Worship: spiritual, timeless, chosen

[The following is excerpted, adapted, and expanded from my reply to a reader’s comment on this prior post.]

Generally, under the New Covenant, I see the trends as having moved away from the physical, toward the spiritual.  (For more, please see this post on the Old and new.)  I tend to support and resonate with emphases on the spiritual over the physical.

In the realm of worship, I did go through a phase, some years ago, in which worship needed to be more physical, but I’m not altogether sure my “need” was of the Lord.  These days, I’m more interested in what’s going on beyond the physical.  Physical manifestations of worship may not be entirely immaterial, but the seen should at least be subservient to the unseen.

Under the Old Covenant, God prescribed certain physical acts of sacrifice and priestly temple service.  Although prescribed details — or legislated specifications, if you will — are certainly present in any lucid consideration of the relationship between the divine and the human, I take some exception to an analysis based outright on prescription (either under the Old or New).  As one considers Joseph, Enoch, Abraham, David, Elijah, and others with hindsight, there seems to have been more than legislation at work as they related to God.

Based on the examples of worship in, e.g., Psalms, John, Revelation, I take stronger exception to any suggestion that all worship, as an act of the spirit and/or body, was somehow eradicated with the coming of Jesus.  The worship of believers in Jesus Christ, like immersion and basic meals and the assembly of Christians, seems to me to have been something they simply, naturally did (a lot), without the need for the apostles et al to write about it at every turn.


Adoring, worshipful response is natural — and, I would say, anticipated and desired and right. (Personally, I’d stop short of saying worship is “commanded” or “demanded”; I hear those words as needlessly negatively charged in this age.)  I do think God continues to seek worship of the proskuneo sort.  Note Ps 69:32, Ps 70:4, and 2 Chron 16:9.  While the “seeking” of the last verse may be understood variously, as seen in various translations, attributing to God the notion of “seeking” doesn’t for me render Him heavy-handed.  I don’t think we paint God as some sort of tyrant or egomaniacal being when we understand Him as desiring worshipful response.

Until He moves me on, I’m content with exploring the ways and means of proskuneo — because it seems good for me, and because I’m convinced it pleases God.  Worship may ultimately be pleasing to Him specifically because it is something I choose, whether I want to think of Him as asking for it or not.

Probably not merely incidentally, I take Revelation (after chapters 2 & 3) as primarily presenting a timeless picture of the eternal kingdom, and I hang some of my worship “hats” on the hooks shown in chapters 4, 5, and 19:6ff. I presume that the active proskuneo occurring there indicates that worship is a timeless assumption for the believing community.

In the meantime, I’m not at all content with my efforts or with the corporate worship I experience most often (yesterday’s prayers seemed either presentational or flaccid, and the songs rather lethargic and uncommitted) . . . but I keep trying to worship, as I believe I will eternally.

Worship: affirmation or action?

Living, glorifying, worshipping        Vertical/horizontal redux

After reading the above recent posts on worship, John, a reader from Texas, wrote, in part:

Jesus himself identifies the worship which God desires from us.  And in identifying it he contrasts it with the worship which the woman had in mind when she asked him to tell her the proper place to perform it.  . . .

Jesus . . .  stated that the time was coming, and now was, when true worship would not be performed in either of those locations but would be done in spirit and in truth.  In spirit and in truth is in contrast with the worship the woman inquired about.  The truth part rested in the nature of the sacrifice contrasted with the shadow of the truth that was represented in the woman’s worship, and also in that performed in Jerusalem.  Various animals were sacrificed. . . .  Jesus himself was the truth that those animals only represented.  The worship the woman asked about was performed by humans’ physical acts of slaying the animals and then performing the required work on them.  The worship God desired and still desires, is not physical but is spiritual.  It was done for us, by Jesus, and all we can do is accept it as being full recompense for our own sins.  The worship God desires has nothing to do with our actions.  It is not in some mysterious way related to the way we treat others or how we live daily.  It is spiritually accepting Jesus’ redeeming work as being imputed to us in place of our own soiled righteouness.

