On this week’s installment of “Worship Leaders Say the Darndest Things,” we are confronting a fundamental misunderstanding of corporate worship.
I was watching a live-streamed service this week from a medium-sized United Methodist church near my house. It was from last summer, last Father’s Day, actually, so it was before they entered the COVID-19 wilderness. The next song in the “set” was, *cringe, “Good, Good Father” (It’s a bad, bad song, that’s what it is, that’s what it is, that’s what it is…).
And then the worship leader said something I’ve heard a thousand times, having grown up in the pop-worship movement.
She said this:
“At this point in the service, I just want you to get alone with God. Just close your eyes, forget about those standing around you, so it’s just you and Jesus, and sing this song as a prayer to Him.”
Before I go on, I want to say that there is certainly abundant times and places in which private prayer of all types is wonderful and good, though this Thris Comlin song probably isn’t the best way to go about it.
Corporate worship isn’t one of those times.
Think about it. Even just logically, the purpose of gathering to worship is actually gathering with other people to worship. To do so, only to be told, “Wait, no, just get alone with God!” is nonsensical.
Then, there’s the creepy factor. While the interplay of Christ and the Bride is certainly important in corporate worship, this brings up a strange intimacy, a nearly sensual sort of dynamic, which is problematic. The purpose of corporate worship isn’t to sing top 40-style love songs to Jesus. That alone should make you feel uneasy.
Beyond that, and most importantly, biblically and theologically, whenever we hear of liturgy taking place, it’s a corporate exercise. In fact, when we join together in proper liturgical worship, we aren’t just participating with those around us, but we are receiving a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, in which Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and the saints triumphant are gathered around singing their never-ending song.
Together, of course.
There ain’t no “getting alone with Jesus” in that place.
This is one of the primary reasons that liturgical worship is preferable to the ad hoc, ad libbed pseudo-liturgies extemporized by “worship leaders” and preachers everywhere. If worship is formative, and the church has always held that it is, there is no room for worship dictated by the whims of lead musicians who think closing eyes and dissociating will lead people toward “worshipful” feelings and attitudes. Nothing could be further from the truth. We should be gathering and praying the elegant and beautiful words of Holy Scripture, upon which we can confidently rely, then feasting on Christ at Table. In doing so, we will be refined and strengthened into the church our God would have us to be.
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