articlesqa September 02, 2015 bare-ly worship
Ifeoluwapo Eleyinafe Article by Ifeoluwapo EleyinafeCreator and author of
Je­sus re­moves the con­strict­ing clothes we have put on re­li­gion and wor­ship

We’ve come a long way so far. Most re­cent­ly we talked about what true wor­ship is and how it is about God mov­ing through us and not us do­ing things for God.

How We Clothe Wor­ship

But we have got­ten ahead of our­selves in the pre­vi­ous post. So now we must go back. Our pri­ma­ry prob­lem is this: how do we sep­a­rate true wor­ship from oth­er forms of wor­ship? Where is the line be­tween true re­li­gion and false re­li­gion? John 4:21 Je­sus does not be­gin to de­fine true wor­ship in a pos­i­tive way. He doesn’t be­gin by telling you what it is. First, he be­gins in verse 21 by telling us what true wor­ship is NOT. The first thing Je­sus does then is re­move the con­straints we have placed on wor­ship. He strips true wor­ship of its lo­ca­tion, its cul­ture and its time.

Verse 21 is in re­sponse to the woman at the well’s state­ment in John 4:20. The woman here lays out a prob­lem that of­ten oc­curs when we wor­ship. The Jews be­lieved that the place to wor­ship was in Jerusalem and that, of course, meant that one had to wor­ship in the Jew­ish style. They did not be­lieve with the in­ten­tion of mal­ice or spite. Their cousins the Samar­i­tans had a strong vein of idol wor­ship 2 Kings 17:29-33. In ad­di­tion to their his­to­ry of idol­a­try, Samar­i­tans also did not wor­ship in Jerusalem. There­fore, among the Jews, the Samar­i­tans were not true wor­shipers of God. Re­quir­ing that true wor­ship oc­cur in Jerusalem, was there­fore a way to main­tain the pu­ri­ty of the re­li­gion and pre­vent cor­rup­tion of their faith with sur­round­ing idol­a­try.

There­fore, any wor­ship of God that oc­curred out­side of Jerusalem might be ac­cept­able but not as “true” or “holy”. Peo­ple of­ten sought to make pil­grim­age to Jerusalem part­ly for this rea­son. Jews, like­ly, did not as­so­ciate Jerusalem with true wor­ship out of pride. They were ge­o­graph­i­cal­ly sur­round­ed by those who wor­shiped idols. The wor­ship of God was vis­i­bly con­fined to a cer­tain cul­ture in a cer­tain place and time since the Jews were the only peo­ple who God vis­i­bly knew through His Covenant with Abra­ham. Be­ing hu­man be­ings though, it was in­evitable that they would jump from the bless­ing of know­ing God to mak­ing their cul­ture a pre­req­ui­site for know­ing God. This idea of mak­ing Jew­ish cul­ture a re­quire­ment for wor­ship­ing God per­sist­ed be­yond the death and res­ur­rec­tion of Je­sus Christ into the ear­ly Church. Paul spent a great deal of his let­ters con­tin­u­ing to dis­man­tle this same idea.

In Our Church­es

This is anal­o­gous to what hap­pens to­day in our church­es. Peo­ple as­so­ciate, in their heads, true wor­ship with a cer­tain lo­ca­tion and a cer­tain cul­ture. There is noth­ing wrong with this as­so­ci­a­tion. How­ev­er, we of­ten then leap into the ditch of say­ing that wor­ship has to have a cer­tain style and has to be done in a cer­tain place and a cer­tain time (usu­al­ly Sun­days) in or­der for it to be true. It is why we have for so long con­strained the de­f­i­n­i­tion of wor­ship to songs from the mouth alone not know­ing the range of notes that the body, mind and spir­it can pro­duce un­der the di­rec­tion of God.

This is like say­ing that a man has to a wear a cer­tain type of suit made in a cer­tain place in Italy or he’s not a man. It is like a lit­tle child who wants to buy clothes for her Fa­ther. This is an ex­cel­lent in­ten­tion. How­ev­er, all she knows is that her Fa­ther is big, she can’t real­ly say how big. So she uses her­self as a point of ref­er­ence and buys clothes that, al­though big­ger than her, are still too small for Him. She doesn’t even know what He likes. So also, our minds are too small when it comes to wor­ship. Ide­al­ly, the child could take her Fa­ther shop­ping so that she can learn what He finds ap­peal­ing and fit­ting. And even bet­ter, she can use His Mon­ey to buy it Isa­iah 55:1-3. Or, bet­ter yet, so as to not ruin the sur­prise, she could ask Some­one who knew the Fa­ther well for some rec­om­men­da­tions John 6:44, 14:6.

