— By LOU TISCIONE
When we gather for corporate worship, is it to be entertained or to be humbled? Of course our answer would be submission in humility. The most basic attitude for a Christian, especially in worship, is humility. The Bible teaches that an important byproduct of genuine worship is the edification of the worshiper. (Psalm 73:16-17 and Hebrews 10:23-25)
The Psalmist called God’s people to “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:9)
One of the most comprehensive books outside of the Bible written on the subject of biblical worship is, “Recalling the Hope of Glory … biblical worship from the garden to the new creation.”
The author, Dr. Allen P. Ross, defined worship precisely: “True worship is the celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the sovereign and holy triune God, by means of the reverent adoration and spontaneous praise of God’s nature and works, the expressed commitment of trust and obedience to the covenant responsibilities, and the memorial reenactment of entering into covenant through ritual acts, all with the confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in glory.”
Reading Dr. Ross’ long definition causes me to “feel” the weight of worship.
Knowing and feeling the weight of worship is indeed what every believer ought to experience. We gather before the God who is “holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:3) We worship the God who has revealed Himself as the God of all glory. We come before Him not in familiarity but in reverent fear of an intimacy that is an acknowledgment of our unworthiness to be in His presence.
Yet in the western church we hear of worship services designed by and for so-called seekers. We see corporate worship designed to attract people; formatted so as not to offend the unbeliever.
We seem to forget that how we worship demonstrates our view of the object of our worship. To worship God in the splendor of holiness requires the act of worship to be connected with the worshiper’s pursuit of holiness. Holy worship is offered by those whom God has set apart. He has commanded Christians to be holy because He is holy. (Leviticus 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:16)
Even when professing Christians are asked, “Why do you go to church?” the response often heard is, “I go to church to be fed.” Much of the church has, by her actions, taught Christians that worship is all about them. We are told by some that the church is here to meet people’s needs. Often times what is offered as worship more closely resembles entertainment rather than engaging with the sovereign God.
Often those who seek to design worship with an understanding that God has ordained the way in which His people are to worship Him are referred to as legalists. Yet, worship that is genuine is focused on God. It is an opportunity to hear Him as His word is read publicly. It is an opportunity for God’s people to confess their sins before Him and thereby receive His promised forgiveness. It is an opportunity for the word of God to be proclaimed and principles of application to be given by the preacher so that the Spirit of God would work in concert with the Word of God to change His people to be more like Christ.
Worship is an opportunity for God’s people to express their experience of His saving grace by giving tithes and offerings to support the work of the kingdom. As a result, genuine worship’s byproduct is the edification of the worshiper. Corporate worship is one of the means of grace God has given for believers to be built up in Christ.
You may have noticed that Dr. Ross’ long sentence defining worship has little in it about us. True worship is directed to God. It is for Him by His people and in accordance with His word. Jesus said that the Father is the one who seeks worshipers. Men seek something for themselves. God must reveal Himself so that we fall on our faces in humble reliance upon Him. Worship is not entertainment nor should it be designed as such. Christian worship that is biblical is the gathered people of God engaging with the holy One as an expression of their love for Him. This is what God made us for and He expects His people to be intentionally biblical about our worship of Him.
Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).