Thursday, April 21, 2005

Worshipping Worship 

Marva Dawn comments on the effect that the technological milieu has had upon our relationships:—
[S]exual union, which is most satisfying as the culminating expression of growing intimacy in many human dimensions, has been ripped out of that context and placed as the initiating act for relationships. Since it then has no corresponding intimacies, improvements must deal with the very act itself, and consequently we have to write manuals on techniques to make “sex” more exciting.
It just occurred to me that this is very similar to that which many modern evangelicals have done with worship. Lacking the courage, love and patience necessary to devote ourselves to growing in fellowship with God day by day, the entire weight of our relationship with God has been shifted onto worship (in the more particular sense of the word). The ‘worship experience’ becomes all-important. We begin to worship worship (thanks to Gaines Redd for the link to this post). In fact, for many today, God is not necessary for the ‘worship experience’ at all. Quite a number of people seem to care far more about their own (private) spirituality than they do about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They have made worship itself into an idol, always seeking new techniques to improve the experience. Worship has become a form of spiritual onanism. Just look in many Christian bookstores and compare the number of books devoted to expounding techniques designed to help the reader ‘get spiritual quick’ and the number of books that are devoted to knowing God — as a glorious end in itself, and not merely as a means to grant us a better spirituality. All of this is daily brought home to me as I look through the material sold and produced by the Christian radio station that I am working for at the moment. There is nothing terribly wrong with most of the material. However, it is the rarity of books dealing with subjects to do with God Himself and His work in history that strikes me and troubles me; almost all of the books are about the spirituality of the individual and how to produce a good worship experience. The difference between these two forms of literature is, to some degree, comparable to that which exists between books teaching you how to grow in your love for and relationship with your spouse and books teaching you how to improve your sex life. Yesterday my brother Jonathan drew my attention to a testimony in one of the leaflets produced by the organization, which contained a phrase that read something like the following: ‘…my higher spiritual power, which I choose to call God…’ This is material being produced by a Christian company. This comment is, fortunately, not representative of the vast majority of the material this company puts out, but it is, nonetheless, extremely concerning (it is also something that I intend to raise in an appropriate context). It is also not unrepresentative of the destination that many current approaches to worship in evangelicalism are leading us. It is high time that the gradual growth of such gross idolatry in the heart of many evangelical churches is brought to light. In such a time as this, it is crucially important to recover the idea of worship as a place of communion, within the context of many deep and developing intimacies. We need to fix our attention on Christ and retain this focus when undertaking our studies of worship. There are dangers here that can attack any of us. For example, those of us who recognize that the Eucharist is the culminating expression of our relationship with God must beware of the slippery slope that can lead to the idolization of the Eucharist as a thing in itself, and forget that it is the place of ‘Communion’. The analogy of sexual union is quite appropriate to our understanding of the Eucharist, for the act of feeding on the flesh of the Bridegroom that takes place in the Eucharist is clearly sexual in character. Our participation in the Eucharist becomes sterile and vain, if it does not take place within the context of deepening relationships with Christ and His Body. The centrality of the Eucharist should never blind us to the necessity of these things. A marriage without sexual union — or in which meditating on the spouse’s body replaces feasting on it — may be a mockery, but a marriage that has the sexual union apart from anything else is far emptier. So it is with the Supper.

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