Lecture 09: Worship in the New Testament (Part 2)
II. John 4
This is one of the key New Testament passages that relates to our point of worship because of Jesus’ very words in 4:23. He says that a time is coming and has now come. This is language in terms of this issue of continuity and discontinuity. This passage is very constructive both about worship in the cooperate sense but also about worship in the lifestyle of the individual. It involves the encounter with the woman of Samaria. Jesus went to Samaria or rather he had to go to Samaria because God had directed him to go. It wasn’t a geographical imperative. There were ways to get around Samaria in the journey to Galilee. Obviously, God had an intention not only for this woman but for her whole village. In fact, Jesus is going to lead his disciples into a surprising time of worship here. This is going to be one of those wonderful episodes in the life of the disciples where they realize that God isn’t only concerned about the Jews but also the Samaritans. So, I think this whole thing was predetermined by God. You could almost say that this was a setup. The disciples were gone when the woman came to the well. His encounter with the woman was one on one. She also gets dis-equal abraded in this experience as well. This is a Jewish rabbi conversing with a Samaritan, a woman. It starts with him asking for a physical drink in verse 7. She is stunned by this, knowing that he is a Jew. Jesus immediately turns the conversation in verse 10 saying, actually, I have come to offer you water. The Lord knows the heart of this woman so well and knows that she is a thirsty woman.
A. Misconception of Worship
Some think that the woman becomes uncomfortable with talking about her marital status. So, when it gets too personal, she wants to talk about theology or about religion. Another question that we may have about this passage. What do we normally think about this woman? What is the norm? The norm is that she has lived a horribly ungodly life. She is a wicked immoral woman. This is based on the fact that she has been through five different husbands; now she is living with a man who isn’t her husband. What is the problem with this interpretation? Who had the power of divorce in the ancient world? It is very unlikely that this woman was casting aside her husband left and right. She had been cast aside and as a woman who has been cast aside so readily, women were basically powerless in that culture. She is now being had by another man, someone who isn’t willing to grant her the privilege of marriage. So, I think it is very unlikely that she was the one who was throwing the men aside. It was as likely to say that this woman had been beat up and bruised in life being a deeply wounded woman. She was also certainly a spiritual and thirsty woman. I don’t think there was a change in subject in verse 19. I think this was exactly where the conversation was headed all along. This was the setup that was underway; it was a divinely directed conversation. He is offered water, he is offering spiritual nourishment for her soul. She has had this question in her heart obviously; she wants to know where she can go to meet God?
B. Misconception of God – God is Spirit
She is familiar with the traditions of her fathers who had worshiped on that mountain, Mt Garrison for the Samaritans. But you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus replied, believe me woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem. This is a hint about discontinuity; something is about to change. Then in verse 22, you Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know for salvation is from the Jews. We made the point that the Samaritans had limited revelation because they had rejected some of the Scriptures and some of the teachings that were offered to them. Jesus then said, we worship what we know for salvation is from the Jews. This can be very startling if we we let it be that way. Interestingly, since sometimes the Gospel is claimed to be antisemitic, yet here Jesus is plainly identifying himself with the Jews saying we Jews worship what we know. If we are not careful, we can miss the Jewishness of Jesus sometimes in our reading of Scripture. He says that salvation is from the Jews. Yet in that debate between Mt Garrison and Jerusalem with the temple in Jerusalem being the authentic temple. Yet, a time is coming and indeed it has already come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. They are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. There will no longer be an issue in regards to where to worship. This new experience is being inaugurated in his person and because he is already present, the inauguration is underway. But it will not be completely fulfilled until the curtain of the temple is torn into two from top to bottom and even beyond that, there will be his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. It will be Pentecost. When the Spirit of God is poured out, that is when these things will really be fulfilled. You hear this later in John’s Gospel in John 14 when Jesus is talking to the disciples about it, as it will be advantageous to them that he departs. For when he leaves the Father will send the Holy Spirit. You know him for he has been with you but he shall be in you.
