What We Get Wrong About Worship

Christian faith is personal, but it shouldn't just be private

“American Christians have long emphasized (rightly, in many cases) the personal and individual side of Christianity: personal conversion, personal decisions, personal quiet times. Those are important things, but the New Testament provides a more crowded picture of the Christian life than those stock images indicate.”

 

Occasionally, someone asks me for a worship song recommendation, or I need someone to listen to a song for some reason. When that happens, I do what any good person does: go to YouTube. I can find a song, grab the link, send it off, and nobody has to buy or download anything. It’s great.

Even though I look for a simple, basic video to pass along, I inevitably run across multiple videos for songs full of stock Christian images, like a slideshow set to music. These videos make a couple things clear: first, some people have too much time on their hands. Second, wrong ideas about worship are all over the place.

These wrong ideas come out in the all-too-common pictures of someone standing alone in a field, or on a mountain, or in an empty church, with their hands held high. You’ve seen these pictures, and not just on YouTube. The Christian bookstore or blog nearest you surely features similar shots. The implication in these images is that true worship, our most sincere moments with God, come when we’re alone.

Personal, Not Private

American Christians have long emphasized (rightly, in many cases) the personal and individual side of Christianity: personal conversion, personal decisions, personal quiet times. Those are important things, but the New Testament provides a more crowded picture of the Christian life than those stock images indicate.

The biblical picture shows us that, while the Christian faith is personal, it is not private.

In fact, much of the New Testament would be impossible to obey in private. Jesus and the biblical writers tell us more than 50 times to do something in the context of “one another.” You can’t “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) or “love one another” (Romans 12:10) in solitude. Obedience to Jesus requires community.

The same goes for our worship. The Bible expects us to sing with one another.

Shared Riches

The New Testament doesn’t prescribe many details for Christian worship services, but it does tell us how to sing when we gather.

In one passage, Paul tells the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit, not wine. The Spirit-filled life, according to Paul, is a singing life. And the songs that flow from the Spirit’s filling go in two directions. On one hand, we sing to the Lord, “making melody to the Lord with your heart.” On the other hand, Paul says, we sing to “one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

Worship, then, isn’t only about you and Jesus. We sing not only with the vertical in mind. Rather, we sing to one another, for one another and with one another. And allowing this one-another-ness to inform our worship will enrich the experience for everyone involved.

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