Philosophy of Worship, part 1

Philosophy of WorshipWhen I was in seminary, I took a course called “Philosophy of Worship.” The course project was to compose a document that described my personal philosophy of what worship is and what it’s for. It’s one thing to write such a thing for class – it’s a totally different thing to make decisions, pick music, plan services, teach volunteers, and serve a church while following that philosophy. However, I think I stick to what I believe about worship in the majority of my actions.

I wanted to share some of my core convictions about worship in order to stimulate thought and discussion. These convictions in no way sum up my philosophy of worship, but are just learnings and thoughts I’ve collected along the way. And I in no way have it all figured out…

1. Worship is for God – not for us.

Worship is essentially an offering/sacrifice. And for something to be offered/sacrificed, it has to be given to someone else wholly [without holding any back]. So when I worship, everything becomes God’s – my heart, my life, my song, my thoughts, my will…etc. It is all for God, not for me.

The problem is when we get too wrapped up in what worship does for us. I don’t deny that we get stuff out of worship – encouragement, fellowship, peace, joy, Spirit-filled…etc. It’s even clear in the first Testament that God rewards the faithfulness of worshipers. Genesis 22…Abraham got something out of his worship…a ram to take the place of Isaac. Even a portion of some sacrificed animals was kept and prepared as a celebration for the family. But our tendency is to get more wound up over the blessings of worship than the One we worship. We get more overjoyed by grace, rather than the God that provides it.

So worship takes the spotlight off us. God is the central character in the drama of worship. And the sacrifice of worship is for God, not for us. Any blessings we receive from worshiping God are purely a bi-product of the goodness of God. We shouldn’t worship God to get something out of it. We should worship God because God is worthy to receive glory, honor, riches, wisdom, power, strength…etc.

"Living Sacrifice" Is An Oxymoron

Romans 12:1-2:I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

“Living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. Something that is sacrificed is killed. In the Old Testament, God sets up a pattern for worship that includes taking animals and other items to an altar where they are slaughtered and burnt as a sacrifice of worship. In God’s original design for worship, death was synonymous with sacrifice. Something always died in a sacrifice. So to say “living sacrifice” would be like saying “living dead.”

The paradox of a “living sacrifice” is created through the reality that in Jesus we are new creatures. Death has been defeated in Jesus, and now our worship looks different. Our worship is still sacrificial, but now it is a living sacrifice of praise. In other words, the breath isn’t taken out of our worship. Our worship is left alive, to breathe.

Hebrews 13:15-16: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

(sketch by Luc Freymanc)