Moving From Worship to Relationship
A real experience with God—a real relationship with God, prescription often fills us with complete and utter awe. Still, order this sense of awe comes from an experiential relationship with God—a relationship that may indeed be worshipful, but not one that requires us as loyal subjects to worship our Eternal Lord. A friend reminded me that believing God is the being of all being fills us with respect and makes us feel worshipful—not out of fear of punishment, but simply out of respect for what God means for everyone. While I understand and agree with the sentiment, I still think the word “worship” itself implies an unhealthy relationship.
I believe that a large part of the problem the church in general faces today has to do with language. The language we use in the church is often still steeped in the language that was used in a world of Kings and servants, Emperors and slaves. In the 1st Century, when Jesus’ teachings were first spreading, society was extremely stratified. The people Jesus preached to were, for the most part, subjugated to an aristocrat of one kind or another, and that aristocrat was called “Lord,” or “King,” or “Emperor,” or any other number of terms to indicate an unequal relationship. God was considered the ultimate Lord, and people were considered God’s subjects. The same loyalty a human master expected—and often meted out with cruelty if one dared disobey, was imprinted on God and our relationship with God.
My argument is that people who believe in God—whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or anything else, have yet to break out of that unhealthy mentality. The word worship isn’t doing us any favors. Nor is calling Jesus or God “Lord.” For us to move forward in faith, for us to take a necessary theological step out of spiritual subjugation and into spiritual Oneness, I suggest we might carefully and intentionally reconsider the language we use when we speak about God and when we “do church.”
Changing our Sunday services—or any “church” that we do, from teaching and preaching subjugation, to a more interactive experience of relationship with God energizing us from within, is difficult. Getting people out of the mindset of Jesus dying for our sins is nearly impossible, it’s become so ingrained within Christianity—even though it has nothing to do with Jesus or his message. If we’re going to make spiritual progress, it means most of the old hymns we’ve been using have to be rewritten or trashed (if you happen to have any hymnal around, just randomly open it, and you’ll immediately see what I mean—Nothing but the blood of Jesus? I don’t think so).
Forming a more healthy relationship with God means we need to pay extra attention to the lyrics of hymns or pop songs, to the meaning of prayers and pictures. It means even something like having a “praise and worship” experience is a non-starter because we don’t want to teach people to praise and worship—those are ancient concepts about subjugation. We want to teach people how to relate and connect. Because, as Jesus taught and showed, relating and connecting to God motivates us from within to relate and connect to each other. These are exceptionally different concepts. Relationship creates a movement of non-violence filled with people who have peaceful hearts. Jesus related to people and never subjugated them. In fact, he worked to free people from the spiritual and physical chains that were binding them.
Postmodern Christians need to rethink completely our religious language in the same way we are rethinking the way we understand the nature and person of Jesus and the Christian religion of Paul. For millennia, both have been divested from their Jewish roots. The very language of the Bible is misinterpreted because most people no longer understand those words in their original Jewish context. If progressive Christians understand that Jesus was not a substitutionary atonement for our sinful nature (something never intended by Paul), why do we continue to use language and music that emphasize those very ideas?
My understanding of Jesus, and the gospels written about him, is one of intense, intimate relationship with God, achievable by all of us because we are all made from the same stuff: the very material of God’s being. We’re not fallen beasts; we’re evolving spiritually into the very Oneness from which we were birthed in the first place. We are undergoing a very serious shift in consciousness. Thinking about this sort of relationship with God may indeed fill us with awe—in fact, it will fill us with awe, and perhaps even cause us to think of God in a respectfully worshipful manner. But, we must also be cautious when we speak of worshipping God. Think about your relationship with someone you love deeply. Do you worship them? I hope not, because that’s a huge sign of codependency. Why is it any different if we claim to worship God?
We don’t want a codependent relationship with God. We want a covenant relationship—one of mutual respect, admiration, and trust. I think covenant is much more demanding and difficult than worship. Perhaps this is why the language of religion so often devolves into praise and worship, devaluing our role—and oh-so-subtly our responsibility, in our covenant relationship with God, and through God, with each other.
Meditation: I AM in covenant relationship with all being and accept that responsibility.