Monday, September 5, 2011

Concept Worship

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 9.10.11

In case you don’t have compound eyes and can’t read today’s title, it’s “Concept Worship.”  Have you ever looked through old copies of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and noticed the pictures of the concept cars they had?  I can remember seeing lots of them – some were supposed to float, fly, parallel park, all kinds of cool stuff.  But most of them didn’t ever get made.  There is a website I like to visit these days that has all kinds of other “concept” products like cell phones, kitchens, furniture, even concept houses.  They’re fun to look at, a concept product usually looks really amazing, but often isn’t terribly practical or useful. 

I think that sometimes worship can become kind of like that;  we have these great ideas about where and how and when to worship, but they don’t always translate very well into actual, real-world, practical worship.
The Bible story of the woman at the well is a great example of “concept worship.”  Jesus has just told the Samaritan woman all of the things about her life that she’d just as soon nobody talk about and she tries to change the subject by bringing up the running argument about where the appropriate place to worship was.
“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’”  John 4:19-20

She was probably thinking that if she could get this Jewish Man into a discussion about worship, then she wouldn’t have to worry about what He would say about her life choices.

Jesus wasn’t going to get pulled in, though.  In just a couple of sentences, He let her know that the where was a whole lot less important than the how and the Who.

“‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’”  John 4:21-24

Of course, the next logical question is, what is worshipping “in the Spirit and in the truth”?  and that’s a really good question.

My thinking is that it’s like concept and realization, idea and action, thought and deed, theory and practice, generalities and specifics.  See, it’s easy to talk a good game, but much more difficult to actually live it out.   Talking about general things like “love for our fellow men” or “taking Jesus to the world” is pretty easy.  But, what would either of those things look like?  How would anybody be able to tell if we were actually doing what we were talking about?  That’s much trickier to spell out. 

What tends to happen then is that many Christians end up doing is speaking in clichés that begin to become meaningless even to those of us who use them.  (Now, don’t get excited.  I don’t believe any of us do this maliciously, and it’s certainly not specific to Christians only. Every group of individuals who share common experiences do the same thing.)  The problem is, though, that we want to “spread the gospel,” a difficult thing to do if we are essentially speaking our own personal language.

Another downside is that the more we say these things, the less we think about what we’re actually saying and the more trivial they become, and that doesn’t just shut people out, it damages from within.
“Trivialization in the church, as in society, results in a loss of the ability to think. Christians are lured to view the world as the world views itself--uncritically and without a basis for understanding. Many of us find ourselves ‘getting along by going along.’ And the Christian community slowly, imperceptibly ‘moves two inches a year toward total decline.’”[1]
“We must be aware of trivializing the gospel, of presenting it in a form that compromises the radicality of its message. If someone is used to seeing or hearing ‘Coke adds life,’ he or she will, most likely, understand ‘Christ adds life’ in the same commercial way: Christ is just another consumer item vying for attention. Christ doesn't speak as crucified King, but as a tricky salesman; not as Lord of the universe, but as genius of the slogan.
“The slogan trivializes the message and suffocates understanding. So we must move beyond the slogan to the creed. A slogan-saturated society tempts us to demote the Christian faith to the level of a slogan. When we give in, we freeze our understanding at a commercialized level. We are satisfied with a starvation diet.
“But the truth of God is rich and full; our orthodoxy is full-orbed and comprehensive. We may credally summarize it without suffocating it with the trivial. We cannot bottle up and mechanically dispense the great truths of our Lord, but we can celebrate our doctrinal inheritance with joy.”[2]
It’s so easy to forget how important the message of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer, really is.
“The gospel is too readily heard and taken for granted, as though it contained no unsettling news and no unwelcome threat. ... It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane.”[3]
I know that we need to be careful to not lean on our emotions to confirm our salvation, but wouldn’t it be tragic if we started sounding like Spock from Star Trek?  “Righteousness by faith is the only logical way to proceed, Mr. Smith.”  (You have to hear Leonard Nimoy in your head for that statement to work.)   I don’t see that being a terribly effective witnessing strategy.  I think the pointy ears would be pretty off-putting as well.

Really, though, when was the last time my interaction with Jesus moved me?  When did the knowledge of His love for me take my breath away?  When has my heart broken because of what I cost the Creator of the Universe?
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.  For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.”  John 3:16-17 The Amplified Bible
What a concept…

[1] Don McCory in Eternity, (Oct. 1986). Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 2.
[2] Douglas Groothuis, "Creeds, Slogans, and Full-orbed Orthodoxy" (Radix, Fall 1985). Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 8.
[3] Walter Brueggemann in Finally Comes the Prophet. Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 9.

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