Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Worship


At first I was going to ignore this term since it no longer means what it once did. I know I am going to get in trouble. Thanks to the enemy creating such a great schism in true Christendom by redefining and through the utilization of this word, a great chasm has been opened up in the body which can no longer be repaired. We have now inducted into our evangelical vocabulary such terms as "worship wars." The longer I thought on it the more determined I became not to shy away from this topic. After all this is my blog. I wouldn't shy away from this term in the pulpit. So here goes.

Worship has its roots in salvation doctrine. Worship begins with God. God, who is the creator, the rescuer, the redeemer, and the savior of our souls. Therefore, God who initiates salvation among His elect determines our approach to Him. Approach God we must. Truths such as election, propitiation, redemption, righteousness, forgiveness, justification demand a response from the people of God. The response, the only proper and natural response is worship. The worship of God.

The word worship is an Anglo Saxon, Old English word. Worship originated as "weorthscipe" or weordhscipe." This term means "worthship" or "worthiness." This definition denotes actions or activities motivated by an attitude that reveres, honors, or describes the worth of another person or object. In both the Old and New Testament this response is reserved for God who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, and the Scriptures. Therefore, worship is determined to be reverent devotion in attitude and action which has been motivated by God's saving acts.

Let's look briefly to both the Old Testament (Hebrew) and the New Testament (Greek) and see if we can pull together a biblical meaning and understanding of this elusive term. The Hebrew verb abad means "to serve." The corresponding noun means "service, adoration." Another Hebrew word saha means "to prostrate one's self, to bow down." 

What you don't want to miss as you come to grips with this term, particularly in the Hebrew, is that the terms that are used imply some type or kind of activity. Yes, one can "fall down upon one's face" in homage or obeisance, but a service is to be rendered. It is the lesser (the worshipper) serving the greater (God.) Ruth bowed to the ground when she came in front of Boaz. (Ruth 2:10) In Joseph's dream, he saw his brothers "sheaves" bowing down in front of his sheaf. (Genesis 37:5,9-10) Moses when he ascertained he was in the presence of the LORD, quickly bowed his head toward the ground. (Exodus 34:8)

The most common Greek word for worship is proskyneo. This word depicts "the posture of kissing the ground." This word is a compound word, pros "to or towards" and kuneo "to kiss." This is considered a reverent act used mainly in the worship of a deity. The New Testament seems to use this word hesitantly, possibly because of the closeness to pagan worship. Again, the term demands a visible act, or a concrete activity of reverence to a visible deity.

A second word for worship comes from a word group gony, "knee" and gonypeteo "to bend the knee." This a gesture or activity of worship. The Latin form from which we get the English word "genuflect" which means the bending of the knee or full prostration. Once again, the underlying meaning is an active expression of an inner attitude of humility and self-abasement. A lesser is coming before or into the presence of a greater. The idea is that of an attitude of adoration, respect, and humility which springs spontaneously from the heart.

A third word for worship comes out of the word group latreiou "serve" and latreia "service." The idea garnered is that of the offering of sacrifice or service to God with no thought of reward or return. This service issues out of a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving and from a deep commitment of the heart.

This is why the apostle Paul would have fits with today's definitions and depictions of we call "worship." Paul would not understand the portion of the service listed in the bulletin as worship as having anything to do with singing. The evangelical church has redefined worship and turned in to what John MacArthur calls 7-11 Music. Seven choruses sung eleven times. We even differentiate the "singing/songs" from the preaching or teaching and other parts of the "worship service." Paul wouldn't have gotten this. Why? [Note: I am not saying singing is wrong!]

First, the main focus of the early service, believe it or not, was not the music or singing nor the teaching. The main focus was the Lord's Table. "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together, to sing for forty-five minutes-oops, to break bread..." (Acts 20:7)

Second, having been told to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another which often rise spontaneously from a grateful heart, that is not the idea of worship that Paul or the early church would have understood.  Paul insisted on the dedication of a believers entire life, which included inward expressions motivated by sheer humility and outward expressions of service and devotion. In other words, worship is a 24/7 lifestyle. It is something that we do from the time we wake up until we fall back asleep. Worship is not to be relegated to Sunday mornings between 11:00 and Noon, or even 10:30 until noon.

