About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Theatrical Worship


In Christian terms, the word "worship" means different things to different people.  Many Evangelicals associate worship with singing hymns in a Sunday morning meeting, as I believe my mother understood worship to be when I was young.  In those days our Free Methodist Church congregational singing was accompanied by an organ and a piano, something my grandfather considered heretical.  His generation of Anglicans considered a piano inappropriate for Sunday worship.  Of course, my mom's generation of Evangelicals viewed guitars as being inappropriate for Sunday worship.  That disqualified my dad's involvement in church music for quite a while.   


During the late 1940's and early 1950's my dad played guitar for a popular local country and western band.  They had their own weekly radio show and they performed at dances throughout the region.  I believe my dad could have easily ended up in Nashville, playing his guitar alongside the best of them, as did one of his musical disciples.  My dad's musical future all changed when he became a Christian.  The Evangelical culture of the day did not permit dad to play in a secular band.  It also did not permit him to play his National triple neck steel guitar in church.  He was frustratingly trapped in a state of limbo between two cultural communities.  That eventually changed.  Somewhere along the line Evangelicals sanctified guitars for the service of the Lord, permitting my dad to play his guitar with other musicians in churches across southern Ontario Canada.       


I recall Alfred Reid.  He was our congregation's organist when I was young.  I believe I can safely say that worship for him was one hand raised to Jesus, the other hand on the keyboard, and a few tears sliding down his cheeks.  I'll never forget his heart felt expression of worship.  When my dad finally got to play his National steel guitar in congregational worship, he thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Mr. Reid.


Although I haven't played my guitars, banjo, or harmonicas, in congregational worship lately, playing music in that setting has been a big part of my life over the decades.  On one occasion in 1981 I had lunch with the former lead guitar player for a popular Washington D C rock band.  When he became a Christian he left the world of rock and roll behind, and that included his electric Gibson Les Paul guitar.  If he would have offered me that guitar I would have thanked the Lord and received it in a heart beat, but of course, he wouldn't have wanted to taint me with his past worldliness by giving me his guitar.  His reasoning for leaving it all behind seemed reasonable for him.  Beyond the fact that his electric guitar was associated with his past life of immoral and unhealthy excesses, he considered his Les Paul something that fed his addiction to his ego.  Many heavy rock guitar players admit that the rush they feel while wailing away before adoring fans is addictive.  The bolt of energy of electrical proportions that blasts its way through their system while their fingers fly across the fret board beats most drug induced highs.  So, this former rocker left the world of electric and entered the world of acoustic.         


So what's the Biblical bottom line to worship?   I believe Romans 12:1 helps answer this question.  The NIV reads; "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in the view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship".  Let's dig into Paul's admonition and see what he is saying.  


In light of God's abundance of mercy directed our way, Paul encourages us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  He calls this offering "our spiritual act of worship". The terminology Paul uses here puts a New Testament spin on the Old Testament practice of sacrificial blood offerings. 


The Greek word "soma" that is translated as bodies in Romans 12:1means more than our physical bodies.  "Soma" is often in reference to the totality of who we are, as I believe is the meaning here.  In other words, the New Testament view of a sacrificial offering is offering every fiber of who we are to Jesus.    


Our English verb "to offer" is translated from a Greek aorist active infinitive verb.  An aorist verb denotes a one time action that has yet been completed.  This tells me that Paul is saying that we must at one point in oru life decide once and for all time offer ourselves to God and then live this offfer out in our lives.      


We derive our English noun "liturgy" from the Greek noun "leitourgia", which simply means "a service" that one provides for another.  It's not a service in the sense of a Sunday service.  The verb form of leitourgia is "latreuo", which means "to serve".  In the NIV it's translated as "proper worship" here in Romans 12:1.  The meaning of "latreuo" tells us exactly what Biblical worship is, and again, it has little to do with any Sunday morning activity.   


Biblical worship is the sacrificial, moment by moment, continuous, act of serving Jesus with every fiber of who we are.  If this is how you attempt to worship, and if you're honest, you'll agree with Paul when he calls such worship a sacrifice.  It doesn't come natural to fallen humanity.   


What musical instrument you play or don't play has little to do with worship.  My Washington D C former rocker friend sold his Gibson Les Paul.  I've kept my Fender Stratocaster.  If I can leave my ego at home, my guitar becomes part of my expression of worship to Jesus, just as Alfred Reid's organ became part of his expression of worship.  If, however, my ego accompanies me to a service of worship, I become the focus of worship instead of Jesus.  At this point worship becomes theatrical entertainment.  There's nothing inherently wrong with theatrical entertainment, but let's not call it worship.  The Apostle Paul was right when he said the sacrificial offering of ourselves is our spiritual act of worship.     


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