Thomas McKenzie
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Worship Across Blogs

Phil Wilson is my esteemed brother in the Lord. I not only respect him, I genuinely like him. Among other things, he has been indispensable in teaching me about that dark mystery known as the Church of Christ. So, when he made a comment about worship on his blog the other week I bit. I asked him to unpack what he had said, and here is how he responded:

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas+ and I got into a little bit of a conversation about worship and I decided to bring it out overall. A point I made in the post was that I didn't think churches should be worship centers, but centers for discipleship. Thomas said that the most important thing his church does is gather for worship and I expressed that because of the time I spend in the tech booth, I don't get to worship very often.

Here's what I mean by worship. To me, worship is the ability to step away from ourselves and to focus completely on God and the wondrousness of His presence. In traditional Church of Christ theology, there are five acts of worship: teaching, giving, singing, praying, and communion. And if you only count those, I do get to experience those every Sunday, but I'm not able to focus exclusively on them. If you step away from that and get into a less "finger-based" approach (tiny joke there) that thinks in a wider view of worship and experiencing God in a more experiential way, I don't get to participate in that very often either.

I want to respond to Phil's definition of worship: "the ability to step away from ourselves and to focus completely on God and the wondrousness of His presence." I hear Phil's desire to transcend normal reality. But I have to take issue with it. I don't believe that worship has anything to do with an altered state of consciousness.

I have heard it said by a fellow Christian pastor (a Pentecostal in this case) "I am a spirit, I have a soul, I live in a body." I completely reject this idea. I am not "a soul, stranded hear in skin and bones" (U2's otherwise awesome song "Yahweh"). I am a "Nephesh," Hebrew for "entire self." Therefore, I will never step away from myself; neither will I focus on God outside of myself.

Worship is many things, but it is not about leaving this world behind. Rather, worship is a very physical, earthy reality. Whether it is being expressed in praise, prayer, proclamation of the God we worship, covenant renewal, or sacrifice, it is always in the hear and now. I don't set my problems and worries aside. Rather, I bring them before God as an important part of who I am.

Further, worship has practically nothing to do with my experience. Worship is sacrifice. I am giving up something of value, mainly my essential self expressed in a wide variety of liturgical ways. I might find this event emotionally satisfying, but I might not. In fact, worship may cause me to suffer. That doesn't make it less worship.

Part of Phil's issue may be that he comes from a tradition that doesn't, in my opinion, place a high value on the material aspects of worship. I could be wrong about that, but I don't think so. I really like his church, seriously I do. But I don't find it particularly physically engaging. It reminds me of a writer for Christianity Today who once said something like this: "when we sing 'Open the Eyes of My Heart' at my church, why do I always close my eyes? Maybe its because when I open my eyes in my Protestant church all I see is more Protestants."

The worship in my Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox tradition is very physical, even lush. I find this not only profoundly biblical, but also very helpful. Do I always have an emotional experience as I worship with my congregation? No, I don't. Do I focus soley on God? Not really, not ever. But I always worship.

When I worship, my question should not be "did I have a good experience, did I enjoy it?" Rather, I should ask "was it faithful, was it true, was God blessed?" And, if it is then God has been worshiped and I have the opportunity to be satisfied with that.

I don't want to go on and on. I don't want to say everything in one post. But, let me say this. I identify with Phil. I want to have an experience of God in worship. I want to have the feelings. I want to forget about myself. That sounds awesome. But it is not essential to worship. In fact, it is at best a secondary issue.

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