Monday, August 28, 2006

On High Priests and a Disengagement of the Intellect

The past few weeks I have had a lot of time to reflect and digest the things that I experienced and learned this summer. In the course of this, I have been thinking a lot about worship. It’s difficult to write about worship because worship is a very personal thing; it is an intimate part of the relationship between a person and God. Yet, worship is also something that a group of believers partake in together. Therefore, though each of us (as followers of Jesus Christ) is obligated to wrestle with what worship is it is also something that all of us together, as a body, collectively have a stake in.

So, here are a couple of things I have been thinking about. Why is it that in many modern American churches we treat worship leaders as a high priest? I thought the idea of an earthly high priest went out the window after Jesus’ crucifixion when the veil was ripped in two in the Holy of Holies. I thought Jesus had become our high priest (Heb. 8:1-2) and that each of us is ourselves a priest (I Pet. 2:9-10). If I’m not mistaken, isn’t worship more than just singing songs and making music? Isn’t worship more than just going to church, praying, reading the Bible, and doing good deeds? I thought worship was about how you live your life. I thought that everything we do, everything we say, and even everything we think should be an act of worship to God. I thought that worship wasn’t necessarily about what we do, but how we do things and the spirit of our hearts (John 4:23, Rom. 12:1-2). I know that none of us will actually be able to accomplish that in this life, but it is what we should be attempting.

If this is the case, then why is it that in many churches in America we treat those who lead music as rock stars? Why is it that we refer to the time we sing songs and music is played as “worship time?” Why is it that in so many churches that those who lead music are called and referred to as worship teams, worship bands, and worship leaders?

The real worship leaders are the people who clean the church bathrooms every week. The real worship bands and teams are those who come together anytime work needs to be done and they show up to help out. Many of these people may never have sung a note in a church service. Just about all of us can learn more about worship and what it is to worship from these people than we can from people who might lead us in singing every Sunday. Yet, we ignore these humble teachers and leaders and exalt others as high priests and rock stars.

When we do this, we do a great disservice and injustice to those around us. You and I might know that worship is supposed to incorporate every aspect of our lives, but that teenage boy who starting attending your services because of the youth group at your church might not. What about the young lady who is recovering from a drug addiction and just became a Christian a few weeks ago; might she get the wrong impression about what worship is? And what about those outside of the body of Christ who attend our services? If we, who are the Body of Christ, constantly and consistently refer to worship in terms of music and if we continue to make a distinction between things that are worship and spiritual and between everything else, what are those who aren’t followers supposed to think and believe?

This brings me to the other major issue I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with. If so many of us view worship and treat it as something we just do on Sundays or when we do something musically, then why is it that so many of us disengage ourselves from our intellect when we worship? For example, there are probably several hundred praise songs written in the past ten years that have some sort of line talking about bowing down to God, e.g. “We bow down”, “All bow down”, “Here I am to bow down.” How many times have you been at a church service and actually seen someone bow down when they sing those lyrics? I think a lot of people have no idea what they are singing and are just singing because they take pleasure from it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with singing. Some of us were created to sing. I like to sing. I take pleasure from singing. I also understand that God is probably more interested in how I live my life day to day than He is in the songs I might sing to Him on a particular day. Nevertheless, it is important that when we sing songs of praise, we actually mean and do what we sing. Otherwise, our catchy musical lyrics become hollow words signifying nothing. It is a matter of consistency, integrity, and honesty. I’m guilty of this too, but I try very hard not to sing a song just because it sounds pretty and makes me feel good. When I’m in a service where we’re supposed to be singing about bowing down I either don’t sing those lines or I actually do them. If there is a line in a song that I can’t bring myself to agree with, I don’t sing it. There are those who will make the argument that what we don’t do physically we do in spirit. There might be some validity to that argument, but for the most part it is a cop out. Why sing about something you are doing before God if you don’t and won’t actually do it? What purpose does that serve? If I wasn’t a Christian and I saw someone singing a song saying, “We bow down” and no one around me was bowing down I would think to myself either “They’re a bunch of hypocrites” or “What a bunch of idiots.” It might be true that any idiot can sing a song, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an idiot to sing, especially if you’re singing to the Creator of the Universe.

I know there are a lot of Christians in America who have become disillusioned with the churches they attend and even with the Church itself. I don’t blame them. There are times I’ve felt this way myself. This probably isn’t a bad thing. We all need some disillusionment in our lives: when we are forced to confront Ultimate Reality, He shatters whatever illusions we have and are holding onto. Nevertheless, there would probably be a lot less bitterness, frustration, anger, and confusion if we refused to disengage ourselves from our intellects and actually worshiped God “in spirit and in truth.” But what do I know, I’m just an unemployed English teacher.

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