Whatever Happened To Worship?
The Subversion of Christianity
The subversion of Christianity began with the subversion of worship. The subversion of worship began with pushing it to the periphery of the life of a Christian and thus reducing the calling to follow Christ, first to a mere religion. Later the vacuum which it created at the center of one’s life was overtaken by the pursuit of a middle-class lifestyle.
When worship becomes peripheral to the life of a Christian his witness is compromised and his life and message lose their authority. In the New Testament, worship was meant to be individual and a moment by moment offering of life unto God in trust and obedience unto Him. But within 100 – 150 years after the Church was born, worship began to be pushed to the periphery of the life of the individual follower of Christ. When worship is removed from being moment by moment offering of one’s life unto God in trust and obedience, to a service or programme conducted and attended once a week; and when worship is removed from being offered in one’s life to being offered at a place of worship, a chapel, or a cathedral; and when it is removed from the individual personally offering his life unto God to someone else conducting or performing the service, the subversion of worship is complete. Thus Christianity was reduced to a religion like any other religion in the world.
The more peripheral the worship from daily living, the more verbal, vocal, loud and ostentatious both worship and witness become. This kind of subverted worship needs external and superficial embellishing – so we have huge and ornate structures, garish vestments, the trappings of and claims to clerical authority and the state-of-the-art technology to compensate for the missing witness. The demise of true worship was complete!
The corollary to it, is the birth of strange gods…church buildings, sacred places, relics of saints, religious and spiritual personalities and many more are held in high esteem as divine. And in modern times we started worshipping our educational degrees, jobs, salaries and worldly achievements and attainments (This applies even to people in so called full-time ministry). Of course we even conduct thanksgiving services for these. In another article I had written, if man is made in the image of God, then man enjoys a supreme position in the whole created order. He is practically next to God and above everything else. How can he think of finding his worth or value in anything other than God and in anything less than him? Worshipping anything or anyone else other than the true and living God actually lowers our status as humans created in God’s own image.
The history of missions shows that the Christian witness has now become a matter of numbers, reports, programmes and projects. This can be verified from history, especially of the last 100 years. While ostentatious religion, elaborate rituals have been part of the larger Christian denominations for quite a long time, since the beginning of the missionary movement in the 18th Century and later the evangelicals have demonstrated a predilection for statistics, budgets, projects and reports. Their preaching became more strident and shrill. There is practically no true worship – the kind of trust and obedient living that I am talking about – today, except for a few stragglers here and there. We have plenty of the loud and shrill kind, not the lifestyle kind. Both Christianity as a religion and lifestyles of middle-class pursuits have edged out lifestyle discipleship, of faith and obedience unto Christ.
As a religion Christianity continues to this day practically in different forms all over the world even among evangelicals. But to this was added another dimension. Since worship could now be offered once a week at a special place and by a specially appointed person, the individual Christian was now free at least for six days in a week. With the rise of industrialisation and later modernisation and the possibilities this has brought, the world with all its glitter was now within everybody’s reach to be pursued and gained. The Christian could now worship God on Sundays and pursue the world the rest of the week. He could even pray and seek God’s blessings with helpful quotations from the Old Testament to support. He could also bring his tithes and offerings as a token of his gratefulness to God. He could contribute liberally for ministry. What a cosy arrangement to assuage a nagging conscience! God and the world could now live peacefully together! There is no need for self-denial, repudiation or rejection of anything.
Now even our interpretation of scripture is subverted. Religion and the middle-class lifestyle have become the grid for interpreting scripture. Practically everyone seeks to understand the word of God through these two grids now. Following Christ is understood as church attendance, faithfulness in tithing and offerings and doing some ministry. Worship is understood as sincere participation in soul full singing and/or verbalised extempore prayer of adoration, to be done once a week. Faith and prayer have become utilitarian – both are used as tools to gain the world and all that it has to offer. Christian fruitfulness is seen as material and temporal success. Fruit of the Spirit as social and communication skills.
