What our Worship Conveys
Every part of our worship means something, or was intended to convey some truth.
Casual clothes tell us that God takes us as we are – in our worn Wranglers and camo, or the one pair of shoes we have. God is not for the best-dressed, but for all of us – the fashionable and unfashionable, the rich and the poor. They boldly announce that Sunday is merely one of the seven days we worship, rather than a sacred thing relegated to Sundays. We welcome in the stranger who is unsure how to dress.
Our Sunday-Best clothes speak of God’s worth in preparation for worship. We give Sunday sacred space as the gathering of the Beloved, desiring to give God the best of ourselves.
Grand Cathedrals remind us of God’s holiness. Shoes on marble echo into the grand space above us, drawing our eyes up and our voices down. Intuitively, we know we should not run or cackle or belch. We are reminded how very far from God we are, how we should tremble to live in sin. We sense that we are on holy ground.
Modern church buildings tell a different story with their unimposing, casual aura – that God has come near to us. The building may even remind us that God makes old things new and redeems them – I have worshipped in elementary auditoriums, strip-mall store fronts, and even a former funeral home. These economical buildings also urge the Body to spend less on buildings and more on actual ministry to people, as stewards of God’s money.
House churches are a beautiful picture of God’s people as a family. Gatherings are small and intimate, meals are frequently shared, and many wounds from traditional Church are healed with loving attention.
Old Hymns connect us to the past – to our great heritage of saints long before us. The wording may be archaic and odd, perhaps forcing us to think about what we sing more carefully. We are reminded of our rich history.
New songs give fresh expressions of praise to our God. We find new words of worship that ring true with our own souls, music that thumps in our chests and stirs our God-given emotion.
Liturgy anchors us in the repetitive motions and words of truth, searing it into our minds and hearts. The ritual of prayer can turn us into praying persons. The ritual of speaking truth can make us truthful persons.
When the sermon is the centerpiece, we acknowledge that the Scriptures breathed by God are our guidance and wisdom for life, that we are dependent upon God’s voice for truth. Scripture deserves our careful attention.
When the Eucharist is the centerpiece, we find that we are most in need not of words or knowledge, but of Christ himself. We drink and eat his sacrifice, we breathe His life into our dead bodies. We need Him.
Baptism by immersion is a picture of rebirth and new life, identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. It’s a public answer to the call, “Come, follow Me.”
Infant baptism (as explained to me by an Anglican) joins a baby into the community of faith, who will pray and lead that child with the hopes that one day, he or she will decide to follow Jesus. It’s a lovely picture of a family caring for its children, of promising to live faithful lives not only for themselves, but for others around them who need them.
It all means something. It all matters; we need different forms of worship. Not because worship is about us and our nitpicky preferences, because worship is about bringing all parts of ourselves to God in submission and sacrifice. But these different forms show us different parts of who God is, and place difference emphasis on His many attributes. And sometimes our hearts need to be aligned differently to worship God rightly.
Yes, the forms get convoluted and unbiblical. Sunday-best becomes striving for status and showing off designer brands. Casual dress becomes sloppy and creates the false “Jesus is my homeboy” attitude. Old hymns are protected as sacred texts so that stale words are repeated without understanding. New songs are not time-tested and sometimes sink to “Jesus is my Boyfriend” levels, or focus is placed on the killer guitar riffs or how well the band plays. In summary? We manage to turn all the forms of worshipping God into ways that we can worship ourselves. But it’s sometimes easier to see that tendency in another denomination rather than in our own church.
We cannot (and should not) judge the validity of the way other Christians worship when they do it differently from us. Because the orders of service and the architecture and the dress and vestments – they all mean something profound.