Lecture 02: Worship (Part 2)
Lecture: Worship (Part 2)
IV. Biblical terms for worship
One thing to keep in mind as we are planning worship experiences; one of the fundamental features in designing a worship experience is how would the various elements either enhance or clarify revelation that we receive from God. I am not saying that we offer new revelation during our worship experience; there are some theological problems with such a view. In Hebrews 1, in the past, God spoke to us in various ways and times through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his son. And his Son is an exact representation of the invisible God. Everything was perfectly revealed in the Son. The New Testament completes the exposition of that revelation. So, we are talking about clarity and faithful presentation of that revelation. So, how does the various features of the worship elements that we design help to clarify and portray some of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures, and how do the elements of the worship assist people in faithful and obedient response? These should be big features in our thinking. Each element should contribute to one or both of these aspects.
There are two key concepts that come from terminology for worship. These concepts include bowing down and serving. So, this is bowing down or prostrating oneself before the Lord. In the Old Testament, we have the word Shachah for bowing down and the ‘avad which has to do with service. They are picked up in the New Testament in Greek as Proskuneo for bowing down and Latreuo for service. There are other words we will see as we go through the testaments. Worship is often portrayed in these kinds of languages. It is bowing down before the Lord and submission of our whole being toward the Lord and worship as service before the Lord. In Romans 12:1 in presenting your bodies as a sacrifice for this; it is your spiritual act of worship. When we think about worship in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the central word for worship is this word and bowing down. It is a physical word and so many of the original Hebrew words for worship are physical in their root meanings.
What would it mean to bow down? What kind of response would this entail? It would include submission and humility which are captured by this. It is total surrender and total submission; surrendering of all control. How would you put these two concepts together? I willingly serve because I understand who you are and who I am. In thinking about someone who is in service to God but they haven’t actually bowed their being before God. Someone winds up serving with serving being an act of arrogance and defiance. Paul called himself the bondslave of the Lord and his service flowed out of that. One Scripture that comes to mind is where Paul uses the word bond-slave to describe a fellow bond-slave in Colossians 1:7. He says the Gospel is bearing fruit all over the world and you learned about it from Ephesus. Our dear fellow service who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf. Well, the NIV doesn’t do very good justice here. The first word is Doulos; that is the bond-slave idea. It might be better to say that you learned it from Ephesus our dear fellow bond-slave who is a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. So, there is a link between these two ideas. He is a bond-slave and from that identity comes a willingness to serve. Back to Mary again; I am the Lord’s, may it be done according to your will. I think these two concepts go together very nicely. They are two aspects of the fundamental response that God wants from us.
V. Definitions of Worship
From the points that we have made so far, let me offer a couple of definitions that I like to work with. One definition is in regards to this concept of bowing down directly. Worship is the bowing down of all that we are before all that God is. Built into this are the two words: revelation and response. So, it is all that God is, is what all that we are. I am kind of using the concept of Shacharh in Deuteronomy 6:4-5; this is language from the Old Testament. A student looked at this from another class and said if that is the definition of worship, none of us worship. In reality, none of us are bowing all that we are before all that God is. None of us have a clear understanding of all that he is. Perhaps this is the ideal concept of worship, but we don’t want to lower the requirements of worship or to put it another way, to lower the bar. So, this is what worship ought to be. Another definition that doesn’t use the word bowing down exactly would be in regards to our faithful response to God’s grace and that is revelation. This is a more generic kind of definition perhaps. Yesterday, you sort of filled this idea out with some examples. I don’t know if we will ever get a handle on a perfect definition, but for me, the critical points are revelation and response. The critical features of the response are the bowing down of all that we are.
VI. Worship requires participation; it is not a "spectator sport"
A. Watching Worship
Worship requires participation; it is no spectator sport. When the Bible describes worship, because it involves revelation and response, it goes beyond just watching. Passive observation is completely contrary to worship. So, if we are limited to only revelation and understanding the things of God without response that was active participatory, then we would not be faithful in worship. In pastoring in an American/Korean church, I was surprised by a certain expression in the Korean language. This expression is pronounced yeabey buda which literally means ‘watch and worship’. People would say that they were going to watch and worship in going to the sanctuary. I don’t claim to understand all the connotations of it and I have tried to find out, but for most people that it is just an expression. But, in so many cases and in so many cultures, that is exactly what is happening. People in a worship experience become spectators. They watch the professionals do their thing. The professional pastor does a professional sermon along with the professional choir and soloist. The main participates are all professionals; those who have become experienced in worship. Others just watch these professionals in perhaps listening with minimal participation. They give their offerings when the plate is passed around and after that, they return home. In some setting, I feel that they are watching with the eyes of a judge as if it is an ice-skating competition. They are watching the singer as if they are ready to put up scores at the end.
