Worship Diagnosis: Historical Amnesia
Biblical worship is never about me and my worship. Instead, biblical worship is about God and remembering his saving deeds throughout history. One Old Testament passage that lays a foundation for remembrance in our worship is Deuteronomy 6. It is here where God instructs Moses on how to remember:
In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?’ tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders—great and terrible—upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.’ (Deuteronomy 6:20-25)
Later, Peter writes to Christians under persecution encouraging them in their worship and reminding them not to forget all God has done for them:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
In these passages we see there is power for our worship in remembering. When we remember God’s saving deeds, we are inspired to worship him and grow in our spirituality.
The Greek word, anamnesis, literally meaning the drawing near of memory, encapsulates the idea of remembrance perfectly. Anamnesis is not just remembering an event that happened in the past, but drawing it near so as to experience it once again. Just as God is ever present, his past saving events are to be remembered as true for all time. Past, present and future events are always relevant in “God’s time.”
I was watching a television show recently about the shapes of the states of the United States of America. The historian told the host that a specific state has “historical amnesia.” They have forgotten the history of the state and it has affected the way they currently live. That statement got me thinking. I believe the church may have a similar problem. The church has historical amnesia.
There is a danger in not remembering all God has done for us as well as throughout all of history. Nehemiah 9:16-17a states, “But our ancestors acted arrogantly; they became stiff-necked and did not listen to Your commands. They refused to listen and did not remember Your wonders You performed among them. They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.”
We must understand that worship past is connected to worship present. God is faithful and his grace abounds, but our worship is most powerful when we remember God’s mighty acts.
A contemporary praise song written by renowned worship leader Tommy Walker entitled “We Will Remember” (Ó2005 Doulos Publishing) challenges Christ-followers to remember the acts of Christ in our lives and to praise him accordingly. Lyrics such as, “We will remember the works of Your hands; We will stop and give you praise, for great is Thy faithfulness” and “I still remember the day You saved me, the day I heard You call out my name; You said You loved me and would never leave me, and I’ve never been the same” bring to our attention the importance of remembering God’s saving deeds, both historically and personally. The lyrics of the bridge portion of the song, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, to the one from whom all blessings flow; Hallelujah, hallelujah, to the one whose glory has been shown” reiterates that our remembrance of all God has done leads to praise.
Diagnosis: many churches today suffer from historical amnesia.
Prescription: fill times of worship with the remembrance of God’s saving deeds throughout history. Utilize worship elements, patterns and traditions from throughout the history of the church, while encouraging contemporary relevance, in order to bring about authenticity in worship. Most important, utilize Scripture throughout worship. In doing so, we will continually be anchored to the main thing.
Steven is a Worship Pastor and Professor of Worship at Azusa Pacific University. He holds a Doctor of Worship Studies from The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies and lives in Southern California with his wife and two sons. He is the founder of a worship renewal ministry called Worship Quest Ministries (worshipquestministries.com).
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