the right Way

trustMany have acknowledged that we will eventually resemble that which we worship. I believe the much of the problems of the current church culture, which has become frustratingly rigid, anemic and exclusive, comes from a subtle shift in the focus of our worship. In short, as I have said so many times before, we have exchanged the Creator for the created. We have exchanged the living Jesus who is the Truth for our human attempts at quantifying and defining truth through dogma, creating what we call orthodoxy. We have exchanged a Thou for an it.

I remember attempting a conversation about this a few years ago to which a man responded, “Are you saying we’re wrong?” His demeanor was almost intimidating, like I had committed the worst offense possible. Indeed, challenge, difference and disagreement seem to be the biggest sins in this church culture. It makes sense that if orthodoxy is our highest value, then to challenge even a bit of it will open the floodgates of wrath. And we are good westernized dualists so to challenge our idolatry of right belief is understood as leaving us with only wrong belief to employ. However, I don’t believe that it is our core beliefs that are the problem, nor do I desire to change a whole lot of what has been considered right belief for centuries (though there are plenty of points that should be open for more dialogue). The problem that we must face lies in how we think about these things.

Peter Rollins offers,

“Instead of following the Greek influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief….rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way – that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christ like manner. The reversal of right belief to believing in the right way is in no way a move to some binary opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief); rather it is a way of transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood a a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world….it is an approach which emphasizes the priority of love.” *

The last line is important because often, at least in my tribe’s culture, the idea of a right way of living has been reduced to mere moralism (perhaps it’s included with orthopraxy). It’s as if they do not believe that Love can be transformative. They are right in that Love allows for a lot of messiness and imperfection and transparency, but let’s not go there! Our conceptual idolatry, that is, placing right belief as the highest value forces us to develop false personas that can seem to measure up to what right belief should look like. That can be an even tougher idol to topple. This may be anti-love. Perhaps we need to have some long conversations about the living nature of Love in order to imagine together the possibilities of what the right way can be.

Nevertheless, the bigger issue that I am pondering right now is the one of worship. Our dis-eased eyes naturally shift to what we can understand and apprehend and know. We love being right, being in control. Karl Barth once said that faith is not standing on certainties, but rather it is about being held, with feet dangling. (That is my paraphrase because I haven’t looked it up in a while!) This feels like a much more vulnerable and tenuous position than that of standing on a rock that we can own and define. It requires a deep trust in the Person who is doing the holding. It requires a deepened intimacy and a dance of hope and abandonment to Someone who will remain outside of our grasp. We are reoriented away from what we’ve got figured out, and turned back to the Source- to be held by Him, perhaps even to begin to resemble Him. That sounds like worship to me.

*quote from How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins

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  • chrisd

    Worship is such a divisive problem in the US Christian church. Ridiculous. I was thinking about that today in the car.

    The younger kids say it has to be a certain way. The older ones feel it has to be their way. I understand, but on the other hand, it becomes selfish. Selfish worship?

    They are two different things or should be.

    • Denisa

      Isn’t there so much more to worship than how or what we do on Sundays? Worship is the whole of who we are each and every day. It’s not about the how of worship but the who of worship. It should be all about Jesus and not about us. Again it should also be everyday and not just in singing and songs but we show our worship of our Lord in everyday ways. Maybe we have started to worship, worship and make it our idol replacing it with Jesus? I love the song, I’m going back to the heart of worship, it’s all about you, all about you Jesus. We had this little old lady in our congregation who grew up on hymns and when the style changed to contemporary with loud music and drums she simply replied, “While I don’t particularly like this new way or worship, I’m all for whatever reaches people for the Lord. Then again raises another thought. Do we do our services based on what we think people will like or not like? Maybe we should be true to the type of church God has made a particular church to be. If it is traditional, then be the best traditional church you can be and don’t apologize or change it for the sake of “bringing people in”, Jesus brings people to himself. Preach the word, focus on Jesus and don’t worry about the rest.:)

  • Skip Newby

    again, well said. Keep stirring the pot, for the “Times They Are A Changin’.” I know, we’ve been saying that as long as we can remember, but the loaf doesn’t rise all at once. Keep dangling and looking at the One Who is doing the holding.

    Peace, Skip.

  • ellenharoutunian

    True Chris, I hear you on that! And the larger point is missed which is, what exactly are we worshipping? It’s not about who’s style is right, but the need for moving from object to Subject, and how does that shift from object to Subject make a difference.

  • saradode

    Wow–that has such resonance for me. I had a short correspondence recently with someone on a blog who felt that “love”, for Christians, meant nothing other than a moral obligation to get others to see things the way she did–to adhere to the “orthodoxy”. As for those who refused to do so, hatred and derision seemed to her to be perfectly valid, “Christian” responses. It all seemed so hard and cold and rigid–nothing at all like the way I personally conceive of the Divine, and certainly not what Jesus seemed to have in mind, unless I’m totally missing the point (of course, as I don’t call myself a Christian, I suppose that there are those out there who would assume that I couldn’t possibly understand! 🙂 ).

    But I love the “feet dangling” image. There is nothing rigid about God; any boundaries run along the lines of having love to give and being devoid of love, if anything. God is not something about whom we mere mortals can create rules and divisions and hierarchies, and not something any of us can ever completely grasp (that’s why they call God, “God”, and us, “people”!). But there’s a beautiful grace and freedom that can be gained from understanding that much–an elegance in living in love and compassion, searching our own souls (rather than those of others), and feeling ourselves held in loving arms as we dangle with trust and a sense of wonder over the beautiful landscape we’ve been given as a gift.

    Bit of a stream of consciousness there–hope it made some sense!


  • lindy

    To me, worship is something very real, private and personal that happens between me and my Lord. For me true worship comes from the deepest parts of my spirit that aches for an even closer relationship with Him. It is past the gate that my flesh guards. The times in my life that I have experienced life changing prayer is from a few, simple words that I have uttered from deep inside of my spirit and I believe that is from where my true worship also springs forth. This cannot be dictated or led by a third party. It is is wild, untamed, out of the box, and barefooted.

  • Barb Dokter

    Lately I have been in a “tender” place. My husband tells people that Barb is in a hard place. I think it is a beautiful place. I feel I am being “held”. Worship is a place I am in continually lately. In awe and wonder of His grace, mercy and love.

  • ellenharoutunian

    You live it out beautifully, friend. You are teaching me about trust, that’s for sure! 🙂 xoxoxox

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