the purpose of worship

i find myself promoting some comments i recently made on worship to a blog post of its own. i feel that if one is going to criticize the practice of others and point out an injustice or a problem, then one ought to do something constructive as well, like offer a viable alternative. in this spirit, please allow me a few brief thoughts on the purpose of worship.


"Contemplation" by Jean Proulx Dibner. Bronze and Stone.

"Contemplation" by Jean Proulx Dibner. Bronze and Stone.

i have a fundamental difference of opinion with many others regarding the purpose of worship. this difference in the understanding of the purpose of worship is based upon a related difference in my understanding of what it means to live a life of faith. i seek enlightenment through knowledge and reason, allowing for the possibility of that which i cannot understand, but rejecting that which has been materially disproved, lamenting that which is ignorant, and attempting to shed light on darkness. a life of faith is not about a set of orthodox beliefs, but a set of adopted behaviors that rejects complacency and instead embraces a life dedicated to solving problems, be they intellectual or practical, individual or social.

a life of faith seeks to utilize one’s talents to help others. for me, a life of faith is to endow others with verifiable facts, teach them to reason, and encourage them to ask questions. a life of faith is one that understands the science of the physical universe, as well as the unquantifiable mysteries of love and beauty. a life of faith is neither about making money nor preserving money, but making sure that others have when they have need.

a life of faith should not revolve around proper doctrine and dogma, but service and compassion. it is not about being right; it is about admitting that we don’t know, and supplementing our ignorance with acts of kindness and service.

this understanding of a life of faith manifests itself in a particular view of worship. the goal of worship is not ecstasy, nor is it communion with the divine. in fact, the goal is not even about getting to heaven, as if proper behavior is somehow a means to an end, a capitalistic investment for a future return on my deposit. rather, the goal of a life of faith should be to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with god. it is to give the cup of cold water when i have one to give. it is to celebrate the joy, lament the sorrow, and laugh with (and at times at) that which is humorous.

for those who see worship as a pep rally, a concert, a money-making endeavor, or a charismatic communion with the divine, they have received their reward. rather, i view worship as an opportunity to say thank you. thank you for my life – good or bad – and for the opportunity to think, wonder, rationalize, philosophize, ponder, ask questions, discuss, learn, experience, and hopefully pass on both a balanced mindset of discovery and disposition of service to those around me.

worship is acknowledging and offering thanks for my very existence, the mere opportunity i’ve had to experience life itself.

if worship has any purpose at all, it is an opportunity to say thank you. it is not for us, but for god.

7 Responses

  1. I like this “a life of faith should not revolve around proper doctrine and dogma, but service and compassion. it is not about being right; it is about admitting that we don’t know, and supplementing our ignorance with acts of kindness and service.”
    and I totally agree… worship IS an opportunity to say thank you for Him!

  2. Not sure how I feel about the lack of proper doctrine and dogma, although I feel that it can get in the way. For me, part of my reasoning as worship paradigm is doctrine and dogma, and reasoning through Scripture for it.

  3. joel, methinks i used to be more in that camp with you. for me, it was the critical study of language, of the text, and the comparative study of related texts that forced me to move beyond the canon (whichever canon) into a principled and thematic reading of the biblical text. knowledge of the circular and reciprocal development of the councils, their doctrines, and the canon allowed me to move beyond the forced harmonization of systematic theology into a thematic understand of what the early believers were attempting to communicate. those themes transcend a fixed text, which often cements the moral messages with their contemporary social trappings, leaving readers struggling to distinguish one from the other. i read the text in a thematic manner, allowing the interpretation to remain rooted in the core message, but allowing for adaptation to social progress.

  4. For me, I don’t care much for the councils in my worship, although I am sure many do. But, I do like to focus on the doctrines of the text, and see if I can stand with the authors. I like to mediate upon the canon of the day or the hour, with different books in front of me. Wisdom, Sirach, Pss Solomon, etc… even ole Tobit.

    I love reasoning through them, and there is for me a ‘presence’ felt when I do. I want to be with them in an intellectual way, plumbing the depth. I guess when I say doctrine and dogma, I mean more along the lines of the (con)text of the passages and they themselves thought, not what is thought for them.

    Even this is a form of worship.

  5. Great post. I once heard a pastor say why people go to church. That is, why must there be the tradition of gathering every Sunday morning. The analogy used was that of hot coals in a fire. If you keep them away from the heat too long, they get cold. Sure you extend this metaphor to many different interpretations but it served to explain the idea that worship is a communal gathering and opportunity to support each other.

  6. I appreciate the way you think Mr. Cargill.

    Perhaps you would not be so averse to linking faith with doctrine and dogma if the latter promoted the way of being you call us to?

    I myself cannot ponder the doctrine of God’s love without being swiftly called to account for not living the life you describe.

  7. I am in agreement that ‘worship’ is giving thanks for what you are given. Faith is another thing entirely! Faith is believing in the possibility of! In other words it’s about believing in something even if you can’t see it. You’ve heard of “blind faith” or ” the blind leading the blind”. To put it simple it’s ‘Trust’! Trusting in God that no matter what, he will provide if you have faith in him. He will lead you through, even when you can’t see!

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