Worship is a dramatic celebration of God's supreme worth, value, or pricelessness in a manner that His worthiness becomes the normal inspiration of  our everyday living. Do you get that? Our everyday motivation is the worthiness of God. Understanding worship correctly leads to at least three conclusions:

  • Worship places God at the center of our lives because of His worthiness or worthship
  • Worship is not subjective; hence we can not define it as we see fit
  • Worship calls for the examination of our hearts in light of God's worthiness and His full knowledge of our hearts
Israel's worship was a response to God for the acts that He performed in the life of Israel. It is no different in the church, the believer's worship is a response to God for the acts that He performs in our lives and in the life of the church. The emphasis is on God not self. Whether this worship takes the form of verbal praise for the works and ways of God, joyful, heartfelt singing for His grace and mercy to us, or living our lives worthy of His calling of us unto himself. This is worship. "Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called with all lowliness..." This is worship, living our everyday lives in a manner which corresponds to his worth or value in a reverent manner.

But hey, that is not as fun as standing and swaying for forty-five minutes to an hour to up-beat, fast paced music which makes us "feel good." It is more fun to sing of all the things that God has done for us and call that worship than living Monday through Saturday reverently, in humble service of God.

Now don't get me wrong. My intent is not to mock anyone nor imply that music and singing is not important. It is! Otherwise Paul would not have told both the Colossian Church and Ephesian Church to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to each other. That is not worship. That is edification and encouragement.

When Abraham worshipped he bowed low to the ground and built an altar. (Genesis 13:18) God's instructions and laying out of the Tabernacle with its furnishings, sacrifices, and rituals were acts of worship and service. These things were acts of response. (Deuteronomy 8:1-20; Exodus 25-31)

In the early church the church gathered for worship which included prayer, teaching, the Lord's Table, and fellowship. Worship encompasses the entire being of the Christian in every aspect of his/her everyday life. 

E. Underhill wrote, "worship is the response of the creature to the eternal." This worship includes the awareness of the creaturliness and finiteness of the child of God who bows before a holy and transcendent being known as God. Worship includes humility, submission, and activities prompted by being humbled in the presence of God.

Worship is an exercise of the heart that is directed to God. Worship is not to satisfy our need (s) or to make us feel better but solely to express the worthiness of God. So worship ascribes to God His extreme and supreme worth. This is why it is so important to choose hymns and spiritual songs so carefully. Most today simply make the singer feel good and "acts" like a means to emotionally satisfy an individual. The song service of many churches today is nothing more than a an emotional junkie obtaining a fix in order to achieve another emotional high. The louder the music, heavier the beat, more vibrant the rhythm, and prolonged repetition the more we can be distracted from the glorious, majestic, almost indescribable attributes of a holy, righteous, magnificent, and majestic God and the more we can slip into a "trance-like" repetitive state where we think the repetition, loudness, and stimulation pleases God.

Now, don't get me wrong and if the "shoe does not fit" don't slip your foot into it. I am not talking to everyone  or about every "worship" service. Nor am implying one type of song or music is better than another. I am merely giving a definition of worship that would be hard pressed to define much of what is taking place today.

"Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name." (Psalms 96:8) So we sing of God's character, ways, power, works, and et. cetera, not what makes us feel good. Let me close out this blog before it turns into a two or three parter by sharing with you the goals of worship found in Isaiah Six: Worship:
  • begins with a true vision of the living God
  • demands a response
  • leads to the confession of sin (individually and corporately)
  • leads to the proclamation of the gospel
2010 A-Z Challenge: W is for "Where Would I Be" (an original composition by Gregg Metcalf) 
2011 A-Z Challenge: W is for Worship


Seams Inspired said...

