May 262010

Over at the redoubtable Internet Monk blog, Chaplain Mike (carrying on for the sainted Michael Spencer) just posted a splendid piece about worship. It’s exceptional, in all the many meanings of that word. He emphasizes the necessity of congregational involvement and the false dichotomy of “form vs. freedom” (because every service has a form!).

I was particularly impressed with this fantastic analogy:

Worship is what God’s people do for God. Each worship service is like a special occasion on which we honor our great Hero and celebrate his accomplishments in winning a decisive victory. If you and I were invited to participate in a ceremony honoring a war hero, what would that be like?

  • We would come together to express our appreciation through words, gifts, rituals, songs, and other activities.
  • We would decorate the hall with banners and flags and emblems of victory.
  • We would put our hero front and center.
  • Every activity would be planned for the purpose of honoring him, all the focus would be on him, and all applause directed toward him.
  • Special speakers would tell his story and pronounce his praises.
  • The community would feast together.
  • Neighbors and family members would give testimonials.
  • Presents would be lavished on our hero, and each member of the community would want to say “thank you” personally.

Now, let me ask, would that occasion be a blessing to those who participate? Of course! Such a celebration would uplift and inspire everyone in attendance as well as encourage and challenge them to live a better life. But not because they came in order to receive a blessing. No! Those who came gathered for one purpose—to honor their hero. To lift up his name. To tell the glad story of his achievements. To express appreciation and gratitude to him. To participate in activities that magnified him. As a result, they themselves were blessed. The natural byproduct of honoring another is the blessing that accrues to those who participate.

You can (and should) read the whole article here.

What about you? What’s something about worship you’d like to see the present-day church recapture, re-imagine, or emphasize differently?

(I’ll go first: I would really, really like it if people would stop using the word “worship” to mean “church music.”)

  • Thanks for posting the link, Eric. Michael Spencer chose well when he picked Chaplain Mike to try to fill his shoes.

    This discussion of worship just won’t go away, maybe because we know we’re lacking something.

    I love the illustration of honoring a war hero. It reminds me of some old Norse saga with everyone gathering in the great hall for an all-out celebration of their hero’s exploits. We might learn something from those old pagans.

    • As well, it ties neatly (if subtly) into the “Christus Victor” theology of the atonement, where Christ is quite literally a war hero over Satan. There’s a lot to unpack here!

      • You’re absolutely right, and this relates to the current discussion at Mike Duran’s blog. (

        I don’t write fantasy and I seldom read it, but Mike’s post about Christian fantasy led a commenter to suggest that we need a more-epic faith, which makes me think of the “Christus Victor” theology.

      • Ooh, excellent discussion. As my brother (a fantasy writer) would point out, J. R. R. Tolkien proposed that the concept of “eucatastrophe”–a “sudden joyous turn” in a seemingly hopeless situation–is at the heart of all fantasy and myth, reflecting the Gospel.

  • Yes, I remember reading about Tolkien’s concept of eucatastrophe and liking it. I think he and C.S. Lewis wrote such great stories partly because they were open to building on the structure of myth. There are a lot of truths in myth, even when they’re a lopsided version of the real truth.