This is a post by a friend of mine, Jonathan Powers. Jonathan and I have begun guest-blogging on each other’s pages in an effort to make our blogs more well rounded. He’s a Phd. student at the Robert Weber Institute for Worship and the Arts. I think you’ll find his discussion of worship well worth your time!
What is worship? This is a very basic question concerning who we are as Christians. It is also a question many find difficult to answer, even theologians haven’t settled on a definition. Some definitions are complex, “worship is an act of religious devotion where one fully submits and dedicates oneself to a deity, attributing to the deity a sense of worth.” Then there are simple answers such as, “worship is celebrating God.” However, neither fully grasps what worship is. (Churches often add to the confusion by focusing more on a style of worship than on the content of worship.)
Perhaps then, defining worship is not the best starting point for gaining a proper understanding of worship. Like love, worship is something done, something experienced, not just something talked about. Worship is both word and action.
I make no claims to be a great theologian, but in my search for a proper understanding of worship, I have found two terms that help in a way no definition has ever sufficed: revelation and response. In other words, God reveals Himself in either word or deed; His people respond in both word and deed.
Biblically, this is the form shown over and over again. Isaiah 6 and Luke 1 are great examples of this conversational form of worship. God speaks or acts first. His people respond in word and action. Christian worship then is a series of revelations and responses. Revelation is the Word of God at work within a Christian community. It is the truth of the Triune God and God’s relationship with God’s people. Response is the reply of God’s people to this truth, a prepared or spontaneous opportunity for His people to answer, reply, or react.
It is interesting to evaluate a typical Sunday morning on the criteria of revelation/response. Does God get the first word? Are we called into a revelation of God’s presence, (whether through song, Scripture, or spoken word), before we begin responding through praise, adoration, and thanksgiving? I am beginning to find my understanding of worship taking a subtle but important shift. It all has to do with finding the correct preposition: worship isn’t something I do to God or for God; it’s something I do with God in the sense that we worship with Christ (see Hebrews 5, 9, &10).
Worship is like a dialogue. God speaks, we respond. Perhaps this does not help us come any closer to settling on a definition of worship, but perhaps it will help us better understand our experience of it.
- Jonathan Powers