This im­por­tance that we place on the style and lo­ca­tion of wor­ship also cre­ates an un­healthy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the church, its mem­bers and God. Those who like wor­ship­ing in a cer­tain style will feel like they be­long and are true fol­low­ers of God when this might not be the case at all Matt 7:22-23. Those who don’t like that style may feel like they don’t be­long and that they are not true fol­low­ers of God and that may also not be the case at all Matt 25:37-40. Putting un­due im­por­tance on style and lo­ca­tion also lim­its the ca­pac­i­ty for true wor­ship among cur­rent mem­bers be­cause it pre­vents the Lord from act­ing through them the way He would want to.

Those out­side or new to the church also have their own pref­er­ences and are used to God act­ing through them in an­oth­er way. For var­i­ous rea­sons, they might feel like they would not fit in into a par­tic­u­lar church cul­ture. Maybe be­cause of where they come from, what they are used to, what they have done and so forth. The church re­ceiv­ing these peo­ple might also feel that these peo­ple do not be­long be­cause they don’t fit in to the cul­ture. These things are not of­ten ex­plic­it­ly ex­pressed as brave­ly as this woman spoke. In­stead, one ei­ther em­braces the church or doesn’t em­brace the church. The church ei­ther em­braces you or not. In ei­ther case, you feel the kink re­la­tion­ship and the church feels it too.

This is not a case of right or wrong. Nei­ther the church nor the per­son that feels he is out­side the church is right. We’ll dis­cuss this in the next post in this se­ries.

So It Has To Be Bland?

It is not that we should not have style when it comes to wor­ship. Unique­ness will al­ways be an as­pect of wor­ship. Cul­ture, time and space are in­evitable con­se­quences of an In­fi­nite God act­ing through fi­nite men and women. We have bod­ies and each body is in­di­vid­ual. Each col­lec­tion of bod­ies, then in a church, will be unique and dif­fer­ent from an­oth­er col­lec­tion else­where. God ex­press­es Him­self through each of our unique bod­ies unique­ly in a spe­cif­ic place and time. Je­sus, Word made flesh, is The Pat­tern. He was NOT Japan­ese, Span­ish or Niger­ian. He was a Jew. Note though that cul­ture, time and space are con­se­quences not re­quire­ments. Things are added and re­moved (since sub­trac­tion is a form of ad­di­tion) as we pur­sue the King­dom Matt 6:33.

The prob­lem is that we of­ten el­e­vate the style and the place above the God whose very move­ment through us is the wor­ship. In­stead of sub­mit­ting to Him and let­ting Him move through us to cre­ate wor­ship, the out­flow­ing of liv­ing wa­ters, we com­pro­mise with Him. We say to Him that we will sub­mit to Him but only if He will sub­mit to meet­ing us in a cer­tain way, in a cer­tain place and in a cer­tain time (Sun­days pre­ferred, I’ll have my peo­ple call Your peo­ple!). We trust the style and the place more than Him!

He is not our only source then. He is not our only spring. The cul­ture, the lo­ca­tion and the time are also our sources. It is from them we draw wa­ter to quench our thirst. In this re­gard we are Samar­i­tan since it would ap­pear that we have many gods be­sides God. There­fore, like Is­rael in the desert, even to­day, we lim­it Him Psalms 78:41. Is it any won­der then that like Ha­gar and Sarai, on Sun­days, we (both church and in­di­vid­ual) of­ten find our­selves thirsty and in the desert?

New Clothes

There­fore, Je­sus says that true wor­ship is NOT con­strained to place and cul­ture. It is not more like­ly to oc­cur in the monastery than in the streets. But now we are lost. We know true wor­ship ex­ists. But we’re not sure what it is any­more be­cause Je­sus pre­vents us from us­ing a cul­ture to iden­ti­fy it. Does this mean that any­thing goes? Does it mean that any­thing any­one does at any time and in any place can be con­sid­ered wor­ship? No. How­ev­er, there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween man made clothes and God made clothes Gen­e­sis 3:7, 21.

