A Congregation of Living Sacrifices
Jaclyn Beck '07
“For the worship of God, if it be genuine, is the highest stimulant and preparation for proclaiming the Word of God.”—A.J. Gordon
“Worship is not just music.” This was one of the first things Andene Christopherson said to me when we met to talk about the worship culture at Gordon College. Rather, she cautioned me, and explained that worship first and foremost means “to ascribe worth.”
“All of life is worship,” she said, “but, when we come together for services of worship, God reveals Himself to us, and as a community we respond by giving God His due—we ascribe to Him his worth.”
Andene is the director of worship at the College; she works closely with the Dean of Chapel, Greg Carmer, who oversees the spiritual life and worship on Gordon’s campus and helps to make chapel services a reality. Along with Dean Carmer, Andene works to craft cohesive chapel services that expound on the theme for the semester or topic for the day, inviting Gordon community members to participate in the scripture readings, prayer, or music involved in each service. She supervises a group of students known as the Worship Cabinet, made up of chapel band, catacombs, and dance ministry leaders as well as interns for sacred music and visual arts. Generally, she cares for the overall aesthetics of worship and hopes to help foster a culture of worship on campus.
She also knows exactly what it means to worship, and how to create an environment that cultivates true worship. “We try to encourage students to think in terms of revelation and response,” she said. “Who is God? Let’s thank Him for that. What is it that he’s done for us? Let’s give Him praise for it. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices in response to God’s grace, and that’s why we worship in all of life. We should be continually responding, and we remind each other of that when we come together.”
The Two-Element Model of Worship
A. J. Gordon talks about a two-element model of worship in his book Congregational Worship, and lays it out similar to the way Andene has: preaching (revelation) and worship (response). “The one of these has for its end the adoration of God, and the other the blessing of man,” he wrote. “And yet there need be no comparison made between these duties; since, in the purpose of God, they are so co-related, that if, in our hearts are right, whatever excess of attention we bestow on one accrues inevitably to the honor of the other.”
Then A. J. Gordon likens the preaching and worship relationship to two connected pillars of water that, when water is added to the one, water is also distributed to the other so that they balance each other out. “Thus their perfect equilibrium is maintained, so love to God and love to man run together, and depend upon each other in such way that in a truly devoted service, they constantly tend to mutually increase.”
A Congregation of Living Sacrifices
I asked Andene about the worship culture at Gordon College—what she thought it embodied and where she thought it should be. She brought to my attention the hymn “My Jesus I Love Thee,” which was composed by A. J. Gordon, published in 1876, and is a staple during the College’s chapel services as a way of remembering A. J. Gordon—for whom the Chapel is named after.
Andene also told me the chapel’s spire was designed for an intentional purpose. When the A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel was dedicated in 1993, the school’s administrators wanted to make a visual and aesthetic statement for the entire campus that living lives of worship is the undergirding purpose behind all of Gordon College’s endeavors.
“More than anything though, I think Gordon College wants to be authentic,” she said. “It doesn’t want to do things that feel un-authentic, and I think that’s why we are so diverse in worship expressions. We want to emphasize that attending chapel isn’t more holy than studying but that all these things work together to allow us to offer our lives as living sacrifices.
“It’s important because there isn’t one right way to worship, stylistically speaking,” she continued. “We’re a multi-faceted community that fosters growth and hospitality in the wider world of Christian worship. We don’t think in terms of ‘let’s please everyone,’ we think in terms of ‘let’s help students learn about different styles and liturgy.’ We value the tradition of hymn singing, but we also value a variety. I would love to see a student come to chapel on a day that doesn’t exhibit their style preference, but then purposefully engage in it, grow as a person, learn more about God, and also relate to others.”
The Means to This End
As in all things, A. J. Gordon highlights faith as the underlying principle of true worship: for it to be genuine it must be selfless in nature, and consist solely of looking unto Jesus.
“Worship in its highest form is absolutely self-forgetful,” he wrote. “In perfect vision the eye is unconscious of its sight, and equally unconscious of the limpid atmosphere which is the medium of its sight. It is wholly taken up with the object of its contemplation. And faith, which is the eye of the soul, when it forgets itself, and all its phases and feelings, and is completely absorbed with the person of Jesus, reaches its highest perfection, and hence becomes the truest form of homage to Christ, and of blessing to the worshipper.”
He then goes on to show Christ’s meeting of the woman of Canaan as an illustration for this theory. Grieving over her daughter’s case, the Canaanite woman cries, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David,” and Christ does not answer her with even a single word.
“When, as though having caught a sudden glimpse of his glory as the Lord from Heaven ‘she came and worshipped him saying, Lord help me,’ her faith was almost instantly crowned with its reward,” he wrote. “Her prayer seems not to have found its answer till her faith had passed from mere importunate desire for the help of Christ, to adoring reverence of the person of Christ. And so I think that always there is worship at the heart and core of true faith, an adoring contemplation of the attributes and offices and works and person of God in Jesus Christ. If, therefore, we have the spirit of true worshippers, we shall not come to the house of the Lord merely as beggars asking alms, but as subjects of the King of kings, bringing tribute to our Lord. And if our faith be true, it will turn all the ordinances and appointments of God’s house into means to this end.”
Jaclyn Beck is currently an editor at HCPro, Inc. in Marblehead, MA. She graduated from Gordon College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. She can be reached at jbeck711gmail.com.
Congregational Worship, A. J. Gordon, page 7
Congregational Worship, A. J. Gordon, page 8
Congregational Worship, A. J. Gordon, page 13
Congregational Worship, A. J. Gordon, page 14