During the worship services at the Evangelical church I once attended I had the occasional experience of being caught up in a kind of exaltation and finding myself strangely bonded to people I would normally consider mere acquaintances, some of whom I considered unappealing acquaintances (to my shame). I recall thinking during these times that God was working in my heart. And in some sense I’m not wanting to rule this out.
Perhaps part of this "bonding" was because the worship services were "seeker sensitive," which means songs were sung, things were done, as far as possible, with warm and disarming enthusiasm. Of course there is nothing ostensibly wrong with warm disarming enthusiasm.
By the same Sunday afternoon however, I had lost all of that collegiality. I reasoned that this was how it was, how I was, and that these worship services were where I needed to go to continue to recharge and occasionally experience what I should be feeling all the time. On some level there is truth in that.
But of course the essence of worship is not about being filled with joy and suddenly seeing fellow worshipers in the new light of a special bond.
Why? Let me try this: Because years ago I was at a hockey game. It was the hockey game when Wayne Gretzky scored his 50th goal in 39 games. I was similarly caught up, perhaps more so. I found myself intensely bonded to complete strangers all around me, in league with every Oiler fan in the coliseum. And then it was over, the moment passed, and the feeling of unity never made it past the traffic home.
How much contemporary Christian worship bears a family resemblance to a sporting event, a sales seminar, a political convention, a rally? These events are all designed to ignite some kind of unified passion. They are designed to produce a unifying spirit toward a given end. And this, by dent of being over against some other group, team, country, or concept.
True Christian worship is exactly the opposite. There is nothing to achieve, nothing to produce or reproduce, and absolutely nothing to be over and against. The forgiving victim who is just there has already achieved everything by virtue of being a willing victim; and absorbing our need to secure ourselves by being over against a victim.
(This will need a follow-up. What got me thinking along these lines was the convergence of receiving James Alison’s new book "Undergoing God" and the upcoming Break Forth Canada convention here in Edmonton)