Defining Worship (Part 5): Returning to “biblical” worship

This is kind of an incomplete post because it only describes a question. I don’t have the answers yet from the parties involved.

Throughout the years, Christian leaders have tried to reform what they see as digressions in the practice of worship. These are honest Jesus-loving, God-fearing, bible-reading people. So they say, OK, enough of this! We are going to throw all our preconceived ideas about worship out the window and figure out what God, Jehovah, the self-existent one really wants.

It’s interesting to see what happens then. I have two examples of this very thing happening locally with two local congregations: Living Faith Fellowship, a non-denominational charismatic church led by Karl Barden and Christ Church, an Evangelical Free turned Reformed congregation let by Doug Wilson. The similarities in the congregations are amazingly parrallel. Both were started about the same year in the early 70s just a few miles from each other. Both grew to a congregation of several hundred before the pastor introduced their worship reforms. This happened mid 80s to early 90s.

Both pastors were uncomfortable with traditional evangelical worship. What did it look like? A mix of older hymns and some new (typically Maranatha) style praise choruses. Both of them decided to retreat into the scriptures and figure out what they really SHOULD be doing. Both focussed a lot on the psalms.

Both were in such similar circumstances and set out to do the same thing…and came to remarkably different conclusions!

Barden decided that we need to DO all the things the psalms talk about when they describe the worship of God. We need to dance and twirl in worship, we need to have lots of musical instruments, cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets and all that. We need to have banners and streamers and all these other things that are described in bible.

Wilson decided that we need to sing the psalms. All of them. Verbatim. The ones of praise, the ones of lament, and the ones of imprecation (asking God to smite your enemies). Sometimes set to composed music, sometimes chanted.

And both set out to do just that, confident that they were ensuring their worship of the Lord was going to be very biblical indeed. I would really like to interview Barden (now retired and living near Seattle?) and Wilson about this point and get their reaction about this trying so hard to be biblical and coming up with such different conclusions.

I respect both of these men and what they came up with. It’s an angle I would like to explore more as I continue to define worship.

Defining Worship (Part 4): When the scripture is vague

I sat down in Ball and Cross Books the other day to look through their supply of Christian reference books. I probably could have done better at a library, but none of the libraries I know have really good coffee only 20 yards away. In this case, it’s via Bucer’s Coffeehouse Pub.

Anyway, first I picked up Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary, to see what they had to say about worship.

Answer: Nothing!

Really. It wasn’t in there. It’s a very thick book with lots of bible words, but apparently he didn’t want to tackle this one. Hmmm.

William Wison in his Old Testament Word Studies comments:

…of the hebrew word, to fall down in worship, yet the meaning does not seem to be confined to the act of prostration, but to imply all profound adoration. (emphasis mine)

Right, it SEEMS to just about everyone to mean more than prostration, but you won’t find that in the text.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church has it hashed out a bit more.
From section 2135:

“You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises are vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment.

So it’s the inside act/feeling of adoration, along with prayer in general, give him honor (not defined here), fulfilling vows (interesting), and a catch-all of “acts of the virtue of religion”, which I think would include giving to the poor, and even raising Godly children. This definition fits nicely with my “worship is a pretty big box” idea that I discussed in the first post. I like this definition a lot. It starts inside and works it’s way outside. All of it is worship, but maybe the first things on the list more so than the latter things.

Next I went to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. He briefly goes through the same word study I went through myself last week, coming to the same conclusions about how the word means to bow down. He does include this interesting note:

The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deed done in such acknowledgment. (emphasis mine)

Well no kidding it’s not defined! 66 books of religious law, history, and spiritual instruction and nowhere is a clear explanation of what worship to the one true God looks like. I think this is something some people don’t want to admit. When they read the bible, they see it describing the kind of worship they happen to already participate in. Our temptation is to fashion our interpretation of scripture into support for our own traditions. If we do that, all we have to do is mess with the words a bit and we’re doing it “right”! We don’t have to actually change what were are doing or rethink our actions. How convenient.

But what do you do when something really is vague in the bible? Since so many things in the Bible are so clearly addressed again and again, (such as sexual purity, money, and mercy), I think it really stands out that worship isn’t defined for us. I think God must have done that for a reason. Maybe he wants us to fill in the blanks with our own creativity and imagination. If he really wanted it a certain way, I think he would have communicated that to us. So maybe there is nothing wrong with your traditions and the way you’re doing it. Or maybe there is. I think there is value in examining the bible and asking, “Do we worship this way because somebody 500 years ago someone was trying to obey the bible and did it that way? Or are we worshipping this way because the youth pastor saw it on MTV last week?”