C. Spiritual Worship According to his Revelation of Truth
The Day of Pentecost will change everything. So, it is already being inaugurated and it is already true. God has always been Spirit and he has desired worship outside of established places. Remember, Solomon already knew the reality that God filled heaven and earth. So, there are some things that are unchanging and yet through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the experience of Pentecost, it will be radical true now that we have access to the Father continually in the right place for every place will be the right place for worship and every time will be the right time. Amazingly, more plainly that anywhere else in the Gospels, he confirms that it was him; he said this to the woman of Samaria. She has a misconception about worship; to her it is for a time and place. Her misconception is rooted in a misconception about God. To correct this, Jesus correct her misconception about God. He does this by saying that God is Spirit. If God were physically bound in an image, then it would be a right place for worship. If he were an idol built by hands of men then wherever that idol lives would be the place for worship. But since God is Spirit, the right place for worship is every place and the day is coming through the person of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to enter into that completely and fully. Ultimately, the Living Waters that he offers relates back to the idea of worship itself. Worship is that access to the presence of the Lord. Some will interpret worship in Spirit and in Truth as Spirit with a capital S and perhaps of the Bible versions have this. This isn’t indicative in the Greek or it is simply an interpretative thing to do this. I don’t doubt in any sense that we worship through the Holy Spirit. There is no question about that. I think the context here isn’t worship in Spirit as capital S but small s. So, this doesn’t mean that I worship in the Holy Spirit, although that is a truth. That isn’t true for this text; a case for the right doctrine with the wrong text perhaps. Our worship must be spiritual, not physical. It must correspond to the reality of who God is. Since God is Spirit, not a physical being, our worship must be in Spirit and truth. It must be according to the Revelation that God has given of himself.
III. Invitation into the Life of God
Now we are invited to access the Father at all times and all places because of what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. So, worship is an invitation into the very life of God. This is related not only to John 4 but all references to Living Water and to life in the Gospel of John especially.
IV. Christocentric Focus
There is a Christocentric focus on appropriate worship in the New Testament. Christ is our great sacrifice, our high priest; he is the true worship leader as Hebrews points out to us. When we speak about worship in terms of revelation and response, Torrance’s point, I think it is primarily on the response level. Jesus has made this response for us. The response of sacrifice and of the high priest. I think we can also say that Jesus needs to be the center of our worship because of revelation. If it is the deepest and clearest most faithful revelation of the unseen God and the New Testament makes that clear everywhere, then our worship experience needs to be Christocentric. We need to have Christ at the very center of our preaching, our teaching and also when the sacraments are involved in the worship. Hebrews 1:2-3, if Christ is the ultimate revelation of the Father, then in designing the worship experiences rich with revelation, he has to be central in our thinking. In him, the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form. So, we need to have him as central. We see in Romans 12:1, in view of God’s mercy, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. That mercy is primarily revealed in the person and work of Jesus. So, we do well to celebrate his death and his resurrection.
V. Role of the Holy Spirit
We have a great emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament in terms of our worship. There is always a Christocentric worship to our worship which is trinitarian but not brinitarian. Worship involves the person, presence, prompting and the power of the Spirit. He is very much a leader of worship and very much involved in the worship in the New Testament. We can think in a number of ways. We saw the passage in 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18; the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. This is the passage that talks about changing from glory to glory as we reflect the Lord’s glory by the Spirit. So, the Spirit’s presence in our worship is transformative. It also means that there may be transforming power through the Spirit’s present. There is also the whole gifting that is useful in our worship experience. 1 Corinthians 14:26, when you come together, each of you bring something to the experience. Here, a hymn is mentioned, a tongue and an interpretation and/or a prophecy. Where do all these things come from? They come from the indwelling Spirit of God who is in us. Some of these gifts are used for worship itself. The Spirit comes and according to the Corinthians passage, he may surprise us in our worship experiences. The Spirit moves where he wants to move (John 3) and the Spirit does as he will. But it will always be to the glory of God, the Father and the Son. Even if the Spirit does move in fresh and spontaneous ways, it will never be in a way that is ultimately Spirit glorifying. It will be God-glorifying in the trinitarian sense and will uniquely bring glory to Jesus, even as Jesus says that he will bring glory to the Father. Even these surprising works of the Spirit, will always be done in a way that could be described as decently and in order.
