February 28, 2007

Emerging Worship 2

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Last week, I finished Dan Kimball‘s Emerging Worship.  I’m not going to go through the book chapter by chapter and discuss it, but I do want to touch on a few things.

In the third chapter (entitled “Why This is a Dangerous Book to Read”), Kimball warns about treating the “weekend worship gathering” as the most important thing that the church does.  The church, he says, isn’t a place you go or a meeting or Christians who go to a meeting; it’s Jesus’ disciples wherever they are, and especially as they gather throughout the week and as they are involved in mission together all week long.

I appreciate his desire to keep people from thinking that church is just a place you go on the weekend and that being a Christian is simply a matter of going there (or even, as is often the case, a matter of going to “church,” listening to the Christian radio station, reading Christian novels, and having your daily devotions).  I appreciate his emphasis on the church’s mission in the world.

But it seems to me that Kimball is needlessly pitting worship and mission against each other.  Maybe I’m more aware of that because I recently finished rereading Peter Leithart‘s The Kingdom and the Power.  It’s not as if our worship is a break from our work in the world.  On the contrary, our worship is itself mission.

As James Jordan has pointed out in the most recent Rite Reasons (“How to Stop the Killing in Darfur, Part I”), the priests in the Old Covenant were engaged in holy war.  They killed animals that represented sinners, for one thing.  They offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the seventy nations of the world (Gen. 10; Num. 29; Zech. 14:16-21).  But in particular, they sang the Psalms, calling on God to avenge His people, to make the nations know Him, and so forth.

And that’s what we see in Luke 18, when Jesus tells us to pray for vengeance and not lose heart.  It’s what we see in Revelation, as the church worships God and God pours out His vengeance on those who oppress His people.  As Jordan says, “God promises to change the world, to turn the world upsidedown, when His people come into His presence during worship and pray for vengeance.”

It’s not just vengeance, of course.  We’re praying also for the salvation of the world, as the priests offered sacrifices for the nations.  Our worship is largely “common prayer,” and it isn’t a break from our mission in the world.  It is the primary way in which we carry out that mission.  Activism says that we work hard in the world, and that’s where our mission is accomplished, but we take breaks sometimes to rest and worship God.  The Bible teaches us that worship is itself our work, our highest calling, and it is the primary way in which we carry out our work in the world.

If we want our neighbors converted, what’s the primary thing we have to do?  Make friendships?  Get involved in service projects?  Those things are important.  But what’s primary is surely drawing near to God, receiving His gifts (or else how can we work during the week?), praising Him (and when He is lifted up on our praises, our enemies are scattered), and praying to Him to save our neighbors.

None of that leaves room for us to think that if we simply show up in church as spectators, we’ve carried out our calling as Christians.  In fact, there’s no room for spectators in our worship.  Reformed congregations easily fall into the trap that Kimball is warning against, since it often seems as if the minister does everything: there’s a heavy emphasis on the sermon, while the congregation sings and recites a creed but doesn’t itself pray the prayers.  But biblical worship isn’t a spectator sport.

And biblical worship may not be divorced from service in the world around.  What happens in the Lord’s Day service (please, not “weekend worship gathering”) is the most important thing.  It’s more important than your private Bible readings and prayers, more important than your evangelistic or service work in the community, but it isn’t divorced from those things.  Rather, it is the heart of the church’s life, the time when we are served by God so that we can serve Him in return in the liturgy and then, flowing from it, all week long.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:04 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Emerging Worship 2”

  1. Brian Clark Says:

    Thank you for your blog today. I agree that worship is our central “work” and goes hand-in-hand with the Christian mission. They don’t work against each other but together. You can’t have worship without mission and the reverse is true.

  2. Mark Kodak Says:

    Some powerful points you have made here John. I am rethinking “imprecatory” now.

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