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Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Worship as Gathering v. Worship as all of Life
I get some push back from some readers who assert that we might not ought to be spending so much time talking about what happens in a worship service but to spend more time talking about life as worship. I hear that. This quote below caused me to remember the assertion.

In the church God's presence is in the assembled people, in their song, Scripture, water, bread, wine, and oil. God is not an absent, ethereal essence who sits in the sky and demands worship. God is the God who acts, who lives and moves and has his being in the world and among the people. Affirm that all of life, not just part of life, is sacred. Affirm that God is disclosed in every detail of human existence. Then, stand inside the Bible and God's story and let it teach you to look out into the creation where God is signified everywhere yet particularized in Jesus, the ultimate icon of God.
Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God's Narrative. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 126.

So here's my question: What difference do worship gatherings make to the notion that all of life is worship? What is the purpose of a worship service?  What is the relationship between a worship service and the rest of life? What should the relationship be? If all of life is worship, then why do we need to have worship services?  
posted by John David Walt | at 2/03/2009 03:01:00 AM



Blogger John D. Palmer said...

Ok, I've stumbled accross a couple of tangents that I think might be relevant to our discussions. Or it just might muddy the water.

The push backs about Worship and the questions that jump out at me over these questions cause me to want to peel back some of our layers so that we can understand your principle or central questions which are particularly about Worship.

I think that it might be productive for us to speak about what we believe is the "nature of God" first so that we can then understand more deeply what each other is talking about when we speak about worship.

The tangents that I've run accross have are some big big concepts that I by no means assert any expertise about.

First, when helping a student look for possible seminaries he asked me about a particular professor at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont California. proffessor http://clayton.ctr4process.org/ Clayton is a Professor of Theology with a particular emphasis in Panentheism that he also claims to be.

Using good old wikipedia we wanted to understand what this "panentheism" is. Here's that link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism

Then we saw that it was distinguished from Pantheism(which we both thought we knew what meant but really didn't) Here's that link.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism.

But you know. We Christians have a long and deep history that asserts that we are monotheists. another link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monotheism

As we have been discussing worship it dawned on me all this talk about our "life as worship" and the notion that "God's presence is in the assembled people" have everthing to do with how we view God and God's nature. Where do be believe God exists and how we believe God exists have everthing to do with "How" and "where" we worship God.

In reading the short article about Panentheism from wikipedia it seemed to me that Webber's assertion about God's presence had a very Panentheist vibe. Further, the notion that we worship God "whereever" we are seems to be very Pantheistic.

The possibility of confusing "life" with "God" The emphasis of our "personal relationship" with God being an overriding concept that informs on us in an unhealthy way from a perspective of worship. The question of a corporate worship service that is distinct from our personal perpetual worship in our living. All this seems to have a deeper rooted question that is what is it we believe about the "nature of God" When we can all be one in this question then we can begin to understand the concepts and aspects of worship as it is informed within the Christian tradition.


:::::pulling pin out of grenade and launching::::::

12:54 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


How do you write stuff like this and still get asked to work with Passion?

5:07 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

ok John-- my take: at the risk of being simplistic, the nature of God is Jesus--an infinite bundle of paradox.

as in: 3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Christian theology does not begin with "God" but with Jesus. We simply do not nor cannot know God apart from Jesus.

Jesus leads us to the Father and with the Father (depending on where you come down on the filioque) sends the Spirit. The Spirit again, points us back to Jesus, where we began and the whole happy journey begins again. This is the dance of Love-- one God in three persons, ever expanding the conversation of Love throughout Cosmos and Eternity.

Remember how I define worship-- the gift of participating through the power of the Spirit in the Son's intimate communion with the Father.

this definition is far more dynamic and movemental than the typical transactional ones (i.e. worship is our response to God's revelation.)

This may sound strange, but.in light of the above......Worship, in my understanding, is God's response to Himself through his Son by his Spirit in and with his people. isn't this what it means that we are created for the praise of his glory?

Anonymous-- this is the only way I can make sense of the Passion-esque notion of God being chiefly concerned for his own glory. (btw-- what do you think about my writings would be objectionable to passion?)

i recognize i am into some wildly theo-retical rambling-- so if you are still with me, let me get back to the question at hand.

