I’ve often wondered why Christianity doesn’t have a martial art. When I think of devoted adherents to other religions and philosophies I imagine them possessing lean figures and engaging in a certain degree of asceticism. Buddhism has it’s Shaolin Monks who practice Kung Fu, Hinduism has Yoga, Taoism has Tai Chi, but to my knowledge there is no physical practice or martial art associated with Christianity. Christianity, as least as we see it today, doesn’t demand any kind of physical discipline from believers. We worship so much with our hearts and minds, it seldom seems to translate into any kind of practical action. This seems particularly odd to me. Especially when you consider that Buddhism and Hinduism, as far as I understand, both deny the reality of the physical world, yet both have physical practices. Practices which have extended even to participants who don’t share those world views. It’s particularly bizarre since Christianity affirms the physical world in a way that no other worldview does.
Christianity teaches that, in Jesus, the creator of the Universe, took on flesh. An event the significance of which cannot be overstated. That God wrapped Himself in a physical body tells us in the most profound way that God cares, not only about souls or minds, but about all of creation. Our bodies, our planet, and the biodiversity we see around us. All of these things factor into God’s plan of redemption, not just our souls and minds. Scripture is clear that all of creation is eagerly anticipating the day of its emancipation from the effects of sin, death and corruption, not just the internal worlds of human beings. All the other “stuff” is God’s stuff and He cares deeply about it. All of it.
In North American churches, when we use the word “worship”, we are most often speaking about an emotional or spiritual act. However, a brief study the many Hebrew and Greek words translated as “worship” in both the Old and New Testament will show you that worship, as the ancients understood it, was predominantly a physical act. The words we translate as “worship” have mostly to do with either offering a sacrifice, service, or assuming a physical posture such as bowing or prostrating oneself before God. Somewhere along the way, a change occurred and worship changed from an external act to an internal one.
I was discussing this last fall with my friend Colin Toffelmire, a Biblical Studies professor at Ambrose University College. We were talking about how so many contemporary worship songs mention kneeling, bowing, raising our hands, but how, as evangelicals, we almost never actually do those things in worship. “The common response,” said Colin, “is that what really matters is that you ‘kneel in your heart’, but if I never actually physically kneel, am I really even kneeling in my heart? Where is this place that I’m kneeling, exactly,?”.
I think a lot of this language may be a reaction to the Word of the Lord given to the prophet Isaiah, where He says, ” “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13). Obviously, God doesn’t want us only to go through the motions, honouring Him with our lips and our actions and not with our hearts, but is it possible that in avoiding one ditch we’ve accidentally fallen into the other?
Consider that hypocrisy is essentially just a disconnect between what we believe and what we do (or don’t do). Normally, hypocrites are people who say they believe something, but act in a way that contradicts what they claim to believe. But saying you believe something and doing nothing about it is, at it’s root, the same thing. The Apostle James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”. So, unless we’re content to only offer God part of ourselves in worship, at some point what we believe on the inside has to begin to make an appearance on the outside.
All of this is to say that going through the motions without ever putting your heart in it is no worse than talking or singing about believing something with all your heart but never putting your shoulder to it. Unless we want our worship to continue to be fragmented, we need to find ways to express what we believe internally in an external, visible way. Not just in the context of a worship service but in all aspects of our life.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Where our worship really matters, is not just in church on a Sunday morning, but in the everyday. Sunday morning is the place where we are reminded through song and Word what we are to be doing during the rest of the week. Our Monday to Saturday is the stage upon which we act out our worship. Sunday is the rehearsal.
So how do we conduct worship services that help us to rehearse worshipping with our strength on Sunday so that we can step up worship the rest of the week, where it really counts? Consider these brief suggestions as a starting point:
Ask people to do something: Whether it’s asking them to stand and greet their neighbour, having them do an action song, or getting them to come forward for communion rather than passing the plates around, people need to be actively engaged in worship somehow. Otherwise we’re just encouraging passive Christianity. A faith that denies the physical just as much as Hinduism or Buddhism. Some of these ideas may seem silly or even a little childish, but if the people we lead in worship never practice worship that leads to action in even a small way, how will they ever make that connection outside the walls of the church?
Ask people to say something: Whether it’s reading scripture aloud, participating in a responsive reading (remember those?) or reciting the Creeds, if our people can’t speak about their faith when they’re surrounded by like-minded believers in a room where no one is listening to them, how can we ever expect them to do it when it really counts?
Ask people to give something: It’s important to remind people every time the offering is taken that it’s not about collecting funds to keep the church running. Rather, it’s first and foremost an act of worship. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we never give our treasure to God, it’s hypocritical to say we’re giving our hearts.
I hope I’ve made my point. What suggestions would you give for teaching congregations to worship with their strength?