‘And so they stand before the throne of God and worship him in his temple day and night’ (Revelation 7:15).
Where do Christians most show their true character? Is it in works of service? I heard recently that if active Christians were to stop volunteering, more than 80 percent of community volunteer hours would be lost. But others also do works of service, even selflessly. It’s in the Christian character to do good, but it’s not unique.
Even if the preaching is woeful, believers grow in faith from the liturgical rhythm and the sacramental life.
Is it in lifestyle, morality and ethics? This one isn’t so easy. Christians generally behave pretty much like the rest of society. When society owned slaves, Christians owned slaves. When society marginalises certain groups on people, Christians often marginalise the same groups. Christians find themselves of either side of political debates. Of course, there are also wonderful times when we rise above the mediocrity of society and achieve extraordinary change for good. We are a positive influence, but we can say the same of many people of good conscience. We always can, and should, do more.
Is it in motivation, and purity of intent? Motivation is hard to judge from the outside, but Christians tend to be as much part of the materialist society of wealth and accumulation as anyone. We are not necessarily demonstrably different. I could go on of course, but I think you can see where this is heading. I want to say that Christians show their true character in worship. That extraordinary activity is uniquely Christian. No-one else experiences such intimacy with their God as we do in the gifts of the word and sacrament. No-one else walks out of worship with his or her God on the inside: bread and wine, body and blood. No-one else takes his or her God into daily life as a Christian does. So what we do in worship, what we say (or sing) in worship, and how we behave in worship, really matters. In this sacred encounter, God shows the world our true character.
I want to argue for authentic worship that joins in God’s conversation with his people. For centuries we’ve had liturgies that do just that. Around 90 per cent comes directly from Scripture. The dialogue of life and death, sin and grace, captivity and freedom, law and gospel is finely drawn and persuasive. Even if the preaching is woeful, believers grow in faith from the liturgical rhythm and the sacramental life.
Are we now burying these historic and well-proven liturgies as though they embarrass us? Do we think we have outgrown them? Sure, sometimes we don’t ‘do’ liturgy all that well, and we can be awkward at it, but do we really want to discard something that was once our lifeblood, for borrowed and unproven forms about which we aren’t so sure?
Is this an old man’s lament? Well, I’m not that old yet, and I grew up with experimental worship alongside the liturgy. I am noticing, however, that we are now in danger of forgetting where our true character lies. So this is a plea, if you like, to keep our worship authentic and without pretence, so that everyone who comes will see our true Christian character and understand that what we confess about our God and his salvation really is true.