Monday, 12 April 2010

Worship and Sacrifice

In our church we were recently debating the needs of different worshippers. Do we remove the chairs, leaving a more relaxed atmosphere, with space to move around, lie on the floor, or keep them in, respecting the needs of older people (like me) who need a chair to rest their creaking limbs?

It got me thinking about the relationship between worship and sacrifice. Old Testament sacrifices were not only made to atone for sin - they were often acts and offerings of worship. Pagan worship in New Testament times also took the form of sacrifice to the gods. And although Christian worship assumes the prior once-only sacrifice of Christ, it still involves sacrifice, if Romans 12 is anything to go by. Worship does benefit us - it inspires us to devotion, restores perspective etc. but perhaps that is only a secondary function of worship. Perhaps the primary aspect of worship is sacrifice - the giving up of my own energy, time, desires, preferences, to offer something to God that costs me something because it is worth something. So perhaps the main act of worship I offer when I come to gather with my fellow Christians is when I engage with a form of worship that actually I find hard, or when I give up a level of comfort that I would prefer for the sake of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters, or even those on the fringes of the church, who love to worship that way - to enable them to gain some of the benefit that worship can bring.

If I am honest, although often I love it, at other times I struggle with loud contemporary music at every service and long for a little quiet Book of Common Prayer, or classical orchestral music (not the organ, please!). Yet I'm also aware mine is a minority and perhaps antiquated taste in contemporary culture. Perhaps my main act of worship is precisely NOT to insist on my preferred style and instead be willing to enter into a worship style that others find helpful and meaningful. Of course there are limits to this - we need to keep the balance between the elements of benefit (beneficium) and sacrifice (sacrificium) in worship. But if worship is an offering of something valuable, something we do ultimately for God's sake not for our own, then what we give up in worship may be more significant than what we gain.


  1. I am put in mind of Psalm 51, "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Surely God is not interested is not really interested in us making ourselves uncomfortable outwardly in worship (aren't these just burnt offerings). He is much more interested in our heart's sacrifice.

    Absolutely we should not be insisting on a worship style just because it suits me. However, we all sense those times when worship leaders have helped a congregation to make that heart sacrifice in worship. Don't you think worship leaders need to be sensitive to helping congregations make the real sacrifice of praise and not just the burnt offering of discomfort?

  2. Sacrafice that is not oriented on love of God and love of my neighbor is empty and faithless. At worst it makes a bargain with God - I will surrender this if you will grant me that. I like 1 COR 13 on this topic, as well as the part where Paul talks about not partaking of meat (freedoms) if by it, you may drive another from worship/faith etc. When this posture of service is present in a person or in a congregation, there is beauty you could drive a truck through - no matter what music is playing.

  3. Worship is not a sacrifice praise is.


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