Let’s jump into something that may be a bit of a shock to some people.  We do not “invite God’s presence” in worship.

In this I am referring to the now-popular practice in the “praise and worship” movement to say, pray, or sing things like “we invite you here”, “come be with us, O Spirit,” or “you are welcome in this place.”  While perhaps seemingly innocuous at first – expressing, after all, a healthy desire for the presence of God – this can be theologically and doxologically troublesome.  Such invitations espouse a particular theology of worship, and since they originate from a movement of musicians typically with no theological education, one should be very careful about normalizing such prayers.

The idea of inviting God to be with us (in worship or otherwise) fits nicely into image of the domesticated deity of post-modern times.  God is my friend, Jesus is my boyfriend, we’re just generally chummy with the Holy Spirit.  This mentality was an understandable, almost needed, backlash against the dry and distant deity of the modernists, but it is a response of one bad extreme to another bad extreme.  God is both transcendent (or above us) and immanent (among us).  However, Scripture and tradition do not teach us to invite God’s presence in worship, but rather the opposite.

We prepare ourselves to enter into God’s presence. Yes, there is a sense in that he condescends to us, but the primary “motion” of worship is us going to him, approaching the throne or altar of grace (cf. Hebrews 12:22-25)…

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

In accord with this, the wisdom of the liturgical traditions is that we acknowledge our unworthiness, or confess sins, or pray for the Spirit’s purification of our hearts, at the beginning of every worship service.  To “invite God’s presence” is to turn that paradigm around completely, and assumes that we are so worthy of God’s glory among us that he should come under our roof.  At best, that’s ignorance; at worst that’s blasphemous presumption.

Specifically, the Daily Office begins with a sort of exhortation leading to a confession of sin; the Litany begins with pleas to the Holy Trinity for mercy; the Communion service begins with the Collect for Purity and continues with some form of penitential rite.  These devotions and forms teach and remind us that we are not worthy of God’s presence apart from his grace, and that he invites us to worship him.  More than that, it is right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give him thanks and praise, as our Communion Prayers proclaim.

So don’t “just invite your presence this morning” in prayer to God at church… prepare yourself to approach his throne and listen to him.

2 thoughts on “Not Inviting God’s Presence

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