So, you have this interesting mix in the Corinthian passage, especially chapters 12 and 14 where you get the idea that the Spirit could prompt someone to get up and speak and it could be instant and spontaneous. But what is done would never be done recklessly. And the Spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. So, if you are in an experience where someone is having an ecstatic experience and claim that they can’t control themselves, something is amiss with what Paul plainly says in the Scripture. It can be spontaneous and surprising but directed by the Holy Spirit. A variety of gifts would be present. One of the other key features here that is coming from this is the priesthood of all believers. Everybody has something to contribute and we all have drunk of the same Spirit. Therefore, it isn’t a case where one person is acting on our behalf and we are passively receiving that; we all enter into the priesthood of Christ.
VI. Leader of Worship
A. Jesus is the True Leader
In the New Testament sense, ultimately, the leader of New Testament worship is Jesus, himself. He is the one who has gone before us and offered the one true sacrifice. Does that mean there is no space for human leadership in worship? No, I don’t so; Hebrews 13 speaks about treating those who lead us well in the church. Part of the leadership role would be leading in the setting of worship. This would be like talking about the one true teacher and multiple teachers in the church. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and we need to constantly affirm that. There are also human teachers: pastors teach and elders teach and other gifted people with the Holy Spirit teach. Even though there is one true teacher, he teaches through human teachers. We could point to a Scripture like Galatians 4 that talks about the Spirit of God being sent into our spirits and teaches our hearts to cry Abba, Father. There is the sense where the Spirit enables us to teach. We only understand by the Spirit and we are only able to respond by the Spirit. There is a sense where Jesus is the true leader of worship, but it would also be appropriate to call the Spirit a leader in the same way we would speak about human leaders. Human leaders will lead us and if they are doing well, they will lead us more deeply into the experience of real worship. It would certainly be true that the Spirit is doing this. We can’t worship apart from the leading, guiding and assisting of the Spirit of God. We shouldn’t get too hung up on terminology here, but the major point is not to get offended by using language as the worship leader. That would be very offensive to them. This is the reality but it doesn’t mean there is no experienced human agency or leadership in the church. It isn’t an either/or but instead a both/and; so, we need to acknowledge the role of the Spirit in our worship.
B. Pastors, Ushers, etc.
Think about some of the human leaders in worship. We would say that there is one teacher and also many teachers. So, who in the church are appropriately called leaders of worship? In popular language today, most of the time worship leaders are really song leaders. A pastor would certainly be a worship leader. When the pastor opens the Word of God and leads us into the presence of the Lord through the Word of God. This is leading and worship. So, the music leaders aren’t the only worship leaders. Those who lead in any of the elements of the worship service from the liturgy or those who do Scripture reading. All of these people are leading us in worship. Sometimes the language used, would be assisting in worship. Ushers are also worship leaders and my hope would be, that either we don’t use the phrase worship leaders unless we use it as applying to everybody who is leading us in worship.
C. Not Limited to Music
Either we leave it to Jesus alone and we all become assistants. But if we use the phrase worship leaders, let’s don’t just use it for the musicians. Let’s use it for the ushers, those who read the Scriptures and for the preacher. Again, language is important and, in this case, using the phrase, worship leaders; this will become a miscaption where worship just equals songs. So, I would rather be a little broader in understanding this phrase or a little more particular. What other phrases can we use for describing the music team? Perhaps, praise leader might be more helpful, ideally the songs we sing will not only be songs of praise. There will be songs of lament. But, perhaps, praise leader is a little closer than worship leader. The big picture of worship, even when we are gathered together, worship is more than the music. So, it could be praise leaders, song leaders or music leaders; any of these would be helpful. This may involve changing some of the culture of the church, but that sort of thing is always difficult to do.
VII. Saint Mary of the Feet – Sister of Martha
Key New Testament passages would include 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18. One of my favorite New Testament characters would be Mary, the sister of Martha. Mary, the sister of Martha, shows up in the Scriptures several times and she is always at the feet of Jesus. In Luke 10, she was at the feet of Jesus when Martha was busy serving. Mary is given the privilege of sitting in on the meeting like the disciples as Jesus teaches. She is also at the feet in John 11 when Jesus comes to their home in Bethany because Lazarus is dead. After the conversation of Jesus and Martha, Mary comes to Jesus and throws herself at his feet once again and pleads on behalf of her brother. Then when Lazarus is raised from the dead, again, Mary is at the feet of Jesus at John 12. Now, she is anointing the feet of Jesus with her precious and expensive and elaborate sacrifice. Saint Mary of the Feet is a great model for me. In John 11, worship rightly asks God for things that we need as Mary does with her brother Lazarus. In Luke 10, worship sits and listens and enjoys the presence of the Lord. In John 12, worship is lavished and extravagant and determines that God is worth it, even if no one else understands.
