Friday, September 21, 2012

"I just want to get closer to God" - On Mission, Worship, and Knowing God

Perhaps the most difficult thing for Protestant Evangelicals (PE) to embrace is that knowledge of God is absolutely related to mission. To put it bluntly, we cannot know God unless we are on mission with God. The PE vernacular of having a personal relationship with Jesus is often practiced only in the form of an emotional high during the worship service. No emotion, no high, no knowledge of God, thus the PE state of disillusionment where one is always trying to get closer to God. It's utterly circular and ultimately defeating, I know from first hand experience.

If I may borrow the PE vernacular, if you want to get closer to God (to know God), then participate in God's mission. One of the most concise places to begin to understand what God's mission is in the world is found in Matthew 25, which talks about feeding the hungry, quenching the thirst of thirsty, practicing hospitality (especially to strangers), clothing the naked, tending the sick, and visiting the prisoner. A better, more comprehensive place to begin would be the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This is just for starters...

If I may step back a bit from my original blunt statement that we can't know God unless we are on mission with God: I do believe that God speaks to those of us who are not on mission with Him, thus some kind of knowledge of God can be had. It's possible to know God is speaking to you and not to listen. In some sense you know God even if you refuse Him. My critique is for those PE's who claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who measure the status of that relationship according to an emotional high.

In some ways this is a tried argument, but until it seems there's an obvious shift in the other direction then it's important to talk about. In my region of the world, a certain kind of PE is still highly operative, whereby people still barely connect what happens during the worship service with what happens during the week. Many still can't imagine how the movements of worship (the liturgy) have a certain kind of shape to them (or at least they should, which could beg the question of what's actually happening in the worship service at your church). James K. A. Smith recently address a part of this question in a article, except that he was talking the other side of the issue which said that we don't need to gather for worship because we worship simply by living in the world. In any case, the claim for the importance of the liturgy of worship must be made.

Worship is a "hot spot," as Smith says, where we are brought in close proximity to God/the ways of God/the story of God, etc. In such close proximity, we are drawn in, transformed, and sent back out into the world. That's the shape of worship. To put it another way, God breathes us into Himself (gathers us) and then breathes us back out (scatters us). When we are breathed in, we catch a vision of the kingdom through the movements of worship. We practice the kingdom in worship and then when we are breathed back out into the world, we live the kingdom life. It's not one way or the other. They work together. Yes, one knows God through the Eucharist but only because the Eucharist is not limited to merely the bread and cup in worship. Each meal we share with each other is a kind of Eucharist.

It may just be that if we want to know God, we should at least begin to share meals together (a good "strategy" for community groups, by the way, rather than simply doing studies together, although you'd be surprised how quickly the conversation around a table can become about God). It may just be that to know God, you share you clothes, your food, your water, your time, your energy, your resources, your skills, your law practice, your words, your thoughts, your home, your laws, your school...

We don't know what God's mission is unless He draws us into it and shows us the way (worship) and by showing us the way He shows us Himself.

What do you think?

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