Worship and Order

Worship is our most important cultural activity.

Goodness in Culture (5)

thingsyou have done, and I kept silent;
You thought that I was altogether like you;
But I will rebuke you,
And set
them in order before your eyes.” Psalm 50.21

Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14.40

One of the most popular attractions in touristy Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is WonderWorksTM. WonderWorksTM is a large upside-down house, which looks like it has been picked up by a huge storm, flipped, and dropped on its roof in the middle of the town. Go inside, and everything is upside-down there too. The floors are where the ceiling should be, and you walk on the ceiling among chandeliers, upside-down doorways and furnishings.

WonderWorksTM is chock-full of fun family activities – games, experiments, experiences of various kinds, 3D films, and many other diversions. Just about any time you go there, it’s packed. People love WonderWorksTM – at least as a place to visit. But no one would want to live there. It’s a place for good, clean family fun, but it bears no resemblance to the real world, and no real-world people would want to call it home.

Happily, we leave our WonderWorksTM  experience at WonderWorksTM because the fun we have there doesn’t have to relate to life in the real world. It’s just some place to go for wholesome diversion. Not some place where you expect to live, and around which you intend to order your life.

A lot like the way many Christians do worship.

The worship of God in many churches is upside-down. It’s out of touch with God and with the real world, no place anyone would want to live, certainly not something you can take with you day by day, but generally, a lot of wholesome fun while we’re there.

That’s all well and good. Except that this is not what worship is for. As the most important aspect of cultural life, employing many other supporting cultural activities, worship in many churches today has been stood on its head. It may be fun, and lots of folks may be there each week, but it’s not what God is seeking in the place He promises to meet us.

Not like us
I can already hear the dissenters insisting, “But we love the worship at our church, and so do our friends!” Good. We should love to worship God, and everything we do while we’re together worshiping Him.

But too many churches plan their worship from the wrong starting-point. They ask, “What will our people find enjoyable, meaningful, and fun in worship?” Or, “What will bring in our lost neighbors, for whom traditional worship has lost its meaning?” Everything proceeds from there. Change the lighting, improve the seating, add a band and a drama troupe, keep the preaching folksy and anecdotal, add a few surprises and a jumbo screen, and voilà, worship that everybody loves.

But what if God doesn’t love it? What if God isn’t like us, and what if He prefers an approach to worship that doesn’t just flow from our or our culture’s preferences? What if His worship has forms and a pattern that He Himself prescribes, and that, as in Psalm 50, He comes seeking each time His people gather for worship? What if God has an order for worship that must be learned, indeed, mastered, and diligently and faithfully practiced if we are to realize the purpose for which God has instituted such worship?

Much of contemporary Christian worship is upside-down. It’s clever and contemporary, and there’s lots to do and lots of fun for everyone. But it’s the sort of thing you leave behind when you’re done, rather than continue to live in day by day, as Paul commands (Rom. 12.1 2; 1 Thess. 2.12).

God, order, worship, and culture
God is not a God of chaos. He’s not a God of fun, although we can know unbounded joy in worshiping and serving Him. God is not like us – silly, frivolous, spiritually shallow and confused, inclined to please only ourselves, and sure we know better than God how we ought to do culture.

But since worship is the most important cultural activity anyone can engage, it simply does not make sense that God would leave us to our own designs or whims to create forms of worship designed, in the first instance, to please us rather than to serve Him. And in fact, He has not. There is a divine pattern and order for worship, and, as we see in Psalm 50, no matter how many external forms or gimmicks we employ in the name of worship, if we don’t get that pattern and order right, beginning in our hearts and lives, then we can expect that God will reject our worship, no matter how much we enjoy it. Because, after all, worship is all about God, not about us.

If we will not submit to the divine order for worship, but insist on being led by our preferences and whims, then what hope do we have of submitting to His ideas about order in culture, or morals, or relationships, or spiritual life? The only order we will ever prescribe on our own, for ourselves, is the order of the moment, whatever makes us happy or satisfies some passing whim. Only order as God prescribes it can bring deep and lasting meaning, and God-honoring glory, to all our cultural lives, beginning in the way we worship God week by week and day by day.

For reflection
1.  What are some of the elements of the divine order for worship? How should these be arranged or ordered for worship?

2.  How can submitting to the divine order for worship help to ensure that the rest of our cultural lives will follow His ideas about order as well?

3.  Why is order in life preferable to disorder? Is the same true of worship? Where shall we learn the proper order for worship?

Next steps – Transformation: What are the key components of the worship of God? Meditate on Romans 12.1, 2. How can you bring more worship into the order of your life each day?

T. M. Moore

What are you doing at 8:18 am? If you’re with Bruce Van Patter, you’re observing the goodness of God in your immediate surroundings. Take a look at Bruce’s column, and let your world come alive with goodness (click here).

Our Mission Partners Outreach can help you follow God’s call to share the Good News of Christ and His Kingdom with the people in your Personal Mission Field. The training and materials are free, and the program is available in two formats, and can be used in your Bible study group or Sunday school class. Watch this brief video (click here), and download the informational flyer to learn more.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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