Saturday, August 28, 2004

Better Worship

I don’t want to get ahead of the book I’m reading, but there’s so much that’s provocative. For instance, Don Carson (ed. Worship by the Book) makes reference to a book by David Peterson (Engaging with God), while confessing his admiration and partiality for the author’s thesis. Peterson’s study of New Testament worship led him to ask: if the injunction to worship is a constant for new covenant Christians, why then do we meet together every Sunday for worship? Surely we do not meet on Sunday for that, unless it is something we have not been doing throughout the rest of the week. Peterson believes that the church meets together primarily for mutual edification. Yes, there’s corporate worship, but it is for building one another up (as opposed to just wanting a ‘touch’ from the Lord?) that the church of God meets.

I think there's something there. I’m inclined towards Peterson's point of view considering that Christians are after all part of a living organism, a body, of which Jesus is the head. We worship God everyday as part of the covenant lifestyle, encompassing work, play, study, recreation - all of life, all the time! But mutual edification as Peterson notes, can only take place when we meet with others who belong to Jesus' body.

In an age where "hell is other people" (Sartre) a lot of us find consolation in distance, separation, things, books, and er, blogs. It just takes too much, makes too many demands. Ouch! Yet, the christian must swim against the tide and celebrate relationships. You can develop a relationship online - to a degree - but face to face, warts and all, is where you edify and are edified in return. This side of heaven, what the world wants to see is how it is possible for a bunch of people to stay together in community, to stay reconciled......even if it hurts.

I recall Bonhoeffer's words in Life Together that the christian community is a faith community and a gift of God, and should therefore be subject to His Word, where everyone is loved as Jesus loved, for Jesus' sake. "We are bound together by faith, not by experience," says Bonhoeffer. How the community edifies its own members in the experience and practice of corporate worship is another essay in itself.

Carson takes time to shore up his thoughts, and I hope to post some more of his views here. But here’s something that ought to give you an idea of what you’re in for:

In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the "feeling" of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is "better worship" there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself, Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.

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