On Worship - a New View?
This page is written for Christians, mainly of an evangelical persuasion, and by one of them, about a topic that is close to many hearts. Other readers might miss some of the implications and connotations. Click here to bypass 'Setting the Scene' and go direct to 'A New View of Worship'.
Setting the Scene
We are created to worship God. Right? Not really, according to Richard Middleton in his new book A New Heaven and A New Earth. On page 39 he writes that "the real purpose of humanity is never explicitly portrayed in Scripture as the worship of God". This comes as something of a shock, because as he writes "In popular Chritian lore, it is almost axiomatic that humans were created to worship God." Let us look at this.
"I hate your religious feasts; bring justice." [Amos 5:21-24]
"'Let us return to the LORD for healing. ... Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that winter the earth.' What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the monthly mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces ... For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings." [Hosea 1:1-6]'
"These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips but their heart is far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish." [Isa 29:13-14]
Problems re. Worship
- Almost universally, worship is seen as something that we 'should' do for and to God, that it is at least something that he enjoys, and even something that he demands. Is worship something we 'should' do?
- To such an extent that when writers or speakers want to urge that we take something in everyday life seriously before God, they often feel they must call it 'a kind of worship' (often quoting Romans 12:1). Why can it not be important in its own right?
- What is called 'worship team' or 'worship group' is, usually, a music group plus someone who leads 'worship' in church services (a 'worship leader'). In old Anglican churches in the U.K., this often takes the form of a choir plus choir-master or organist. It is often the same people who take 'worship' to be singing that urge something in life to be treated as 'worship'. Should they not get their concepts right?
- Problem: the supposed importance of worship too often tangled up with the self-importance of the worship team or leader. This problem is seldom (a) recognised (b) faced up to (c) tackled.
- Down through the ages, a major source of conflict in churches is the relationship between the worship leader/team and the leaders of the church. Tensions between choir-master or organist and the vicar in C of E churches has so long been a problem that it is now almost seen as a joke. But we find the same tensions in modern churches.
- It may be that a root of the tension is because of the clash of two things of ultimate importance - worship on one hand, and the church as a whole or its teaching on the other.
Theology of Worship
- If worship were as important as implied in the first statement above, why is it that Jesus says so little about it?
- And even the letters focus much more on lifestyle than worship.
- Also, the notion that God wants our worship, wants to be, as it were, on his throne surrounded by myriads of creatures worshipping him, does not sit comfortably with his revelation as agape love, utter self-giving.
- So what do the Scriptures actually say? Of the verses in Scripture that speak of 'worship' (from Young's Concordance), we find:
None unambiguously tell us that God requires, demands, commands, or wants us to worship him. (Though Zech 14:17 could be taken as indicating a requirement, in telling us that those who do not go up each year to Jerusalem to worship God will get no rain.)
- 145 are narrative, saying that someone worshipped, or will worship, something or God
- 18 emphasize that we should not worship anything other than God
- 12 speak of where or how to worship, or by whom
- 9 are exhortations to worship or statements like "I will worship"
- Most of the temple activity that God spoke about is to do with sacrifices, either to atone for sin or to express joy and thanks. Not to do worship as such, and certainly not as we conceive of worship.
- Therefore, it seems worship cannot be so important in God's eyes as to demand that we do it.
Why Have We Misunderstood?
- Probably because we are infused with the pagan view that the deity demands, or is fed by, worship of its devotees.
- Oh yes, in one or two verses God indicates being pleased by an aroma of incense, etc. but are we absolutely sure that those verses are not merely putting things in terms the prevailing culture would understand; should we really build a whole theology on them?
A New View of Worship
- God's plan was a creation dependent on him, but with freedom and joy.
- Part of this joy results in a response of worship of God. The type of worship that pleases God is that which spontaneously arises within us.
- Worship is like breathing: we always worship something; what matters is how and whom we worship, not whether we do so.
- But doing anything in the creation in the way God intended may be taken as worship in this manner.
- Therefore, singing songs of worship in our meetings or services is not necessary, and it is certainly not of superior importance to the life and teaching of the church.
- Singing songs of worship has a place, as just one small part of our life together; it is that part in which we, usually together, express aesthetically our love for or joy in or reverence for God.
- (Therefore, worship leaders, worship teams, organists, choir-masters and the like should not vaunt themselves nor see themselves as 'the' important part of the service or church.)
- What is important in God's eyes is that we learn to represent him to the rest of creation including each other.
- (So maybe those who encourage and guide God's people toward that end should be seen as of greater importance in church than the worship team??)
Middleton, R. 2014. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Echatalogy. Baker.
See also an exposition of Jeshoshaphat's worship because "The battle belongs to the LORD".
This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden to latest date below, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 18 July 2014.
Last updated: 22 August 2015 link to Jehoshaphat; new .nav,.end, corrected date. 13 September 2015 R. Middleton. 28 March 2016 added verse.