Is Sunday worship more of an expression of our love for God, or an expression of God’s love for us?
Back in my grumpier days, I would have said, unequivocally, “GOD’S LOVE FOR US! IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, DUMMY!” The need to love God was something that once made me feel so insecure and pathetic that I quickly covered it up with the declaration that God didn’t need my love: I needed his. And I would have insisted that public, corporate worship was not the time to tell Jesus how we love him (because we probably didn’t, very much). These days I’m actually thrilled and challenged and stirred by the suggestion that we should love God, and do so vigorously.
I’ve flip-flopped, then, right? Worship is self-expression?
Nope. I think public worship is still supposed to be about God gathering us so that we can receive his love, rather than us gathering the three persons of the Godhead so that they can receive our love.
Zachary Hoag said yesterday:
“After journeying for a while with an older congregation I’ve realized that a lot of church planting is theologized emotional immaturity.”
Church plants tend to be romantic environments. We violently overthrow the passive, static, boring worship practices of the churches that put us to sleep when we were back in youth group. Now we’re going to really express ourselves. Raw emotion. Passion. Love toward God. Loud and proud.
Why am I not super excited about this? Because of the Trinity.
Look at it this way: Michael Reeves writes that
“While the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, there is a very definite shape to their relationship. Overall, the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved. The Bible is awash with talk of the Father’s love for the Son, but while the Son clearly does love the Father, hardly anything is said about it.” (Delighting in the Trinity.)
What the New Testament does speak much about, Reeves continues, is the Father sending directing the Son to loving action. This doesn’t work in the reverse: “The Son never sends or directs the Father.”
If the Holy Bible is primarily concerned with the Father’s love for the Son, and the Father’s sending the Son of his love on a loving mission to us, while remaining relatively silent about the Son’s love for the Father, then perhaps it’s okay if our corporate worship remains fairly thin on our passion for God, and rather thick on God’s passion for us.
And not just his passion for us, but his passion to send and direct us to love the world as he and his Son did, and do.
In other words, it turns out that corporate worship—even in a church plant, where we want to be passionate and engaged—might still be best thought of as a gathering of quiet, waiting, receptive, submissive, surprised, overwhelmed, emboldened, freshly-graced, and freshly-sent people. We can respond to his love with some vocal expressions of our own love, as Jesus sometimes is found doing in the Gospels. But if the Bible is comfortable revealing to us a Father who is the fountain of blessing and life and love and mission, which eternally cascade from his loving heart to the Son, then we can be comfortable having the Fount of Every Blessing cascade upon us, his gathered people, with his life, love, and mission—without becoming preoccupied with our pursuit of self-expression.
It turns out that to follow Jesus, our Worship Leader, means that in corporate worship, one of the best ways we can express to God our love for him is by reveling in his love for us, and by readying ourselves to do everything he sends and directs us to do. To take this posture, our church plants will need to carefully resist Romantic worship.
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