Is our worship, well, worship?

I have been interested in a couple of blog posts highlighted by an former All Nations student on his Facebook page asking whether what we call worship is actually pleasing to God or not. One speaks in terms of our worship being “heresy” and the other about it being “pagan“. Now these are strong words to use and, as a person who does not really find singing being my natural worship vehicle, although I don’t agree with everything expressed in the articles, I think it is good to start a debate on this.

The focus of both these articles is upon music rather than any other element of worship and this reflects part of the problem. Many times I hear people say, “what a great time of worship!” I think what they are really saying is, “the band played well and the singing was good and it made me feel good”. This demonstrates, at least, three errors that should be highlighted. Firstly, that worship is only about singing. Prayer, liturgy, creeds are not part of many people’s idea of worship. Secondly, it only emphasizes corporate worship in a “service” when we should emphasize whole life worship. And thirdly, it focuses upon my experience of worship or of God. Experience of God is, of course, vital for our Christian lives but is not perhaps the measure of the quality of our worship.

When we look at the Old Testament, the worship of Israel was criticized quite forcefully by the prophets. Isaiah tell Israel that fasting as worship is useless unless it is matched by their actions and attitudes (Isaiah 58:6-8). Amos tells Israel God hates their worship (sacrifices and songs) when it is not accompanied by justice (Amos 5:21-24). And Malachi, on the other hand, tells them to take the crippled animals to their governor as an offering to see what he would say about inferior offerings (Malachi 1:6-14). So, in the OT, God is interested in the lifestyle of the worshiper and the quality of the sacrifice.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that God requires worship in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Paul tells us that our worship is “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2); that our corporate worship should be intellegible (I Corinthians 14:1-26) and that worship includes “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” (I Timothy 4:1). Finally,  James, reflecting the OT prophets considers true worship to be looking after the vulnerable and not being polluted by the world (James 1:27). Both OT and NT emphasize God’s acceptance of the worship depending on the quality of lives of the worshiper rather than style.

So how does our Church worship measure up?