Though it is rarely acknowledged, most Christian worship is based on the ancient notion that a transcendent deity—almost always depicted anthropomorphically as a male king—sits on a throne in heaven waiting (or demanding) the adoration of his human subjects, who bow down before him in awe, fear, and gratitude, singing praises to his name and trying to pacify his anger over offenses or wrongdoing. The only modification most forms of Christianity have made to this pattern is to depict Jesus sitting on the right hand of God’s throne, also receiving worship as a divine king. The church—despite the Reformation’s emphasis on the priesthood of all believers—continues to operate as the mediator between humanity and this transcendent God who lives in heaven. (For an accessible critique of the persistence of this three-tiered universe in popular Christian belief and practice, see the introduction to Diana Butler Bass’ book Grounded.)
Is this the way you think about God? Do you really believe that God is a jealous king sitting on a throne somewhere far away, waiting for humans to pay him homage?
For more and more people, this patriarchal image of God not only feels outdated and oppressive, it simply doesn’t correspond to their experience of the divine. Instead of being distant and inaccessible, many of us believe that God is present throughout the world and in our lives. Instead of an angry God in whose hands sinners tremble, many of us believe in a God of love who accepts us despite our faults and wants to help us grow into better people, more reflective of the divine image within us.
I’m convinced that part of the reason an increasing number of people find traditional forms of church less compelling or simply irrelevant is a mismatch between the understanding of God conveyed by traditional worship services (explicitly and implicitly) and the way people understand and experience God in their lives. Because of this, I’m equally convinced that followers of Jesus need to seriously rethink what we mean by “worship.”
As the Joyful Feast expands and makes plans to host regularly scheduled “dinner church” gatherings, we invite you to join us for a conversation about the meaning and experience of worship at our February CRAFTing Connections discussion. We’ll be at the Three Notch’d RVA Collab House on February 6 from 7:30 to 9:00 PM and we’d love for you to join us. If you have some thoughts or a short reading to share before we meet, post it on the Facebook event page.