Category: Of Worship and Work

Creativity and temptation

November 16th, 2012 — 10:14am

The more man lives in his artificial man-made reality amongst man’s structures and machinery, the more strongly he receives the impression that he is the creator of his own existence. . . . This does not mean that technics or productivity inevitably estrange man from God. Even the most creative mind, and even the man who has to live entirely among machinery and within a man-made surrounding, can remain God-conscious and can do whatever he does for the glory of God. Human creativity and the man-made reality is not the reason or cause, but it is the great temptation to Godlessness. The more creative man is, the more he is tempted to confound himself with the Creator. The danger is the titanism of the creative man who, inebriated by his feeling of creativity and in a kind of mystic ecstasy, thinks himself to be God. It is that old phenomenon of [hubris], of man’s forgetting his limits, which brings him to ruin. (Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilisation: Foundations, pp. 151–52)

Remarkably, this is from a lecture delivered in 1947!

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Holiness at work

November 13th, 2012 — 2:05pm

Vocational holiness . . . means self-knowledge: to be holy is to know oneself and to accept oneself. In the language of Teresa of Avila (and Catherine of Siena), this is humility. Such holiness and humility will be at least partly evident in knowledge of one’s calling, having clarity about what one is called to do. We know who we are and choose to live not by pretense or by wishing we were someone else but in humility. We know ourselves and accept who God has made us to be and what it is that God, who alone is the potter, has called us to do. We turn from envy and wishing we were someone else with their gifts and opportunities. Hence, vocational holiness is not about doing everything or even trying to do all we can do; we leave it to Christ to be the “Messiah,” and we graciously recognize and accept our part in the kingdom work of Christ. It is about doing that and only that to which we are called. It is the grace of living in a way that is faithful to the reign of Christ and consistent with the truth of our own identity; this is humility, living without pretense. It is about living faithfully in space and time without anxiety and with no need to run about frenetically. (Gordon Smith, Transforming Conversion, p. 101)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work


October 26th, 2012 — 9:14am

People used to hope to gain an otherworldly heaven by doing good works. Now they’re sure they can gain a this-worldly heaven by buying more stuff.

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

A third way

September 12th, 2012 — 11:38am

What shall we say of Christian engagement with the world today? On one hand, we have those who think our engagement is pretty well exhausted by trusting Jesus for eternal life, telling others about this eternal life, and working on personal holiness. On the other hand, we have those who think we’re supposed to “redeem” every cultural life form we encounter, which means (in actual practice) embracing every such life form with a minimum of critical filters. What is weird is how much these two approaches share in common, despite their apparent differences. In both, whole tracts of human life are left basically untransformed by the lordship of Christ. The first confines transformation largely to the hallowed ground of personal piety (outside of character growth and adherence to obvious ethical precepts, the affairs of human life are either ceded to the devil or treated as neutral territory). The second scraps any pietistic pretensions and wallows comfortably in human fallenness. Where is a third way that embraces and enacts transforming grace (which is inevitably costly grace) in every sphere of human thought and enterprise, because it anticipates a day when our Lord will usher in the perfection of His kingdom, and sin will be no more?

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Where the connection happens

June 30th, 2012 — 9:56am

Any church that has ever wrestled with the issue of what it takes to grow (there are, incidentally, churches that don’t wrestle with this: they think growth is 100% the Holy Spirit’s business, thus planning for growth is a waste of time, which could explain why they don’t grow, but that’s not what this blog post is about) has confronted the question whether its worship is “accessible” or “relevant” to the unchurched and/or the underchurched. Ought a Christian worship service to be “contextualized” so those who don’t know Jesus (and may know almost nothing about the Bible, Christianity, or this thing called “the church”) can feel like they “connect” to it?

To be clear, if the answer to this question is yes, it’s going to be very hard to justify any sort of traditional, much less liturgical, form of worship. Very, very few unchurched or underchurched people in the modern world, especially if they’re under the age of 35, are going to walk into a traditional or liturgical service and say, “Yeah, I get what’s going on here.” Most such people have never in their lives heard a psalm or hymn; they’ve never sat and listened to anyone other than a college professor talk at them for 30–40 minutes (and it totally put them to sleep); they haven’t the foggiest notion what atonement, grace, propitiation, justification, sanctification, theology, depravity, holiness, or even salvation mean; and they don’t see the point in a bit of bread and wine that are supposed to be about a crucified Jewish woodworker named Jesus. It doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t connect. And since I happen to be a church planter in a church that practices liturgical worship, this matters to me. Admittedly, I’m biased. But hear me out.

I don’t think worship is where an unchurched or underchurched person is initially supposed to “connect” to the church. It may indeed happen that way. It’s even likely to happen if you have a rock band play the worship music, all the songs sound like popular radio, your preacher talks for ten minutes about movies, and you serve iced cappuccinos in the lobby. Admittedly, this brings its own complications: not least, that you’ll have to keep changing your worship track to keep up with the radio; and at some point it might be important to explain to your new friend that meeting with the Almighty God isn’t supposed to feel quite like a U2 concert; but be that as it may. If you practice traditional or liturgical worship, by contrast, I’d say it’s unusual if a non-churched person walks in and immediately “connects.” I’m also saying that’s okay.