The questions is, how can one claim that middle-class living is antithetical to Christian walk? It is true that industrialisation and later modernisation of life has brought in several improvements to the way humans began to live their lives. It has made education available to the masses. It brought secure employment and stable salaries into the realm of the possible for millions across the globe. People could now buy what they wanted, when they wanted and can give themselves comforts which were mere fantasies in the past. But precisely it is these benefits of modernity that undermine Christian calling and living. Certainty, confidence, and comforts gained from the world, subvert faith in God and make lifestyles of faith practically impossible. Modernity and middle-class living are the backdoor used by the enemy of our souls to enter into our lives and undermine our discipleship unto Christ. No doubt many Christians across the centuries endeavoured gallantly and many continue to forge their lives in faithful service unto Christ. I would still say that we make too many compromises unbecoming of our faith and calling. In fact we have made following Christ and gaining the world, a desirable and manageable enterprise with deft sermonising from our pulpits and soulful praying to undergird our efforts. But if we understand our calling correctly and treat our discipleship unto Chrsit seriously then we have to admit that the lives we are living today are a far cry from what is required of us. John the beloved, probably saw us when he wrote many centuries ago, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!… For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
People whose lives are similar to the rest of the world – in their dreams, desires, disappointments, prayers, and efforts cannot be witnesses and have no authority to challenge anyone or anything. Therefore our witnessing is seen as a power game to boost our numbers and as mere religious conversion with no real difference nor any inherent authority.
Friends, there has been a progressive deterioration of true and biblical Christianity over the centuries that it is almost proper to say that there is hardly any room for the Holy Spirit of God today in our ‘churches’. I believe he has been grieved and has been silent or has withdrawn totally from us just as the Shekinah of Glory left the temple in the OLd Testament. But even when the ark of God was taken away from the temple and the Shekinah of Glory left, the priests were as busy as ever keeping the motions of religion alive. Is this not true of much of what is going on in the church today?
What should we do? Teach people lifestyles of worship. Period.
There is no need to start another ministry to do this. This must happen by personal discipleship and mentoring not by conducting more seminars.
But the question still remains, what is worship?
What is worship?
Worship at its core is about ‘trust and obedience’. This is evident from the life of Abraham and in the words of prophet Samuel to King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice and to heed better than the fat of rams.” All through the history of Israel, God’s frequent lament against his people was that they would not trust him nor obey him. It was not so much the ritual of the temple worship even where there was insistence on temple worship, it was about obeying God’s commands given through Moses.
The strident call of Christ in the gospels to follow him is a call to a life of obedience and trust in him. This the early apostles elaborated in their letters. Nowhere in the New Testament does one read about a ritual or a ceremony or a programme or a service of worship to be done or kept as worship unto God. All the New Testament letters are replete with practical aspects of following Christ and not about where or when or how a church service needs to be conducted. Worship was not and is not a matter of a ceremony nor a religious tradition. Neither is it an attendance at a service on a particular day at a particular place.
We are taught in the scripture that our bodies are the temple of God. How come we build physical structures and call them sacred? There are no places sacred enough for God to dwell but the life and being of a redeemed child of God. Even the ‘holy land’ is not holy as far as the Bible is concerned. The recent trend of people going on conducted tours to the ‘holy land’ is nothing but another form of commercialism and worldliness. There is nothing holy there any longer. In fact those who go there are demeaning themselves by committing idolatry! What can one say about the leaders who lead them…nothing but blind leaders of the blind!
Worship was and is still a matter of obedience unto God in faith and total confidence in Him. This is what it means to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We love Him with all our hearts, minds and strength by trusting in Him for everything pertaining to life and obeying Him to the point of dying for Him.
Lets take a look again at Abraham, the father of nations and a friend of God. He set out from his native country in obedience to God’s call, trusting in Him to provide and to take care of him all through his journey. The culmination of this journey of faith is seen on mount Moriah when he took steps to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering unto God. He had trusted and had obeyed God the last 40-50 years of his life. Would he trust Him and obey Him now in this final test of giving up all the promises and the future bound up in his son Isaac and offer him unto God?
Genesis 22, begins with the words that God tested Abraham, but Abraham himself treated this test as worship unto God (verse 5). And how did he worship God? By his obedience to God’s word to offer his son as a burnt offering. But even as he offered his son, according to Hebrews 11:19, he trusted that God would raise him up from the dead. So faith in God led him to believe that even if he offered his son, he would be raised again to life for the fulfilment of God’s promises – to be made into a great nation and to be a blessing to the nations of the world. He offered up his son as a sacrifice. What faith! What obedience! What worship!
It was because of this faith that when Isaac asked his father about the lamb for the sacrifice, he answered, “God will see to it” or that God will provide. Abraham knew that in the final analysis man has no suitable sacrifice worthy enough to worship God. Such a sacrifice must come from God. And God did not let him down then nor in the subsequent redemption history of man. He sent his own Son to be the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that we could worship God in truth and spirit.
But Abraham’s worship merited God’s immediate response. Implicit obedience on the part of man brings an immediate response from God. God said to Abraham, “Because you have done this thing…in blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
Apostle Paul picks up on the thought in Romans and asks, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ” The God who provided the sacrifice for true worship, would he not provide for us to live a life of worship unto God? He would, certainly!
It is with this confidence we live our lives, knowing that the God who provided for our salvation will certainly provide for all our needs. Hence Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry what you shall eat or what you shall wear…for it is the gentiles who run after these things…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
For Abraham, his faith was in the future provision of God. For us our faith is in the past provision of God. Abraham believed that since God will provide, he could now sacrifice his son the one in whom all his future was bound. We believe that since God has already provided for all things that we need for life and godliness, we can now give up our all, knowing that our present and future will be provided for in Him. As Paul writes, we can now offer our bodies as living sacrifice unto God. This, he writes, is the right kind of worship.
Let us explicate this further. According to ‘The Complete Word Study New Testament’, in Greek the word ‘present’ or ‘offer’ is in the aorist infinitive active, suggesting that it is a punctiliar or specific action by the subject at a specific point in the past . The word ‘bodies’ means the whole of our being and not just the physical or material part of our being. The words ‘living sacrifice’ as against the dead animals sacrificed in the Old Testament. And the words ‘reasonable service’ is worship which is offered with intelligent reflection unlike the thoughtless cultic or ceremonial worship of the Old Testament.
Apostle Paul urges each believer to present or offer his or her body as a living sacrifice unto God as intelligent reflective action in gratitude for God’s mercies. Thus every believer is a priest who offers himself to God not in ceremonial worship but as an intelligent response.
It must be noted that Paul has already used the word ‘present’ or ‘offer’ earlier in Romans 6: 13, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
Putting it together, the right kind of worship is not ceremonial and it is not offered by another on one’s behalf and not just once a week or at a special place of worship. But the right kind of worship is an intelligent response of every believer to God’s mercies. She or he deliberately and decisively offers or submits to God every part of one’s being in obedient service unto Him.
In response to what God has done for us in giving us His Son, we give up our all, knowing that our present and future will be provided for in Him for our life is hidden with Christ in God. We offer ourselves as living sacrifice unto God. We give ourselves to Him for His will and His rule to come into our life. We begin to live by His will and by the values of His kingdom. We begin to live a life of trust and dependence upon Him. No more would we look to anyone or anything in the world to find our sustenance, security or identity. We adopt a lifestyle of faith in Him. Trusting in Him, we would be ready to go anywhere He leads and do whatever He commands us to do. We will not allow the world of secure jobs, stable incomes and permanent residences to bind us down, because our security and identity does not come from these any longer. We would learn to live lives of uncertainty, expendability and tentatively in order to do His will and pleasure – being certain of the one we have trusted in. Such a person finds it easy to ‘go into all the world’. Such a person sees transformation happening daily. This is true discipleship. This is the meaning of ‘living sacrifice’. This is the right kind of worship.
Everything else is mere religion, a sham, a psychological crutch, the opiate of the masses, a mechanical repetition of ceremony or ritual. Such ‘worship’ might give a false sense of peace, but it generates more fear and enslaves the person to a life-time of routine. In many cases, the weekly attendance and participation in a ‘worship service’ among evangelicals has become a religious repetition. A ‘feel-good time’ once a week and a release from the day to day tensions of life. But we do not want to see that, the day-to-day tensions of life in the first place are because of pursuing the world not because of pursuing God! We know (as Bill Hybels, founder pastor of Willowcreek church, admitted that even after 30 years of programmes and meetings they could not produce disciples. Unfortunately and sadly the Willowcreek people have graduated to global leadership summits in true capitalist model, rather than personally mentoring people to be true worshippers. Is this not Babelite thinking?) that such services do not produce disciples nor the needed transformation. For it is mere religion being dished out in the form of Christian worship.