In response, I would again state up-front that a general misconception of worship has done inestimable damage to the theologies and belief systems of countless believers.  This misconception has worship a) consisting in a sequenced event/”service” and b) existing solely within the confines of a church edifice.  Worship is primarily a verb, not a noun that we go to, or sit through, waiting for others do it for us.  It is quite possible to go/attend “services” for decades without ever truly worshipping.

Certainly, I track with John (quoted above) on the radical difference Jesus was ushering in.  Yes, the location-bound model was to be eradicated:  “in spirit” stands in contrast to “in a specific location,” i.e., Jerusalem.  But why would the “truth” aspect be encapsulated in a faith-acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice when that acceptance doesn’t involve proskuneo?  I think it is more logical to assume that “in truth” = “truly.”  In other words, worship “in truth” is not something else done or felt “in truth,” but it is still worship, with one new emphasis on genuineness or  actuality.  Truly worshipping, then, would be the same as actually worshipping.  Put yet another way:  in John 4, Jesus did not say, “No longer will the Father want worship” or “Instead of worship, the Father will now want _____.”  Rather, He said, “The Father desires worship in new/renewed ways.”

So what is this worship?  The antecedent word is “proskuneo,” and proskuneo connotes action, or at least action of the spirit (the latter may be more preferable to some, for reasons of personality preference, or for reasons of distinction from Jewish practice) in relation to God.  Bringing the theologically charged word “work” into this discussion by calling attention to “work performed” on the animals seems tenuous, but it is appropriate to draw some distinctions been New-Covenant worship and that of the Old.  Under both major covenants, though, worship is an active-verb thing that appears more closely related to adoration and homage than to mentally/spiritually affirming the Ultimate Sacrifice.

By no means do I intend here to minimize the value of the inner faith-response to our Messiah’s Sacrifice — far from it.  It could very well be that one who is spiritually affirming Jesus’ death as the finished, atoning work of God is, in fact, engaging in proskuneo of the spirit.  In other words, the vibrant human spirit in tune with God’s grace is probably energetically worshipping spiritually whether she thinks she is or not.

Here’s an additional, larger-context thought — something I learned from a deeply committed disciple who also happens to have a doctorate in missiology.  (If I had read more of John’s gospel in large chunks, i.e., more contextually, I could have picked up on this myself, because it’s not embedded very deep.  The above-quoted friend John has also alluded to it.)  Simply put, it is that, in John’s gospel, Jesus is truth.  So, worship “in truth” (John 4:24) might be, to some extent, worship “in the truth that is personified in Jesus.”  This would still seem to speak of an action, not merely a mental or spiritual acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Our worship — our proskuneo — could be said to be made more full, more intimate, more relationally meaningful because of the grace and truth expressed in Jesus and the New Covenant.

Addendum:  If I might go out on a limb here … I don’t think the worship “baby” should be thrown out with the time-clock-punching, “accuracy”-driven “worship service” bathwater of the CofC (or of any similar group).  Some of us, myself included, may be inclined toward framing worship in terms of a response to information — which would seem Campbellite (rational) in orientation.  But just because certain church groups have been incorrectly handling aspects (when they thought they had “right” worship down pat) doesn’t mean that anyone, as s/he is evolving, should shed the essence of worship.  It just means we keep trying to enact the core idea, without all the shadowy stuff from the intervening decades/centuries.

Living, glorifying, worshipping

In reference to this post on the distinction between “vertical” and “horizontal,” a longtime friend and reader wrote,

Perhaps the concept that we “go to worship” is a part of the problem.  Our life is to be “worship.”  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I Cor. 10:31.  Those who leave “worship” in the building and go about as though God is not their Father … well, yes, as some people say, “That is between God and me.”  That’s really The Problem — not willing to surrender to God, but lay out the guidelines according to what they want.  God will have something final to say about that.

My friend’s emphasis here — that our lives should be lived for God — is right on.  And I would agree that the conception of worship as A) a sequenced event/”service” B) in a church edifice has done inestimable damage to the theologies and belief systems of countless believers.  Worship is primarily a verb, not a noun that we go to, or sit through, as others do it for us.  We can go to the assembly for a lifetime of Sundays — and I do believe heartily in assemblies of Christians — but, sadly, it is quite possible to go/attend for decades without ever truly worshipping.

