Hope for True Worship Rooted in the Living God


The following excerpt is from my book, Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing.

Most any study of worship practice or theology posits a working definition. A difficulty in defining Christian worship is that no one word for worship is translated from Hebrew, or Greek to English. Rather, there are gestures, words, attitudes, and actions that reflect what we have come to call “worship” that are translated “worship.” Even worse, writers who simply use the English word, “worship,” tracing its etymology from the Old English weorthscipe, with its connotation of “ascribing worth,” leave us open to the subtle but destructive practice of assuming that we stand in a position to determine God’s worth.[1] This presumption in itself is anthropocentric. (7)

At issue, here is the unitarian sense that God is static. The English word struggles to capture the multiplied attributes of God Himself and the active responses to His revelation.  Part of the astounding beauty of worship is that as we engage in the rhythmic dance of worship, revelation and response, we live in the tensions of various attributes of God. Yes, He is, of course, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet He is also the living God, from Whom we see new mercies morning by morning. Yes, He is the one true God, and yet He is also God in three persons, Blessed Trinity, in which there is community. As we sing worship and encounter God’s Word in Holy scripture we embrace these tensions and step into the beautiful mystery of God.

A Canadian blogger and fellow worship leading practitioner and thinker that I like to read is Stacey Gleddiesmith. Stacey confronts the problem of using the etymology of the English word as the definition for worship. She notes its stagnant character, which is far too shallow an attempt at grasping a sense of the intentions and desires of the Triune and living God.

Worth-ship is a state of being (like friend-ship). When we apply the word “worship” to God, we simply affirm that he is of worth. There is no sense of movement, of interaction, of relationship with God. There is no sense of the narrative that underlies scripture; of the call and answer that enriches our lives before God; of the patterns and forms of approach that God has set in place. It’s a definition that would easily lend itself to a deist stance: my worship of God admits to his existence and his worth, but does not really infer any interaction between us. God might have set things in motion, but he has now stepped away, and I can admire him from a distance. (http://thinkingworship.com/?s=theology+101)

The stagnant presentation of God in worship may well be responsible for the tendency toward theistic moralism so prevalent in evangelical faith practice today. I fear that in the Sunday services of many churches from my own denomination worship has been relegated to music interested primarily in the experience of the would be worshiper, and the propositional preaching that opines positions of the Almighty, as interpreted by the one preaching. Instead of making disciples of a suffering Savior, who willingly laid down His life, we are making consumers of “good worship” as determined by personal or popular tastes in music, and agreed upon polemics likely to be expounded from our pulpits. Parishioners drop by to hear tunes they enjoy, and to pick up polemics they can post on facebook. Rather than building a faith community seeking to lose their life, die to self, and live to Christ, walking in His resurrection, we are fostering a spiritual gas stop where dropping by holds hope of feeling good, building our positional arguments, and leveraging affiliations for personal or organizational gain. And how is that working out for us? Lord, help us. We need a Savior.

But wait! There is good news! Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! The church has always been in a state of reformation, and will be until Jesus comes back. Could we pray toward our own conviction, repentance, and response to His revelation? Leaders, let us pray fervently for return to our first love. Let us forgo production and simplify to genuine edification and convictional covenant. Instead of building props, let us build real community. Let us subject our practices to the scrutiny of the Word itself to find life in loving the Lord, our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and loving neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps we should revisit our baptism, the symbolic mark of our identity with Christ.

The words of this great baptismal hymn penned by Adoniram Judson around 1829 come to mind:

Come, Holy Spirit, Dove divine,
On these baptismal waters shine,
And teach our hearts, in highest strain,
To praise the Lamb for sinners slain.

We love Your Name, we love Your laws,
And joyfully embrace Your cause;
We love Your cross, the shame, the pain,
O Lamb of God, for sinners slain.

We sink beneath the water’s face,
And thank You for Your saving grace;
We die to sin and seek a grave
With You, beneath the yielding wave.

And as we rise with You to live,
O let the Holy Spirit give
The sealing unction from above,
The joy of life, the fire of love.

[1] Peterson, Engaging with God, 17. Peterson is referencing W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (ET, London: SCM, 1961; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), Vol. 1, p. 102.

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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One Comment on “Hope for True Worship Rooted in the Living God”

  1. […] the English, worship. But let’s let Paul Clark, Jr. take a stab at explaining all that in this article, Hope for True Worship Rooted in the Living God. Plus, it’s worth reading for the […]

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