Living Worship vs. Organized Religions' Worship
Organized religion is obsessed with garments, keeping with traditions of man, developing a structure for meeting God in services, and then marketing Him to appeal to a crowd.
A.W. Tozer’s Reclaiming Christianity, marks this as one of the characteristics of a "carnal Christian":
“…living too much in visible religion goes by things on the outside. Colored lights, and strange or pretty sounds, and garments or certain uniforms or decorations; anything that feeds their childish mind by calling it from the outside, from the internal to the external...The carnal Christian cannot worship without religious rattles and toys; otherwise, he gets bored and loses interest"(pg.123).
Tozer continues, "For the mature Christian, an unlovely place is suitable for worship if the heart is right and the Spirit dwells within. Worship and communion with God can be real and unaffected, and the tranquility can remain the same, because the spiritual Christian does not rest in the external"(pg.123).
Ever wonder why worship at church seems to be more like an entertaining event for God; to get something from him, as if He’s your Santa Clause?
More often than not, such “worship services” intend to scare up attention for the "Holy Spirit to move" and engage the people to “enter in” by creating artificial, ecstatic and emotional environments of lights and sounds. A Church in Denver now calls it “The Big Magic” to entertain. Worship leaders say they lead the body into "the throne room of God", acting almost like a mediator with the pastor, between the Body and Jesus (when only Jesus can do this as High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16)).
Intended or not, the Body perceives the gifted and talented musicians with celebrity-type status and idolizes them like rock-stars for their performance and entertainment. If it gains enough popularity, then style and song is marketed to the rest of Christendom for profit, and put on a CD or playlist called “Christian Worship.” This is “a singing escapade”, or a “groping for reality in contrived illusions” as author Wayne Jacobsen describes it instead of “our lives lived in loving engagement.”
Frank Viola’s Revise Us Again says it this way: "this is the result of humanly-engineered hype and pulpit showmanship and calling it 'the moving of the Spirit.' Perhaps you've seen this before. You pour in the right prayers, sing the right songs with the right fervor, turn the crank, and 'the Spirit's moving' comes out of the bottom."(pg. 120).
Instead, people leave with the same carnality they walked in the door with, just temporarily feeling better about themselves after they've unloaded their guilt and garbage on God and feel "charged up" for another week. Why? Because there’s no real transforming power in it. Those who perform seem to exhibit more attention-starving behaviors and demonstrative grandstanding in their worship, whereby the focus is all on “the worship leader”, when they are most often in need of Christ-like character formation.
So what happens? The fruit of the counterfeit results in man’s efforts, his own kingdom’s externals, and transformation in the Body doesn’t takes place. In the end, carnal living remains because true, Incarnational Christ-like living is not being worked out (this doesn't mean believers will be perfect or are above making mistakes). Week after week, the cycle of getting a “fix” from the show continues, but carnal behavior at home remains.
Genuinely, the Lord does "show up" at times at these events (He’s already there) because He's not bound to a human methods and structures, but here are some thoughts to consider:
1. Believers go to the worship services to get a special "touch from God" and ask him for things to give to them (financial, spiritual, emotional physical needs) in order to benefit their personal welfare and way of living. God becomes their Santa Clause.
2. The spontaneity of the Holy Spirit is restricted to a pre-planned, set order for worship, prepared sermon, and ministering restricted to the leadership. The functioning of the "priesthood of all believers" and Scriptures such as 1 Cor. 14 are stifled and ignored. The result is a clergy/laity divide with few ministers and mostly passive spectators.
3. Often the "move of the Spirit" is mistaken by human-engineered methods (explained below). Singing seven words, eleven (7-11 songs). The constant repetition of phrases and words 20, 30, 40 sometimes 50+ times, repeating choruses or bridges, as if that will get the body "moved" emotionally into a restful state.
4. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need to “show up.” In fact, He’s already manifesting Christ (Matt 8:20) in the Body’ midst as they have already drawn near to Him together (Ja. 4:8). Shouldn’t we already be aware of His presence as we gather, or are we just trying to turn up the bass to wake him from sleeping?