Being a disciple of Jesus — and living seven days a week for the purposes of God’s Kingdom — now that’s what it’s about.  I generally reserve the term “worship” for vertical communication with God, wherever it occurs.   But being an ambassador for God and seeking to live each hour as His child, bringing attention and glory to Him — that deserves just as much attention as vertical adoration and reverence (“worship” proper).

Proskuneo and latreian (4)

This post is the 4th (and probably the last, for a while) in a series about worship and service.  Proskuneo and latreian are two key biblical words (Greek antecedents) that can aid our understanding.

A new friend has recently commented, suggesting that Jesus’ depiction of worship in spirit and truth (John 4) is not exactly a positive highlighting, viewed through New-Covenant lenses.  If I’m reading him correctly, he believes that the inner faith-response to the singular act of Jesus on the cross constitutes the only “worship” indicated under the New Covenant.  I’ve never heard this shading before but have been thinking about it.

It appears to me that Jesus, as reported by John, was calling the woman to something a) not bound by location and b) genuine, true.  Both aspects may stand in contrast to Jewish worship of the time, but especially so in the first case.  Since as a Samaritan she was not exactly in the “in” crowd, perhaps Jesus was suggesting to her, by saying “in spirit,” that she could worship despite her lack of Jewish access to the temple.  This worship would not consist in temple service or in Jerusalem at all.  It would be, said He, homage-communication of the spirit, and it would be true — not feigned or dissociated from reality.

The genuine/authentic/true component of Jesus’ statement could also be conceived of as contrasting with then-current Jewish corruptions.  I’m not saying this is THE way to read it — only one possible way to read it.  Subjunctively stated, then, it would sound something like this:

“Woman, your worship doesn’t have to be like that of the Jews:  it could now exist regardless of Jerusalem, and could be engaged in more authentically than is typical, in the midst of the Jewish stuff these days.”

(Aside:  no matter whether I’m on target here, or how much any reader might disagree with me, we must all categorically reject the idea that the “in truth” part of the phrasing has anything directly to do with the CofC’s [or any other group’s] views on “correct” acts in the church assembly.  Not that “correctness” isn’t important, but this text has nothing to do with it.)

There’s really not much about worship in the gospels or the letters.  I take it that the early Christians just worshipped and didn’t find the need to write about it so much, but I acknowledge that it’s logically possible for worship to have been less a priority in, or almost absent from, Christian gatherings.  Possible, but not likely, I’d say.

On the horizontal, “priestly service” side, Hebrews certainly seems to corroborate that Jesus’ sacrifice is the true, central replacement for the latreuo or leitourgeia of the Old Covenant.  (No more animal sacrifices!  Jesus — once and for all!)  But this unique honoring of our Lord’s offering doesn’t negate the offering of ourselves described in Rom. 12.  Hebrews passages — taken separately or conjoined with the entire New Covenant corpus — do also place Jesus at the core, philosophically and theologically.

Connections with 1st-century synagogue practices have been used to justify some elements of Christian worship that I don’t find valid in the New Covenant.  Coincidentally, I’ve just reviewed an issue of Worship Leader magazine in which so many assumptions are made along the lines of the “history of Christian worship” that I couldn’t keep up with my own question marks in the margins.  It’s hard to trust the thinking of public leaders and venues when so few seem to be able to distinguish between biblically implied/suggested/commanded things and historically, traditionally practiced ones.

As an example:  there is no biblical blueprint for a corporate assembly, despite the supposed plan propagated by, e.g., the late guru Robert Webber.  According to him and many others, the “authorized way” is something along these lines:

1 – gathering in (or the call into) the outer courts

2 – hearing the Word in scripture and sermon

3 – responding to the word

4 – going out to bear witness

I find no such pattern stated in scripture; to infer it is to superimpose mankind’s tradition. Moreover, some of those items are laden with baggage, and the layout emphasizes acts that are not, strictly speaking, worship.  The actual subject treated seems to be “the service,” as developed by institutional Christianity, ant not worship per se.  The four-point structure deals more with overall conceptions for Christian responses and the living of life.  It’s not wrong to use such a pattern for a corporate so-called “service,” but it smacks of the Old Covenant to legislate said pattern.

