Someone has said that “residue” is what you have when you finish most of something, and then the “res I due” tomorrow.” This post is the final residue from last fall’s worship series,¹ and I’m “due”ing it today.
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Cecil Hook was one of the most gracious, gentle spirits one could ever hope to know, and was the author of at least five books.² Toward the end of each of the later books, he would offer brief, discrete teachings in collections called “Hook’s Points.” I’m taking that habit as my cue here, offering a few points here about worship and the assembly.
Public and Private
Worship should be both private and public. Worshippers should participate and experience alone and in groups.
Your church might call the main gathering a “worship assembly” or “corporate worship,” and the gathering probably includes some worship, but it is almost certainly not completely filled with worship activities. If the strong majority of the public gathering’s activities are not worship per se, it should probably be called something else. Likewise, your private life may involve some worship, but it is not completely filled with worship.
Those who think corporate worship is overrated or even entirely misconceived may be duly reacting to an overemphasis on the assembly in the scheme of Christian life.³ They may also be inclined toward the idea of “whole-life worship” (a more private concept), which is often rooted in a misguided extrapolation/misguided interpretation of Romans 12:1.
Those who actually think everything in their weekly public gatherings is worship are equally misguided, mistaking centuries of church “worship service” tradition for biblical examples and principles.
Happy and Sad
I once bought into the idea that Sunday mornings were for celebration. I now think that notion is incomplete and inadequate.
Worship leaders, I hope many of you will hear this, if you aren’t already starkly aware of it: not everyone comes into your assembly feeling glad and worship-filled. If you start every assembly in a hip-hip-hooray mode and act as if everyone ought to be celebrating all the time, you’re leaving out a lot of people.
Worship is not always celebratory and actually has many faces. At times, we worship “anyway,” because God is the worthy One. Among contemporary songs, Fernando Ortega’s “I Will Praise Him Still” approaches worship from this determined, humble, “despite what’s going on” angle.
Worship and “worship music” are not equivalent expressions. Music doesn’t have the universal appeal that some assume.
There probably was a time when I was just that insistent and insensitive in public leadership, coming across as over-interested in worship music. Not everyone is that interested, and that’s OK. At this point, having lived more years, I refuse to equate the musical experience (no matter the style) with worship. There is much more to worship than music.
Verbal action/noun sense
Worship may not, must not be reduced to any list of “acts” that supposedly fulfill a supposed checklist. To suggest that the scriptures communicate a group of “five (or six) acts of worship” is to make up something out of thin air.
Although “worship” can be either noun or verb, both can be limiting. To say “X church has ‘a good worship'” is too noun-ish, n’est-ce pas? It is truth to say that worship is active in various ways, but reducing it to one or more “acts” may suggest that those actions are always observable, attaining only to a part of the reality.
When I worship, my spirit acts, and my body may act, too. But far be it from me to attempt to come up with a list of “acts” that comprise the whole of worship. Such a list cannot be written, nor can my worshipping (how’s that for a verbal noun?) ever be sufficient.
¹ If you’re interested in that series but missed it, use this link, and then scroll back a few posts to one of the summary “What Was All That About?” posts. Material on worship words was presented, as well as resource lists and quotations and a few other goodies. (Or, wait for the book that will include revised versions of those studies, planned for release in 2-3 months.)
² Hook’s books were titled Free in Christ, Free To Speak, Free as Sons, Free To Change, and Free To Accept. I was privileged to contribute editorially to the last two and to a major revision of the first. I wish I had assumed more of Hook’s mantle of grace, not to mention his succinctness in writing!
³ It is my sense that Cecil Hook was among this group. He did not write much about worship, and when he did, it was more of a disclaimer, a pointer-away-from the over-emphasis on supposed rectitude in assembly worship. He was, however, very gracious and affirming toward me and my somewhat different views on the nature and place of worship in thought and life. For more than a quarter-century now, I have emphasized that worship is not by any means bound to Christian assemblies, nor are assemblies (to be) entirely composed of worship activities. Cecil emphasized more of the horizontal, which I also support, while I have at most points emphasized the vertical.