The way I define worship above, for me, is the only way to make sense of the new testament language about being simultaneously seated in heavenly places and yet living on the Earth. This is what makes "on Earth as it is in Heaven" plausible and possible.

re: worship as life and worship as gathering. I don't buy into the common thinking that worship gatherings are meant to "fill us up" for worship oriented mission outside of the church.

what i like about the theological definition above is the way it transcends location, melding worship and mission into a seamless whole. isn't the way it worked with Jesus on Earth. He lived out an intimate life of communion with the Father in the powerful anointing of the Spirit. His deeds were simultaneously worship and mission.

As his body-- we get brought in on this very same thing. in the building and out of the building is the same thing. could it be that the gathering is prescriptive and the scattering is descrpitive??

will keep thinking and praying about this.

5:44 PM EST  
Blogger Joshua Andrew Smith said...

"Remember how I define worship-- the gift of participating through the power of the Spirit in the Son's intimate communion with the Father...this definition is far more dynamic and movemental than the typical transactional ones (i.e. worship is our response to God's revelation"

Perhaps more dynamic and movemental, but are the two mutually exclusive? You definition seems like a prettier and more theologized version of the same. I have never seen response to God's revelation as a transaction, but rather as an organic and intimate relationship. That is, until it was sullied by your comparison ;)

As for the gathering and scattering, It seems less linear and more cyclical (in the best way) to me. I know that kind of language bothers some of our more "fundamental" brothers, but God likes circles as much as lines, I think, as long as they stay in their proper places on the page. We gather together to celebrate and remember what God has done while we were scattered and to enjoy His presence in our midst in a way that is not the same when we are scattered. Then we are scattered to experience and enact a different flavor of worship, but with the deeper appreciation afforded by the mutual encouragement of assembly. Lather, rinse, repeat until rapture.

I dunno. You make me mad sometimes, J.D. (I think maybe that's why the Passion guys like you.)

11:28 AM EST  
OpenID chaddbrooks said...

I think we need to understand that the notion of "personal" religon was faily non-existent until the invention of the autonomous individual within the rise of the "state" in early modernity. This notion of personal faith developed because a persons sole allegiance needed to be towards the state. This happened because the Church essentially baptized civil government.

What is lost within this move towards personal faith is the identity of the Christian, "When Christian Faith is transgendered into religon, it is no longer embedded within the communal life and thought of the church, and thus poses no intrinsic threat to the authority of the state."(Both of these ideas are taken from Barry Harveys "Can These Bones Live", 2008)

Oddly enough, most of these ideas developed during the formative stages of the Reformation.

How this relates to worship means alot. I remember a situation in which some members of a friends congregation where allowed to practice a specific (slightly odd) form of worship during the church service. They had laid claim to a corner of the sanctuary. When the church started growing, the congregation needed to expand and add seats where these people had secluded themselves and worship separately from the rest of the members. When they saw that their area had been taken, they were pretty disturbed, and my friend felt horrible.

But the question that it raised was this, when we worship are we worshiping truly together or are we just a bunch of people doing our own thing and the same time in the same place. Sadly enough, the way that many churches present themselves is the latter.

Setting up a dualistic world of personal/corporate allows for us to start thinking that it is about us. That our expression is what is important in worship-and we neglect the re-telling of who God is and what he has done for us. We forget learning to place ourselves in the story and inside of that is a multiplicity of issues.

12:05 PM EST  
Blogger John D. Palmer said...

oooo me likie chad's commentary.

Chad, would you say then that worship shifted based on the individual worshipers concept of who they were?

Would you further say that prior to the Reformation period individualism where, worship was concerned, wasn't a consideration?

On either side of the Reformation(pre and post) had there been a relatively unified understanding of the "nature of God" And if so, would it have been as Christocentric as J.D.'s assertion that

"Christian theology does not begin with "God" but with Jesus. We simply do not nor cannot know God apart from Jesus."

I cringe a little at appearing to disagree with a statement that I tend to agree with. However, I do ask myself if this is the proper way to approach understanding the nature of God, how then did Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah know God? They at the very least left out, Jesus, in their testimony of interaction with God. I wonder did the saints pre-reformation have as christocentric understanding of God as J.D. has presented?

