Thinking Practically About Congregational Worship | Corporate Worship Should Celebrate God

Corporate Worship Should Celebrate God

In a chapter titled, “God as the Center of Worship: Who Is Worship For?” Marva Dawn writes:

“It is absolutely essential that the church keep God as the subject of worship since to be Christian means to believe that God revealed in Jesus Christ is everything to us- Creator, Provider, and Sustainer; Deliverer, Redeemer, and Lord; Sanctifier, Inspirer, and Empowerer.”

If the Gospel is truly the central belief of the church, God will naturally be rooted as the source and subject of worship. Thus, worship should celebrate the attributes and actions of God, who He is, what He has done for us, and for what He will continue to do. Dawn notes, “the word worship comes from the Old English roots weorth, meaning ‘honor’ and ‘worthiness,’ and scipe, signifying ‘to create.’ Within our inadequacies of humanity it is of course impossible to create God’s honor, simply because of the fact that honor is inherent of God. Nevertheless in worship we are called to bring honor to God and to proclaim that He is worthy of praise. When we remember God as the source and subject of worship our response should be celebration.

Where Does the Church get this Wrong?

Or perhaps a better question is, how might our worship services convey something other than the reality that God is central in worship? Dawn suggests several factors are to blame for the loss of God as the object of our worship. This includes lack of teaching on worship, improper motivation of worship, and further that cultural norms and ideals have shifted the way in which many worship services are structured. John Jefferson Davis, in his theological study of the real presence of God in worship, comments on observations of the ‘mega-church’ culture of a church he visited in Denver, Colorado. He writes:

“Here I am in ‘church,’ and I find my attention focused on the television screens, not on the real human being down front… As we left the church, I had something of an epiphany, realizing that even the church furnishings – in this case, the theatre-style seatingwere sending a subliminal message, one that my culture sends continuously: ‘Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.” (Davis, Worship and the Reality of God, 8.)

While reading of his surroundings in this ‘worship’ experience, I became reminded of this perceived performance of contemporary worship, as memory of visiting a mega-church in the Louisville suburbs snuck back into my mind. Like Davis, I recall the oddity it was to see the worship team more visibly on the large video screens (complete with lyrics over their faces) than when actually looking at the platform. Listening to the sermon, again while watching the pastor on the screens because of how far away you are sitting, and arena seating where the people, like in the case of Davis’ experience, were more likely to be holding a cup of coffee in their hands than a Bible.

For myself, this ‘church’ experience was something so different from any other church experience, and I found it difficult to get past the ‘performance’ and ‘entertainment’ culture that had seemingly been broadcast by the entire set-up of this church. We value the entertainment aspect of church, and often leave the service mulling over whether or not we enjoyed the service. Or we find ourselves leaving with the question “what did I get from this service? How has the service met my own needs? All of a sudden, worship becomes less about God (He who is to be worshipped), and more about the individual congregant (He who is to participate in the act of worship).

Unfortunately, at time it appears many have too quickly taken the ‘performance based mindset’ that is seen in many mega-churches, and have stamped ‘performance’ on all forms of contemporary evangelical worship. If the music is too loud for our taste, if we are not primarily singing hymns, if songs are accompanied by a praise band, rather than an organ, piano, choir, or orchestra- then it is almost as if the band has to ‘prove’ in some way that ‘it is not about them.’ Davis writes, “worship in ‘Spirit and in truth’ implies and requires a new vision of the real, and new cognitive habits and practices that give access to heavenly realities in worship… Christians today have to fight to take back biblical reality and to train themselves to see reality in a thoroughly different way, through a different ontological way.”

Developing a ‘Weightier’ Ontology

Much of what Davis addresses in his text is this notion that we need to develop a weightier ontology. He writes of three ontologies that ‘compete for shelf space’ within the Christian mind:

1) Scientific Materialism (modernity)

2) Digital Virtualism (post-modernity)

3) Trinitarian Supernaturalism (eternity).

As humanity places greater importance on the ontology of scientific materialism or digital virtualism our understanding of the ontological realty of the Trinitarian God lessens to the point where our worship is more reminiscent of earthly realities than heavenly. In terms of our worship the question should be posed; do we have a Trinitarian ontology that outweighs the cultural influence from the scientific and virtual ontologies that pollute our everyday lives or are these competing ontologies getting in the way of celebrating God in worship?

I’ll continue these thoughts in my next post, exploring the question on how structure both service structure and physical worship space structure can assist in our developing a weightier ontology.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below with some of your own thoughts and perspectives.

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