We would certainly add the whole book of Hebrews to the mix. Everything is about Jesus being better than the worship in the Old Testament.
This has often been seen as an entire book devoted to the subject of worship. What are some of these themes that reveal the nature of worship to us?
A. All Nations
In Revelation 7:9-10 and also Revelation 5:9 as well, we see that the same thing is repeated; it represents a bigger glimpse culturally and also racially, but not radically different from what God has already intended. It is the fulfillment of what had already been promised in the Old Testament. When we are called into worship, we are called into something much greater than ourselves. We need to help our people understand this. I love to get global glimpses to the people in worship. I think that it is exciting in trying to expand the horizons no matter where you are worshipping. People need to see and understand what it will be like in heaven. Culturally, ethnically, nationally and racially, how can we provide a larger glimpse of what worship is about? How can we help people understand that this is the reality, the real thing that will dominate worship for all eternity, unlike what we may be experiencing here on earth? We could allow others to come in and hear this from other churches, even those who might want to challenge some of our perceptions. We could do this through a sister congregation, sharing with one another. We could have songs from other cultures. In visiting churches in other parts of the world, we are not surprised to hear this. We are not often willing and in anguish to learn songs from other cultures and translate them into English and bring them over into our culture. This is one key theme in revelation.
B. Song of Salvation and Praise
Back to Revelation 7:9-10, what is the song that the multitude will sing forever and ever? The song of salvation, or Salvation Belongs to Our God; this becomes a huge theme in the Book of Revelation; this is the song of eternity. This is a song of salvation and praise to God for what he has done in Christ. The Lamb of God is a key figure in the praise and all praise for our salvation is to God. None of it is to us. In spite of God coming near us through the incarnation, God’s holiness has not diminished. He is still as holy as he ever was. We are often guilty of snobbery in our worship and we have to watch out for this especially in the contemporary worship movement. We think that if the song is more than five years old, it is too old. Last year in this class, a person wrote a paper on a church worship service saying that their songs were combined with old and new; the old being early nineties! We don’t have to have new songs continually in our singing; sometimes people justify this by quoting the Psalm ‘sing unto the Lord a new song.’ This is using a three-thousand-year-old Psalm to demonstrate contemporary relevance. We talked about stretching people culturally; how can we stretch people chronologically to let them see that worship is more than just me and Jesus right here now? We need to consider children as we often brush them easily aside as well as the elderly. When we think about issues of access and accessibility, this is one of the issues that we need to confront. Often, older members in any given congregation can feel alienated. They don’t understand the songs and can’t even follow the songs because there is no music for them to follow.
C. God’s Holiness
So just imagine the problems that are created sometimes when a church decides to change their worship style. We need to remind ourselves that we are part of an ancient movement, not something that is cutting edge and contemporary. Sure, there is room for the latest and greatest and the best, but there is something very distinctive about entering into something as ancient as the church worship scene. I was very struck by this word from Jesus to the Sadducees. When they confronted him in Matthew 22 about questions for the purpose of trapping him. They had questions about the resurrection when they didn’t even believe in the resurrection. Jesus told them that they didn’t understand; God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living. When we bring in elements from the Scriptures and also from the history of the church along with ancient creeds and confessions and hymns, this is helpful for young people to be reminded of what the church is about. In regards to cultural relevance; this is a key concern here. Some of the critics of contemporary worship; the real criticism is cultural. It isn’t the culture that they are used to as it reflects another culture than their own. This is reality; so, sometimes, what we think is traditional is simply a cultural comfort zone. We always need to find a balance; it is appropriate to be culturally relevant. It is also appropriate to find ways that will help in any given culture. It is deeply challenging.
