Authentic Worship

Posted on 27 March 2008

What does it mean to authentically worship God? Notes from a talk originally given at Lancaster University Christian Union in January 2005.

Authentic Worship
1 Peter 2:4-12
Stephen Dray, originally given to Lancaster University CU [January 2005]
Peter is excited about what it means to be a Christian: excited and challenged. Something of that thrill and sense of responsibility bubbles up throughout his words in these verses. But these verses are scarcely about subjects likely to ‘gobsmack’ us: the subject of Peter’s excitement is the church and the profound challenge he feels is the call to live a counter-cultural life! Neither is likely to pack bodies into contemporary Christian gatherings. Consequently, some ‘re-tuning’ is probably required to get on Peter’s (and God’s) wavelength - so that we can ‘declare the praises of him’ by word and, the focus of this passage, by our life-styles (always the Bible’s primary context for praising God… and being effective in witness).
The key verses in Peter’s first point are 4,5 and the ‘mirror-image’ 9 (6-8 providing an extended biblical justification for this point).
Note, first of all, he hints (4, 11) that he is addressing people with something of a burden on their shoulders. As Christians they had taken their stand alongside of a rejected Saviour, they were living in a community that was vilified, they could identify with the experience of the ‘displaced’: the discomfort and pain of being rent away from all the former securities of life. They had entered a harsh new world… or so it felt.
But Peter offers a different ‘take’ on their situation. They were members of a very different and far superior community. Words tumble kaleidoscopically from Peter’s lips to describe their awe-inspiring dignity (9). They are:
* Specially selected,
* Invested with princely status,
* Privileged to act as God’s representatives,
* Set apart for God himself,
* His ‘special’ treasure.
We are probably missing the point if we try to analyse these words too much (they over-lap a fair bit anyway). We are meant to feel them. This is what we are. Viewed differently (4,5), they were members of a community where
* God lived,
* The resurrected life of Christ was shared
* The empowering of the Holy Spirit was experienced
* As a corporate existence, Christians mediated God in worshipful, God-honouring living… and, in so doing, offered praise back to him.
Note: there is nothing individualistic about this vision! This is not what ‘I’ am or what ‘you’ are; it is what ‘we’ are when we realise our calling in Christian community.
Of course, Peter the visionary was also Peter the realist! It doesn’t always feel like this and it needs to be worked at individually (‘dear friends’). An authentically worshipping, priestly, community requires the concerted effort of its individual members as seen in (11-12):
* Clean living (‘good’ or wholesome)
* Active holiness (‘see your good works’)
* Nurtured by personal ‘mortification’. Not doing ‘what seems good to me’ but learning to do ‘what pleases God’. Something that requires radical action (‘abstain’)
The temptation to ignore this is always present. It is counter-cultural and we can always find excuses motivated by our inherent selfishness. We can always reduce authentic worship
* To which songs we sing,
* To personal ‘feel-good’ experiences (it is interesting that Peter focuses upon ‘evil’ desires for the latter can easily be the former),
* We can find excuses in the excesses of others to live lives virtually indistinguishable from ‘pagans’ (12) and
* Justify it on grounds that it makes us evangelistically more effective!
Yet authentic worship, genuine priestly ministry is impossible outside of a community whose members are characterised by such as Peter calls us to here.
We are incredibly privileged and if we cannot experience awed wonder before Peter’s picture here there is something seriously wrong with us! But such incomprehensible privilege carries enormous responsibilities… and real, lifelong effort, to produce in community authentic worship and witness. And the privilege ought to act as the stimulus to do so.