Two books being read in tandem provide important comment on worship as foundational to Christian existence, Christian practice and Christian experience. I deliberately put experience last - avoiding the too easy assumption that it is our personal experience that matters. Christian existence is not individual; Christian practice is not personal choice; and Christian experience cannot remain private however specific it is to our own personal circumstances. So N T Wright has an important comment in his book, Virtue Reborn:
"The life of worship is itself a corporate form of virtue. It expresses and in turn reinforces the faith, hope and love which are themselves the key Christian virtues. from this activity there flow all kinds of other things in terms of Christian life and witness. But worship is central, basic, and in the best sense habit-forming. Every serious Christian should work at having worship become second nature."
Worship is a "whole person vocation", according to Wright. And the essential lived relationship between worship, mission and the communal embodiment of the love of God is the core reality of Christian existence and God's good news for the world. And as often in recent years, I am left uneasy at the focus given to mission as the church's primary calling. The spring and source of the church's life, and its first calling, is glad, grateful, self-surrendering worship, expressed in a Christ-like obedience to the out-reaching and in-grasping love of God, an unembarrassed embracing of God's call on the church to be the Body of Christ, to embody the love of God, and to respond with an amazed yes. That amazed yes, that self surrender, that unembarrassed embrace of God's call, is the essential response of worship. And it is the energy source of mission.
Which is why there are probably important questions to be asked about contemporary worship styles, about the assumptions that drive our practices when we meet together, about the importance of customer satisfaction as a criterion for what we do, about the words we choose to sing, and yes, tedious as it may sound, about the theology that shapes all the above. Theology - our way of thinking about God - is betrayed in the how and the therefore of worship. If worship of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit is the energy source of mission, then I am left asking, how often have I been compelled to utter that amazed yes, how powerfully and persistently am I drawn to that act of glad self-surrender, how clearly and persuasively have I been called to that unembarrassed embrace of God's call to be as Christ to the world? Because if the God being worshiped is the God of all grace and love, the God revealed in Jesus, the God active in the church and the world through the Holy Spirit, then worship must surely be more than what we often take it to be. They are important criteria - arbitrary you might think - but as New Testament as they come. Amazed yes. Glad self-surrender. unembarrassed embrace.