For good or ill, the church leads the way in our culture. Long before feminism became the force it is in our general culture, the feminization of the church was already old news. Long before subjectivism became a way of life for most Americans, Christians had been groping around in the closets of the soul in search of some meaningful inner religiosity. In a similar way, our willing adoption of breezy informality in worship has led to a host of problems outside the church.
One of our problems is that we have confounded praise and worship. The definition of praise seems obvious . . . and fortunately it is. Praise means to adore, magnify, exalt and honor the Lord. But most of us think that worship is a synonym for praise, and it really is not. When Abraham took Isaac to the mountain in order to sacrifice him, he told the servants as he was leaving that he and Isaac were going to go to the mountain, worship, and then they would return. He did not mean that they were going to break out their guitars and a tambourine and hold a little service. Rather, they were going there to do what God had said to do. Worship means obedient service, and when we gather formally to worship the Lord we are gathering in order to make ourselves available for that service. When Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord fill the temple, his response was one of worship. “Here am I, Lord, send me.” We tend to think we are instructed only to go to church; rather, we go to church to be equipped and instructed by the sacraments and the Word — instructed on what to do and how to live.
When true worship does not occur, when the worshiper does not remember the name of God, the praise naturally deteriorates and becomes wispy and thin. And this is precisely what has happened to us. We talk about our likes and dislikes with regard to “worship” songs, for example, without any regard for the character, nature, and attributes of God. Our problem is that our debates about praise have not been preceded by worship.
Formal worship is a time when we remind ourselves of our constant and standing duties in the light of who God is. On the Lord’s Day, our worship reminds us that the rest of the week belongs to Him as well. When we gather in family worship, we are not setting aside God’s portion of the day, but are reminding the entire family that the entire day is His. Put another way, formal worship does not create a secular/sacred distinction. Understood in the classic Protestant fashion it obliterates it. I give one day in seven because all seven are His. I give ten percent because one hundred percent is His. I give time during the day to recognize Him with the family because the day is the Lord’s.
Paul tells us that our bodies are to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord. The next verse tells us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the Word of God. Understanding this instruction is much more than the key to personal sanctification; it is the key to cultural transformation. This continual sacrifice is, Paul says, our spiritual worship. The reason the Christian church today does not have any cultural potency is because our formal worship is so poverty-stricken, and we therefore do not understand how our spiritual worship is to apply on a late Thursday afternoon. All our cultural activities, great and small, are inextricably linked to our spiritual worship, which, in turn, is linked to our formal worship. Christians do not know how to lift a glass of beer to the glory of God for the simple reason that they do not know how to sing the Gloria Patri. We do not know how to compose concertos that honor God because if the sermon goes longer than fifteen minutes we get a case of the creeping fantods. We do not know what a statesman is because we do not know what a call to worship is.
Most Christians walk out of church thinking that something happened in there (time, after all, was consumed!), but they would be most surprised to discover that anything worthwhile was supposed to have been done. A.W. Tozer once remarked that if revival means more of what we have now, we most emphatically do not need a revival. But if revival means returning to the old paths, and recovering the way of worship which our fathers knew, then we most certainly need a revival. A revival of formal worship filled with doctrine, laughter, glory, and light would be the first step to a remarkable transformation of the nation.
Christians often debate whether or not they should throw themselves into the political realm. Some say we should, because Christians should be involved in saving our culture. Some say we shouldn’t, because our culture is soon to be perpendicular to the surface and headed for Davy Jones. We should consequently focus on our “man the lifeboats” evangelism. No one appears to be saying that the cultural and political life of our nation can and should be transformed, and that is why we should concentrate on learning how to worship the Lord.