I have heard a growing choir of people over the years who are singing a tune which troubles me.
Why do we spend so much time on worship, when what’s really important is putting our faith into action?
The cultural anthropologist in me finds the theological range of people who make this statement interesting. Conservative Evangelicals and progressive Christians alike will utter forms of this same declaration, though each extreme has their own interpretation of what “putting our faith into action” means.
The problem is this growing choir sees worship as a detour of faith, instead of an exercise of it. What troubles me is I see their point.
Worship in conservative circles has become more and more about having personal needs met, and pleasing both personal taste and style has grown into a full-blown theater production. So much so theater supply companies can re-brand their catalogs for churches without having to change much of the internal artwork 1. For Christians who have grown weary of worship which confuses light shows with the Spirit’s movement, Sunday gatherings can seem selfish. That’s because, in many ways, it is.
In progressive circles the legacy of worship is seen more and more as the reach of the oppressor – the hand of patriarchy and empire forced onto the church and choking it’s life. Worship is seen as control instead of freedom, and when Christians in these circles look out and see the oppression still inflicted on this world gathering on Sunday mornings sometimes feels like complicity with institutions designed to keep some people out and tell other people they aren’t valued. While I disagree with the extent to which my progressive friends ride this train of thought, it’s difficult to not see their point.
And so both extremes of Christian belief run from worship because they feel being a disciple of Jesus must mean something more than gathering on Sundays and patting ourselves on the back. And they are correct.
But, conservative or progressive, our theology of worship just doesn’t cut it.
Worship is not about meeting our needs or instilling in us a sense of validation. Worship is also not about patting ourselves on the back for being Jesus’ disciples, nor it is about propping up institutions which have been used to abuse others. Worship is about declaring, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Now I’ve written often on this proclamation, and often with a negative follow up, “Jesus Christ is Lord, therefor Caesar is not 2.” This is as true a statement about a disciple’s life in this world as you can get in Christian theology. And yet, it’s not the whole picture because “Jesus is Lord” is not simply about saying, “Caesar is not.” That proclamation, known as the kerygma, is supposed to lead us to ask ourselves, “How then, shall we live?”
In other words, we have a faith which needs to be put into action because we gather in worship and declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Worship, taking a journey to the throne of Christ and then moving back out into the world, requires introspection – both as individuals and as a church. Prayers of confession, Communion, and Preaching are three key elements in worship, passed down to us through the centuries, which are supposed to poke our souls and help us ponder how we are called to live like Jesus 3. It is how the Spirit uses kerygma, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” to bring about transformation.
So, while the choir’s point about faith needing to be put into action is true, it also fails to understand that worship is supposed to be “faith in action.” Without the introspective aspect of the kerygma, spoken in community, we run the risk of missing the point. We may become calloused toward the very people upon whom Jesus came to save, or be molded into just another political action group scrounging for the crumbs at empire’s table. Until churches regain the introspect aspect of worship which springs from the kerygma, however, the choir which sees gathering together as a waste of time will continue to grow – and we’ll all become lesser as a result.