To any who think worship is contra-indicated in NC scripture (younger believers, these people do exist, and many of them are quite sincere), I would say this:  I don’t see that vertical worship communication (the proskuneo variety) was snuffed out with the cross.  It further seems that some expressions of, e.g., the Psalms are enduring, not obsolete.  Furthermore, doxologies such as those found in Philippians 2, Ephesians 1, and 1 Timothy 1 strongly suggest that first-century Christians were giving vertical, reverent, adoring attention to the Christ.  In addition, the example of the woman of Luke 7:36 appears as a striking example of a very literal act of spontaneous worship (proskuneo is, roughly, bowing and “kissing toward”) honored by Jesus.  Although shedding tears and wiping one’s feet with long hair should not be viewed a paradigm for all time, it is certainly presented positively in the narrative.  If this example were to be scoffed at, I would think Jesus, or Luke (ca. 40 years later) would have framed the woman’s action negatively.

In sum, at this juncture, I believe proskuneo is both assumed and indicated under the New Covenant.  I believe the same about latreia(n).  One is vertical, involving reverent homage shown to a greater being; the other is horizontal, effectively substituting service acts toward others for Old-Covenant animal sacrifices and various Levitical acts.  While there is certainly a spiritual connection between the two (proskuneo and latreian), the concepts are distinct, and we do a disservice to both the ideas of worship and service by amalgamating them.  This is obviously an oversimplification, but I trust that it helpfully delineates.

Below are links to some previous posts on worship and/or service.  Especially if some of the above is muddy, I would invite you to read past essays on related topics, and comment where you find me off-track (or where you agree).

Synagogue Worship as Model

Printed programs and spontaneity (3)

The classic/progressive rock band KANSAS will soon be on my college’s stage with my orchestra.  A set list was sent to me a couple weeks ago; the program is pre-planned to the Nth degree.  Yet some room is left for spontaneity (“rap, applause, etc.”).  This kind of programming, I think, represents the best of both worlds:  detailed structure and forethought born of experience on the one hand, and also, room for things to occur in the moment.  KANSAS knows something.  After all, they’re like 55 years old, and three of them have been doing this together for more than 30 years!  They know how to plan a successful show.

In planning worship times, assembly sequences, and other events, I often arrive at a similar conclusion — and for this I have my father to thank:  a balance of a) planned-ness and b) “room to breathe” is best.

[Please see here and here for background for this post.]

Sometimes, planning and programming can get in the way of the goal(s).  Too much polish and too many detailed, strict requirements … these approaches lead to a bothersome, stifling scenario.  Besides the quietus that may be put on authentic needs and God’s moving in a situation, the need to “get the order ‘down'” can lead to anxiety around rehearsing and reviewing a sequence.  In my particular current, more traditional church setting, this situation is manifest in, e.g.,

  • the call for the order to be printed in the bulletin
  • once every few weeks, the accompanying, gracious looking-down-the-nose at someone who just couldn’t get it together enough to get his set list in to the office in time for printing in the bulletin
  • the absolute waste of time perpetrated in reviewing, three minutes before things officially begin, all the names and responsibilities (“serving at the table, we have Brother Larry, Brother Peter, Brother Lou, Brother Rick, … and the opening prayer is by Brother John, and leading songs is Brother Brian,” etc., etc., ad nauseam . . . all with good intention, but about 92% unnecessary)

For me, all this emphasis on sequence can end up as an analogue of the down side of marching bands and show choirs:  too much focus on the presentation, the glitz, the strict sequence and performance of it all … all this tends to cheapen the program, downplay the content and decrease the educational value, in my opinion.  Of course, if the content is lacking, glitz and showiness may be the program’s only salvation!  [Aside:  I once taught at a place where my predecessor was actually in the process of considering having the show choir lip-sync instead of singing at all (much less singing in harmony).  That, friends, was WAY too much emphasis on glitz, sequence, costuming, and the visual aspects, considering it was supposed to be a music program!]

