I don’t always agree with blogging Essex vicar Sam Norton. Indeed only a few days ago I expressed my strong disagreement with one of his posts. But in his current series Some thoughts on Worship I have found many sentiments that I can accept, along with some that I cannot but have certainly made me think. While being puzzled by his insistence on worship being “sacramental”, I agree with his concern that some charismatic (e.g. “New Wine”) worship is not explicitly Christian and not grounded in the Scriptures, and with his reasoning:
not least on grounds of spiritual warfare.
Sam’s latest post in this series, subtitled “worship is useless”, is especially interesting. Here he first expresses then expounds this rule:
Sam’s first rule of worship: worship is useless, and as soon as worship is used for something else, it ceases to be worship.
Indeed. If we make our worship a tool for doing something else, whether mission, performance or political activity, it ceases to be true worship of God. Indeed, although Sam misses this point, the same is true if we make worship a tool for teaching, whether through hymns packed with doctrine rather than adoration or through a sermon about practical Christian living. Sam is right that in worship our focus must always be on God.
But I think where I would differ from Sam is in something I infer from his words, that all of what the church does together, at least on a Sunday, should be worship in this sense. Now there is rightly also a sense in which everything that Christians do together is or should be worship. But that is a different, broader sense of the word. The church should be doing useful things, like mission and social action. It should also be teaching its members about doctrine and the practicalities of Christian life. These things, at least on Sam’s definition, are not worship, and should not be the focus of worship services. But it would be quite wrong to use this as an argument that the church should not be doing these things.
Nevertheless Sam’s point is right, and aligns well with the material I linked to yesterday from Frank Viola. The church needs to be focusing first of all on God and on Jesus Christ, and this should be the core of its worship. Then, in Frank’s words,
it no longer chases Christian “things” or “its.”
But these “things” or “its”, in so far as they are good and right, should flow out of this worship, into teaching, mission and practical service to the world.