God Is Not the Object of Our Worship
In recent years worship has been wrenched from the story of God and has been formed by some of the narratives of contemporary culture. Many find only a cultural manifestation of Christianity that bears no mark of spiritual nourishment or sustenance.
Me-oriented worship is the result of a culturally driven worship. When worship is situated in the culture and not in the story of God, worship becomes focused on the self. It becomes narcissistic. Christopher Lasch points to narcissism as a "metaphor of the human condition."" Certainly from a biblical perspective, sin is fundamentally a rebellion against God, a rebellion that places self at the center. Therefore, we must ask whether it is really a fact that much of our worship has shifted from a focus on God and God's story to a focus on me and my story.
This question is answered by the research of Lester Ruth, professor of worship at Asbury Seminary. Dr. Ruth examined the seventy-two top contemporary songs over a fifteen-year period of time with his primary question being, "Are these songs rooted in the Triune nature and activity of God?" His conclusions are alarming: "None of the songs in the corpus of seventy-two explicitly refer to the Trinity or the Triune nature of God. Only three songs refer to or name all three persons of the Trinity." While Jesus is named in thirty-two of the songs, the Holy Spirit is named in only two songs. "With so few of the songs naming or worshiping all three persons of the Trinity, it is therefore not surprising to find little remembrance of Triune activity in the corpus." This results in a "de-emphasis on commemorating God's saving activity."
By not situating worship in a recollection of the trinitarian activity to redeem and restore the world, the shift in worship, revealed in this study, is to turn God into an object of worship. Consequently the "overwhelming character of the songs" is that of the worshiper "expressing love, adoration, and praise to the direct object of their worship."
The real underlying crisis in worship goes back to the fundamental issue of the relationship between God and the world. If God is the object of worship, then worship must proceed from me, the subject, to God, who is the object. God is the being out there who needs to be loved, worshiped, and adored by me. Therefore, the true worship of God is located in me, the subject. I worship God to magnify his name, to enthrone God, to exalt him in the heavens. God is then pleased with me because I have done my duty.
If God is understood, however, as the personal God who acts as subject in the world and in worship rather than the remote God who sits in the heavens, then worship is understood not as the acts of adoration God demands of me but as the disclosure of Jesus, who has done for me what I cannot do for myself. In this way worship is the doing of God's story within me so that I live in the pattern of Jesus' death and resurrection. My worship, then, is the free choosing to do what Paul admonishes us to do: "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:1-2).
Here is the shift: the biblical God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not the God who sits in the heavens but the one who acts in this world. The Triune God creates, becomes involved with creation, becomes present in Israel, becomes incarnate in Jesus, dies for sin, is victorious over death, ascends to heaven, and calls the church into being by the Spirit to witness to his work of redeeming the world. This same God will restore creatures and creation and rule over all in the new heavens and the new earth. Biblical worship tells and enacts this story. Narcissistic worship, instead, names God as an object to whom we offer honor, praise, and homage. Narcissistic worship is situated in the worshiper, not in the action of God that the worshiper remembers through Word and table.