Here’s a special challenge to those church leaders who think we really need to spend all this time, and more, in getting the sequence and set list “down”:  get a critic (like me!) to make notes of every time there’s a foul-up or glitch in your little sequence.  This will be a humbling experience, because you will find that there’s something that goes wrong pretty much every week.  Someone forgets this aspect or that.  Someone forgot to let someone know he’s out of town.  Someone shows up late and messes things up because he wasn’t available for conferring.  I do know that things have to be planned, and someone has to take charge to make sure things go reasonably orderly.  I do this very thing!  But we do obsess over details sometimes, letting the more important content go without as much attention as it needs.

Those recognized as “entertainers” (I think here of Carol Burnett and the guys on the Drew Carey show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and late-night talk show hosts and such) can keep people’s attention with spontaneous reactions and witty repartee.  Many popular “artists” depend on canned accompaniments and tracks played in their “live” shows, and this indicates some rigidity in the planning and sequencing.   It’s also true that most art/cultivated music (a/k/a “classical”) concerts are rigidly programmed, not only with printed orders, but with supra-structures that govern programming from a macro level, as well:  three or maybe four works make up most classical orchestral concerts:  an overture, a concerto, and a symphony–often performed in that very order.  (Rarely is an overture played last, for instance.)

There are certain conventions in Christian gatherings for worship and study, too, that deserve to be followed–at least most of the time.   The problem, siblings, is when we overemphasize the sequence without enough emphasis on the content.

Printed programs and spontaneity (2)

Caveat lector brevis: I’m trying to think through something here (beginning with the last blogpost), and I’m not really ready to present it, but I’m presenting it anyway.  What follows may well sound confusing, and confused, because I have conflicting observations and feelings.

~ ~ ~

Speaking pragmatically, I have concerns with worship “set lists” in terms of the preparation timetable.  Recently, the Lawson Road church where we worship (Greece, NY) finally got with it and changed the timeline so that the group involved in preparing for the assembly is working 12 days in advance instead of 5 days.  Consider this with me …

The old timeline:

  1. Tuesday noon:  conference call bringing everyone to the table in knowing any special considerations, sermon topic, etc.
  2. Tuesday pm and Wednesday am:  scramble to prepare (or, in my case, revise, because I’ve nearly finalized thematic and sequential planning by this point) a set list based on new information received
  3. Wednesday noon:  deadline for church office receiving set list, for printing in the bulletin
  4. Thursday & Friday:  finalize PowerPoint slides and send to the tech deacon (or, as some prefer, send set list to tech deacon and let him prepare slides)
  5. Saturday:  receive PowerPoint presentation back from tech deacon, with his added pretty backgrounds, transition & announcement slides, etc.

Aside:  step 5 is always wasted for me, because I print the slides no later than Thurdsay, 6 per page, punch holes, and put them in a loose leaf binder for my own use as I led, and I never refer to the new version at all.  If I’ve learned one thing in my 15-or-so years of leading worship using PowerPoint, it’s that you can never trust the tech people to change slides on time.  While our particular tech people are pretty good at this, I always want my own printed hard copy, so I can surmount as many word/memory lapses as possible, and so I can read ahead in order to enhance my leadership in the moment.

The new timeline:

  1. Tuesday noon:  conference call bringing everyone to the table
  2. ALL THROUGH THE NEXT 7-8 DAYS:  prepare/revise a set list based on new information received (I rarely do well at being flexible here, because my thinking and planning has already been crystallized by step 1, but at least I have more time to try to process and make some adjustments)
  3. Wednesday noon, 8 days after the conference call:  deadline for church office receiving set list, for printing bulletin
  4. Thursday & Friday:  finalize PowerPoint slides and send to the tech deacon
  5. Saturday:  receive PowerPoint presentation back from tech deacon

The new timeline works much better, allowing for other things in the lives of volunteer leaders.

Don’t miss the word “volunteer” above — and the significance of it in this equation.  “Clergy” (I have trouble using concocted, abiblical words and ideas to talk about biblically based things, thus the scare quotes) folk, take note:  when volunteer leaders are involved, you need to do things on a timetable that suits THEM, not you. Stop making proclamations from your holy chairs and desks that say “Pastor” or “Minister.”  Wrap your schedule into the schedules of the volunteers.  They are spending significant time they don’t have for the betterment of corporate assemblies, and in some cases, they are working a lot more hours than you are, so don’t take advantage of them.

