaders have to "produce" a user-friendly liturgy and hence create an environment conducive to the meeting of needs defined by our culture. This approach thus focuses on the needs of the individual "spectator." God, the real object of worship, and the world on whose behalf the community worships, are lost out of sight. Hence, community is undermined. The worshipping community, the harbinger of the new humanity to be revealed in the consummation, should serve as a sign for the sake of the world. The shared liturgy of the gathered community should also find extension as worshipers scatter to offer their fellowship to those outside of this community. Although the individual-needs-approach offers a safe and controlled space for people in an unsettled world, it in fact alienates people from the real world. Instead of presenting the worshiping community the opportunity to reintegrate the reality of God and the world of their daily experience, it rather creates an artificial world that alienates people from God, from one another and from God’s world.

As alternative to this, a new vision of worship is taking shape in some Reformed and other circles. It views the church as a missionary community that gathers to present it’s corporate worship to God. The community is the subject of worship and not the recipients thereof. It is done publicly as a witness to the reign of God before a watching world. Liturgy, as the word originally means, stays "the work of the people." No longer is it perceived as a commodity to be consumed, but rather as an action to participate in—to the honour of God and for the salvation of the world. As such, it embodies a Christian worldview—one of God on the throne, who so loved the world that he sent his only Son. After having laid down his life and received it back from the Father, they sent the Holy Spirit to form a new community, elected to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God as a witness on behalf of a lost world.


The Big Picture Volume 2 Advent 2000 p.2