Who (or what) is the proper focus of our worship? What must we proclaim in our worship? What do the various elements of a corporate worship service mean? This is the first of three posts that will explore the object, subject, and movement of corporate worship. These posts are based on a sermon series I did at Bethel and come from a teaching guide on worship that we published.
The French philosopher Voltaire famously said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary for us to invent him.” By this he was referring to the fundamental desire of the human heart to place our faith, trust, and allegiance in something. Whether it is material objects, finances, relationships, science, reason, or some general sense of a “higher power”, we all have an object towards which we devote our intellect, time, love, and energy. Everyone worships something. So the simple question is this: who (or what) should we worship?
Despite what seems like unlimited choices, Scripture teaches us that there are only two real options. Because there is one God who has created all things, we either worship that true God or we worship something that we set in His place. Anything that we worship that is not the true God is an idol. The prophet Isaiah records a memorable depiction of this in chapter 44, where he tells of a man who chops down a tree, uses half of the wood to cook his dinner, and then carves an idol from the remaining wood that he begins to worship.
When put in these terms, it sounds foolish, but Isaiah’s point is that there are only two options: we either worship the Creator, or we worship some aspect of creation. John Calvin taught that our hearts are “idol factories” because we are constantly churning out various things to worship that we find pleasing. We like to re-define God on our own terms. We like to shape Him in our image. We like to explain away all the difficult things to understand about Him so that we can be completely comfortable.
The church father Augustine once said, “If you understand it, then it is not God.” Because God is infinite, holy, perfect, and eternal, we must be careful not to re-define Him on our own terms. We must worship God as He truly is, and not try to produce a marketable, inoffensive, undemanding deity who can be neatly packaged into a six-session small group study guide.
We can only know God to the extent that He has made Himself known, and we can only truly know who He is through His Word. Scripture teaches us that everyone is able to recognize something about God through creation itself (Romans 1:20), but that this is an imperfect knowledge. In order to know who God truly is—and who we are truly supposed to worship—we must turn to Scripture.
When we worship, then, we must ask whether or not the God we are worshipping is the same one revealed in Scripture. This is an incredibly deep and complex topic, but there are some basic concepts that must characterize a biblical understanding of God.
1. God is triune. This refers to the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; one God in three Persons. We offer praise to the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. Every Christian doctrine we have rests in some way on this belief.
2. God is a covenant-keeping God. In Scripture, a covenant is a formal relationship made between a King and his subjects. It includes promises and demands. Beginning in the Old Testament with Abraham, God promised to one day bring a Savior through whom the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12). This promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as are all of God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20).
3. God is a redemption-achieving God. In the Isaiah passage, the LORD says, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (44:22). God is the One who has saved us from our sins, it is not something we do.
There is much more to the character of God than this, of course, but these concepts must be present. It is not enough to simply worship a “higher power”, we must worship God as He is revealed to us in His Word, because if we try to re-define Him we are fashioning a false god for ourselves.
The object of our worship must be our triune, covenant-keeping, redemption-achieving God as He is revealed to us in Scripture. Anything else is an idol.