Dr. Nathan T. Morton
Worship: Not a Flight into Uncertainty
Obviously, things have been in an unusual state of flux for a few years and the church isn’t immune. Some things have been altered through the intangible dynamics of the health challenges while others have been reshaped by economics, politics, and societal attitudes. All in all, the last three years have been a mixture of bad and good, the percentages of which I will leave to the perspicacity of the self-appointed moral and political appraisers.
Through all of this one thing remains beyond debate, God’s sovereignty. Nothing has escaped the Lord’s purview or violated His ultimate plan. And, if Romans 8:28 is true, our mission is not resolutions and resistance but rejoicing in discovering God’s will and ways inside these new rhythms and patterns. We could hunker down defensively and pine away for days gone by, but that is not the posture of good stewardship.
One of the larger narratives in the Old Testament relates to the different societal transitions through which Israel navigated. After their deliverance from Egypt and entrance into Canaan, there was, for a time, national stability with Israel living as God’s covenant people. Discontinuity only came when Israel turned to worship idols. Consequently, God used Assyria and Babylon to disembed the people from their worship and culture.
Certainly, the building of Zerubbabel’s modest temple and Nehemiah’s reconstruction of Jerusalem the walls brought re-formation, but it was not the Israel they had left behind. Core theological values remained intact to which Israel seemed even more committed than before, but worship was different. The old wept over the difference while the young rejoiced in its return. In some ways, this is where we now find ourselves.
When a church begins to rethink and reimagine how biblical values are to be communicated in worship it must think in theological ways. Past traditions as well as new and unfamiliar forms should be considered, measured scripturally, and spiritually evaluated as the church seeks to re-position itself to continue authentically connecting worshippers to Christ and one another.
Worship, at its core, is communal while the church's nature is anatomical. Therefore, reimagining worship in this new world extends beyond the superficial elements of song, style, liturgy, and service format--although they are certainly included. However, the evaluation must begin with a sound theological understanding of the exact nature and purpose of the church, knowing the primary goal of worship and who this God is around which all true worship orbits.
Only after experiencing the tragedies of captivity did Israel become self-aware enough to read the handwriting on the wall and see the grave error of idolatrous worship.
Nietzsche said, “the most dangerous lie is the one we tell ourselves.” Since the inception of the church growth movement, we have been lying to ourselves about the true nature and purpose church, which recent developments have glaringly exposed. To increase our self-awareness, I propose that we begin by asking four questions.
How can we ensure that the “king” of worship is not diminished by the “kind” of worship?
Is it possible to extend the Lord's Day worship deeper into the worshipper’s week? And if so, how?
In contrast to the graded worship created during the church growth movement, how can we insure unified intergenerational relationships in worship?
What would be successful worship and is such a thing measurable?
Asking these questions against the background of clear and defined biblical theology and polity is a good starting place. As with biblical interpretation, we should seek to avoid adopting the “lenses” of special interests or focusing on unique groups. Our hope is unity not division, equality not old or new injustices. Here are some thoughts regarding the process of reframing and reimagining worship.
The guiding principles ought to be sound doctrine, Christ’s glory, body unity, and spiritual inspiration.
The measurements of good and bad should never be old and new.
There must be a glad willingness to keep, adopt, reframe, discard, or replace.
Don’t be afraid to confront or engage the culture. Paul’s refusal to allow traditions or pagan culture to either draw or repel allowed him to present a radical way of Christ living that changed the world.
Worship must seek to be transformative balancing form and freedom while resonating with all.
There should be a genuine desire to reveal and experience God in community through all forms of artistry.
James Muilenburg, former president of the Society of Biblical Literature writes, worship in the Old Testament was not “a flight into the dim unknown, to timelessness, or to a presence that disturbs and elates one in ecstasy… [it is] a holy meeting in which God grants forgiveness, comfort, and guidance, and where the worshipper responds in praise, often reciting God’s great redemptive acts.”
Worship matters, it is not a flight into uncertainty but the walk of faith into greater significance. Christ-honoring worship motivates us to discipleship while fueling evangelism. It has the power to stimulate us into godly service, for the stream of worship often flows into surrender as it increases conscious awareness of our living relationship with God.
 J. Muilenburg, The Way of Israel: Biblical Faith and Ethics. (New York: Harper, 1961), 107-108.