Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Without the Holy Spirit, Worship is Dead

In his introduction to David Well’s book, God the Evangelist, J.I. Packer writes of our true need in worship. The quote is by Packer, but he begins by quoting A.W. Tozer. (Just in case you got lost there: the book is by Wells, it contains an introduction by Packer, and the Packer intro includes a quote from Tozer!). Here it is:

With regard to worship, A.W. Tozer wrote in 1948,

There are today many millions of people who hold “right opinions,” probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the “program.” This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.

This is arguably truer now than it was when Tozer wrote about it. Worship — in the sense of telling God his worth by speech and song and celebrating his worth in his presence by proclamation and meditation — has been largely replaced, at least in the West, by a form of entertainment calculated to give worshipers the equivalent of a sauna or Jacuzzi experience and send them away feeling relaxed and tuned up at the same time. Certainly true worship invigorates, but to plan invigoration is not necessarily to order worship. As all that glitters is not gold, so all that makes us feel happy and strong is not worship. The question is not whether a particular liturgical form is used, but whether a God-centered as distinct from a man-centered perspective is maintained—whether, in other words, the sense that man exists for God rather than God for man is cherished or lost. We need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian heart, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and that the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal. Neither stylized charismatic exuberance nor Anglican Prayer Book correctness nor conventional music-sandwich Sunday-morning programs provide any magic formula for this rediscovery. It can occur only when the Holy Spirit is taken seriously as the One who through the written word of Scripture shows us the love and glory of the Son and the Father and draws us into personal communion with both.

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