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Monday, September 26, 2011

Worshiping Up to Our Theology

D.G. Hart has rightly observed that in worship, “You cannot separate form and content” (“Recovering Mother Kirk”, 200). His point should be clear, but just in case it’s not, then allow me to rephrase it this way: You will either worship up to your theology, or you will lower your theology to your worship.

One way to understand this is in regard to our liturgical language. To put it in the ancient formula, lex orandi, lex credendi est: The language of prayer is the language of faith. If the language of our worship (songs, prayers, etc) is predominately pietistic, individualistic, therapeutic, revivalistic, charismatic, and self-absorbed, then no matter what our official stated theology (whether it‘s the 39 Articles of Religion, or the Westminster Confession of Faith), our lived theology will become pietistic, individualistic, therapeutic, revivalistic, charismatic, self-absorbed, and that then develops into the gauge by which our people evaluate a church, their life experiences, and God Himself. The language of prayer is the language of faith.

I would propose that no matter what the preacher proclaims, if the audible and visual atmosphere of the liturgy is antithetical to that message, eventually, the message will be lost. For example, when the preacher declares, “It’s not about you! Instead, your chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”, but every Sunday most of the songs and the rest of the liturgy is about you feeling good and whole and scratching where your narcissistic self itches, then the real message sinks in. You *are* the center of God’s world, you *are* the center of your own telos (end purpose), it’s you, you, you! The liturgical content has contradicted the sermon and has declared the reverse message to the “worshiper”, “God’s chief end is to glorify you and to enjoy you forever!“ The liturgical atmosphere has seriously deflated the theological tires.

Another way this works out is in liturgical practice. Simply as one example, the pastor may preach a rousing sermon on the importance of the church body and communion, but that is all negated and lost if the “worshipers” are then offered “voluntary communion.” I’m referring specifically to that nefarious practice that is finding some traction in Evangelical churches, where the “worshipers” can pick up their own, hermitically sealed, self-contained juice-and-wafer at the door as they leave, *if they so chose*. No matter what the preacher has said about church and body-life, the “worship”, then, is bringing the theology down to the tragic exaltation of the lone believer. Liturgical practice has shamefully skinned the theological cat.

Pastors, elders, worship leaders: good Christian Worship that is full-blooded, rich in God‘s truth, seriously focused on the LORD, intentionally Trinitarian, shaped and informed with healthy theology will always feel fairly pushy, because it is pushing against the culture and the cultural trends that are pushing in on us. It’s pushing us to worship up to our theology.



Jonathan Dorst said...

Good stuff, Mike! Thanks for helping me think through one of the hardest areas of church life, worship.

Lagniappe said...

Though I am not liturgical in worship, I fully concur with your thesis. Worship is never about me!! Spurgeon's quote comes to mind for the present mess of American Christianity (so called): "We are entertaining the sheep and amusing the goats." Good post.

Brunhilde's Dad said...

Simple but challenging. Is there a place for "warmth" in worship, and, if so, how does one attain it or express it without being or seeming pietistic? How does one know when the line has been crossed into (unacceptable) pietism?

Mike Philliber said...

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with warmth in worship. Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength makes that clear. It's the piety that has gone awry, becoming self-absorbed, just me & my angst & my Jesus that twists off into what Christian Smith denominates as Moralist Therapeutic Deism.