Core of worship

“A church may be filled with creative ideas and overflowing with good works, but unless there be a sense of the presence of the holy there, of the presence of God – unless there be a capacity of worship – it is doubtful whether what is there is religion. Worship is not centrally an experience of ours; it is meaningless to speak of a ‘worshipful experience’ as if the holy were compounded of a clever arrangement of various kinds of lighting, sober music, proper tones of voice, and the softness or hardness of the pews, all so manipulated as to create a certain experience in us. Such ‘client-centered’ worship does not extend beyond the ceiling of the sanctuary, for here by finite media we seek to take the place of the holy, to create it synthetically. To these efforts to create a worshipful mood the usual congregational response is appropriate: ‘Preacher, I enjoyed it!’ But neither our manipulation nor the enjoyment are categories appropriate to worship. For God, not our own consciousness, is the object of worship; we experience Him, not ourselves worshiping. Worship is a response to the presence of God, our reaction to the appearance of the holy. And the point is not that we feel something then, though surely reverence, awe and wonder are normal; but that we relate ourselves creatively to him, that we respond to his presence in adoration and praise, in confession of sin and thanksgiving for mercies known and received. It is the relation to God, the felt relation to the holy – to the tremendous, majestic, awesome power and goodness of God – that is the core of worship. Thus we bow, thus we adore, thus we surrender ourselves – thus we experience God.” (Langdon Gilkey, How Can the Church Minister to the World without Losing Itself, pp. 107–8)

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