Defining Worship


This morning, I started a week-long “j-term” class. I am taking The Worshipping Church, and as it says on the syllabus, the course is “a study of Christian worship, its biblical roots, its historical development, the impact of the Reformation and the liturgical revival; a comparative study of denominational worship patterns, the selection of worship materials, planning orders of worship, inner-staff participation in worship in relation to preaching, evangelism, music, and spiritual growth in participants.”For the next couple weeks, I’ll be discussing worship / church music related issues on my blog here. Before starting at Southern, I had been leading worship for… let’s just say a long time. I have always enjoyed the corporate singing of His praises, and the joyful responsibility of leading people to recognize their position in Christ. I do miss leading corporate worship, but since being called to the ministry of the Word, I still find myself yearning to spread a biblical theology of worship.IMHO, the underlying mindset, motives and attitude are just as important as the actual things that are done in corporate worship. There is a very tough balance to maintain between our heart-attitude and the outward acts of worship (leading). I’ve seen numerous instances where there have been a serious disconnect between the two — situations which inevitably led to a very low picture of God in worshipers minds. What is happening on the inside manifests itself on the outside, happening to both those off the stage and those on. If the heart is not right with God, it will manifest itself in outward behavior and posture.This subsequently leads to an imbalance between the vertical & horizontal: worship either becomes too focused on God without edifying those around us, or too focused on serving the needs of the people without honoring and serving God. In this, it is most evident in having too many me-centered songs, and not so much God-centered songs; too much singing about us knowing/drawing closer to God but little mention of His initiative of drawing us to Himself as the Holy Judge & King.


Worship is something that is hard to define, even as we try to seek out a theology of worship from the Scriptures. I know that there are many worship leaders out there leading churches into worship who have spent little time trying to understand what they are doing, never mind what Scripture itself prescribes. It may be a tedious task to ask ourselves what it is we do every Sunday, and further, to ponder how our corporate gatherings of worship are any different than our daily life worship. Nevertheless, it is something that we all must do as a preliminary step before we actually do worship.Here are few different biblical definitions that were discussed in class:

Christian worship is the adoration and service to God the Father through the mediation of the Son and prompted by the Holy Spirit. (Ralph Martin)Worship is a conversation between the God of revelation and the people in need of redemption. (Welton Gaddy)Worship is a dialogue – one that begins long before a community of believers gathers on a particular day to ???worship God,??? and one that does not end when the sound of the concluding benediction is no longer audible. (Milburn Price)Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord. (John Frame)

Human beings were created to worship God and express their devotion to him in obedient faith. Where this worship is abandoned, the result is not a state of ???no worship???, but a state of ???false worship???. For a human being there can be no vacuum of non-worship. One is either submitted to God in the doing of his will and the glorifying of his name, or one is submitted to someone, or something else. The error described in this Romans passage is not the neglect of worship but the exchange of worship.Men and women are inveterate worshipers. Worship belongs to their essential structure. The expression of human sin is that the worship for which they were created is exchanged for idolatrous worship. They sin, not by not worshiping, but by worshiping wrongly.

Noel Due. Created to Worship. Scotland: Mentor Printing, 2005, 27.

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made. While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered. Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulses in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers.

D.A Carson. Worship by the Book. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, 26.

Worship of the living and true God is essentially is an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way the he alone makes possible.

David Peterson. Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992, 20.

I could add a couple more definitions from a couple leaders of today’s contemporary worship movement:

Worship is simply about value. […] Worship is our response to what we value most. (Louie Giglio)Worship is the all-consuming response to the all-deserving revelation of God. (Matt Redman)

What do you think? Which definition do you agree with most? Or which definition intrigues you?

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