Some tradition that started out as a very good thing can be distorted over the years. Some things that may be new could be completely legitimate. Some things that may seem new might not actually be so new. (There is nothing new under the sun.) So scripture is vague about worship. Alright, so read what is there the best you can. Don’t neglect to examen history. Hundreds of generations of Christians before you can’t all be wrong. Examen your heart. Put the goal of honoring God in the forefront and make the best informed decision you can.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to worship AND continue to “be informed”. Until the next segment…

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Defining Worship (Part 3): Bowing to the Greek and Hebrew

Alright, so the bible talks all about worship right? The word shows up hundreds of times. What did it mean to the apostles and patriarchs? This is a quick word study done using the Strongs concordance and KJV bible. I’m sure an exhaustive study would be beneficial, but I write these posts on my lunch break and only have about 45 minutes. I think I have enough to go off of. I was surprised by what I found.

Let’s start with the OT:

Abraham worshipping with Isaiac on Mt. Horeb (Gen 22:5)
“Thou shalt worship no other God, for the Lord thy God is a Jealous God…” (Ex 34:14)
“All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name.” (Psalm 66:4)

Virtually every time it appears, it is the Hebrew word Shachah – to bow down or prostrate oneself.
It’s used 100 times as “worship” and ~50 times as bow or stoop.

There is no idea of paying homage to deiety, singing songs, doing something ceremonial or ANY of the other activities we typically associate with worship. It is literally physically bowing down. Now bowing down probably implies that other things are going on (in the heart), or that other things may be going on around you. But the word means to get on your knees or face. That’s it.

The book of Daniel was originally in Aramaic, not Hebrew, so we get a little bit different word there:

“Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image” (Daniel 3:10)

The word is C@gid – to prostrate oneself, do homage, worship.
Used 12 times as worship

There it is again. To bow down. Worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue consisted entirely of physically bowing down in front of or toward it. Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego just had to stay standing up to get the death sentence.

Alright, what does the New Testament have to say?
I was surprised to discover that the word worship doesn’t actually show up very much in the NT at all.
Here are some examples:

“We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him…” – Says the wise men in Matthew 2:2.

And now for the most quoted verse on worship in the whole Bible:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

There is also magnificent imagery of worship in heaven:
“The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, holy, holy…” – Revelation 4:10

All of these are instances of the Greek word Proskuneo. Used 60 times, it means:

to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence,
among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence,
in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication

So it’s definitely more defined in the NT. Other physical actions such as kissing the hand could be described. My guess is that this is a cultural difference. Maybe more southern-Europe than middle-east. Also, the idea that you are doing it to pay homage or show reverence IS wrapped into the definition this time. It’s not JUST bowing, as if you may be just tying your shoe.

Another word for worship, used only 6 times is the Greek Sebomai meaning to revere, to worship.
This time, no physical action is being described.

“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt 15:9)

And finally, Paul uses the Greek word Latreuo in about 3 places where it gets translated to mean worship in English. Most of the time, the word gets translated as “service”. This one is by far the most descriptive and the closest to what we think of as religious worship or litergy. Example:

For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Philipians 3:3)

The definition is:

1. to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen
2. in the NT, to render religious service or homage, to worship
3. to perform sacred services, to offer gifts, to worship God in the observance of the rites instituted for his worship
4. of priests, to officiate, to discharge the sacred office

I think this word must have been used (not in the Bible) to talk about worshipping other gods. It’s the OT that has all the complicated temple rituals, sacrifices, offerings and rites. The NT doesn’t have any priests. There are rites such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that I guess could be included in here.

My conclusion? I’ve been to a lot of churches that claim their worship is “biblical”. OK, so maybe what they are doing is. That’s great. One thing I take away from this word study though is this: If you’re worship doesn’t SOMEHOW include physically bowing down, then I don’t think you can argue that it’s all that “biblical”.

The high church liturgies often involve kneeling down during certain prayers, etc. Cool. Pentecostals often kneel down and even lay on their faces. Maybe that doesn’t float your boat, but there is a TON of biblical support (in both the old and new testaments) for doing just that! I grew up in a Baptist church and had never bowed or knelt in worship until I came to college and saw other people doing it at a charismatic gathering.

I’m curious of how the word worship has evolved over the years from meaning ONLY bowing down to the fairly broad concept where bowing down is an optional activity that comes several bullet points after “singing”. I think the word “praise” (which I’ve completely skipped over up until this point) must be wrapped up in all of this too.

Conclusion for today: Bowing down before God is a physical action we can do that is most certainly worship to him. Let’s do it, eh?

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Defining Worship (Part 2): Dictionaries, love, and action.

It is curious to look at what professional lexicographers have to say about worship, without necessarily attaching things to their own tradition.

From the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2006) via

1. reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
2. formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage: They attended worship this morning.
3. adoring reverence or regard: excessive worship of business success.
4. the object of adoring reverence or regard.
6. to render religious reverence and homage to.
7. to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).

I think it is interesting here is #7. Feelings of adoration, but not necessarily tied to action. The others deal more with the external object. You revere God and SO you do something like proclaim it or participate in a formal ceremony honoring him. So, are you really worshipping if there is not visible outward action? If I love coffee, but never drink any, do I still love it? Well, I think the answer is yes. However, when you try to apply this same idea to religious works, things can get a bit sticky. If you love Jesus, but don’t turn from your sin and call him Lord, do you really love him? Our salvation is by grace alone, (HIS work), but it also implies action on our part (repentance). Theologians can bat this around the park all day. I think I’ll go get a hot dog.