Now, back to our story (and questions).

Does printing a worship “set list” present an organized, “we-got-it-together” face?  Or does it acknowledge death in the Christian gathering?  Or both?  Is “we-got-it-together” requiring too much out of your congregation’s energies on a weekly basis?  Is the business model (think CFOs and CEOs and VPs and budget-drivenness in academia instead of deans and principals and teaching) driving churches to more organization than worship and teaching, or are all the technological and administrative tools helping us?  To what extent?

How can the Spirit (or the spirit) live and breathe in us when things are programmed to the Nth degree?

For churches that use instrumental worship bands, a cappella “praise teams,” etc., what are the implications of the “set list”?  (Do remember that bands and teams and PowerPoint and amps are not necessaries; they are just methods.)  Is there more time spent in rehearsing transitions between songs — getting the sequence of the set list “down” — than in experiencing the textual content of the songs, scripture passages, dramatic presentations, etc.?  The mechanics of transitions and who starts what, how, and from where–all these things are important, but I’ve focused too much on them, on many occasions.  In fact, I’m guilty of this very thing in this very week of my life.

The content is what it’s about.  The words.  The concepts.  The musical ways and means, and other peripherals, must support the content.

Printed programs and spontaneity

Caveat lector: Sometimes, I have a conclusion in mind, and I write in support of that conclusion.  Often, I write when I feel (or know) something uncommon is better or right.  This time is different.  I’m really not sure what I think yet, I’m trying to think through something, and I’m not really ready to present it, but I’m presenting it anyway.  What follows may well sound confusing, and confused, because I have conflicting observations and feelings.  Some cherished, long-term experiences exist in opposition to some more recent observations.  My opinions are definitely still in development.

~ ~ ~

Thinking recently about PowerPoint use in church gatherings, I think I came off as somewhat one-sided.  While presentation software is not the end-all, and while genuine worship is clearly possible without it, I do think PowerPoint is useful.  Such software applications, combined with projection capabilities from computers, allow for possibilities that were never previously considered.

I’ve written before about printed lists of leaders in church bulletins/programs.  I’m not sure, however, whether I’ve ever blogged on the printing of “worship set lists.”  I think these lists can definitely have value and can remember, when I was young, that a marginalized but deep-thinking leader used such printed programs in my “low” church on occasion.  I thought that was pretty cool back then, but these days, it’s old hat.  Lots of churches print orders these days.

“Set list” is terminology I first learned in jazz combos, big bands, etc., where the content is comparatively light and temporal.  As worship music gravitates more and more from “Shepherd of Tender Youth” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” to more contemporary, populistic expressions, the label “set list” seems more and more apt.  People now think in terms of their music stands and a sequence of songs all printed and ready for them to refer to when pulling music out of their “books” or folders.  While “set list” is realistic and not a bad descriptor of the status quo, it strikes me as pedestrian and shallow, not worthy of the God the music and other worship activities are supposed to be calling attention to.

Sometimes the set list is called “order of service” or “worship service.”  Blecchhh.  The term “worship service” is neither biblical nor helpful.  The observation (the “neither biblical” part) and the opinion (the “nor helpful” part) are no passing fancies for me; I’ve emphasized moving away from calling a worship gathering a service–with little to no fluctuation–for about 20 years.  “Service” connotes a ceremonious ceremony with a set order and no life.

In fact, besides the context of those horrid academic commencements (which I suppose have a hint of a promised resurrection after the death-knell of pompous processions, presumptuous presentations, and brittle boredom), a more appropriate use of “service” is in the context of funerals. Using “service” to describe what Christians should do when they are together is misled/misleading at best, and spiritually stultifying at worst.  When trained, reasonably intelligent, biblically literate leaders perpetuate labeling the assembly a “service,” it’s like force-feeding barbiturates to all the saints.¹  Okay, maybe it’s not that bad.  After all, people aren’t likely thinking about the label “worship service” when they’re in the middle of what’s going on in the assembly/gathering.  But I really hate it, and I enjoyed finding some new expressions to tell you how much I hate it.  🙂

“Prayer service” and “song service” are no better; these are just offspring-offenders … children of the offending parent “worship service.”  This terminology rubs me raw and calls me to make a run to the local Walgreens or CVS for soul salve.

