A return to deep worship

This post continues an exploration of Deep Church Rising by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1234. 5, 7, 89.

Last time we looked at what happened when parts of the church, seeking cultural relevance, departed from apostolic tradition. One of the results was departure from orthodoxia (right worship). A primary way this manifested (particularly in recent years in the West) was in the embracing of what some refer to as the "entertainment culture." In this setting, worship becomes less about glorifying God and more about providing the next "shot in the arm" to people who tend to view the church as merely one of multiple "voluntary club" alternatives.

Picture from Wikimedia, creative commons attribution
The downside of this consumeristic approach to worship is that the participants often quickly weary of the worship offered, and move on to other entertainment options. In what may have been a well-intentioned effort to relate the church to the culture, these churches have unwittingly produced "self-centered consumers of religious entertainment" (p. 98).

Given this reality, Walker and Parry challenge us to evaluate our own churches, asking these diagnostic questions: Is it a congregation or an audience? Is it about worship or a performance? Is my church forming disciples or merely keeping customers happy? Are we honoring God or are we more about pleasing ourselves? The authors hasten to add that they are not against churches providing worship that is beautiful and joyful. What they are saying is this: "If we are to be true to the aspirations of the tradition the agenda for worship has to be determined by the gospel, not by the entertainment culture" (p. 98).

According to the authors, gospel-focused worship (orthodoxia) has two vital components:

1. It is in Christ. Our worship is either in Christ (and thus "right") or it is not. But how can broken, sinful humans like us offer God right worship? The answer, of course, is that we can't! However, Jesus, the God-man, the one Mediator between God and man, can and does. Jesus "offers orthodoxia to God as our human representative." The authors comment further:
Christian worship is worship that is offered to God in and through Christ by those who are united to him by the Spirit through faith. Our imperfect worship passes, as it were, through the filter of Christ's own perfect worship and is thereby purified... First and foremost orthodox worship is worship offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. If it is, then it brings "right glory" because Christ's worship does (p. 99).
2. It is rightly aligned. Orthodoxia can be conceptualized as a journey with Jesus, which leads to life transformation. The Spirit leads us "from one degree of glory to another" as we experience in gospel-focused worship the reality of who we truly are in Christ. The authors comment further:
Orthodoxia is like the water flowing from a tap: it can be dripping, dribbling, flowing, gushing, or pounding. In experienced reality our worship is right to the extent it is conformed to the image of Christ. So orthodox, from this angle, is not so much what we are as what we are becoming, not so much where we are at as where we are heading. It is an eschatological feast that can be tasted in present reality (p. 99).
Walker and Parry go on to note that orthodoxia has these key characteristics:

1. It is God-focused. If worship is all about us--our preferences, our entertainment, etc., then it is misdirected. Right worship looks up, not in---it gives "glory to God for God's sake." And such worship, which seeks to bless (glorify, extol) God, blesses us too, for "it is in losing ourselves that we find ourselves" (p. 100). All the great liturgies of historic Christianity direct us to fix our eyes, not on ourselves, but on God.

2. It is gospel-shaped. The story of Jesus, the gospel, determines the shape of right worship. Here the gospel is proclaimed in word, sacrament (baptism and Eucharist), time (organized around the story of Jesus as it plays out through the Christian year), and in space (arranging the worship space in ways that proclaim Jesus and his story).

3. It is Trinitarian. Right worship is not directed toward a generic God---it's about "the God revealed in the person of Christ--the Triune God" (p. 105). Right worship is Trinitarian in its shape (to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit). It is worship that is gifted (enabled) by God (from the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit). Right worship is also Trinitarian in its focus---giving "glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit" (p. 106). Right worship brings the church into a dynamic encounter with the Holy Trinity.

4. It is existentially engaged. Instead of "going through the motions" right worship is "an existentially engaged encounter with God" (p. 106)---engaging us, body, mind and soul, with God.

5. It is a holistic response to God. Right worship engages us as the embodied creatures that we are. Such worship "is multi-sensory, appealing not merely to the ears--through songs and sermons--but to the eyes, to touch, to taste, to smell," Right worship is a "socially mediated, bodily enacted, sensually attuned means of knowing Christ" (p. 107). It attunes the whole body to discern and embrace the presence of Christ.

6. It accompanies ortho-praxia. Worship is never right unless accompanied by ortho-praxia, which is right living (practice). The authors ask, "Do we imagine that God will accept our worship if we are blatantly living in ways that run counter to the gospel?" (p. 109). Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced this question when the Nazis began co-opting the German Lutheran church for their own purposes in the lead-up to World War II. His conclusion then was that the church, in capitulating to the Nazis, had lost ortho-praxia and thus its orthodoxia. In his view, it had ceased to be the church of Jesus Christ.

7. It involves community. Right worship is necessarily communal. This insight flies in the face of our individualistic, consumeristic, entertainment-crazed culture where self-centered, superficial commitments are the norm. But right worship only occurs when brothers and sisters who are deeply committed to one another, gather in peace to praise their Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.
Next time we'll look further at what is touched on in #6, above: right practice (ortho-praxia). This will take us to the important topic of Christian ethics.