As someone who has a heart for leading worship in a contemporary venue, it was difficult at first to not get defensive as I read your post, Gregg. However, after re-reading it, I have a clear understanding of worship as you have defined it. You did a great job breaking down the definition, and presented the topic in a clear manner. Thanks! :o)

For me, whatever the song, I am singing for the glory of God. For me, that is my highest form of worship. I do sing throughout my days, as I'm going about my life, to honor Him. My hope and prayer is that if people hear me singing while mowing the lawn, or mopping floors, or if they see me on a stage singing songs of praise, they see Him shining through me.

I especially love the the last part of your post, because it really breaks down the concept of worship. Excellent post, bloggy friend. Happy Wednesday! :o)

Persis said...

Amen, Brother!

I think we have done a disservice to worship by making it synonymous with singing. I believe worship is a heart response to the truth of who God is, not merely a musical stirring of the emotions.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I'm pleased you used the word Worship, as that is what I feel I'm doing when I go to church.

Have a lovely day.

Trisha said...

"Worship is a dramatic celebration of God's supreme worth, value, or pricelessness in a manner that His worthiness becomes the normal inspiration of our everyday living." That's beautiful, Gregg!

I was listening to a wonderful sermon by Piper in which he stresses that right worship comes from right thinking about God. I think what you've written here reflects that thought quite well.

Great post!

abound said...

Thanks Gregg for clearing up any questions pertaining to have researched well! blog

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Gregg many thanks for your comment. Hope you get your new knees soon, it must be awful not to be able to get around,
Take care.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Perhaps we should simply replace the word "worship" with "celebrate" to describe using music to share and rejoice in the Lord.

Audrey E. Charles said...

Thank you so much for this post! I am discovering more and more how far we have strayed from the truth of the basic principles of Christian life, and worship is one of them. Your article has brought it right back into clear focus.

Wanda said...

Gregg thanks for sharing this very insightful commentary on worship.

Penned Pebbles said...

Great post, Gregg! I especially like, "Worship is not to satisfy our need (s) or to make us feel better but solely to express the worthiness of God." This sums it up nicely and very truthfully. But most of the time it's all about the 'worship service' and the effects it has on people and very little about God (other than the lyrics, and even these are oft self- rather than God-centered!) Blessings!

Kansas Bob said...

Agree with you and MacArthur about 7-11 music Gregg. I sometimes think that it is simply a response to the dead and uninspired preaching and singing of some churches. So many churches are filled with uninspiring teachers, song leaders and congregants - some feel that singing is optional. And many are simply afraid to engage folks at anything but an intellectual level.

Keena said...

Gregg, You did an excellent job of explaining the true meaning of worship. I totally agree that worship is a 24/7 response to who God is and how He has worked in our lives.

~Rasz~ said...

Thank you Gregg for breaking down the original meaning of Worship and the way if was and is used. Excellent post.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Hi Gregg I saw the film on video ,loving music as I do well I was bowled over, yes it do seem along time ago much water has flowed under the bridge since then.

Brianna said...

An in-depth and insightful post on the true meaning of worship. Very well done!

Robyn Campbell said...

Lovely post and so true. I am humbled by His grace that has been given to me. And Gregg!! That poem is beautiful. I so enjoyed reading it. I have been thinking of writing a poem declaring God's awesomeness. You have inspired me.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Amen brother! It's been one of my pet peeves that church now views worship almost entirely as singing on Sunday morning. The song leader is now the Worship Leader....hmmm.

Great post Gregg!

Sharon said...

I haven't had time to come back to your blog this week so I went through several of your entries today. This one resonated with me since I also wrote on worship for "W." You verbalized the meaning of worship very well. Blessings to you!


Cathy M. said...

I couldn't agree more with this entire article.

"The song service of many churches today is nothing more than an emotional junkie obtaining a fix in order to achieve another emotional high."

You forgot to add how incredibly feminizing it is. It's no wonder that most of the folks who really get in a twist when you rebuke this error are women.