In Search of a Biblical, Theological, and Practical Definition for the Practice of Worship
What Exactly Is Christian Worship? © 2006 by Bradley Robert Berglund. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address:
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Part 1 of 8
(For earlier chapters, click on my name next to my picture above)
How would you define worship? I had the privilege of interviewing many Christian leaders as I was preparing my doctoral thesis. At that interview, this was my first question. Each did a good job of listing the principles he believed were important in a definition of worship. Common thoughts included the idea of grasping God’s person and then ascribing praise to Him consistent with His character.
I also went looking in various books dealing with the topic of worship. Some works stressed that worship is an integral part of the life of the believer, not just a time when he sets his world on hold while he attends a service. Others noted that worship is both action and attitude; that right action with the wrong attitude is as empty as no action with the right attitude.
As I began my work, I had a desire to discover the principles of worship which transcended the arguments and clichés of the day. People know what they want to do when it comes to worship. They also know what they want to exclude and disregard, and they have one-lined sound-byte answers to express their positions:
• “The Bible says David danced.”
• “I don’t read anywhere that the Apostle Paul had a worship team.”
• “Martin Luther used bar music. He asked, ‘Why should the devil have all the good tunes?’”
This sword-play of one-liners does not advance our knowledge of worship because it is not designed to bring us closer to God or increase understanding of the topic. Rather its purpose is to force those who question a practice to shut-up and get into line with the program or else ship-out.
I yearned for a definition that would spring from the very fabric of Scriptures. I did not want just another list of proof texts. So I studied each of the fields of systematic theology. I filled my mind with a knowledge of who God is, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. Once I had a grasp of God in His three persons, I then attempted to discern principles of worship which spring from these doctrines. I wanted to be like Saul of Tarsus, going into the desert to be taught by God rather than by man, and then emerging with truth which would help me better to comprehend what God-given worship truly is.
As I was writing my thesis, I was unsatisfied with the definitions of worship which I was borrowing for my foundation. It was not that they were wrong; it was that my expectations were not being met. I wanted my definition to do the following:
• I wanted it to expand to include more than the hour-or-so block of time given each week to recharge the spiritual batteries. Worship should include the way we eat and drink.
• At the same time, I wanted the definition to exclude the activities of worship in the Bible which God clearly rejected, and even sometimes judged with death. Cain’s offerings were an act of worship that was unacceptable to God. If Nadab and Abihu were burned to death by God for offering “strange fire,” could it be possible to engage in the similar practices today?
• I wanted a definition that challenged me and my own motives and devotion as well as challenging what I deem to be the abuses by others. It is too easy to research what is wrong with my brother without catching a personal vision as in Isaiah 6. I wanted to see the attitudes and actions in my present state that need to be surrendered to God.
• I wanted a definition to spring from a New Covenant understanding that recognizes a demonstrable change after the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the day of Pentecost. The worship of this present age is clearly Trinitarian in character. The manifested object of New Testament worship is Jesus Christ. While it is true that He is God, still God the Father has revealed that New Testament worship exalts the person and work of Jesus Christ. The work of the indwelling person of the Holy Spirit is also unique to this age. Worship is not merely the preservation of Old Testament patterns. It is all about God in His three persons.
• I wanted a definition that was free from lofty language. Technical language has its proper place. One cannot comprehend the truths of God’s word if they are resistant to learning theological words and concepts which are foreign to contemporary society. Neither Hollywood nor PBS has plans in the near future to produce a work that will help man comprehend the importance of the “hypostatic union.” Whether you understand the concept or not, your view of the person of Jesus Christ and how you worship Him is related to it. Technical language has a vital place for those who wish to have a mature walk with Jesus Christ, especially if they are in the place of leadership. Still, I desired to bring out a definition that could be readily assimilated by those who are growing in Christ.
• I wanted a definition that could be easily committed to memory. The definition in Carson’s book appeared to say everything that was important. At first I rejoiced when I saw it, but when I tried to tell others what it said I could not remember all of the important points. I wanted a definition of worship that could be short and profound. While it does not say everything that can be said, it serves as starting block for a serious discussion of the deeper issues.
My success or failure to achieve these goals will be determined by the reader. Perhaps the Lord will use this work as a starting point for someone else who will be more successful than I am. I do not present this work to become an authority; I merely wish to engage others in the pursuit of a Biblical, theologically sound, and practical definition of Christian worship.
For other messages and illustrations see Pastor B archives