“O come, let us worship,” sang the Psalmist, and it seems certain that he found a more ready response among his fellows than his modern counterpart would among the men of this generation were he to sing a similar song. Whereas in earlier days it was usually accepted without question that man must worship, to-day this is often doubted even among men who have some idea of the existence of God. It is just as axiomatic with us that Christian character is all-important as it was with men of former generations that men must worship if they believe in God, and the corollary is sometimes drawn, that since character is so important, worship does not matter greatly. Indeed, the only value of worship for people with this kind of outlook is that it may assist in the development of character. It has no place of its own.
Deeds and Creeds.
With this there sometimes goes further conviction that, so far from worship being a help, it is a downright hindrance to real Christianity. Churchmen, runs the argument, are so preoccupied with pettifogging little points of doctrine, so taken up with ensuring the correctness of their ritual, that they cannot see the real issues. They occupy themselves with their imagined duty towards God, and forget their very real duty towards their neighbour. They are so interested in creeds, that they forget the obligation to produce deeds.
While this is no real objection to worship (it is a case of “this you ought to have done, and not leave the other undone”), yet it is something that churchmen should ponder over, for it is very easy indeed to be so taken up with one right thing that we omit others which are weighty. Or to put it another way, let us see to it that our worship issues in the right kind of conduct, and is not something practiced in a void.
Value for Money.
The idea that worship has no place of its own, but is only subordinate to producing character, is part of our whole set-up where the sense of community is weakened. People in general today do not go to meetings where they are meant primarily to contribute, but to those where they will be entertained. Thus football matches are better attended than, say, trade union meetings. We have a kind of “value for money” outlook – if we can see benefit to ourselves, then we attend. If we cannot we go somewhere else. Accordingly, if a man can say of churchgoing, “I don’t feel any better when I go” he usually feels that there is nothing more to be said on the matter. He has uttered the final condemnation of worship.
And often our defences are such as to help the attitude. Thus we say “Worship fits man for the six days ahead.” But it doesn’t if worship is approached in this mood. Or we say “Absence weakens the corporate effort,” which immediately invites the reply that the corporate effort could be much better directed elsewhere, for example in feeding the hungry. A Melbournian, returning from Sydney, reported that he had seen a notice outside a church there reading “Give your vote for God. Go to Church on Sunday.” He said there was no mention of an alternative candidature, but being Sydney, he thought it likely that the election was not unopposed. Be that as it may, here again is the kind of defence which rests on the assumption that worship can be shown to be of real value, and which can be turned by pointing out that more value could be obtained by putting in one’s vote for God by some process of social amelioration.
Thus, both attack and defence often proceed on false premises, in that they do not consider the nature and the functions of worship. Worship means “worthship” and basically signifies not anything that entertains or uplifts us, but something that is directed to God. It is true that worship can be a thrilling experience, and the man who truly worships is thereby uplifted and inspired, but it is also true that the emphasis in worship is on God and not man. It is a realisation of His place as Creator and our place as creatures, an acknowledgment that He only is worthy. When the Psalmist went on to give the reason for his invitation to worship he said simply, “For He is the Lord our God: and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His Hand.” And there, I think, is the only valid reason for worship. Since God is God, and I am man, therefore I must worship God. It is imperative that I should realize my place before Him, and worship is just that. It is active, not passive. It is my conscious offering of my homage to Him, and not a sitting back to be entertained by beautiful liturgy or inspired preaching. It is practicing the presence of God. Man is a worshipping animal. He is so made that worship he must. If he does not worship God, then he will worship a Fuhrer, the omnicompetent state, power, money or some other idol. He may even worship himself. And wherever man worships anything less than God he denies the law of His being.
“O worship the Lord.”
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, September 1, 1955.