Reformed Worship

500 years ago, On 31st October, a young monk challenged the status quo of the church by pinning his thoughts to the door of a church in Germany. He challenged the principles of the Roman Catholic church, in particular the practice of charging money for absolution of sins; paying for salvation.

The monk was Martin Luther, and his actions triggered what we now know as the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

500 years later and we are making the same mistakes again on, quite literally, an industrial scale. This time it is not salvation that is up for grabs for a price, but our worship; that feeling of connection with God, the ability to express our faith in creative ways, that artistic expression of eternal gratitude and recognition of who our maker is… is being sold to us.

We can purchase it for 79p a track or £9.99 for an album’s worth of blissful spiritual escapism. If we’re really desperate for a ‘worship fix’ (because of the hard week we’ve had, the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, or just that we ‘need’ that warm fuzzy ‘worship’) we can pay out for a ticket for our favourite priests worship leaders’ concerts worship events.

In this environment, worship songs is not so much a bad description of a musical genre that shouldn’t exist as much as it has become a command: worship songs.

Musical expression, singing together, worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’ are all fantastic and sacred acts in our individual and collective spiritual experience. But the industry that has developed around it is flawed.

To charge people to worship (in the narrowly defined way the industry has taught us to understand the very nature of that worship!) is surely wrong. To have transformed into a commodity material specifically created to facilitate worship experiences – and by definition turn those who purchase into consumers, albeit informed to a greater of lesser extent – is wrong.

Jesus had some very sturn words to say about those in his time who charged the public to worship; “you’ve turned the house of God into a den of thieves!” He threw them out. He removed their means of prohibiting people from worshipping unless they had the right currency, or the right album and the merchandise to go with it. He put an end to that system… and in the creation of this ‘worship industry’ we have merely reassembled the money-changers’ tables and sold CD’s and downloads from them instead.

What would worship look like in a re-reformation era? What would the Church’s gathered expression of worship sound like if we were free to express our worship indigenously in each local congregation instead of feeling coerced into replicating album after album? How different would our churches be if everyone brought to the table something of personal and vulnerable sacrifice instead of hiding behind bland, rehashed, boring lyrics accompanied by over produced backing tracks?

What if the record companies went the way of the indulgences salesmen of the past and worship was reclaimed, re-calibrated, refreshed and reformed. Just as the printing press was the new technology of the Protestant Reformation giving everyone the opportunity to read the Bible for themselves instead of relying on priests, what if we used the technology available to us – the internet, social media, live streaming apps – to distribute worship material across the globe for free?

It’s not about which mountain, it’s not about which record label or which singer, it’s not about the songs or the currency: A time is coming, and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.

Reformation.

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The Mind of Worship: Part 4. A Disciplined Mind

Every Christmas, our friends, the Muppets, remind us so succinctly that any way of life is a discipline. “If being mean’s a way of life you practice and rehearse, then all that work is paying off ‘cos Scrooge is getting worse!”

Again, every Christmas we are reminded that, in Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – we see an equally disciplined way of life, a life of worship, modelled perfectly; practiced and rehearsed. Whether you choose to be like Jesus or like Scrooge, it takes more than just that fuzzy feeling when you’re in the right frame of mind; it takes discipline.

Learn the disciplines of loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving your neighbour as you love yourself; practice and rehearse. Learn, practice and rehearse on your own – think about why we worship and how we worship. Learn, practice and rehearse together – think missionally and inclusively and horizontally.

Exercise your mind of worship, and may God bless us… every one.

Merry Christmas.

Jimmy

The Mind of Worship: Part 2. An Inclusive Mind

There’s an ancient proverb that says “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I think there should’ve have been an additional piece of advice written that stipulates “and when people and iron are in the sharpening process, things very often get heated and sparks will fly”.

As we consider the Mind of Worship, I am struck again by just how personal worship can be. One important element of worship is a genuine and intimate connection between the worshipper and their God. Intimacy is deeply personal and immensely vulnerable; be it between friends, lovers, spouses or worshippers. Consequently, one’s personal worship is a complex arrangement of preferences, values, interpretations, nuances and understandings. Things get even messier when we begin to add other people into the mix!

But add others we must. Jesus, the extraordinary Rabbi that he was, managed to sum up everything that he stood for in two simple statements: ‘Love God. And love your neighbour as you love yourself.’

That element of personal worship, with its vulnerable complexity and intimacy and individual expression takes care of the first statement. It is the embodying of Loving God, with all our individual heart and mind and soul and strength. However, you can’t have one without the other. The Mind of Worship must include loving other. This is the inclusive mind.

To be inclusive is to welcome others, and their otherness, and invite them to be involved. It’s about thinking horizontally. And so the messiness begins. The deeply complexed personal offering we bring is mashed and meshed together with the offerings of other people. It could become horribly entangled as people battle to fit their oddly shaped puzzle pieces into the overall picture, and believe me, I’ve seen such chaos ensue… but remember the opening verse of this post:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Things will often get heated, and undoubtedly sparks will fly. The inclusive mindset of Worship insists that grace is the soothing, cooling water or oil essential to the sharpening process and we refuse to allow our preferences to become prejudices, as we lay aside our priorities to serve others and sometimes allow others to express their worship by serving us.

