This is the third and final installment of a series of articles on the state of Protestant evangelical worship in the West.
In the first two installments in this series, we scanned the false dangers that occur in worship spaces in the West; and looked at the faulty pitfalls of hyper-relevance, preferential expectations and comfortable worship.
This week, I want to turn our attention to unearthing three real dangers to true worship. When we talk about false dangers, these are things that appeal to us as important in our worship but are really "smokes and mirrors" -- insubstantial realities in our churches that create cycles of apathy. Real dangers to true worship, on the other hand, are threats in that if we don't enact them, our worship is no longer worship.
Real Danger No. 1: Encountering God
Nothing is as dangerous as encountering the true and living God. Why? Because meeting God redefines everything we call normal.
When we say in our corporate worship that we want to experience God's presence in deeper ways but our avoidance of true transformation through an encounter with a Holy God during this time suggests that we choose to live something other than what we actually confess.
We were made for relationship with God but because we worship the idol of self above all else, we seek the god we want. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living His life. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction.
We are largely responsible for that as pastors and worship leaders. In the way we lead, the way we pray, the way we speak, even the types of music we do, we thwart opportunities to lead people to encounter the Yahweh God. We tend to escort our congregations to a tamed, domesticated version of God.
This is why encountering God is dangerous but a true and necessary danger. If we are committed to protecting who and what we are now, our greatest need and greatest danger will be in meeting God. And this is a meeting worth having.
Real Danger No. 2: Worship That Lies To God
According to the Bible, of the many qualities of worship that matter to God, none is more important than truth. In other words, God desires for us to worship Him as He truly is. In John 4, Jesus himself says, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
Our central lie is in the inconsistency between the language we outwardly use in our times of worship and the actions of worship. We may sing, "Jesus is Lord," but submit only to those things we want to submit to as not to disrupt the American dream; it doesn't cause pain, doesn't draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, or doesn't add pressure or guilt.
Real Danger No. 3: Worship That Lies About God
God has done much in his Word to reveal the integrity of his character. We lie about God by misnaming him when our lives and words don't line up with who He is.
God knows when we are lying about Him. When we lie about Him, our neighbor assumes we are telling the truth and says, "God isn't worthy of my worship." We profess a God of love and mercy but many see Christians as the least charitable, the least forgiving, and the most judgmental. Those outside the church smell a fake a mile away. This hypocrisy is one of the primary reasons our churches skeptics are not impressed with the contradictions. Neither is God.
If our lives lie about God, our worship will lie about God. As pastors and worship leaders, if our lives lie about God, our leadership in worship will lie about God.
Real Danger No. 4: Worship That Doesn't Change Us or Change the World
If we truly meet God, we will never be the same. Yet in our worship practices, we have a tendency to stay the same. No matter what model we may choose to employ in our gathered worship services, we always run the risk of creating our own wooden traditions.
We go through the motions again and again, either failing to meet God or allowing it affect us. We are like people who go through years of therapy because they seem to like the talking, but we do little of the work that fosters real change.
To be fair, if human spiritual transformation were easy, it would not have required the cross, the resurrection, or the gift of the Spirit. But these gifts have been given.
Maybe it has to do with incomplete worship. We take in the good news of the gospel again and again but we fail to risk living out the gospel. We are meant to live what we profess. If we are subtly teaching our congregations that their Christianity is defined by an hour a week, their faith won't be transformed.
Everything in Scripture points to spiritual transformation as our deepest and most profound spiritual need. But this transformation is the most difficult thing in the world. Why else would it require the death of God's only son? It is the highest price for the most costly and difficult change. So when we talk about spiritual transformation, let's remember that it is profound and costly, that it required death for there to be life.
Worship that only stays focused on self and our transformation is a termination of the gospel. So how do the people of God embody the mercy and justice shown to them by God to the world? By finding their lives in God through worship. This is how worship can also change the world.
Worship in Truth
Worship is meant to educate us in distinguishing what is true from what is not, what is the greater danger and what is the lesser. Paul Tripp says, "Corporate worship is designed to once again clear up our confusion as to what is truly important in life." He's right. But we often fail to exercise and strengthen those skills.
We need true worship to clarify real danger. We need to meet God in order to know what's worth fearing and what's not. When our experience of worship is committed to safety, it allows us to fear, even bow down, but before the wrong dangers. So the dangers of our lives are not being written by the reality of God, as worship was meant to do.
Rather, safe worship allows us to continue holding on to fear of loss of lesser things, like personal status, satisfactions, job security, power or happiness. Such worship leaves us with the same kind of blindness and confusion that grips our culture in general.
God has called us to more than that. He wants us to encounter Him and be transformed by Him and to change the world through Him. This is what true worship is. And does.
--Brad Andrews is lead pastor at Mercyview
Send all comments and feedback regarding Above and Beyond to firstname.lastname@example.org
Share this article: