10 September 2007

Speaking Ethically No. 12

By Rod Benson

June 2007

For many Christians in Australia today, worship is an experience of emotional intensity that can be packaged in an event or purchased on CD. It’s all about me (and God).

But that’s not worship as conceived by the Bible or the first Christians. Of course, worship that lacks emotional intensity may be poor worship. Quality worship acknowledges the relation between the self and the divine, is not afraid to employ the full resources of the arts, and can touch our deepest feelings. But what we call worship may actually be something else.

Worship reveals what we value most. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Quoting Isaiah, he spoke of “people who honour me [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain” (Matt 15:8-9a).

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul describes his vision of “true worship.” It is an ongoing, whole-person self-sacrifice. It is empowered by God’s mercy and guided by God’s will. It is counter-cultural, and achieved most fully in community.

True worship has nothing to do with style of music, CCLI compliance or seating capacity. Old Testament prophets like Amos, Isaiah and Micah were on the right track when they called God’s people to more fully express justice, mercy, compassion, generosity and humility in their daily lives. That’s worship.

Jesus stood at the heart of the same spiritual tradition. He modelled and taught those same virtues and values. He challenged and denounced their opposites. In doing so, he revealed what he valued most. In his own way, Paul expressed an ongoing, whole-person, counter-cultural, self-sacrificial conception of worship. Both paid with their lives, but left a permanent practical legacy.

As we follow Jesus, when do we engage in true worship? What do others perceive we value most? How costly is our commitment to godly living? In what ways are we intentionally and missionally counter-cultural in the context of worship? What might God think of it all?

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

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