Ultimately, we all want to be sharpened; we are all striving for something more, to be the best we can be and live the best we can. Not one of us can achieve that on our own. We need one another. Things will get heated. Sparks will fly. But an Inclusive Mind of Worship is one that loves its different neighbour throughout the sharpening process.

The Mind of Worship: Part 1. A Missional Mind

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13 NIV)”

When we talk about worship we often refer to encountering God; engaging with him, drawing near to him, being caught up in his presence. A quick flick through the Bible will rapidly reveal one consistent and inescapable truth – people who encounter God are seldom left unchanged. They are left blinded, trembling, silenced, their characters are transformed, they’re humbled, awestruck, their faces glow… And it is the same today, even it situations where, by mistake, the worship leader prays about the forthcoming message “…and Father we pray that not one person will be left changed by this word” (I confess, it was me and thankfully God knew what I actually meant!). An encounter with God leaves it’s mark.

Romans 12 captures something of the Mind of worship – the state and use of our thoughts and attitudes as an act of worship – when it speaks of the ‘renewing of our minds’; a new way of thinking, processing information, making decisions.

So what does it have to do with the verse opening this post?

John’s gospel records an episode when some of Jesus’ followers begin to find the call too challenging and so they walk away. Jesus, probably downhearted at their decision turns to the twelve and asks “are you going to leave me too?” To which Peter replies “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Peter recognised who Jesus was and was prepared to realigned and re calibrate his entire life accordingly – his though processes, his decision making, his attitudes… His worship. This process over time began to transform Peter from the inside out, changing the Mindset of his worship, so much so that by the time he stood before the religious leaders it was totally obvious that, though this man had no formal training, no qualifications to be saying the things he was proclaiming, he had been with Jesus; he had been changed by an encounter with Jesus that affected those around him.

Like the smell of smoke on your clothes from standing close to a bonfire, the traces of Jesus on Peter was instantly noticeable and wasn’t easy to shift.

We can do evangelism. We can do events. We can do God-slots and thoughts for the day. But if we hold to a theology of worship that states Worship is a Lifestyle, then perhaps the best form of mission is to allow the Mind of Worship to affect our thoughts. Thoughts become actions. Actions become habits and habits become our character. If and encounter with God, an act of worship, fuels our thoughts and changes and renews our minds, that mindset diffuses into our actions, into our habits and into our character, affecting those around us who can only comment “these are everyday, ordinary people, but they’ve been with Jesus.

The Mind of Worship

We speak a lot about the ‘heart’ of worship. I’m giving you my heart. Lord you have my heart. We bow our hearts. It seems that the heart is a vital component of a worshipping life, and I am totally for this! There is, though, an aspect to the heart in and of worship that we have perhaps missed or sidelined that might help us develop that worship lifestyle in a different way.

We traditionally attribute the heart with passionate, love, affection, life and soul. When we are ‘in love’ we say our hearts are full to bursting. We love ends we’re heart-broken. When we feel sympathy or empathy for someone grieving or in need it is our heart that goes out to them. Hearts are everywhere, especially around valentines day to symbolise romance and love – they’re even used to replace the word Love in many cases. Heart equals Love – the central base for our emotions. Lovely.

Bear in mind for a moment though, that the Bible wasn’t written in English and it wasn’t written within a westernised culture. Words that mean the same thing don’t necessarily mean then same thing; they have different symbolism and connotations.

As already mentioned, the heart in western culture has come to mean emotions and love. In Hebrew culture (the basis from which much of the Bible originates), the stomach was the bodily part assigned to deal with all these emotions. Cue the explosion of Stomach/Gut based emotionally stirring songs… I think not! “My gut is bursting, Lord, to tell of all you’ve done”.

The heart, however, was one’s thought-base.
Yes it involved an emotional element, but it was more concerned with the control of one’s emotions than the feelings experienced. The Hebrew heart was a mix of Thought and Emotion (the western Brain and Heart if you will). Bringing this attribute into our contemporary worship elements already enriches our understanding:

“Lord you have my [thoughts and emotions] and I will search for yours.”

“We bow our [thought processes and submit our emotions]”

And even when thinking about God’s heart it enhances our understanding – “Your name is great and your [thoughts and emotions and geared to be] kind”

So, if when the Bible’s authors wrote ‘Heart’ they actually meant ‘that internal organ that forms our thoughts, beliefs and controls our emotions’, should we perhaps more fully articulate some of the biblical worship expressions in a twenty-first century fashion by exploring and referring instead to the ‘Mind of worship’?

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look at the Mind of worship in terms of being Missional, Inclusive, Nourishing and Disciplined.