THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY OF OUR WORSHIP
I don’t know about you, but I often feel uncomfortable singing the words of our worship songs in church on a Sunday. They so often reflect a Gospel that mimics our individualised culture. They are not words that inspire me to want to worship Jesus as one part of the Body of Christ. Words like “I” and “me” and how much God loves “me” abound in our modern worship. It is often nothing more than a product of our culture and it needs to stop.
Western society is obsessed with the individual. We seek identity in the idea of finding ourselves, and the church has succumbed to it. In churches where we believe what Jesus says about denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him, any visitor on a Sunday might well come to believe that salvation is found in our own self-fulfilment rather than in Jesus’ call to self-denial.
Worship in the Bible is always a corporate experience. The New Testament talks consistently about the followers of Christ being part of a Body. It hardly ever talks about our own personal walk with God. This is not to say of course that our personal walk with God is not important. I find great meaning from my own personal relationship with God, knowing that I am loved by God just for who I am. But there is a difference between reasonable affirmation of that and obsession with it to the point that any visitor to our churches might believe that that is the sum total of what the Gospel is about.
This is especially the case when it is the experience of worship that is emphasised over anything else. The problem when we worship in the “I” and not the “we” in a group setting in church is that we can still feel alone. I know for myself that when I am part of a group that sings in the “we”, I feel a connection to everyone else in the group. I have a sense of being part of something bigger than me. It is not just me and God; it is us and God. I am bonded with my sisters and brothers. This is what we see reflected in the Bible. Worship is always corporate.
To the contrary, when I am part of a group that sings in the “I”, I often don’t feel connected to others who are standing all around me. The sentiment of the lonely crowd is a strong one, and I suspect it isn’t just me who feels it.
When we worship in such an individualised way, we are not only parroting our own Western culture rather than a Biblical pattern; we are making a statement about what we believe. Our individualised worship, reflecting our individualised idea of the Gospel, is actually a consumeristic concept where it is all about me, and the corporate idea of God’s love in the world is lost on us.
Despite all this, I believe there is a good side to this type of worship. It involves the fact that we often sing about God’s love for us in a way that defines us. “You’re a good, good, Father, it’s who you are, and I’m loved by you, it’s who I am” are lyrics that we often sing in the church I attend. Messages like this affirm our identity as people made in the image of God. They also make a statement, but it is a statement in defiance of the current cultural norms.
In a culture that constantly defines us according to our achievements and what we do, who we’re going out with, and what type of job we have, lyrics like this say we are defined not by those temporal things but by the fact that we are loved by the God of the universe. That is much more powerful and runs much more deeply than anything our culture defines us as.
As I write this, I am reminded of images I have seen of African-American men marching in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. These men would often carry placards saying “I am a man!” What did this have to do with civil rights? Well, everything really. Black men were constantly referred to as “boy” by segregationists and other white supremacists. So, to carry placards identifying themselves as men made in the image of God, they were saying a defiant “no” to the oft-prevailing attitude of the day.
This is the Biblical side of affirming our identity in our corporate worship. It is in instances like this that any sort of worship in an individual sense is worthwhile. Unfortunately though, this type of worship is rare in our churches.
So what needs to happen to get rid of the obsession with self in our worship? Thankfully, I think the seeds of change are already starting to germinate. In many churches in my country of Australia, we have been seeing for a while now that the Gospel is much bigger than our individual relationship with God. It is from our thinking of what the Gospel entails, of what it is that we believe, that our worship has the best chance of following suit.
Many people gain such a lot of benefit out of singing and praising God in church. I know I do (and I don’t have a musical bone in my body!). So wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if our worship reflected more of what US author Lisa Sharon Harper calls the “very good Gospel”, a Gospel that is relevant to everything in existence and that recognises that we are made for relating with each other, for building each other up?
The worship in our churches is good, bad and sometimes downright ugly. There is much potential, and things are starting to shift in what I believe is the right direction. But for us to have more of the good and to get rid of the bad and the ugly, we need to start with what we believe the Gospel actually is. But that is the subject for another article!
Originally published at www.sightmagazine.com.au.