Note how these ques­tions ex­pose our hu­man ten­den­cies. What­ev­er we can’t pin down in space, time and cul­ture doesn’t ex­ist. We can’t re­late to it be­cause it doesn’t speak fa­mil­iar words in any of these three uni­ver­sal hu­man lan­guages. If it doesn’t speak to us then we don’t know what it calls it­self and we can’t de­fine our­selves in re­la­tion to it. With one verse, Je­sus has closed the door through which we for­mer­ly en­tered into wor­ship and so we are lost. With a few words, He has tak­en away every sin­gle word and every sin­gle note to all those wor­ship­py songs we love to sing when we be­lieve we are real­ly wor­ship­ing. With one prophe­cy, He has stripped wor­ship of the time, place and cul­ture we im­posed on it.

But this is not real­ly why we are un­com­fort­able. We are un­com­fort­able be­cause He has also stripped me and you of the time, place and cul­ture we use to clothe and de­fine our­selves. For we are only as clothed and as naked as our wor­ship.

We must now choose from one of two op­tions. Ei­ther Je­sus is wrong or un­re­al­is­tic and so we should keep “wor­ship­ing” the way we’re used to re­gard­less of our ex­clu­sions and fail­ings. We should just keep on drink­ing from the same wells and singing the same dead songs. So that, as one song writer put it, peo­ple will know we’re Chris­tians, “be­cause we’ve got­ta sing songs a cer­tain style // Or we’ll walk right down that aisle // And just leave em all be­hind.”

Or we have to fun­da­men­tal­ly change the way we de­fine our­selves, the way we re­late to every­one and every­thing around us. Let us go to Him to learn a new lan­guage and a Liv­ing Word.

As al­ways, some­one has said all this bet­ter in a song.

Hear This!

Lyrics // T-Shirts
They’ll know us by the t-shirts that we wear
An’ they’ll know us by the way we point and stare
At any­one whose sin looks worse than ours
Who can­not hide the scars of this curse that we all bare

An they’ll know us by our pick­et lines and signs
They’ll know us by the pride we hide be­hind
Like any­one on earth is livin’ right
And isn’t that why Je­sus died?
An’ not to make us think we’re right

When love, love, love
Is what we should be known for
Love, love, love
It’s the how and it’s the why
We live and breathe and we die

But they’ll know us by rea­sons we di­vide
And how we can’t seem to uni­fy
Be­cause we’ve got­ta sing songs a cer­tain style
We’ll walk right down that aisle
And just leave ‘em all be­hind

An’ they’ll know us by the bill­boards that we make
Just turn­ing God’s words to cheap clich­es

Says, “What part of mur­der don’t you un­der­stand?“”
But we hate our fel­low man
And point a fin­ger at his grave

When love, love, love
Is what we should be known for
Love, love, love
It’s the how and it’s the why
We live and breathe and we die

When love, love, love
Is what we should be known for
Love, love, love
It’s the how and it’s the why
We live and breathe and we die

They’ll know us by the t-shirts that we wear
They’ll know us by the way we point and stare
Tellin’ ‘em their sins are worse than ours
Thinkin’ we can hide our scars
Be­neath these t-shirts that we wear

So far we have dis­cussed the be­hav­ioral dy­nam­ics and spir­i­tu­al propul­sion that char­ac­ter­ize the com­plex­i­ty of sin­ful­ness. sa­tan at the door of Adam tempt­ed him to eat the fruit but the same dev­il at Cain’s door tempt­ed him to kill his broth­er. Lamech, Cain’s great great grand­son, was even worse. Sin­ful­ness, which would grow on its own, bears more and dif­fer­ent evil fruit as wicked spir­i­tu­al pow­ers em­pow­er us to sin. Un­der the in­flu­ence of the dev­il, our wicked hearts be­come di­a­bol­i­cal. False ide­olo­gies and proph­e­sies pro­claimed by our hearts are emer­gent prop­er­ties of com­plex­ly com­plex ...
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