B. Worshipers are Called to be Active
Worship can’t be a spectator sport. It must be a participatory activity. The whole Book of Psalms is very much response-oriented, isn’t it? They were a great worship manual for the nation of Israel and much of it is leader response. Can we think of anything in regards to the gathered community of worship?
C. Scripture Texts
1st Corinthians 14:26 is a great example in saying when you come together, everybody has something. What we mean by participation may not be obvious participation. If I am listening to a sermon and I am listening well, that listening is participation in the deepest sense and very much an act of worship. So, listening to the Word of God is worship. So, there are lots of ways which we can participate. One interesting passage is 2nd Corinthians 1:20; for no matter how many promises God has made, they are yes in Christ and so through him the amen is spoken by us to the glory of God. The speaking of the amen is mentioned here and also mentioned in 1st Corinthians 14:16; if you are praising God with your Spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say amen to your thanksgiving sense as he doesn’t know what you are saying? So, it seems from these verses, that some participation would have been included. Speaking of the Word of God, whether through preaching or prophecy, the people would respond with an amen. They would be a collective amen. I miss this in the church I’m in now as it is very New England and very restrained. There is no amen, but you will hear amen often in the Korean churches along with the African churches. Another Scripture is Ephesians 5:18-21; this is a familiar verse about being filled with the Holy Spirit. Then it goes on about speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. A similar verse is Colossians 3:16 where it says to let the Word of God dwell richly in your midst as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. These are places where it is assumed that people come together and the Word of God is mutually shared with people contributing to one another.
While we are on Colossians 3:16, just to make a point about the problem of individualism in American; one of the problems that we are fighting against is the inadequacies of the English language when we come to a very like this. In the Greek, this verse says to let the Word of God dwell richly among you (plural). In English, we have no way of knowing that it is plural. Automatically, people read this singularly because that is our inclination anyway. So, I read it as an individual thinking that the Word of God should dwell richly in me. But it is really saying that it should richly dwell in all of us. I wish we could find a find a way to address this in our English translations. We are reading all these Bible promises, command and exhortations as though they were just for the individual when they are really often about the community of believers. The point here is, the Word of God is to dwell richly in the community and how that happens is when each person commits himself to speak the Word of God to one another. One application in regards to what we are saying about worship in being a participation; if we left the speaking of the Word up to the pastor only, then perhaps that Word will not dwell richly in our midst. It needs the full participation of the whole body. This ultimately brings us back to individual commitment. So, you could almost translate this verse as being necessary for me as an individual to have the Word of God richly in my heart and be willing to share that with the community so that the Word of God can dwell richly in the community. We all need to bring something to the mix.
VII. Worship involves participation of the entire person
So, worship is participatory, but don’t think too superficially about what participation means for it is something that is really multi-layered. Ultimately, this participation will involve all of me. The participation that is required is of the whole person. We could say it involves both the whole person and the whole community. We said that the whole community has something to bring to the worship experience; we are all participants. So, ultimately, when I’m called to participate, all of me is called to participate. This is similar to what we said earlier in regards to Christian formation needing to touch the whole person. We are interested in forming the whole person, not just their invisible spirit or their minds. When I am called to respond to God, it isn’t just a piece of me that responds to God; I am to respond to God with all of me. We see in Deuteronomy 6:5 that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. In the New Testament, this includes all your mind. I don’t know this is to be read as a comprehensive list, but it involves everything you got. Everything is to be directed to the Lord in love, worship, and adoration.
