04 April 2016

We worship God, not subjective experience

I came across an excellent little section in Eugene Peterson's book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work wherein he contrasts the worship of Baal and the worship of Yahweh as seen in modern Christianity.  Peterson writes,

"The phrase 'let's have a worship experience' is Baalism's substitute for 'let us worship God.' The difference is between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a 'worship experience,' a person sees something that excites interest and tries to put religious wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship is a movement from what a person sees, or experiences, or hears, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious atmosphere. Subjectivity is encouraged.

"But neither the Bible nor church uses the word 'worship' as a description of experience. Pastors hear this adjectival usage in sentences like, 'I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.' That means, 'I have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.' Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experiences make up what the church calls 'worship.' The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God's word in the context of the community of God's people. Worship is neither subjective only nor private only. It is not what I feel when I am by myself; it is how I act toward God in responsible relation with God's people. Worship, in the biblical sources and in liturgical history, is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. Experience develops out of worship."

Christians, we are to worship God and not worship the experience.

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