Worship Matters, Part 1…by Pastor Bennett
What is worship? How would you define or describe it? Before reading any further, think about how you might answer that question. Is worship a certain activity? Is it a particular musical genre? What is it and how should we think about it? In this and a subsequent pondering, I’d like us to ponder the topic of worship together. Our thoughts and ideas on this (as with anything else) must be formed and guided by Scripture alone, not our own experiences and preferences. That said, there are several things we can say on the issue of worship, and particularly on the organized and corporate worship of the gathered church.
First, our corporate worship at New Life is a crucial part of a bigger whole. Human beings were created as worshipers. With every thought, word, and action, we are always worshiping someone or something. Our worship did not cease at the fall; it was redirected (Genesis 3). In our sin, we naturally live our lives in worship of created things instead of the Creator (Romans 1.25). Therefore, Christian worship is re-centering our entire lives on the God who created us, loves us, and redeems us in Christ (Romans 12.1; Colossians 3.17).
We must approach our worship as the gathered church on Sunday morning in light of this bigger context. In Worship By the Book, D.A. Carson asserts, “Worship becomes the category under which we order everything in our lives…We dare not think we gather for worship because we have not been worshiping all week, so also it is folly to think that only part of the ‘service’ is worship―everything but the sermon, perhaps, or only the singing…”
In other words, we must maintain a biblically comprehensive and thorough understanding of worship rather than restricting our approach to worship as an experience we have on Sunday morning or at special conferences or retreats. Worship is certainly not less than our time together on Sunday morning, but it is far more than that.
Secondly, our corporate worship must be gospel-centered. It should be firmly rooted in our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Corporate worship is not something we participate in outside of Christ our mediator, but is only possible because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf.
James Torrance articulates this well in Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace: “[Worship is] the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. It means participating in union with Christ, in what he has done for us once and for all, in his self-offering to the Father, in his life and death on the cross…There is only one offering which is truly acceptable to God, and it is not ours. It is the offering by which he has sanctified for all time those who come to God by him (Hebrews 2.11, 10.10-14).”
As we participate in elements of corporate worship, we may have the tendency to focus so much on our own efforts or experience that we actually lose sight of the fundamental truth of the gospel in that worship. Carson describes this danger: “It is not uncommon to be told that ‘worship leads us into the presence of God’ or the like. There is a way of reading that statement sympathetically, but taken at face value it is simply untrue. Objectively, what brings us into the presence of God is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
So if our worship as Christ’s church is only possible because of Christ, we must have a constant focus on him and his work in our salvation. Focusing less on ourselves, we must redirect our attention to Christ, our true Worship Leader. “For every Christian, at all times and in all places, there has only ever been one Worship Leader, one who is worthy to enter that sacred space and able to endure the wrath of God in our places, making us able to ‘boldly enter in’ with and through him. The songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the faith we confess―all of it is an echo and an amen to the perfect worship offered to God by his Son” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace).
Because of the fundamental importance of the gospel for all aspects of life, we must not treat it as peripheral. It is not enough to think about the gospel as the gateway to Christianity, but not central to the entire Christian life. The story of the gospel is the defining fact for all of our past, present, and future, and we must live and worship with that in mind (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). When it comes to our time of corporate worship on Sunday morning, Bob Kauflin summarizes this best in Worship Matters: “The gospel is not merely one of many possible themes we can touch on as we come to worship God. It is the central and foundational theme. All our worship originates and is brought into focus at the cross of Jesus Christ.”
With these things in mind, we must approach our corporate worship accordingly. May our corporate worship at NLCC be a reflection of our lives of worship, and may it be ever saturated with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We will pick up this discussion and explore these things further in a future pondering.