A. With Our Spirits
Normally we think of the worship of God being with our Spirits as it indicates in John 2:24. So, is the Spirit a small ‘s’ or it is a large ‘S’? If it is Spirit, then it means in the Holy Spirit. You can make a very strong argument that is what the text is arguing. While this is certainly true that we worship God in and through the Holy Spirit, it is also true that our spirit we must worship God. In the context of John 4, we have the woman who is reduced to something that is physical. You go to a certain place where God is to worship God. The correction to that misunderstanding is that God is Spirit and therefore the appropriate response is that our worship must be spiritual, not physical. So, I have heard the argument for the Spirit being capitalized in John 4:24 meaning to worship in the Spirit; I am not sure that this is supported by the context. The context seems to suggest that the woman had a limited understanding of God and of worship. Here, worship must correspond to the reality of who God is. God is Spirit; therefore, you must worship spiritually. Even if we speak about the human spirit, it is a very difficult concept to understand. We have this whole argument of the tripartite and bipartite understanding of the human spirit, soul and body. Some say that the spirit and the soul are actually the same and the spirit is used to describe us as we relate to God and the soul is described as we relate to other people. So, our emotions and feelings in relating to people, we can call this our soul. Our feelings and emotions as we relate to God, we call this our spirit. I don’t know exactly how to get at it. Some would say that the spirit is the deep thing that goes beneath all of that. It is beneath our emotions and our thinking. Whatever it is, we are to worship with our spirit. Whatever aspect of your being that you could ever characterize and label and name; it belongs to God. Whatever it is, our heart, soul, mind and strength is to worship God. I haven’t figured out exactly what to do with the full understanding of the word, spirit. In John 4, we have two concepts of spirit and truth that is part of our appropriate response.
B. Our Minds
What we normally mean by the soul in traditional understanding, it is like the mind. There is nothing in me that should be with-held in worshipping God. In regards to our minds, let’s focus on the congregational sense of worship. This would all be true in regards to the individual worship of Christians. What about the congregation; how would we worship with our minds? It would include the reading of the word and thinking deeply about that. What would be some obligations of the worship leader here? Items like clarity, content, and songs that are possible Scriptural with clarity of revelation. Also, all of this should provide truth and clarity and depth of revelation. Are we presenting truth? Is it something substantial for the mind to consider? What about a sermon that has been dumbed down into a feel-good experience?
C. Our Will
How would the will be called upon in a congregational worship setting? Some examples would include tithes and offerings, perhaps something that I wouldn’t necessary feel exited about doing in the flesh. In a sense, it would be just being there is an act of the will. Often you hear people say that they don’t get anything out of church anymore, so they would rather stay home.
D. Our Emotions
What about emotions? What would be an appropriate way of worship in regards to the emotions? Items like joy which could be expressed with exciting songs of praise and even testimony. I don’t think there would be any display of emotions that would be out of balance in a worship experience. Just as important as being joyful, there could be grief or sadness. If we use the Psalms as a sort of model for worship as they were for Israel; there are Psalms of grief and anger and anguish such as surly there are Psalms of joy. We suffer when we avoid those Psalms; we don’t sing Psalms that are built on those. There are some Psalms where there is no light at all. You read an entire Psalm and from beginning to end, a person is expressing their confusion and anguish for God. That is the way we are sometimes. So, all of the emotions could be rightly expressed in worship. Could there be potential problems with the emotions? Are there inappropriate displays of the emotions in worship? What or when that might be? It could be with the manipulation of the emotions. It is when we try to manufacture certain emotional response. In my early days as a young pastor, I was in a setting where this was part of the church culture. We became very good at this in retreats and even in church worship times. At the time we thought we were being spiritual in having the kids to be spiritual and I don’t doubt that God did some wonderful things during those times. But we had this built in expectation with being used to this time after time. Everyone knew that it was going to be very emotional at these times. I think to some extent that it became inappropriate.
One of the things I think we could do better in our worship experiences is intentional use of silence. Silence is very useful in regards to revelation and response. For example, in the Psalms you often find this feature, seleh. I don’t exactly know what it means; some sort of musical quotation. Some people think it means that what was just said is really important; you need to stop and think about it. Silence at a certain point in the service, for example, during a music fest. After you have sung through a song several times, there becomes a powerful and profound truth has been heard. There becomes a moment of lingering and this lingering in silence helps a person ponder what has been said and it that person to respond. It gives us space for response. When we are watching the clock and the retheme of worship, we need to stop and give time to consider God. You know, I love hymns and some of the good praise music also. There are both good and not so good hymns and praise songs and so we want to be careful and not stereotype these. One of the ways they can relate together well; a good hymn provides lots of cognitive materials. The truth can become very evident in four or five verses with a deeper understanding of that truth. A good praise song may take one simple truth and we need to allow the Spirit to mediate on that simple truth. This may help us move from the cognitive to the affective. But silence is a missing jewel of worship opportunity in most of our churches.