Next … the intersection of “set lists” and weekly preparation


¹ This is infinitely more eternally significant than the use of mild performance-enhancing drugs by sports figures (I’ve never used them, of course, but I’ve never understood why congress and courts have been involved in investigating … it all seems like more a matter for, e.g., the MLB commissioner’s office), but that’s beside the point.

Worship–ritual v. relationship

“Relationship.”  An overused word in our time, perhaps.  Yet it can scuff at the root of what life — both temporal and eternal — is about.  When considered in juxtaposition with ritual in the context of worship, relationship may be even more crucial.

Brad Carman, a preacher in Delaware, wrote this for his bulletin recently, springing out of Heb. 9:1-5:

In these opening passages, the author briefly takes his readers into the highly ritualized worship of the Jewish Tabernacle. . . .

. . . Almost everyone still has some rituals in his/her life and worship. (We sit in the same pew, order the same foods, sing the same songs, etc.) But more importantly, these rituals of Tabernacle worship serve a valuable purpose as summary of the first covenant God made with His people. They describe a system in which a Holy God is inaccessible to His people except through a series of sacrifices made by High Priest for himself and the people he represents. Sin has separated us from God and the idea of an intimate relationship with a Holy God is unthinkable under such a system.

That all changed when Christ came and ushered in a new and better covenant with God. This new covenant still involved a blood sacrifice but this offering was the blood of the Son of God, delivered to the eternal dwelling place of God. As our High Priest, he continually dwells in God’s presence providing us an opportunity for an intimate relationship.

In a recent interchange with Alan Knox on his blog, I found a thoughtful person with more time and careful insights than I:  he appropriately, kindly challenged several of my hastily penned comments.  Yet I continue to believe his understanding of the relationship of  worship and service is a trifle flawed.  (I know, I know — whose understanding isn’t flawed?  But this topic is important to me beyond most other things of the Lord, and most of the Christian world has gotten it so wrong.)

Brad’s comments above show something I concur with, believing it is significant:  a fundamental difference between Jewish and Christian worship lies in the difference between the “series of sacrifices” to which Brad refers above on the one hand, and the spiritual attitude of reverence, adoration, and homage on the other.

Under the New System, worship may must not be confined to ritual acts.  Rather, our worship of God is based on a more intimate (can anyone say “Incarnation” and not think there’s a different approach to God now?!) relationship.  Latreuo is the Greek word that appears to refer, more often than not, to the former, Jewish rituals (≈things done) and is found in Romans 12:2; proskuneo is the word that renders the attitude of obeisance, homage, reverential adoration (John 4, Revelation 4-5).  Hebrews 13:15-16 nicely sets these two word-concepts together, simultaneously differentiating and relating the two.

The above paragraph is an oversimplification, but I present it for thought and comment nonetheless.

[Coming soon … I’ve been thinking a lot about worship recently, spurred by Alan’s blog and various other stimuli.  I’m preparing a post on the notion of sacrifice in worship, and if you have any thoughts to contribute in advance, I’d love to see them.]

Worship and service: the worlds of awe and anxiety

While taking a long-deferred bicycle ride, I listened to an old tape of Mike Armour talking about “Worship When the Wonder Withers.” A worthwhile re-experience! Among other things, Mike spoke about the two “worlds” in which we exist as believers:

  • the world of worship, in which we’re surrounded by others who believe, and in which we’re overwhelmed by awe
  • the world of waiting, in which we’re surrounded by the rest of the earth’s populus, and in which we’re overwhelmed by anxiety

Another helpful phrasing was the notion that worship can, and should, connect these “worlds” of worship and waiting. Worship should not just be part of the so-called world of worship (I guess this is or something along the lines of a conundrum or a paradox); we need private and corporate worship that will change us . . . so that our ethics of living are ultimately affected.