All this seems to weigh in heavily on the questions posited. What difference do worship gathering's make to the notion that all of life is worship. First I think those are wholly two different and distinct concepts. I think there is worship that is corporate in which individuals join together to identify themselves in community. And then there is individual faith development that has as one of its discipline's personal worship, that by no means should be confused with corporate worship. Using the word "worship" to describe our every focal attention diminish's both the individual and the supposed object of worship. If "life" is worship. . then we run the risk of assigning the "nature of God" as simply as being "Life". Which then will lead to a conversation about the quality of "Life". Which then leads back to another conversation about the "nature of God"

2:46 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

thanks friends for the good interactions.

i'm working on the pre-reformation notion of the nature of God and whether that was as Christocentric as I asserted. Certainly we can make a safe claim that the patristic fathers began their theology with Jesus. They read all of Scripture in and through and with Jesus. One can see how heavily their method and craft influenced Charles Wesley in his hymn writing and his use of typologies. more to come.

now-- onto my prettier and more theologized definition of worship. ;-) Now Josh, don't you agree that doxology depends on theology. don't our ways of designing and leading worship cry out for more theological understanding and not less. By theological I do not mean "academic," which may be what you are digging on here. I do think academic theo-talk can be a real barrier to worship and I fear we err in that direction in these conversations.

I agree-- the two definitions are not mutually exclusive; however, i would refine the more generic definition this way. Instead of saying worship is our response to God's revelation, I would omit the OUR and say worship is the dynamic movement of revelation and response. transactional was probably not the right word.

so what is OUR place and role in worship? I have written before on this site that our work of worship is to enter into the GIFT of participating in the Trinitarian dance. (the academic-theo word for this is perichorosis-- nothing like misspelling an academic-theo term to keep it real. ;-) )

In a filmed interview I did just yesterday with two of our worship scholars at the seminary one of them shared this picture of how this definition of worship works (participating by the Spirit in the incarnate Son's Intimate communion with the Father) and how we fit inside of it.

We've all seen children place their feet on the feet on the feet of a parent and hold on while the parent moves about. The professor compared Christian worship to our placing our feet on the feet of Jesus while he dances about with the Father together in communion with the Spirit.

I like this image because it places the movement and action with the Great Worship Leader. Yes, we move, but we are not the movers. God is the prime mover. It's not a sequential thing whereby God moves and then we move in response. In this picture, the Spirit has literally incorporated us into the Body of Christ-- grafting us in, where we live and move and have our being. we are joined to Christ, our living head, and get in on his enjoyment of the Father and the Spirit.

In this way, not only are we not a bunch of individuals in the same room having our own experiences of God, but we are literally the many made one-- bodie(s) offered as a living sacrific(e). It comports with the high priestly prayer of the Great High Priest when he asked that "all of them would be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world might believe that you have sent me."

let me know if this clarification moves us closer together or further apart in our assertions? ;-)

8:52 AM EST  
Blogger Joel said...

K..you guys really lay it on each other! I'm new here but I'm tracking with you guys. Lots of big words but JD hit it on the head with the last comment I think. I think there is more to the dancing on the fathers feet around the room. I resonant with the statement "we can't know God apart from Jesus". You can't worship without that relationship. As believers dancing around the room on the fathers feet during worship there is something in that that impacts the non-believer or the person seeking God.

I think it is also a part of worship as we "gather" together that we see each other in that communion with the Father. Us humans have a need for the "evidence" of our faith. Might I asserted that's why Christ urged us to keep meeting together. No doubt worship can happen everywhere or anywhere but there's something in the gathering.. not sure you can maintain the one without the other and vice versa. (that's personal or "Worship as all of life" AND the Gathering!) I think we as worshippers have times of both.

Do we see the Father in the faces of our follow worshippers? Is this a part of his plan for us in corporate worship to see Him in others? I agree that worship is not for the sole purpose of reloading the Durcells each week but there is encouragement and the restored promises that take place in corporate worship. When we are reminded of those promises and of our salvation through Christ...there is an energy that comes from that. But I totally agree the focus as leaders of worship can't be to simply recharge people...that's really a Spirit thing and not us.

When you are talking about OUR role in worship...do you mean as worshipper or one who LEADS in worship? or both?

1:25 AM EST  

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