The reason it’s okay is that hard-core Christian worship should have the “feel” of a called-out covenant people meeting with their sovereign covenant God; reenacting the great story of His saving grace in the world; and being called, cleansed, equipped, and commissioned to carry out His mission in the world. If this feels immediately “relevant” to an outsider, I would wonder if it’s being done properly. But that doesn’t mean the outsider shouldn’t connect to the church at all; what I’m proposing is that the connection will usually start elsewhere.

Where? In the everyday life of God’s covenant people. Worship isn’t normally what convinces outsiders of the “relevance” of the church; worshipful lives are what convince them of this. One missional writer has said that people often belong to the church before they believe in Jesus. That makes complete sense: if outsiders don’t feel like they have a connection to God’s people, how on earth are they going to feel a connection to the worship these people offer to their God? I’m not (again) saying that it can’t happen (we need, for example, to work out the implications of 1 Corinthians 14:24–25), only that the normal order of things is to be impressed with God’s people before one is impressed with Him. “You are My witnesses,” and so forth.

You, dear saints, are the relevance of the church to the world. Not first your pastor’s sermons, not first the worship music and anthems of Zion, not first the Table of the Lord (though these things should be tasteful and attractive, and pastors in particular must preach as men convicted that the gospel is the most relevant thing on the planet, because it is). You are the epistle known and read by all men, even if they never darken the door of a place of worship. And if they don’t discover the relevance of the church in knowing you – in your loving service, in your gracious friendship – the lights aren’t likely to go on just because you haul them to a worship service.

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Met for themselves

June 28th, 2012 — 4:36pm

“Things must be met for themselves. To take them only for their meaning is to convert them into gods – to make them too important, and therefore to make them unimportant altogether. Idolatry has two faults. It is not only a slur on the true God; it is also an insult to true things.” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 20)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Colossians and R2K

June 7th, 2012 — 1:57pm

Huge kudos to Justin Borgor for this post. An excerpt to whet the appetite:

“Paul’s ‘totalizing rhetoric’ in Colossians with regard to bearing fruit in every good work provides the biblical basis for a strong critique of those who would seek to reduce the mission of church to just a few ‘spiritual’ activities (e.g., preaching the word and observing the sacraments), as does Jesus’ command to teach his disciples to observe literally ‘all’ (Matthew 28:20) his commandments in the Great Commission. Indeed, taking the sweeping significance of what it means to observe ‘all’ that Jesus has commanded seriously will require that we return to a much more integrated view of life and discipleship in which the physical, moral, financial, spiritual, aesthetic, political, sexual, rational, ecological, psychological and other orders of our creaturely existence fully interpenetrate one another, in contrast to the modern myth that these can be treated as separate categories.”

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Worship is . . .

May 12th, 2012 — 4:50pm

“A church may be filled with creative ideas and overflowing with good works, but unless there be a sense of the presence of the holy there, of the presence of God – unless there be a capacity of worship – it is doubtful whether what is there is religion. Worship is not centrally an experience of ours; it is meaningless to speak of a ‘worshipful experience’ as if the holy were compounded of a clever arrangement of various kinds of lighting, sober music, proper tones of voice, and the softness or hardness of the pews, all so manipulated as to create a certain experience in us. Such ‘client-centered’ worship does not extend beyond the ceiling of the sanctuary, for here by finite media we seek to take the place of the holy, to create it synthetically. To these efforts to create a worshipful mood the usual congregational response is appropriate: ‘Preacher, I enjoyed it!’ But neither our manipulation nor the enjoyment are categories appropriate to worship. For God, not our own consciousness, is the object of worship; we experience Him, not ourselves worshiping. Worship is a response to the presence of God, our reaction to the appearance of the holy. And the point is not that we feel something then, though surely reverence, awe and wonder are normal; but that we relate ourselves creatively to him, that we respond to his presence in adoration and praise, in confession of sin and thanksgiving for mercies known and received. It is the relation to God, the felt relation to the holy – to the tremendous, majestic, awesome power and goodness of God – that is the core of worship. Thus we bow, thus we adore, thus we surrender ourselves – thus we experience God.” (Langdon Gilkey, How Can the Church Minister to the World without Losing Itself, pp. 107–8)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Quite upset

May 9th, 2012 — 4:25pm

“It is clear that those who support Christian universities would be quite upset if the qualifier came to mean that the education students received might put them at a disadvantage for being a success in America.” (Stanley Hauerwas)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Place-making and spirituality

May 5th, 2012 — 3:08pm

“The best writers on place speak of the need for attentiveness, familiarity, silence, slowness, stability, repetition, particularity, hope, respect, love. These are all characteristics and the fruit of Christian spirituality, but rare in our speed-driven, consumerist Western culture. If placemaking is part of our journey out into the world, then it needs to be funded by a deep journey in – engagement with God, engagement with ourselves, and engagement with one another.

“In the Western church in which so many pastors have exchanged their calling for that of shopkeepers, ecclesial life often fails to nurture the inner journey fundamental to placemaking, and even where it does, congregational life must be complemented by personal spirituality. And place plays an important part in personal spirituality as well as spirituality providing the attentiveness requisite for placemaking.” (Bartholomew, Where Mortals Dwell, pp. 320–21)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Back to top