Reflections on Worship

I woke up this morning thinking about worship. Not a bad way to wake up. Unfortunately my thoughts were largely on the un-Biblical way Christians are inclined to use the term. To be fair I can only speak from what could be broadly called a North American Evangelical framework. This may not be your experience. I hope it isn’t.

Simply stated we abuse the term worship. How often have you heard singing a few songs referred to as worship? How about the worship team, maybe a guitar or two, piano and a few singers. Occasionally the offering is brought under the umbrella of worship, and sometimes even the sermon.

From time to time I find myself drawn to more formal worship rituals as practiced by other Christian traditions. The symbolic wealth found in the divergent Christian traditions has its own appeal. But, is it worship?

Consider these verses.

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Colossians 1:22-23 22 [Christ]  has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…

To be blunt, worship is not a song. Worship is your life, a living 24/7 sacrifice…holy and blameless and above reproach.

I am not suggesting that we should not sing or have any sort of ritual. The Scriptures are loaded with exhortations and examples of thanksgiving, praise, and lament through song and prayer. The Apostle Paul instructed the use of music for teaching (Col. 3:16).

With the Psalmist we ought to cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). Then we will worship in “Spirit and in Truth” (Jn. 4:23).

Living Sculpture

Today is one of those iconic caricature days of a Saskatchewan winter. The temperature is any thing but warm. The snow is falling and a brisk wind is whipping the snow around in a mesmerizing dance. The snow drifts are carved into ever changing shapes, like a living sculpture. It is beautiful.

Perhaps you need to have grown up in winter to see the beauty through the numbing cold. Perhaps it helps when you drive a four wheel drive that effortlessly cuts through the powdery drifts. Perhaps it helps to know that spring is not too far away. That time of year when snow gives way to prairie storms, the crack of lightening, the thunder and the threat of tornadoes…winter isn’t that bad.

The prairies are a harsh yet beautiful land. People often speak of the open skies and the bountiful sunshine. The beauty is deeper than that. I love mountains and forests. I hope to move back to them one of these days. The beauty of the prairies is a different kind of beauty. The mountains speak of ageless grandeur. The prairies speak of constant change, like the snow drifts I see out my window.

In time the snow will melt, the fields will be seeded.  In the summer heat the crops will grow, harvest, winter, spring… The sky is always an ever changing canvas of sun and clouds, stars and moonlight. The landscape is always changing. The ever present wind shaping the snow, bringing in the storms and pushing them on. Yes, this is a beautiful land, even in winter. I hope to return to the mountains, forests, lakes and rivers of B.C., but I will miss the prairies when I do.

Theological Jazz

A number of years ago a friend of mine, Richard, a professional orchestral musician said that if you want to play professionally you have to play a lot of notes first. In a world subjected to the tyranny of “now”, from fast food to fast track projects, we resist the idea that excellence takes time and dedication.

With a very few exceptions, a musician must play a lot of notes, a painter a lot of brush strokes, a photographer a lot of shutter clicks, the writer a lot of words, the theologian a lot of thoughts if excellence is to be achieved. Many of these notes, strokes, clicks, words and thoughts will be less than impressive. Excellence comes at a price; we must be willing to be less than impressive first. The road to excellence is littered with wrong notes, discarded canvases, discarded photos, crumbled paper and thoughts that we can only shake our heads at.

The pursuit of  excellence demands having the freedom to walk the road that leads there. In my theological pursuits, as helpful and important as my professors at seminary are in pushing me to new heights, some of the most profound discussions have been with my friend Dell. As postmodernity would allow, when pressed I describe myself as a Reform informed Charismatic Anabaptist—I don’t really like labels. I was recently asked to explain this. My answer, I’ll tell you when I know, but I am a fan of Karl Barth…that can explain a lot. Dell, is pursuing service as an Anglican Priest, and has his own mix of influences.

When we get together, it is like a jazz jam session. A lot of theological notes are played. We have the freedom to toss out new ideas and rehash old ones. There is no judgment when we disagree, the disagreements are the fun part—it makes us think—we like to think. Some times we go to a coffee shop, our wives sitting at one table while we rehash the great theological debates of the centuries at another table.

The theological music we play may not be suitable for a pulpit and if written, some of it might not impress my theology professor Dr. Guretzki (but I’m sure he would be right in the middle of the debate given a chance). We just play notes, trying new thoughts, enjoying the journey. Sometimes something profound comes out of it (at least to my thinking). I recall once coming home with a paper napkin scribbled with notes related to a paper I had to write. Most of the time, we just leave with our brains tired and our souls a little richer. I can’t wait until the next time. So what about those Cappadocians Dell?

The Art of Theology

I painted this little scene one evening in a near by park. To state something entirely obvious. This is a painting, it is not the park. At best it is a representation of how I saw the park for a short time while the sun was dipping toward the horizon. Press your nose against the screen has hard as you like, you will not smell the grass. You will not feel the warmth of the day as it gives way to the cool evening breeze off the lake. You will not feel the pesky mosquitoes who think you are supper. You might imagine these things, but you cannot reach out and feel them. As an artist, I hope that I captured something of the experience I had that evening. In the end, it is only an attempt to capture a moment in creation that defies capturing.

So what does this have to do with theology? Everything. Our best scholarly attempts to understand God are in the end, an interpretation of what is revealed to us and how we experience that revelation. Even as the painting is not the park, so our theology is not God. That said, like a good artist, the theologian is driven to capture the uncapturable. Unlike the artist who may do a less than flattering job, the theologian will one day stand before the One who he has dared to presume to study. A canvas may get tossed into the fire with a shrug, a theologian…fortunately God’s grace and mercy are greater than my ignorance.

So can we really claim orthodoxy in theology? Can we ever claim to be right?

The answer is the same as the artist who mixes his paint, dips in the brush and places a stroke thoughtfully, but confidently on the canvas. Years of study, including the works of the great masters, color theory and observation has prepared him for that moment when the paint leaves the brush and illuminates the canvas. When the painting is hung on the wall and people pass by, when they say, “yes, that is a tree, and that is grass, yes it is a park,” then and only then, submitted to the deliberation of time can we say, “yes, it is right.”

So to the theologian, humbly, but confidently making assertions born out of years of study, including the great theologians through out the history of the Church, grappling with contemporary thinking, sets word to paper. When the book is pulled from the library shelf and people read its words, when they say, “yes, that is the God who creates, that is the God who reconciles, this is the God I know,” then and only then, submitted to the deliberation of time can we dare to say, “yes, that is right.”  

 I must give credit to Dr. David Guretzki of Briercrest Seminary who taught us a simple yet profound truth, our doctrine of the Trinity is not the Trinity, it is merely a doctrine based on how God has revealed Himself. We must not confuse the two.