How Does One Truly Worship God? An Early Church Father’s View

From my view in the cheap seats, it seems that what it means to worship God has become open to interpretation.

Can I worship God any way I want to?

On a corporate level, does church leadership have biblical authority to design a worship service anyway they think is best?

Judging by state of the American Evangelical church, I think most leaders believe the answer is Yes to both questions. And boy do we ever take this permission seriously!

It would appear to this writer that singing is what is required if you want to worship God corporately as the Body of Christ. So, if you are not good at it, or don’t really like doing it, you better change your attitude. Flashing light trees, great sound systems, fog machines, stunning visuals and the best possible rock band a church can put together are all utilized to help us sing more.

Most churches now have a “Worship Arts” department, which is a fancy name for the leadership that oversees the singing and the worship band. The person who often leads this area is a gifted musician with little or no theological training. I will let you decide if it is a good thing if the person who oversees up to one half of our “Worship” gathering has little theological roots to ground him/her.

I’ve been to over 35 churches in the past 4 years and have observed this “worship is singing” idea put into practice. I hate to say it, but if this IS what it means to worship, the Church at large is doing a very pathetic job of worshipping God. Nothing personal here, and I am not picking on you or your congregation. I am just stating the facts as I have observed them.

What I see in congregation after congregation is this: The worship team sings their hearts out. The congregation doesn’t. Most people are not engaged. They stand, out of respect. They may even make a half-hearted attempt at mumbling through the words. But 75-80% of the congregation is not passionately pouring out their hearts to God in song. Don’t believe me? Sit in the back row this week, and observe how many people won’t sing.

There is a danger in this over emphasis of “worship is a SONG so everyone sing along” concept of worship. People begin to equate the worship of God with music and/or singing. We may falsely believe that by mumbling through a chorus we are truly worshipping the Savior. We can end up doing the very thing God lamented about in IS. 29:13

“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”

The trouble with our modern view of worship is that scripture and church history never come to the same conclusion that the modern church has arrived at.

What we do see clearly in scripture is that worship is a live well lived.  According to Romans 12:1-2, it is ones life laid down. Worship is actively saying “NO!” It is resisting the call of the world and the desires of our flesh. It is actively saying “YES!” to God and His invitation to become like His Son, moment by moment and day by day. I do believe, and have personally experienced how corporate singing can facilitate this. Still, I believe we have made a mistake in over emphasising the song in our corporate gatherings.

In the third century, Origen summed up the early churches idea of authentic worship this way:

“The honor that we pay to the Son of God, as well as that which we render to God the Father, consists of an upright course of life. This is plainly taught us by the passage, “You that boast of the Law, through breaking the Law dishonor God.”…For if he who transgresses the law dishonors God by his transgression,…it is evident that he who keeps the law honors God. So the worshipper of God is he whose life is regulated by the principles and teachings of the Divine Word.” Origen c .248 AD

This was the view of the early church. In my opinion, the modern church would serve God’s people better if they began to embrace this concept of what it means to worship God. I think that means singing less corporately, and bringing back elements of corporate worship that the church has embraced since the first century: communion, confession of sin, extended readings of scripture, prayer, reciting the creeds etc. The church has always believed those elements encourage and strengthen believers to say no to the world and yes to God in our day-to-day routine.

This is more than an academic exercise for me.  The church is in trouble.  Young people are making a mass exodus from her.  Non-christians complaints about Christians are becoming more and more based upon reality.   In large numbers we don’t practice what we believe.  We don’t take the call of Christ seriously.  We don’t embrace God’s invitation to become like His Son and make the personal choices that help us along that path.  I think we  actively “honor (God) with (our) lips, but (our) hearts are far from (Him)…”

It has been said they we become what we worship. While that is true, I also think how we worship affects who we become.  I could be wrong, but I think that our emphasis on worship as a song lies at the very heart of Christianity’s decline.  That is why I am so passionate about this topic.

Do you think the emphasis on singing as worship has weakened or strengthened the church? What do you think of the idea of singing less and incorporating these other elements into our corporate gatherings?

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on July 31, 2012, in Christianity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I agree with you 100%!

    I am less disillusioned about God and more disillusioned about the church … than ever at this moment. We don’t look like His Body!

    It’s a hard one isn’t it? You want to live the way you have said, so you do, and thankfully God sees that at least… BUT, how do we see this rolled out in the places we worship at large? i don’t know!

    Live the way Jesus told us to and pray it rubs off to those closest to us and then to those etc. like a chain reaction!

    Tough times ahead x

    Like

  2. You hit the nail on the head brother! I cannot find a church today that doesn’t sing as a primary part of their “worship”. I’m worried and very angry about this. The road to damnation is wide and many will follow.

    Like

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