Back to worship. How much is our worship to the Lord an outside action – something physical and tangible like the song we are singing, the candle we are burning, the the sacrifice on the altar, the bending of our knees? How much of it is what goes on inside us – our hearts loving, our emotions captured, our minds meditating on? One could say that they are just two components of worship: the internal and external. That’s pretty straight forward. Or you could say that what goes on inside is the source and it overflows as action with our bodies. So if you sing a worship song, but don’t “mean it” inside, is it really worship? I think most people would say no. (I say no too.) So if you don’t give a rip about Jesus, but go through the motions of a worship service, does this please God? I really doubt it. What if you feel love for God on the outside, but you never do anything (formal or informal) to render praise in a way that another human being would recognize? Probably not worship either. You could say, “Well, that is pointless, since if it was really in the heart, then it MUST come out somehow. Even if just a little bit. So there is not worship that is JUST inside.” I think I’ll say that too.

I would just like to add, that we should be careful to judge how worshipful someone is by looking on the outside. That’s what WE see, but the Lord looks at the heart. Someone may seem on the outside to not be worshipping very much or in a very potent way, maybe just kneeling in prayer. Another may be making quite an elaborate show, maybe singing and dancing and shouting or leading an elaborate ceremony with candles, robes, incense, and sophisticated music. Both may be worshiping with lots of energy and God may be pleased to receive it. But the Lord looks at the heart.

I like how the American Heritage dictionary brings “love” into the mix:

1. The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
2. The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed.

So here, it is first the source, or feeling and then number 2 is the outward action. I think this definition is a lot more useful than the first one I looked at.

The Princeton dictionary (via WordNet) has a distinctly non-Christian feel to it:

1. the activity of worshipping
2. a feeling of profound love and admiration

1. love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol; “Many teenagers idolized the Beatles” [syn: idolize]
2. show devotion to (a deity); “Many Hindus worship Shiva”
3. attend religious services; “They worship in the traditional manner”

Why is this a non-Christian definition? It’s not just that Shiva is given as an example. Whatever. Look a little closer. The activity comes first. The metaphysical is given as secondary. Notice how in the verb it is simply “attending” worship services. All you have to do is show up. Finally, the first example of the verb given implies that when worshipping, you don’t question what you are doing, have not thought critically about it, and are doing it in excess. So a rock-band doesn’t deserve this kind of devotion, but I believe the author of this entry doesn’t think any god deserves it either.

For the flip side, let’s take a look at the classic Webster’s 1828:

4. Chiefly and eminently, the act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being; or the reverence and homage paid to him in religious exercises, consisting in adoration, confession, prayer, thanksgiving and the like.
(The worship of God is an eminent part of religion. Prayer is a chief part of religious worship.)
5. The homage paid to idols or false gods by pagans; as the worship or Isis.
6. Honor; respect; civil deference.
(Then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. Luke 14.)
7. Idolatry of lovers; obsequious or submissive respect.verb
1. To adore; to pay divine honors to; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration. (Thou shalt worship no other God. Exodus 34.)
2. To respect; to honor; to treat with civil reverence.
3. To honor with extravagant love and extreme submission; as a lover.

Webster spends the first three sections (not shown) on the archaic definitions that we don’t use anymore (meaning worthiness, or the title of a certain British magistrate). Then he jumps into the actions, even giving specific examples. He ties outside worship to being a key component of religion. He also contrasts it with worship paid to things that don’t deserve it (idols and human lovers). In the verb though, I don’t think he is qualifying the love component. The love can be towards God too, but he would have thought “reverence” was a better word for what we feel toward Jesus. I like this one a lot!

I’m sure this could be explored a little more, but that’s all I have time for today.

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Defining Worship (Part 1): How large is the box?

I drew this picture a while back when you couldn’t go to an evangelical church service without hearing someone trying to cover Matt Redman or Delirious. Come to think of it, maybe you still can’t. Now I like that stuff just fine, but I couldn’t help but think about how it’s just a drop in an ocean of music. I’ve spoken with young Christians who have actually had no exposure to any other kind of worship service. Whoa. When I look at the patterns of worship in the Old Testament, I don’t even see a whole lot of music. Worship must be much larger than that!

On the other hand, you can’t make worship TOO large or it loses all of its meaning. I’ve heard some people say that our whole lives should be a worship unto the Lord. Well, sure, I agree with that, but the word is now of no use anymore. Standing and singing a hymn of adoration to Jesus has GOT to be more worshipful than eating my breakfast cereal in the morning or the word has no potency.

So how large is the box above? What about the relative size of the music circle? This is one angle I hope to explore. I think I’m safe in saying that the little blue blip is the right size though! Now crank up that Vineyard-covering-Redman-covering-Martin Smith on “Did you feel the mountains tremble?” and get back to work!