A Living Sacrifice
Divine Worship - Part I
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1 (NIV)
This Sunday, we consider the third of the Great Ends of the Church - the maintenance of divine worship. When we hear the word maintenance, we think of routine work on our cars, our homes, even our health. It's one thing to just keep something going; however, it is another to keep it in good or very good condition. To achieve divine worship requires vigilance to keep things in very good shape.
So what is worship? Our Directory for Worship describes worship in this way: "Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God. In worship, the people of God acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they respond to God's claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ, believers are transformed and renewed. In worship, the faithful offer themselves to God and are equipped for God's service in the world. (W-1.1001).
This description says essentially that 1) worship is focused on God, and 2) results in the transformation and renewal of those who are gathered. The object of worship is God, the creator and sustainer of the universe; Christ, the redeemer of the creation; and the Holy Spirit, the presence and wisdom of God in us, among us, and to us. Worship is not about me personally, except as I am a part of "the people of God," the body of Christ.
That being said, people often end up placing particular forms of worship ahead of God. We want to have worship "our way." Elements become more important than the purpose of the element. We forget that our enculturation and socialization in worship are just that - that to which we are accustomed. How we worship is an aspect often of our culture, not of any divinely determined necessity.
Our Presbyterian form of government recognizes as much when it says that the church in its witness to the uniqueness of the Christian faith is called to mission and must be responsive to diversity in both the church and the world. Thus, the fellowship of Christians as it gathers for worship and orders its corporate life will display a rich variety of form, practice, language, program, nurture, and service to suit culture and need. (G-4.0401)
Our Book of Order says what it does regarding cultural need because worship is about lifting up God and the work of God in the world in such a way that people first come to know Jesus as their savior, and then they grow in that faith. Worship is the front line of evangelism and, therefore, must be relevant and vibrant.
Those who are drawn to Presbyterian churches usually come looking for a theological emphasis that is peculiar to us. They also tend to stay with us because our theology and our worship form speak to them emotionally and spiritually in a way other churches do not. Liturgy - the work of the people - is an aspect of that peculiarity. The formulary according to which we conduct our worship of God is very relevant to the congregation.
Having said that, we must keep the main thing the main thing. If we start trying to satisfy everybody's wants in worship, we will lose sight of the main thing. Worship then becomes a mess of stuff put together on a needs based model. Worship becomes about us, not about God.
Our witness to others in the offering of ourselves is the evidence of our faith that is seen in our worship. To that end, may we be faithful and true, joyfully ascribing all praise and honor, glory and power to the triune God.