Monday, February 26, 2007

What’s the Point of Worship?

During the Season of Lent, for the next three weeks, I’ll focus my e-mail messages on worship as the central art of church.


Frankly, I just don’t get much out of the Sunday morning thing. A lot of the time, I like the music, particularly when it’s contemporary. But there is a lot that goes on Sunday morning that doesn’t do much for me. Am I supposed to feel something? I would think that being a Christian is more than sitting and listening. It is also doing. What is the good of the praying and the singing and the sitting and listening?

What is the chief end of humanity?

The proper answer from the Westminster Confession: The chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The Christian faith is a matter of God’s offer of love in Christ and our response to that love. We respond to God’s love with our loving acts of service toward those in need in the church and in the world. And yet we respond to God’s love, not only by loving deeds of service to others, but also by simply doing the things we do for God because God is God and we are God’s children. We are called not simply to obey God but also to glorify God. Above all, we are called to enjoy God.We are called to worship.

Love is not love if it is simply a matter of obeying rules, running errands, and performing duties. Some things we do just because we enjoy being in the presence of our loved one. So we sing songs, write poetry, dance, clap our hands, share food, or simply prop up our feet and do nothing but enjoy being with one another.In these purposeless moments of sheer enjoyment, we come very close to what love is all about.

If someone asked a Christian, “What’s the purpose of your worship? Why do you gather on Sunday and sing songs, dress up, kneel, march in processions, clap your hands, shed tears, speak, eat, and listen?” We could only say, “Because we are in love.”

The most serious, most delightful business of Christians, when you get down to it is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, to worship. Whether we are glorifying and enjoying God in church in our music, sermons, baptisms, and prayers our outside of church in our social concern, witnessing, and charity, it is all for one purpose: to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

I can’t put it better than in one of the most “pointless” and wonderful of the psalms, the very last psalm:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his exceeding greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with timbrel and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 150

Here is the heart of Christians at worship, pure praise done for the sheer enjoyment of love of a Creator is loves and is therefore beloved.

William H. Willimon

8 comments:

Rev J said...

Wonderful post and I completely agree. My question is how do we get our parishioners away from a consumerist style to their worship? For many people come to church or pick a church by what they get out of the service. If they don't like the service, they leave. Like anything in America church is becoming something you consume instead of participate in. How do we, as preachers, pull people back to correct worship?

rev katie m ladd said...

Thanks for your words. I also appreciate Henri Nouwen's view that God loved us so much that we are brought into this world to love God back through service and in worship. I have been transformed by the understanding of worship (and service) being functions of love - a part of a living relationship.

Dan Vojir said...

Can I amend the Westminster credo? The chief end of humanity is to RESPECT God by RESPECTING and HAVING FAITH in the rest of humanity. Glorifying God in a public manner makes people feel good about themselves: joyous music, singing, collective prayers, even (and especially) churches were created to uplift OUR spirits and make us feel just a little bit holier.

I live in a very crime-ridden and poor area where the sounds of voices reverberate through the entire neighborhood on Sunday. The energy is extremely high - but what is the result?

The problem with today's public worship is that it can easily overshadow man's greatest purpose: to try to make the world better, safer, cleaner, etc. by having faith in man as well as God. Look at today's "prosperity theology" megachurches. They have a McDonald's in one, a fitness center in another and their "services" are best termed as pyrotechnical. They make their congregations feel like they're bringing God into their lives - but are they? Are they giving glory to God by helping the poor, the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised? The income of one megachurch could feed the population of Sierra Leone for a year, but how much of that income will actually go to "upkeep" and how much will go to Sierra Leones across the country and the world?

The point is: trying to make the world better is more edifying to God than singing joyously together. Good works first, THEN sing joyously that they were accomplished! If those people in my area could, instead, expend all that energy in cleaning up our street, they would have a much better feeling when they sing praises to God.

Milton Stanley said...

Amen. Well said.

Sista Cala said...

Wonderful post, well said.

Anonymous said...

At a recent consultation weekend at our UMC church, Tom Bandy suggested that the purpose of Sunday morning is to provide healing for the broken, companionship for the lonely and forgotten, peace and hope for the anxious, and an opportunity for those who are filled with love of Christ, a place to shout their praises of thanksgiving.

I agree with that, but we're struggling with getting all of these aspects in and hour. So far, it seems to be going well, but it is hard finding a balance with all of these objectives. Would you advocate praise over the others aspects?

Char said...

I read a book of yours in seminary in which you said that worship of God was the best form of pastoral care for the congregation. If we were created to worship God, then worshipping God helps every situation, especially difficult ones. I hope I didn't screw up your intentions in my rehearsal of those words. Those words have aided me many many times in these last 15 years! THANK YOU.
Charmona

Sista Cala said...

I would be interested to know the title of the book char has mentioned. Thank you