I wonder if such forms, services and ministry that passes for worship today is nothing but presumptuous and strange fire not commanded by God if it is not undergirded by a life of trust and obedience. It is like Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire! (All the material used by them to offer the fire was regular, including the censers in which they offered. And there certainly was fire. Heat and light were there too. But alas it was not commanded by God and they were struck down dead at the altar!)
True worship brings in God’s kingdom into our lives. This is the meaning of ‘seeking his kingdom first’ and this is what it means for ‘Thy kingdom come’. First it must come into the life of each believer. Then it spreads to others around. Such is the kingdom of God. It spreads as yeast spreads in the dough – conquering everything in its wake and thus bringing in the transformation first in us. Then in others around us.
Do you now see, how the agenda of middle-class lifestyles has ruined our commitment to the Lord’s Kingdom in our lives? First as worship became a religious ceremony our focus on God was lost. Religion actually springs from fear and not from faith. Faith in God leads to worship. Rather than trust and obedience, we were overtaken by fear and introduced ceremonial worship to mitigate our fears. Thus pushing God and the worship of Him out of our lives. We set ourselves up as ripe targets for the agenda of middle class dreams and pursuits.
I would venture to say that much of the witness, evangelism and missions that’s going on today….has no divine power nor divine sanction and so lacks in divine authority. These have become mere projects and programmes which do not bring about God’s kingdom nor bring in the needed transformation! There is only a semblance of fire, heat and light but no power and no authority of God.
It is because we have lost the witness and authority, we have the sad spectacle of the church trying to make up for it by courting the power structures and systems of the world. Thinking that authority comes through numbers – we claim large membership in our churches, we court and try to gain economic clout and position ourselves in order to gain political leverage. (You have the saddest spectacle of the American evangelicals falling head over heels to court the presidential candidates in order to gain that leverage even in the White House. And in this year of the Lord – 2016, they are lining up to endorse a sworn Babelite!!)
Worship And Transformation
You see where worship is a moment by moment offering of ourselves unto God, such a life would be a careful and disciplined life. A disciplined life cannot but be transformed in the course of time. This is how God’s kingdom comes. It comes through transformation, by teaching people true worship and not by conducting seminars and conferences…nor by starting ministries to provide education and poverty alleviation and so on… and not in the least by controlling global economics through military power and political leveraging.
Biblical transformation starts with the individual and spreads to the community. It is a spiritual transformation of seeing and understanding things from Gods perspective and letting God’s will and heaven’s perspective take over one’s thinking and living. It is about lifestyle change of giving up of oneself unto God and letting God’s authority and will take over one’s life.
When Abraham worshipped God by demonstrating that he trusted Him and offered up his son – God knew he could now channel His blessing through him to the nations of the world. True worship brings down God’s blessings in the form of transformation. And the blessings of transformation overflow to others around us. Missions flows from worship.
Much of what is going on in the name of missions today is about bringing health, education and economic development – development often in the mould of the western capitalism. Our evangelism produces converts to either the Christian religion or converts to our institutions. Our missions no doubt produces educated and economically empowered individuals. But where is spiritual transformation? There may be converts to Christian religion and to the capitalist model of life but there is no real transformation. (Much of the persecution that we see today globally and the rise of religious militancy worldwide is actually a reaction to this kind of conversions and not to true spiritual transformation).
The church today has lost its vision of God and therefore has lost true worship. She is enamoured by the power and glory of the world and therefore its missions produces more people who are enamoured by the power and the glory of the world.
Until true worship is restored to the center of the life of the individual Christian and the local body of believers…there will be no divine provision, presence or power. There will be no real witness and no real transformation. Lacking the divine provision, presence and power, we shall stumble from one broken pot to another and from one mirage of glory to another…while the world continues to languish without God.
One last word about my authority in writing or saying what I write and say. All I can appeal to is the truthfulness of what is said. The rightness and the truthfulness of what I have written is enough to stand by itself. It needs no external authority although I can certainly claim God’s calling over me as my authority. If we ask ourselves and examine ourselves and history – objectively, carefully and honestly in the light of His Word, what other reasonable conclusions can one draw except to go down on our knees and cry for His mercy.
May the Lord help us!