As a result, the people themselves and the show becomes the center for God's blessings to fall, rather than Jesus being the Center for the assembly through each and every one, learning to live in union with Him, and pouring Him out to others. Biblically, this "worship" does not reflect true, New Covenant worship, unto Jesus.
It's not wrong for believers to have a large gatherings for singing and teaching unto the Lord. The issue, however is the human-engineering behind it.
It’s a manufacturing of a set order for worship, the elevating of certain believers above others, where a few lead, and the rest spectate or receive with self-preserving motivations for receiving security and reward from God.
The issue is not singing or words themselves that glorify Christ (although I've been in many services where the songs sometimes focuses on self, our efforts, and what we get from God, rather than songs to worship God Himself); however, there isn't any place in Scripture that teaches Christians are supposed to gather for worship.
"Worship in Spirit and in Truth." as Jesus spoke of in John 4, no longer reflects an Old Covenant Temple, Jewish Synagogue type of worship. Nor does it reflect Medieval Catholic style worship, now reformed by Protestants in traditional or post-modern worship services.
Frank Viola, in his book, Pagan Christianity states, "Protestant Sunday Morning Order of Worship does not appear in the NT and emerged later as the result of absorbing Greco-Roman customs (e.g., the Roman Imperial court), Jewish rituals, and human invented traditions in the post-apostolic period."
Instead, Jesus speaks of a lifestyle and communion with God. In other words, the fragrance of our obedient, day-to-day living by the Spirit and in Truth, unto Jesus, is the New Covenant worship spoken of in the New Testament. It's no longer restricted to "holy events, with holy clothes, for holy times and holy places."-Wolfgang Simpson.
We no longer have to go to God, to a special event with other believers and make sacrifices with a professional mediator (pastor or priest), just like the Old Covenant.
Dr. Robert Banks, in his book, Paul's Idea of Community, discusses Rom 12:1-2 which says our whole life is to be worship unto the Lord, and he states that, "since all place and times how now become the venue of worship, Paul cannot speak of Christian assembly in the church distinctively for this purpose."
We have Christ Incarnate. "For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), which is true Spirit and in Truth living. We carry Him wherever and whenever we go, and the very life of being a disciple unto Him, giving Him glory for the work He does in and through us, is the fruit of true worship to God. The self-less, sacrificial living unto God, poured out to others is the real, spiritual worship service (Rom 12:1). Our sacrificial life is now living by His sacrifice. Worship to our Lord is "deny yourselves, take up your cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Our hearts should be crying daily, "Search me, Oh, God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." (Psalm 139:23). It's not "I" search myself with a self-introspecting attitude and trying to do better in my own abilities by not sinning and practicing good behavior. Rather, I give God Himself permission to search me, release His power within to overcome evil, and heal me from my own selfish ambitions.
This, I believe is what the Lord sees as true heart of worship, learning to live by the Life of Another (Jesus Christ) in union with Him, for His glory, and the edification of the Body. Read 1 Cor. 14 and see what Paul had in mind for worship. In v.26, you'll notice the "each of you" is speaking about everyone for the building up of the Church. Not just a select few musicians leading or a pastor, but everyone participating for the benefit of each other in the Church, whether it's a song, instruction, or revelation from the Lord.
This is a stark contrast from us as individuals just going to a worship service for God to get a "special touch" from him and to ask for his blessings. We forget that blessings only come when we follow in obedience to His Kingdom Way. "God will only bless what He is doing." -Wolfgang Simpson. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."-Matt 6:3.
In other words, the blessings follow that of living unto His Kingdom and His Righteousness, poured out for the benefit of each other. It's not the other way around, where Jesus is used by me to work in my kingdom, my possessions, in my life, in my good ways, in my ministry, in my health, in my job...my, my, my, my.
What if New Covenant worship looked more like living...
Should we be rethinking what worship is? I believe so. Hopefully, we’re re-thinking our definition of what worship truly is, lest we be subject to Jesus' firm rebuke in Matt 15:8-9,"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."
Instead may our lives be “lived in loving engagement”, a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” with our spouses, our children, our Church family, and our community.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” - Psalm 127:1a (ESV)