FAQs: What is Worship? (Pastoral Quaker Perspective)

In reading Thomas Hamm’s absolutely wonderfulQuakers in America I came across a good quote about how virtually all pastoral Friends today would agree on what the Richmond Declaration says about worship, the statement comes from the Declaration which is actually highly disputed but Hamm believes most would get behind this (I know I can):

“Worship is the adoring response of the heart and mind [I would want to add body here] to the influence of the spirit. It stands neither in forms nor in the formal disuse of forms; it may be without words as well as with them, but it must be in spirit and truth. (John iv.24)…Having become his adopted children through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our privilege to meet together and unite in the worship of Almighty God, to wait upon Him for the renewal of our strength, for communion one with another, for the edification of believers in the exercise of various spiritual gifts, and for the declaration of the glad tiding of salvation to the unconverted who may gather with us.”

And Hamm also points out that true Quaker worship is directed by God,
“Quaker worship is a response to the initiative of God in Jesus christ through the workings of the Holy Spirit on the mind and heart [and body], the will and the emotions of man [and woman].” see page 78.

These statements help to answer the basic, theological question about what worship is, is meant to be and what it’s not meant to be. It is so easy to get caught up in our routines, whether they are silent ones or ones filled with music, and other rituals that we loose sight of our worship. We need to continue to remember why we worship and who it is we worship.

Our worship should shape how we live, how we believe and how we share our lives with others.

There needs to be a focus in Quaker thought on the body, we have tended to over spiritualize in many areas of our theology and this is one of them. This stems back to Fox and the early founders, and increased during the many schisms in the 19th century. The Quakers are a Christian movement that formed during the Enlightenment, when the world was being split into secular and sacred spheres, with this can often come a desire to retreat into ourselves, talk about mind and spirit and forget that we are humans with bodies. It is easy to relegate God to certain parts of our lives while we deny him access to others.

True Christian worship includes every part of us,

“I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).”

There has been a number of books recently written that deal with the importance of the body in in following Christ. All of these books deal with the intrinsic nature of people as spiritual bodies and how our practices form us.

Related Books

David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship, 2006
Rodney Clapp, Tortured Wonders, 2004
John H. Yoder, Body Politics, 1999
Stanley Hauerwas, Community of Character, 1981
James McClendon, Ethics, 2002
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 1984
Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches, 2005

If I had to tell you to read one, it would be the John Howard Yoder book.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Published by

Wess

…is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a “released minister” at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

7 thoughts on “FAQs: What is Worship? (Pastoral Quaker Perspective)”

  1. Wess,

    This is a very thoughtful and informative post. The nature of “worship” is an essential question to ask for it not only exposes our theology but our lifestyle as well. The most difficult aspects of it for me are always centered around “focus.” How can I as a fractured, fallen sinner hope to consistently focus on Christ and give Him the worship that He so rightly deserves?

    For me, it is important to be able to have certain aspects of worship that are consistent. Things that do not depend soley upon my own spiritual condition upon entry into the worship environment. I may enter worship completely devoid of focus on Christ and that is why I need things that are always directed by the spirit to “arrest me from my apathy” and usher me into the presence of God.

    This can be done in a number of ways and perhaps it would be interesting for each of us to share the ways in which this happens for us, but for me the active participation in the sacraments is something that always returns me to a Christ-centered focus. I cannot help but be convicted and empowered by the body and blood of Christ for there is a promised “grace” when we come in humility to the Eucharist celebration.

    I am not trying to suggest that this is the only way, but it is one way, and a very consistently powerful one for me. I would like to hear what kinds of things in worship continually re-focus your life on Christ and His call.

  2. I really like how that definition is not at all closed to forms of worship that have nothing to do with singing — and I appreciate your addition of *body* as essential too. American churches really like to forget that service and work and play and love can (and should) be worship too.

    As a dad one of my greatest joys is to have my kids discover something they can do and then really really really want to show it to me so that I can take pleasure in them. So my 2 year old daughter learns how to spin around, and it doesn’t take long before she wants to come and dance — *for me*. And I feel loved and prized and valued — knowing that I am the one for whom she wants to perform.

    I have been trying to incorporate that kind of worship into my life — the worship that says, “God, you gave me this really cool gift. Now watch me as I use it — *for you*” And I believe that He appreciates my feeble attempts to spin and dance to bring glory to Him.

    I work doing janitorial and maintenance stuff most of the time. Not exactly the most glorious labor. But the awareness that my work can be worship too should allow me to enjoy pushing a vacuum, secure in the knowledge that as I worship Him with my body at work, he takes pleasure in my service. His Spirit prompts me to apply myself and if I respond with a worshipful heart, He takes pleasure in the offering.

    There is definitely an opportunity to go overboard here. The last thing I want to do is turn worship into work — just turn work into worship. Worship does not equal “performance”. But the attitude that my joyful performance of service for Him can be done as worship opens up so many more ways to align myself with Him in day-to-day life.

  3. Hi Kevin, great point you bring up. I agree that it is often difficult to focus and things set in place can often help us in our worship to God.

    The sacraments for me have played a part in this. Singing songs, can sometimes do this, though I find the more songs we sing the less focused I become. Often well placed liturgical prayers and scripture reading can bring me to a place where I can be more open and prepared to hear from the Lord.

    The times I practice silence are often a struggle for me, but also rewarding. I find that if I am going to worship through my silence, I need a decent amount of time to settle in and clear my mind. This is one area I want to practice more and be better at doing, hearing God in the silence.

  4. Well said Jed, I think we do right to find ways to turn our everyday life into worship for God. This is often difficult to do and can even rely on our own willingness to think properly about our situations. It can be helpful when these things are worked out and supported in a community of believers – who all share the same interest and struggle. When we look to practice our worship together I think we open ourselves up to new ways of seeing and understanding our worship to God.

    Playing with children and working as worship would certainly fit here and Christians who understand these acts as gifts to God go a long way in sharing the Gospel with the world.

Comments are closed.