Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can Unbelievers Worship?

This year at First Pres we are focussing on worship; this is the year that we are digging into exactly what worship is, what it means, how we can worship better - the "Transcend 2013 - The Year We Are To Worship."  And so, we are reading and studying (As Presbyterians know so well how to do) major thinkers on the subject of worship.  Last week I read a statement of Rick Warren's (Pastor of Saddleback Church, and best selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life") that I wanted to use this blogpost to take slight issue with.  Rick said in a 12 point piece called; "Rick Warren's 12 Insights On Worship," that, "Only believers can truly worship."  While I understand the sentiments of Rick's thinking, I humbly disagree.

Here are Graham Baird's 5 Questions On Worship....:-)

Is Worship Only About What We Do, Or Is It Also About What God Does?
The basic premise of Rick's thinking is that worship is a human expression of God's love, power, dominion, creation, etc.  And this is true.  When we go to worship, we are going to humanly express these things.  But, is God also doing something in the context of worship?  Is it possible to worship without us doing anything, while God does everything?  I believe the answer is yes.  I believe that God meets unbelievers in worship services all the time, and "meets them where they are," and actually does something metaphysical in their hearts and minds and souls.

Is Infant Baptism A Form Of Worship?
While the subject of infant baptism as has been debated for years (most articulately by Karl Barth who didn't believe in the practice, and who saved evangelical Christian faith from the throws of the Nazis), I have always believed in infant baptism.  I have always believed that it was more than just a "wet dedication" as some have said.  I believe that infant baptism is God's connection with a still unbelieving heart that God created.  I believe that infant baptism is somehow and mysteriously transformative, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the child being baptized and for the parent who has their child baptized.  And I believe that infants are unbelievers.  The question here is, "Is Infant Baptism a form of worship?"  If not, then it does not belong in a worship service. If yes, it is an example of an unbeliever worshipping God.

Is The Reception of Grace a Form of Worship?
Grace is one of the most important doctrines of our faith.  Grace is essentially God's mechanism for helping us to be Saved; "For by Grace you are saved through faith, not a result of your own works, so that no one can boast (Ephes. 2:8-9)."  Grace, which can be found in both the New Testament and the Old Testament, is God's gift to us that precedes our ability to love God, or even to know God.  Basically, we believe that the human soul is so tainted by sin, fallenness, that we can't even begin to know God, until God gives us Grace.  Grace precedes faith, Grace precedes belief.  Unbelieving people can receive Grace.  Is the reception of God's grace a form of worship?  I believe yes!

Is Being in the Presence of the Cross a Form of Worship?
Another very significant Bible verse is Romans 5:8; "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  The image here is of Christ on the cross, being crucified on Golgatha, and of all kinds of people, all kinds of sinners, observing God there, dying.  Was that a form of worship to simply observe the presence of the cross?  This is actually a point on which I am willing to bend.  There were people who were observing Christ's death who were not worshipping, to be sure.  The soldiers who cast lots for Jesus' clothes were not worshipping God, though they were in his presence.  And yet, I believe that Nicodemus (the Pharisee) was present at the crucifixion, and I am not sure he was a, "fully devoted follower of Jesus," at that moment.  And yet, I am pretty sure that Nicodemus was worshipping God on that day.

So, those are my humbly submitted 4 questions, set beside Rick's really good 12 insights.  I do want to say that, in general, I really think Rick Warren is great, and his ideas have helped to change many lives and his church is a model, in many respects, for church's like mine to learn from.  One might ask, at the end of the day, why any of this really matters?

Well, as First Pres. is beginning the process of figuring out what worship is, I think it is crucial to determine whether the worship services on Sunday or throughout the week are for people who "believe" or are for people who don't.  The answer is, of course, for both.  Personally, my deepest heart has always been for those who don't believe, or who I call, "dechurched."  That is why I am a pastor, and that is why I do what I do.  And I believe that the most exciting place for transformation of "unbelievers" is in the context of worship.

All For Now,

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, but your definition of worship is an odd one. Or at least, it's very very vague. So much so that it weakens the word quite a bit. If I were to read the Koran, to learn more about the Muslim faith.. or to enter a mosque, I wouldn't call that an act of worship. I think there needs to be intention behind it.

    In the case of a baby, who has no understanding or belief, it makes no sense to me to say the baby is worshiping. It's more accurate to say the parents are prepping each other and the church to ensure the baby WILL worship some day.

    And if it's possible for somebody to receive Grace, but still not believe in the existence of God, how could they be worshiping?
    Non-believers can go to church, and go through the motions of worship. But if you honestly don't believe something is real.. can you really worship it?

    Does God consider it worship when you are just pretending to believe? Probably. Sounds good anyways.