May 5, 2015

Worship is a Lifestyle?

I saw a link on Facebook recently that intrigued me: How do you define Worship? It's a devotional post by Christian musician Michael Schroeder (whom I believe to be WELS, although I could not find any information on his website or blog to verify this.) Here's a portion that I want to discuss:
"I am here today to tell you that worship isn’t a service style. Worship isn’t a music style. WORSHIP IS A LIFESTYLE! It’s important for us to understand that whether we prefer to worship in the style of David with harps and dance before the Lord unashamed, — or whether we prefer to use an organ and a service style from the 1600’s,— or whether we prefer to use a piano and guitar in today’s contemporary style, it’s Important to understand that this is not the source of our worship, but merely an expression of our worship."
I somewhat balk at calling Sanctification a "lifestyle." But taken at face value, I agree with what Schroeder is saying. Worship is not only something we do for an hour on Sunday and then abandon for the rest of the week. This is indeed true and biblical, and we need to hear it often. We need to realize that our entire day-to-day life is sanctified by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, and is offered to God as worship. So not only can singing hymns be worship, but also making oil changes, bagging groceries, getting kids into pajamas, and even changing diapers. If that was the extent of the message, I could add a hearty "Amen" to it!

But I think there's something else going on here. Schroeder cites Romans 12:1, which says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." It's a beautiful passage, and I refer to it often when I write about the intersection of art and worship. Unfortunately, I see this passage being misused at least as often as it is used correctly. And that seems to be the case here:
"If you look at the topic of worship in Romans 12, you find it doesn’t say anything about worship being a music or service style, but describes worship as a lifestyle, as it tells us to live a life of worship by using the gifts we’ve been given..."

Two Kinds of Worship

A basic premise of my current thinking of art in worship (see: Vehicles of the Gospel) is that we are not properly recognizing that there is more than one kind of worship mentioned in the bible. When St. Paul spoke of this "spiritual worship," he wasn't offering an acceptable alternative to the divine service. It's a both/and arrangement. Yes, worship God when you gather together "teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." But also "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:16-17). Ro. 12 is meant to expand the definition of ritual worship that everyone in the ancient world was familiar with. (But really this isn't new information—both concepts are present in the Old Testament as well.)

What you often see in liberal theology and worship is a failure to acknowledge the two kinds of worship (corporate worship + sanctified living) as being distinct from one another, which allows for a bait-and-switch. This may not always be done intentionally. Maybe it's a failure of the church at large that we haven't taught clearly and consistently what worship is. But regardless, we are often taken by it. It usually goes like this:

In a conversation about corporate worship, Frank says that what Dillon does is not conducive to worship. Dillon replies by producing Ro. 12:1, which of course says that our entire lives and bodies are worship, and therefore his worship is as valid as Frank's. If Frank knows his Bible, he will point Dillon to 1 Cor. 14, where the Holy Spirit provided guidelines on what should and should not be done when we are gathered together for worship, thereby drawing a distinction between corporate worship and the rest of our lives.

If Frank isn't familiar with 1 Cor. 14, he may just concede the point and say nothing. Or perhaps he will insist on the point regardless, and Dillon will think him a legalist.


Above all, I think this shows how important Scripture is to any discussion about worship. Even though ceremonies and "worship styles" may rightly be considered adiaphora, it doesn't mean that there are no guiding principles in the Word, or that anything goes. It isn't a matter of styles—it's a matter of theology.

I think all Lutherans need to embrace both teachings about worship, without confusing the two. I'm not comfortable with the potential for confusion due to calling worship a "lifestyle." But even if understood correctly, that worship cannot supplant the divine service, or any attempt at reverence therein. Worship should indeed describe every moment of our lives. But it also describes that special place where God comes to us in a unique way through Word and Sacrament with the forgiveness of sins. We cannot have one and not the other.