Can Worship Occur without Sacrifice?

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In his search for the roots of violence that could lead to war, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi drafted a list to give to his grandson titled the “Seven Blunders of the World.”  Number seven on that list is Worship without Sacrifice.  Worship wars have occurred as factions within congregations have drawn lines in the sand in response to worship preferences, traditions, perceived relevance, and as a response to culture.  Gandhi shared this list with his grandson in what would be their last time together not long before he was assassinated.

To sacrifice is to surrender for the sake of something or someone.  It is the act of giving up, surrendering, offering up, or letting go.  The antonym of sacrifice is to hold on to.  A bunt in baseball is designated as a sacrifice for the purpose of advancing a runner to assist in the success of the team.  Executing this sacrifice is called “laying down” a bunt.  What an interesting word picture for the church as it gathers in community for worship.

In the book of Romans, Paul focused on the divisions by which we segregate ourselves.  In the twelfth chapter he wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul used body to represent the whole person…which would also include traditions and preferences.  The Old Testament sacrifice required the shedding of blood and a slain sacrifice.  Living sacrifice signifies an ongoing, constant dedication.  Charles Thomas Studd, an English missionary who served in China, India, and Africa had this statement at his motto:  “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”

Those who have read stories of Mount Everest expeditions will know the names of Hillary and Mallory.  These men have been recorded in history as some of the greatest climbers.  The Sherpas from Nepal, however, are the climbing guides who have made the most trips and the fastest ascents to the peak of Everest.  Those outside the climbing community do not even know their names.  The Sherpas job is not just to reach the summit but to lead others to the summit.  Their responsibility is to assist those with less skill, less experience, and less knowledge of the mountain.  Reggie Kidd said, “Despite every attempt we make to pare his song list down to a manageable repertoire, Jesus is constantly expanding it.  In defiance of congregations’ insistence on dividing themselves along age and affinity lines, Jesus teaches his people to defer to one another.  Thus he blends the songs of generations and nations and families and tribes and tongues to make sweet harmony to the Father.”[1]

Worship Sacrifice Is…

  • The understanding that I may not always like the worship preferences of my daughter but I am willing to make concessions because I love her.
  • The realization that worship did not begin and will not end with the worship preferences of my generation.
  • Realizing that I have been arrogant to assume my favorite worship style and God’s favorite worship style are the same.
  • Having the attitude that 6 days and 23 hours of the week I can choose my worship preferences but as my worshiping community gathers for worship I am willing to sacrifice my preferences for the unity of the body.

 C.S. Lewis in Answers to Questions on Christianity shared the following account of his early days after becoming a Christian:  “When I first became a Christian, I thought that I could do it on my own by retiring to my room and reading theology, and wouldn’t go to churches and gospel halls.  I disliked very much their hymns which I considered to be fifth rate poems set to sixth rate music.  But as I went on I saw the merit of it.  I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.  I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew,  and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.  It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”[2]

“We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas.  If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[3]

 


[1] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 178.

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 61-62.

[3] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 108.

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7 Responses to “Can Worship Occur without Sacrifice?”

  • David Manner Says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for your response. Check out some of my more recent posts related to this topic. In my ministry responsibilities I deal with church health issues with numerous congregations. Church conflict is rarely a result of theological differences and is usually as a result of self-centeredness…selfishness instead of selflessness. Blessings to you for serving the same congregation for 16 years. You are rare! I hope you will join the conversation in future posts.

    David

  • Scott M. Says:

    I hope this conversation is still active! I know I’m late to the party, but I am so fired up that others are talking about the need to set aside personal preference in the church. I have been a worship pastor for 16 years (same church) and I am really working to re-connect our church family’s generations with one another. I’ve begun to pray (like Jesus in John 17) for true UNITY in our congregation.

  • Jeremy Says:

    Thanks David!

    God’s standard for us is to place ourselves in the offering plate, and sacrifice our desires for His. I have had people in my worship classes who have told me in the past that they can not worship to a certain style of music, particularly hymns. I politely ask them why not. They feel most comfortable worshiping through a certain voice, such as the “Voice of Your Congregation” book suggests, and are distracted when they try to worship through another voice. I ask them why they are singing the music and who they are singing it for. When the song is usually directed toward God or to other believers, why is it important that they like it? I believe this statement is 90% true… People don’t know what they like, they like what they know. I understand that each generation has its own worship voice and I try to be sensitive to this in musical planning. However, I believe meeting with the Lord in musical worship has less to do with my pleasure, and more to do with what I give, how I give it. I believe that the gift no longer belongs to us, therefore it is irrelevant whether we like it or not. I also ask these folks to worship in a different way through songs they do not like. I ask them to meditate upon the words and concepts. To pray, visualizing the actions in the songs and to thank the Lord. This seems to get the focus off of the music and on the true object of our worship.

  • Duane Hines Says:

    Thanks for the reminder, David. I saw a quote once, and I have it as my screensaver on my computer at church. It says, “Lord, help my mind not twist words I hear or misjudge others’ intentions to justify my own righteousness.”

    In my planning of worship, I always have to remind myself that it’s not what I want but what God wants me to plan. Yet in that planning, I must also remember the worship wars as comments are made that (how can I put this?) the worship wasn’t pleasing because there were too many old hymns or there were too many new choruses. Please God yet please man at the same time? There’s yet another hypocrisy!

  • Georges Boujakly Says:

    Right on, David, Grant, and Tim.

    Christian worship, is imitative of Christianity in general. When Jesus bids a man to follow him, he bids him to come and die. Carry your patibulum (your crossbar to your death place as Jesus did). Die to self. Of course that in itself is imitative as well. God gave up, sacrificed, his own son for us.

    Mors Janua Vitae=death is the gateway to life.

    Christianity asks of us to see life through gates of death and enter life by dying, to live eternally life by dying. In salvation Christ dies that we may have life. In discipleship we put to death the misdeeds of the flesh so that we may live. In mission we are instructed that the seed which dies multiplies. In persecution we die that we may truly live. In martyrdom we die so that others may live. In mortality, we die to be resurrected to new life.

    It’s just that sacrificial living is no longer our default life. Our worship wars are a reflection of our selfish living. This is strong, but convicting to me: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    Can I truly worship sacrificially if I don’t live so? The ultimate hypocrisy resides in this duality.

  • Tim Says:

    David,

    I think this is a great post to remind us that worship has to cost something. i think that as worship leaders we often forget that fact because we try so hard to line up everything to our comfort level, especially on a sunday morning in the corporate setting. We plan the worship so that we are not personally uncomfortable at any point. we pick songs that are familiar to us, songs that we can nail the “solo” on, ect. I think the one other point from Scripture that perfectly illustrates your post is 1 Samuel 24, David and the threshing floor of Ornan. after he sins by counting the fighting men God punishes Israel and its on the threshing floor that David goes to plead with God and worship through offerings. The owner offers to let him use it for free, and even provide the sacrifice, (which is prob what David was used to as the king) but David replies in verse 24. ” But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God offerings that cost me nothing.”

    great post David. great topic

  • Grant Says:

    The quote by CS Lewis is one of my favorite ones — about church music of his time being 6th rate music and the guy singing it I’m not worth to clean his boots.

    It’s also a reminder that since Genesis 3, worship always costs something. Something must die – animals, pride, conceit.

    Great thoughts, bro.

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