E. Our Bodies
When we speak about our bodies in worship, ultimately, we are speaking Romans 12:1, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. Ultimately, that is what it means to worship God with all our bodies. We present ourselves to him for ever and always for all situations. But in the congregational worship experience, I think we can worship God with our bodies. Singing would be an act of using our bodies to worship God. I always have a hard time with people who tell me that they can’t sing, and so they don’t. It strikes me as being disobedient. The Scriptures are full commands to sing to the Lord. We are to sing to the Lord and also, we are commanded to speak to one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. I am commanded to do it to the Lord and I am also commanded to do it to my brothers and sisters. Perhaps the best I can do is a joyful noise, but I have got to sing. I have known those who are basically tone-deaf, like my brother, who eventually learned how to sing. We used to be in small group Bible studies and we would sing together and try to stop from laughing because my brother would be bolding singing. Eventually, he was able to carry a tune. We can also stand, sit and kneel and bow down and even dance. Sometimes, worship dance means one thing in one culture and another thing in different culture. In some cultures, it would be unthinkable altogether. It is clearly mentioned in the Scriptures and also the lifting of hands and the clapping of hands. It is very difficult to build a case where these things are no long appropriate. It could possibly be done on a personality or cultural basis, but not necessarily on a Biblical basis. What else might keep people in our churches from not doing what is mentioned in the Bible? It is mentioned in the Old Testament in connection with praise. It is
mentioned in the New Testament in relationship to prayer, lifting holy hands in prayer. We don’t see this because of culture, personality, and tradition with inhibition. Is this okay; what should we do about it?
VIII. When we worship in community our concerns for individual freedom and self-expression must be balanced with a sensitivity to fellow worshipers
Another point is how to balance individual freedom with community concern. We will come back to this point after a little. My thinking on this; there are different personalities and I don’t believe it is ever a wise thing to mandate from the leadership role. There is nothing gained by making people do something that they just don’t want to do. On the other hand, I think there is something that could be done just to push people along and encourage them. In something like this, we could build a Biblical argument on what it would be appropriate in the Bible and we could address some of the concerns or inhibitions that people may have about this. Ultimately, it is one of those cases where maybe a personality isn’t that exuberant or expressive. In my own case, when my church went from dispensational to charismatic, I remember when people around me started raising their hands and me being very uncomfortable with it. On several occasions, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to do this. But my image was a key thing in my thinking. I thought that I was understood as one of the Bible teachers in my church and kind of on the intellectual side. So, I wasn’t going to break that image by lifting my hands. But there were times when I wanted to put them up. And so ultimately, I had to overcome really the fear of man. I was more concerned about what other people might think thank what should be the appropriate response to God. I remember one day that my thinking was silly and I started lifting my hands in worship. You shouldn’t turn this into law or beat people over the heads with it. Remember when David danced before the Lord and his wife rebuking him for it, but his response was: it was before the Lord. So, even in a congregational setting, the person worshiping is worshiping before the Lord and there needs to be a certain measure of freedom permitted to a person before the Lord. There, the fear of man should not constrain. This truth should be balanced with the corresponding truth, for within the congregational setting, I am not by myself. So, the fear of man doesn’t constrain me, but the love of my brothers and sisters do constrain me. I want to be free but I don’t want to do anything that will inappropriately draw attention to me, or distract from the larger purposes of this gathering which is to be God-centered, formative and instructive.
Congregational worship calls for both, freedom as an individual and sensitivity to fellow worshipers. I should not be inhibited by the fear of man but I should be driven by the love of my neighbor. There is a difference in worship as an individual and worship as a community. If I have a need and a desire to
worship the Lord in a way that was very emotional such as shouting to the Lord or crying and weeping. That could be more appropriate to do that alone in my house and not so appropriate during the worship service. According to Corinthians 14, anything done in the community needs to be done decently and in order. It needs to be done not for my own sake but for the building up of the body. I am not thinking only about my own needs in worship but the needs of my brothers and sisters. I don’t want to be inhibited or guilty of judging people like David’s wife judged David. But there is a difference, like prayer in my closet verses prayer in the community. Prayer in my closet could be all kinds of things that would not necessarily be appropriate for prayer in the community. I think this is one of the missing ingredients with some of the songs that we are singing in our churches. It is a dimension that we have missed. I lot of the best praise songs that we sing come from a person’s devotions. In other words, a beautiful song would be great for you in your closet, but it may not be necessary for the community. Or, at least, we shouldn’t allow the whole community experience to be dominated by individually praise songs. If decently and orderly means, yes, maybe there is a right kind of shout to the Lord, but not necessarily during the sermon. Because now you are submitting to the whole body.
