by Justin Lonas
Living in the Southern United States, I pass several churches each morning on my way to the office.
One in particular has a large sign out front trumpeting the latest, greatest ministries and programs they offer. For the past several weeks, however, the sign has advertised something they call "Casual Worship", presumably a low-key service to attract young adults and other unchurched individuals.
Good for them in trying to reach out to people who've left churches for all the wrong reasons but haven't been let go of by God. Their choice of words (and perhaps their methodology), however leaves much to be desired-true worship is anything but casual.
We were created to worship God and bask in the awe of his power and righteousness. Our fall into sin marred our relationship and made it impossible for us to live out our created purpose-as rebellious sinners, God in His holiness could no longer abide our presence. From that point on, our worship shifted from unashamed adoration to a meek response to His grace. Allen P. Ross, in Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, says that the essence of post-fallen worship consists of fear and adoration, confession and commitment, and ritual acts and religious observance.
Because of the fall, God requires that sinful men approach him with the greatest reverence for his holiness. Before Christ, this took the form of the Levitic priesthood, the tabernacle and temple, and the rituals of sacrifice and cleansing. Our Lord isn't some spiteful, whimsical deity who delights in forcing us to go through a maze to find him, but a gracious God whose sheer being means that coming near Him on anyone's terms but His means death. Non-casual worship is God's gift-He still wants to fellowship with us, we're the ones who made it very difficult by rebelling against Him.
Christ's sacrifice removed the necessity of ritual for our right standing before God, but it doesn't give us the right to saunter into His presence on our terms. God is no less holy today than he was in the Old Testament, and though God no longer cares explicitly about what we wear or eat in His presence, He is as concerned as ever with the attitude of our hearts. He wants our worship offering to be that of Abel (pure, undefiled, and sacrificial) instead of Cain (proud fruit of our own effort, from our bounty).
He can't abide someone who abuses the privilege, coming to Him as if He was of no more worth than any other of our friends and acquaintances. Worship of God should be the most intentional thing we do, consuming our thoughts and actions and shaping every area of our lives. As Ross states, "The worshipper is never to be a passive auditor of the words and the ritual of worship. Neither is worship to be a dry routine nor a formless ecstasy. It is designed for the consecration of all our faculties to God."
Whether we mean to do it or not, too much of our worship is extremely casual-routine for the sake of routine is casual; ignoring God 6 out of 7 days because we're not "at church" is casual; leaving our church services without receiving the conviction of the Holy Spirit is casual.
When we treat worship as a subjective, passive experience that only exists for our personal benefit-something that can be "casual", "formal", "traditional", or "contemporary"-we are utterly distorting God's design. He has called us to be "witnessing worshippers", proclaiming His glory to a watching world. All our acts of worship should point to Him alone and say nothing about us other than that we are His own. That same church sign says that the "casual worship" is held in the "activity center". If we don't desire to meet God on His terms, I'm afraid that that is all our churches can hope to be-hubs of activity "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Our God is not a casual God-everything He does has layers of meaning and purpose calibrated perfectly to His will. How dare we put Him in any sort of box? From now on, when I drive past that sign, I've asked God to make it a reminder to me to remember who He is and to avoid "casual worship" at all costs. The life of the Body depends on it.
Justin Lonas is editor-in-chief of Pulpit Helps magazine.