Throughout Scripture, God uses many gifts to call his people back to him including healing, truth, prophesy, exhortation, and preaching. But it does not appear that worship is one of those gifts. In these teachings, God seems to be telling his people that worship (specifically celebration, praise and adoration) are gifts to be enjoyed only when they are living justly and in a right relationship with each other.
This is a profound teaching. Many Christians, myself included, consider worship to be a birthright of following Jesus. But that does not appear to be the case scripturally. For in the Old Testament God tells his people not to worship because they are not living justly. In the New Testament, Jesus tells his followers to not give their gifts to God until after they are reconciled with their brother. From these passages it appears that worship is not a birthright but a privilege.
These passages should cause us to think about Christian worship (celebration, praise and adoration) and the role of worship leaders in a much different light.
Why we worship:
One constant in many churches throughout the Unites States is the offering of praise, adoration, and monetary gifts up to God. When we gather as Christians, we sing our praises to God and offer him our money, regardless of the topic of the sermon, the situation of our communities, or the political realities of our nation. We justify the ever-present practice of worship for two reasons:
- First, God is good. Period. He is worthy of praise. Period. Scripture even tells us that if we do not praise Him, then the rocks will cry out praises to him.
- Second, no one is good. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that anyone can stand before the Creator at all.
So if worship, from broken vessels, is allowed through grace, then would it not be appropriate for the church to occasionally abstain (or fast) from worship in an effort to remind ourselves that it is not a right, but a privilege?
A worship leader typically has a gift for playing music or singing - someone who can lead the body into the presence of the LORD. But in light of the scriptures in Amos, Isaiah, and Matthew, should not a true worship leader also have a deep understanding of God’s heart for justice and reconciliation? And should they not also lead the body to refrain from worship when it becomes clear that they are not being obedient in these areas? True worship leaders should be wise and discerning artists who understand God’s heart as well as have a good feel for the integrity of their local congregation.
In December 2009, the US Congress buried an “apology to the native peoples of the United States” on page 45 of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326). This apology was never read, publicized or announced by either Congress or the White House. I personally spent much of 2012 traveling throughout the nation, speaking and writing about this apology. While I received tremendous support from individuals at the grass roots level, most political, academic and church leaders with whom I spoke were unable, or unwilling, to publicly engage with this issue.
This experience led me to believe me that much of our nation, as well as many in the church, are not yet ready to apologize for our unjust history, or to reconcile the relationships that have been broken and marginalized as a result of that injustice. But God wants to heal these wounds and mend these relationships. I believe there is a misunderstanding in the church of how the practices of justice and reconciliation are intimately linked to our worship of God.
I am interested in building a coalition of Christian people, leaders, churches, and denominations who will call for a national day of fasting from worship in our churches. The purpose of this fast will be to train, teach and raise awareness in the Church that the issues of reconciliation and justice need to be a part of the DNA of the church. I am not convinced that this fast needs to be directly tied to a specific community or act of injustice but rather to function as a call to a deeper understanding of what it truly means to be children of the living God.
If we were to view the church service as a conversation with God, His words to us being found in the reading of Scripture and the preaching of the pastor, then our response would be our praise, adoration, celebration, giving, and confession. Given that analogy, one idea for how this fast could look is that the service would include the components where God speaks to us (reading of scripture, preaching of the Word), but our response would be silence followed by obedience. Much like when a young child has been caught red-handed in severe disobedience, the following exchange with their parents is not a conversation. It is a lecture. Then the only response that is appropriate and expected is for the child to go out in silence and be obedient.
I have observed that many of us in the church have a misunderstanding of the role of worship in the Body of Christ. It is my hope that if we begin to take action to correct that, then our hearts will be softened and obedience will follow. I do not see this fast as an event, but instead as the start of the practice of a new spiritual discipline. For if we regularly are blessed through worship because of grace, then will we not also benefit by occasionally abstaining from worship to remind ourselves that our ability to worship is indeed a grace?
I welcome your thoughts and feedback on this proposal. Please feel free to leave your comments below or email them to me at: