Nicholas Wolterstorff, the renowned Reformed philosopher and theologian, has now tackled the subject of liturgy and worship. In The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Philosophy, Wolterstorff carefully analyzes and probes a subject which confuses many people. Consider the popular and prevalent phrase, “praise and worship.” Many people (and churches) use this to describe a time of enthusiastic singing, which is followed by a sermon, or a teaching time. Is listening to the sermon an act of worship? Is the pastor delivering the sermon engaging in worship? Wait, haven’t we been told that “all of life is worship”? Can’t I worship God by washing my car on a Sunday (or any day)? When we toss the word “worship” around so carelessly, no wonder the world at large (and too many self-professed Christians) don’t take “worship” seriously anymore.
For those with the intellectual stamina to carefully follow Wolterstorff’s train of thought, The God We Worship will help to clarify the fuzziness which pervades the contemporary church. Here’s the end of Ch. 2:9
“It is sometimes said that the Christian life as a whole is, or should be, worship. In this chapter I have assumed that that is not true. The Christian life as a whole is, or should be, an acknowledgment of who God is and of what God has done, is doing, and will d0–an acknowledgment of God’s unsurpassable excellence. But I have argued that worship has an orientation that sets it off from our work in the world, namely, a Godward orientation. Of course it is open to a writer to declare that he will use the word ‘worship’ to cover everything that I call acknowledgment of who God is and of what God has done, is doing, and will do. But that leaves us needing some other word to pick out what I have called worship–to pick out that Godward acknowledgment of God’s unsurpassable excellence whose attitudinal stance is adoration. And it has been my experience that those who declare that all of life is worship almost always downplay the importance of what I am calling worship, especially the importance of what I am calling liturgical worship. As to such downplaying, I have made clear in the preceding chapter my agreement with [Jacques] von Allmen and [Alexander] Schmemann that in the enactment of the liturgy we have the clearest manifestation of what the church is–not the only manifestation, but the clearest” (The God We Worship, 40-41, emphasis mine).
It seems that one reason Evangelicals (who reject many forms of historic Christian worship) persist in calling the energetic singing time “praise & worship” is that we still know, deep down, that there is something that happens in worship that is special, unique, and powerful. It’s too bad that we limit ourselves and don’t realize the true power of liturgical worship. It’s not just about the music!