Cruciform Worship

by Barry Newton

The sun had set when the wheels of the Mercedes Benz crunched small clumps of dirt as it slowly created a parking space alongside the dirt road. Other less financially endowed individuals along with occupants from other vehicles seemingly appeared from nowhere heading toward the house where music flowed into the street.

I watched as a veteran missionary interviewed individuals entering this Brazilian spiritist center. “Why are you coming here?” A middle-aged woman offered her distinctive response. “Three years ago my husband lost his job. I came here to ask for a job for my husband. The next day he got a job. My husband needs a job again. I’m here so that he will get a job.” Her reason was unique, and yet, it concisely summed up a common theme. She could not have illustrated it any more astutely. People were engaging in these spiritual rituals because of what they hoped to receive.

At its heart, spiritism exemplifies one more example of religious rituals ultimately serving Self. Cultic activity derives its shape by who or what is being served. Whenever spiritual ceremony panders to human desires the resulting cultic rite can rightly be described as being in humanform.

Jesus distinguished the worship of the Creator from all such humanform ritual when he proclaimed that discipleship requires picking up one’s cross to follow him. To bear our cross epitomizes an attitude toward God whereby we call out, “Not my will but your will be done.” Since dying to a fleshly-driven will is a prerequisite for following Jesus, accordingly Christian worship should be cruciform in nature. That is, Christian worship should break from the self-centered nature of paganism with its humanform kind of spiritual rites in order to serve the will of the living God.

But what happens if people have not first taken the step of dying to themselves before seeking to worship the Creator? Perhaps the barometer for evaluating worship will become, “did I get anything out of it,” instead of, “did I offer worship to God in spirit and in truth?”

Or maybe the single question, “Is this wrong,” will be the sole criterion to settle all worship-related questions, thus misdirecting the compass guiding how God is worshiped. While Christians should never want to incorporate what is sinful in worship, there is an equally important question that cross-bearing Christians will ask. “Is this what God desires from us?” For worship leaders to appease unspiritual appetites does not help anyone grow spiritually, nor does it promote the worship of God. Before churches can think clearly about worship, the heart matters of discipleship need to become engrained.

That wrangling sometimes termed “worship wars” will never be settled until people first pick up their crosses to follow Jesus.

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