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2 - Defining Worship

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What Exactly Is Christian Worship?

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:
Pastor Berglund,
c/o First Baptist Church,
401 Bridge Street North,
Cannon Falls, MN 55009


Part 2 of 8

(For earlier chapters, click on my name next to my picture above)


Chapter 3

Defining Worship

A Definition according to Etymology

In the English language, worship is used in a variety of ways. At its root, worship is a transitive verb which means “to honor and love as a deity: venerate (Webster’s Dictionary).” Normally, an object is supplied with the verb, (worship God, worship idols, worship nature, etc.) When the verb “worship” appears without a direct object, the context usually supplies the object. Worship can also be used as a noun or even as an adjective. While the word can take on many forms, it is best to understand all of them in the light of the original transitive verb.

The terms found in the Biblical languages are very similar to their English translation. The Hebrew word, shachah, emphasized one activity in worship. The worshipper would “bow down” in homage to the one whom he worshiped – Psalm 2:10-12. This same respect is found in the Greek word, proskuneo. The act of obeisance is enhanced with a “kissing” of the feet of the one whom he worships. The etymology of the words used picture one who prostrates himself before one whom he both fears and adores. Regardless of his exalted station on earth (even president or king), he recognizes that the one he worships is not his peer but his sovereign. There is nothing casual about such worship.

While the attitudes and actions are clear in the words, there is nothing inherently sacred about worship. If the object of worship is someone or something other than God, worship may be equally devout or zealous, but it is vile to the God who demands exclusive worship.

A Definition according to Example

Most people’s definition of worship does not come from dictionaries. Instead, it is the result of years of practice. Those whom they trust as spiritual leaders have provided both the liberty and the structure to worship God. Most books on worship today focus on the administration of worship. They are written to leaders who are looking for “fresh” and “innovative” ways to engage their congregations in the practice of worship. Every church is given the freedom to do that which is right in its own esteem. For this reason, worship becomes something that people do, not something that they try to define. Such a person sees no need to define worship in a theological sense. This makes as much sense as dissecting a live bird to find out why it sings and killing it in the process.

A Definition according to Excess

Others look at the clever novelties of modern worship and see blasphemy. For example, some Christian retailers sell comical bumper stickers and t-shirts which parody the cultural icons and commercial products of a godless American society. These cleverly insert a “God thought” into an unexpected place. While this may seem right and effective to man, comparing God to any athlete or object, no matter how popular they may be, is forbidden by God. Such displays do not exalt God; they demean Him - Isaiah 40:18, 25. For this reason, many definitions today are written to identify and exclude the defiling elements that are accepted in some circles. Some are even demanding a Puritan minimalism, razing all of modern worship, rebuilding a simple structure, and allowing back in only that which has clear scriptural support.

The questions of how godly worship relates to contemporary culture are not new; they are as old as Abraham and Lot. Should Christian worship conform to its society and minimize any difference in order to win them through friendship, or should it confront and contradict its society and its sin?

Similarly, are the accepted practices of a given culture necessarily transferable to another society? Can someone truly worship God upon an instrument that is foreign to western ears? When determining what expressions of worship are indeed acceptable to God, it is vital to realize that our own expressions are not the exclusive expressions that God receives. The practices of worship are trans-continental and trans-generational - Psalm 100:4-5. For this reason, a good definition of Christian worship should be applicable to all situations and locations, not just to twenty-first century America.

How then should we define worship?

Worship is …

The wholehearted glorification of God

Through the terms He prescribes and

By the power He provides.

For First Chapter click on Christian Worship - What Is It?
For Next Chapter see Worship Is First of All

For other messages and illustrations see Pastor B archives

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