What about for a worship leader; a person who is designing and leading the worship experience? How would you take this point and translate this into practice? Perhaps, certain songs that we sing will present the opportunities for this. Some songs may provide opportunities for individual response. We need to think in terms of community instead of individuality, and as community I can practice the Pauline principle of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. In worshiping in the community, I am part of something that is bigger. In regards to songs and encouraging people to sing; now we are singing songs that are different than what we are actually thinking. You can provide space for individual response in the worship service. Silence, for example, a person could have individual response and you could also have the opposite of silence. In the Korean church, there is a time when everybody is invited to pray out loud at the same time. This will be for a couple of minutes. Everybody is shouting aloud whatever is on their hearts to the Lord. Afterwards, the leader brings them back together. Ski Lanka has a very similar practice. There, I noticed, it was during the time of praise songs.
IX. The substance of our worship is always more important than the style or form of our worship
This is a very important principle in my thinking; the substance of our worship is always more important than the style of our worship. What is going on in our hearts as we worship will be more important than any particular format of our worship. I shared a story trying to illustrate this in our first day together in regards to my criticism at the Lutheran seminary when I was there. I remember being rebuked by my Lutheran professor for whom he thought that the liturgy really was worship. For him the Lutheran liturgy was worship, but for me, it had very little meaning when I first experienced it. I was very arrogant as I criticized him with the whole concept of liturgy was problematic to me. But upon reflection over the years, I came to realize that not only was this was worship for him because of what was going on in his heart; I was wrong and arrogant about the form of my own worship in my own church. I had convinced myself that we were free and fresh and spontaneous, but in fact, we were liturgical also. Unlike his, our liturgy wasn’t time tested and wasn’t rich with Scripture. We went through the same thing week after week, basically following the same style in the very same pattern. However, our spontaneity lacked the depth of the liturgy that he was using. Even if we have a rich liturgy, the content would be far more important than the style. So, it doesn’t matter to me whether it is free-flowing charismatic or revival style Baptist or highly liturgical. This isn’t the issue; it is more the content that is more important along with the substance of our worship and also the substance of our hearts.
X. Our response includes the element of offering or giving
This is the last one of these preliminary principles. So, our response includes the element of offering or giving. In the Bible in both the Old and New Testament, this is a key aspect of worship. It always involves giving to the Lord or an offering to the Lord. From the very first worship experiences in the
Old Testament, Cain, and Abel bringing offerings to the Lord. One turns out to be acceptable while the other one wasn’t acceptable. With the person worshiping with what shall I bring unto the Lord; even with previous passages we see that God wants something more than sacrifice. There is still a sense that you know that you are supposed to give something in response to the Lord. So, David asks what the Lord wanted; was it burnt offerings? No, it was humility. However, it is still a giving to the Lord. In Psalm 116 which says that I love the Lord because he heard my voice; he inclined his ear unto me. Therefore, I will call upon him for as long as I live. As the Psalm continues; it asks, what shall I give unto the Lord for all that he has done for me. I will lift up the cup of salvation; I will call upon the name of the Lord.
The idea of offerings, consistently through the Old Testament; Micah 6 that we have already read. What do we offer? We offer justice and mercy and humility. In the New Testament, we offer up our whole beings. The offering of ourselves is a critical idea of worship in both the Old Testament and New Testament. What are some of the things in the New Testament sense; what are some of the offerings that we are called to make? We don’t offer up burnt offerings. Romans 12:1 is the easy one; is there anything else? We offer the sacrifice of praise and in Philippians 4:14-19 when Paul is commending the Philippians for their generosity to him, he said that this was an acceptable offering to the Lord. One of the reasons why I am not so keen on the practice of taking the offering away from the worship service. There used to be the idea of putting a basket outside the door. When the basket is outside the door, there is still an offering being made, but I like the idea of it being explicit part of the community worship. We can think of Dorcus in Acts 9:32 and Acts 10 with Cornelius in verse 2. He was a devout, God-fearing person who gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. In verse 4, an angel appears saying, your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. So, the same idea of offering, the generosity, and gifts to the poor as well as the prayers. The New Testament church has a beautiful description; their generosity and giving not just extended to their spirituality, but the free sharing of all that they had.