This may be what Paul was getting at in Romans 12:1-2 when, after extended theological treatments of faith, sin, justification, etc., he says that our horizontally focused religious service is, in a sense, “worship.” This is not proskuneo (vertical, “kissing toward” obeisance) here; instead, the living of true religion seems to become, by spiritual transformation, another type/manifestation of worship to God.

The term in Rom. 12 is latrein, from the root latreuo, which in turn is related to leitourgeia, from which we get “liturgy.” I have a stiff-necked reaction to the very word “liturgy.” For me, in that word lies all the haze of religious incantation and shadowy practice, all the presumption of full-blown, human-led denominationalism, and all the off-base, manmade ceremony of the centuries.

But what does Paul say? Our latrein, our service is to be thought of as an offering to God. It’s not worship in the strictest sense, yet our horizontal service is transmogrified into a spiritualized vertical worship. And this “worship” is no longer the ritual of a special priesthood; it is the holy calling of all of us saints.

P.S. In case you didn’t notice, I should like to point out that nowhere in this essay does the term “worship service” appear. I’ve said it before and will say it again: both this term and the concept are human inventions that do injustice to each distinct idea. Worship is worship, and service is service. It’s not that “never the twain shall meet,” but they are distinct and deserve distinct consideration.

Ministry (2)

For many “ministry” leaders, a real status boost occurs when it’s decided–likely by someone within–that they’re going plural. For example, a prayer/worship group is called “MercySeat Ministries” and was formerly known as “OneThing Ministries.” I’ve never been sure why they’re plural. Perhaps it helps their tax-exempt status to be more than one? Whatever … when an organization becomes “John Brown Ministries,” I suppose one knows that group has arrived!

And perhaps that’s the issue I have with any so-called ministry’s calling itself a ministry, singular or plural. Activities may claim legitimacy simply because of the slapping of the label.

It’s not that the activities of John Brown or MercySeat are awry, necessarily. And most restroom-cleaning ministries and parking-lot ministries (and children’s ministries, thankfully!) perform their assigned or chosen tasks with diligence, skill, and a sense of Christian service. It’s the hierarchical, organizational pedigree I question. All these para-church organizations may duly support the work of the Kingdom, but the implied status with the capital-letter “Ministry” attached to one’s function may endow the groups with a false sense of status. And concepts of hierarachy and status can lead to direct conflict with ideals of Christian work and service.

Two years ago, in the musical ensemble I direct on a Christian college campus, we elected student officers. Based on scriptural precedent (and because I don’t like to be in ruts when I can help it), I named offices “Lead Organizational Minister,” “Minister of Organizational Promotion,” “Hospitality Minister,” etc. I used the term “minister” with a nod to British governmental agencies, but more, with respect to a scriptural connection: a minister is a servant is a deacon.

Now, although these student “ministers” are leaders, a minister in the church is not necessarily a leader of people, scripturally speaking. Church deacons are not necessarily leaders. But all ministers/servants/deacons are servants. Often when we see “minister” or “servant” or “deacon” in English Bibles, the Greek word diakonos is the root. (“Bond-servant” is used in the NASB to distinguish a different concept; the antecedent in this case is doulos.)  See this brief, prior post for a disturbing personal anecdote.

In fact, Paul referred to Timothy, often thought of primarily as an evangelist, as “our brother and God’s fellow “deacon” in the gospel of Christ” (1 Th 3:2) … and used the same root-word to speak of what are now known as deacons (1 Tim 3:8).

Tychicus, too, was a deacon/minister/servant: “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (Eph 6:21). Pardon me while I mercilessly rip a few more uses of this key word out of context. . . .

Luke (Acts 6) has the apostles saying they shouldn’t be deaconing tables but should be deacons of the word, so they chose seven men of good reputation to do the former.

Famously, Martha was distracted by her preparations and complained to Jesus that Mary had left her to do the deaconing alone (Luke 10:40).

There are certainly varieties of deaconships (1 Cor 12:5), and those who have received special gifts employ them “in serving (deaconing) one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Pet 4:10).

But “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,” said Jesus (Matt. 20:26). Ministries are for service of the Body of Christ, not for the purpose of establishing status. May all ministers be servants and not lords.