For worship, I think we sometimes develop a heart language. It is like a bilingual person who knows two or more languages, but there is something that never replaces worship in their mother tongues. They can sing the words, but it doesn’t quite penetrate the same way. So, in developing this heart
language, we need to understand in any given culture, the language that really connects. The language that helps them to access the Living God and understand that they can commune with the Living God. Yet, people need to be stretched, but there is always something that will be cultural appropriative.
D. Part of a Larger Movement
In days gone by, it was the missionary problem that culture was exported along with the Gospel, western cultural language was often was forced upon them. We need to be honest with ourselves and understand what is going on with the shortcomings of this cross-cultural language or lack thereof. Sometimes, I lead the worship and praise service at a certain college and with the youth, I led a worship time around Isaiah 6. I had the whole chapel that day. We sang holy, holy, holy with piano and guitar, but others criticized in saying that you had to have an organ to sing that. I remembered the day before I led that worship, I had sat with a bunch of young people with two guitars singing the same song. The students said in their present cultural reality, the organ communicates something different to the younger worshipers than older worshipers. To them, it communicated an alienation that wasn’t holiness, but a different kind of alienation. So, cultural relevance is important. A little maxim that I often use; meet me where I am and help me go where I need to go. I use this in Christian Education a lot. It’s very important in terms of worship. In regards to people, if we meet them where they are at in order to bring them into the presence of God, then cultural relevance is really magnified. As we grow together in community, part of the things that we are growing toward is the understanding that we are part of something bigger than just you and me and Jesus. That means stretching cultural comfort zones. When I was in the Lutheran seminary, I would read through some of the hymns which were just wonderful but absolutely unsingable. They were unsingable hymns, yet those words would be very powerful using another tune. Yes, it is good to stretch a little, but it’s not as important in stretching to something you just can’t understand.
Even though, we need this connection and exposure, it will never connect with our heart language. It is more important to have the respect, connection, and understanding with them. But it doesn’t have to mean that I have to be amerced in their style. How far can I go in regards to what is culturally appropriate for people to truly worship God. That is what we are after. We are asking people to meet God in a spirit of truth. There is some stretching that can be done, but even there, the stretching means awareness of cultures and preparation for the fact that this is our eternal destiny. We need to be aware of what happened in ages past but it doesn’t mean that we have to relive those ages past. It doesn’t mean that I have to put myself into the midst of another cultural experience which will be foreign and alien to me. In regards to theology, this should be transcultural and trans chronological. We can profit from the creeds and confessions; but even in that, there is a continual re-articulation. The style issues have to be secondary. This one element in leading worship is an area that I would want to address. Leading worship is usually bigger than we take it to be. I wish we could find ways to carefully combine thoughtful preparation with the openness in the New Testament. There is openness when the Spirit of God wants to lead in a certain direction and we should be flexible enough to do this. One such conference that Frame talks about, where they sang, I love you Lord for about twenty minutes. He made the point that it was wonderful and powerful. It seemed to have been one of those moments where everyone became committed.
E. Triumph of God
He wins in the end. This is a key theme in our worship; we remind ourselves of the reign of God. Even in spite of evidence to the contrary. We know that it is true. We saw this in Psalm 73. My present experience, the righteous is getting the difficult end of the deal and the wicked are prospering. However, worship reminds me of the reality. Nothing escapes the notice of God and no sin escapes the judgment of God. God is enthroned and will ever be enthroned. The Psalms proclaim this and revelation is the ultimate consummation of this and we get to enter into that. He wins.
F. Celebrating the First Coming of Christ
The two dominant themes: the first coming of Christ is celebrated, especially as it focuses on the Cross event. It is called the Cross event because it included the complex death and resurrection along with his ascension.
G. Looking Forward to the Second Coming
His second coming is also a key theme in revelation as the ultimate triumph of God.
H. Praying, Come, Lord Jesus!
Revelation teaches us to pray, Come Lord Jesus and this becomes another dominant theme in our worship. This is the last prayer that Revelation teaches us. So, we live between these two comings and pray and anticipate his coming. This theme is picked up elsewhere in the new testament. Peter says that as you look forward to that day, what king of life should you live? Jesus taught us to pray, Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our worship should be focused on his first coming and his final coming and prayerfully interceding in the meantime.