The GOD we worship
No one can escape culture! I hope that we can first agree on this. We can drive or fly anywhere in this world, and just as the gravity brings us back down or keeps us glued to the ground, so will culture be "glued" to us and be all around us.
Since worship and God's revelation go hand in hand—worship being our engagement and response to God’s revelation into our lives— our worship is bound to be cultural. We can only worship that which we understand of God. However, since culture changes over time, so will our comprehension and understanding of God; therefore, both the cultural form and nuance of worship can change over time.
Worship and culture are intrinsically linked in revelation; where culture plays a double role in shaping worship. On one side, culture shapes our common understanding of God’s revelation--thus creating a playground for worship--while on the other, it defines the very notion of worship. We would not know how to define God if culture would not give us language, and could not be able to worship if we would not hold an understanding of what worship is. Culture, thus, is a catalyst and a guide both for understanding God and for responding to Him. Culture is NOT who defines God, it is only a tool God uses to reveal himself to us, and give us a chance to engage him.
Worship has nothing intrinsically good in it! It is simply the engagement of our whole being--"heart, soul and strength"--toward something of obvious importance to us. That engagement is both pursued and defined or shaped by culture. It can move us toward something great or toward something so wrong as to spoil it for all of us. God wants to become THAT which moves us, but he never defines the engagement; culture does that. He may have written to rules of the engagement, may have drawn the lines, but he never colored in between the lines; culture does that. He asks for our heart, soul and strength but works closely with our common understanding of the heart, soul and strength for worship to have meaning to us and become reality in our lives.
God uses culture in worship the same way me and you use air for breathing.
Culture and Worship
How, you would ask, would I put culture above God himself, making cultural understanding of worship above that of the Bible's own?! Isn't God above culture, therefore informing and transforming culture?! Well, I am glad you asked!
First, God is above and beyond culture! Second, the Bible is crucial in defining God, but He is also TOO big for OUR culture to fully understand him!! Read your Bible! Romans 11:33 says: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" Just as He is too big for ONE culture to define him, He is also too big for ANY culture to confine him.
But the Bible does exactly that: it defines God within the boundary of one particular culture. You may say, either I or the Bible is wrong! But what I actually mean is not that God is not defined well because of the inherent boundary any particular culture has to fully understand Him, but that one culture or two, or three can never confine Him. It is my belief that the closest definition of God we can find may be very well found in the sum of God's revelation and consequent cultural worship found in the various forms of worship as a whole. There is only ONE God and ONE Spirit moving through ONE revealed Word, but if God has anything to show for creating so many cultures--and God does not make mistakes--then we can trust that each culture has the capacity to understand and respond to Him, although differently.
God is so interested in getting through to us, in communicating to us, that he limits himself to fit into one culture or another, thus, worship is and can not be any different. The very same way God is using language as a product of the culture in order to communicate/reveal Himself to us, he is also using the culture to bring closer to heart our understanding of worship to our benefit.
Culture is both for us and against us. It is for God and against God. Where culture may be a barrier in understanding God, it is also a tremendous strength in revealing God! Culture and worship play hand in hand in revealing God to a specific generation.
Culturaly meaningful worship
If God is who He says he is, how are we then going to respond to Him? The answer: in a way that is culturally meaningful to us. Thong and chick: if it does not fit, don't try to make it fit! If culture shapes our understanding of God and defines the notion of worship even before the knowledge of God gets to us, then worship has to feel right and meaningful. Make NO mistake! God is God, and he will always be so! What every culture needs is simply to engage and respond to him accordingly.
When it comes to worship, we change not the notion of worship but THAT which we worship; the person we worship. Unless our worship has intrinsic value to us it has little meaning to God no matter how worship-like it may seem to be.
I can recall Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan women at the well. Both, the Jews and the Samaritans thought they were right in their worship—and Jews might have rightly done so—until Jesus says: "true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). He seems to have effectively put on hold their entire worship practice! Right religious practice does not necessarily equal right worship practice.
Religious practice starts when and where worship practice stops being meaningful. Religion is not that which everyone around us seems to practice, but it is worship practice one either does not understand or has grown feign toward in spite of practice involvement. A worship practice can become religious practice when the meaning of the worship practice is lost or changed by the culture around it. That has little to do with our private lives and a lot more with the culture in general.
(To better understand the context of this hub, I highly encourage you to read "Worship wars" and "What is the Bible if not God's revelation" also.)