“Worship from the heart”

Fads come and go in the Church. Anyone who tries to keep up with trends in order to attract people will inevitably fail. The Church is not built on or sustained by trends, not even in “style” (as if form could be divorced from content). Christianity Today has an article on how evangelicals are turning to liturgical churches for various reasons. Mark Galli explains what attracts him to liturgy, even though it’s not “relevant.” (By the way, the best book I have ever read on the irrelevance of liturgy is D.G. Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism. Do yourself a favor and read it. It will, like all good books, shift your view of the landscape.)

What interests me is the comments, especially this one:

I really don’t understand all of this.Quite a strange article.God help us all.I personally believe all forms of worship are acceptable to God if it comes from the heart and is centered round Jesus Christ,that’s what Christianity is all about.Having said that if worship is traditional,contemporary or liturgy,we as Christians should never loose sight of how the Chuch began and what the foundation was;Christ’s Ressurection,his Oneness with God and how we as Christians can our lives under God’s grace in a Christ-like manner,loving our neighbours as we love ourselves and giving praise and thanks to our Saviour King Jesus Christ for making us right with God.

I’m sure “Abby” is a nice girl/woman. I am not writing this to bash her. She says, “I personally believe all forms of worship are acceptable to God if it comes from the heart and is centered round Jesus Christ.”

The problem is with worship that “comes from the heart.” Does Jesus want what comes from my heart? Jesus says,

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23, ESV)

Only if you do not know yourself could you think that Jesus is speaking only of unbelievers. The problem is not that worship does not come from the heart and that makes it dry or boring or meaningless. The problem is that far too much worship comes from the heart. We are so bound up in ourselves that we even want our worship to revolve around our selves. I am not sure how worship could come from the heart and at the same time be “centered round Jesus Christ.” When I am in the midst of the Divine Service, I find that there is way too much of my heart already; I don’t need more, I need less. And, in fact, that is why I need the Divine Service after all. Because I need a new heart. I need a heart of flesh and not one of stone. I need a full body transplant, and we surely are not going to get it if we’re worried about whether we’re giving God our all or not. As much as we think we’re focused on God when we try to make sure we’re worshiping sincerely and from the heart, we are more focused on ourselves than if we just do what the liturgy does. Get out of your heart! Get out of your head! What do you think is actually worth saving in your heart or head?

The liturgy of the Divine Service is about changing the focus, and it is not something we can accomplish by trying harder or praying ex corde or getting rid of all formality and ritual. It is precisely the formality and the ritual that move us beyond ourselves.  If we have our way, the Divine Service will become our own private worship service. The consequences are enormous. If it’s my worship service, or even if it’s the worship service to which I am going to praise God, then there is no longer any Body of Christ, but only atomized individuals who are there to get what they can out of the service. It’s no longer about what God wants to give you in Jesus Christ, but about what affects you in such a way as to make it meaningful. Are we so arrogant as to think that what we put in or get out of the service can change what God wants to give us? Clearly, if you don’t think about what’s going on, the benefits of the service may be lost on you. But that’s the glory of the Christian liturgy! God is still there, giving out His gifts, and if you don’t realize it, that’s your loss. But your attention or lack of attention cannot inhibit God’s work in Jesus Christ. I would go so far as to say that if you have been given faith to trust Christ, even if you aren’t paying attention on a given Sunday, Christ still works in you by His Word and Sacrament. Only unbelief brings judgment. How easily we get caught up in worship works-righteousness by thinking God’s work in us depends on how clean our hearts are or how uncluttered our brains are.

These are only the beginnings of thoughts about what is going on in the Divine Service. All I’m really sure about is that God doesn’t want what’s in my heart a lot of Sundays, and He doesn’t need what’s in it the other Sundays. Thank God that He’s faithful when we’re not.

Timotheos

Who Said It?

I received an e-mail from the American Chesterton Society saying that Chesterton did not actually say this.

Here’s another one: can anyone tell me which Church Father said something to the effect of, “We go to the Sacrament as if to our death, so that we go to our death as if to the Sacrament”?  I know I’ve read it, but I can’t find the source right now.  Anyone want to do my work for me?

Timotheos