OK, you win

I’ve been following the discussion of Philip Percival’s last two posts on ‘worship’ with interest (here and here). And having once more heard some of the points in favour of retaining ‘worship’ language to describe singing and/or church, and also having gone back and read some of the best arguments that are made to justify the practice, I’ve decided to throw in the towel. You guys win. I’ll stop trying to convince you of the complete folly of labelling our church services as ‘worship services’ or our song-leaders as ‘worship leaders’. Your arguments are just too clever.

However, lest you think I’m just getting old and tired, I have a new crusade to embark upon. Your line of reasoning has inspired me to start a campaign to retain the ancient Christian practice of referring to our ministers and pastors as ‘priests’.

Now it’s early days in my research on this, but here is how I think I’m going to run the argument. (Warning: irony alert)

  1. Now of course we all know the biblical theology. Jesus is the great high priest who fulfills the role played by the old covenant levitical priests. In Jesus we are all priests (1 Pet 2:9), who offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to him (Heb 13:15). And thus in the new covenant there is no special mediatorial class of Christians who priests. There is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
  2. However, we must also recognize that in the OT, ‘priesthood’ was a  richer and more nuanced category than just the temple priests. It did not adhere only to the cultus. In the OT, all Israel were meant to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6), to serve God and represent him to the nations.
  3. So it is reductionist to say that ‘priesthood’ was purely a temple category even in the OT. And it is similarly reductionist to suggest that ‘priesthood’ is abolished in the new covenant. It is rather fulfilled and transformed in the life of God’s people.
  4. Following on from this, if we now all belong to the ‘priesthood’ in this richer new covenant sense, then it is extreme to suggest that we should abandon the long Christian tradition of calling ministers and pastors ‘priests’. If we are all priests, in every aspect of our lives, then surely ministers and pastors are also ‘priests’ (as a subset of the whole). Or are they the only ones who are NOT priests?
  5. Further, if we are all priests in ‘all of life’ as it were, then our gathering as the church represents the focus and high point of our ‘priesthood’, the point at which Jesus the Great High Priest is present in our midst. In this context, it is surely defensible that those who lead us and set us an example in our ‘corporate priesthood’ should wear the language of priesthood themselves.
  6. It is also significant that in one important instance Paul describes his apostolic ministry as a ‘priestly service’, thus using ‘priest’ language in close connection with ‘ministry’ language (Rom 16:16).
  7. Now we must grant that there have been abuses of this language, and circumstances in which ministers have behaved quite inappropriately as ‘priests’ (wearing sacrificial vestments, wafting incense, re-casting the Lord’s Supper as sacrifice in which Jesus is offered on the altar, and so on). This is to be deplored And yet these errors should not prevent us from keeping this very commonly used and convenient tag, which so many people have used over centuries to describe their leaders. The better way forward is to invest the term with a more helpful and nuanced meaning. My own suggestion is that we refer to our leaders as  ‘corporate priests’, so as to retain the necessary distinctions.
  8. Also, speaking as an Anglican, the language of ‘priest’ is part of our heritage that I think we are far too quick to abandon. And I am personally a bit ‘over’ the nitpickers who keep suggesting that it ‘undercuts the gospel’ or is ‘unedifying’ or ‘takes us back to Rome’. It doesn’t have to be, so long as we remember that we are all priests.

OK, so who’s with me?

58 thoughts on “OK, you win

  1. This seems a mature and balanced response to the discussion. It certainly makes me regret responding by poking fun at old people caught up in old fights at the risk of alienating the young.

      • Hi Nathan. Hope you don’t think that my post was directed at you particularly. It’s just a thought I’ve had a number of times in the past but never put into words — that almost precisely the same arguments that are used to defend applying ‘worship’ terminology to church/singing, can be used to defend other more obviously indefensible language/labels.

        • I’m fine with it being directed at me.

          I think what it boils down to in both cases is that we’re rejecting the wrong use of the word elsewhere by tossing the word out of the vocab altogether. Which seems a tad reactionary.

          I think there is a concept of “priesthood” in the new testament that looks like a development of the concept of priesthood in the Old Testament.

          The problem with your comparison – that I think Pete might have also identified – is that they actually seem to be the reverse of each other. Most of us are arguing that worship is everything, therefore worship is music (but not exclusively music). A similar approach to sets and subsets can be taken with the priesthood language – I would argue that all believers are priests, therefore ministers are also priests, but to suggest ministers alone are priests is problematic. Some people have suggested that only ministers are priests (ie the Catholics), which means we need to be careful to articulate what priesthood means when we come across the idea in the Bible.

          If your argument is that music is worship, but we shouldn’t call it that because then worship gets confused, well, that’s a legitimate approach (but not the only approach) to the problem of the misappropriation of the title of the set to one of its subsets. But you, and others, actually seem to be arguing that music is not worship at all.

          The two problems that have emerged as a result of tossing out tainted terminology, that I feel as a younger Christian (ie in age, not necessarily in length of time as a Christian), are firstly, that all this worship war has done is distanced us from brothers and sisters who understand the Bible differently. To the point where we think of them as cousins or illegitimate children… I’d rather just see them as odd siblings. And secondly, it’s robbed us of the benefits of doing the things that they’ve unfortunately labelled as worship – because we’ve defined ourselves as “not like them”…

          And now we’re trying to justify our cultural actions Biblically. By using some, to be frank, seemingly dubious linguistic contortions, trying to make words into as small a space as possible.

          • Nathan, let me try it this way. Given what you say about ‘priests’ and ‘priesthood’, do you think it would be helpful if the main category or label that we used in church for pastors was ‘priests’; that this was what we called them all the time, that this was their job title, and that we dressed them (literally and figuratively) as priests in our discussion of the pastoral role? That this is in a sense how we defined and talked about the whole pastoral role and responsibility — as a ‘priesthood’?

            Judging from what you’ve already said, I’m hoping you’d say: “No, that would probably be unedifying and confusing for people; because it wouldn’t reflect the NT emphasis and teaching about ministry, and (given Catholic and Anglo-Catholic history, and the current popular usage in our culture) it would seriously confuse people about the nature of ministry and church, both outsiders and insiders; and over time, continuing that dominant ‘priest’ language would probably distort a church’s view of what the pastorate was about.

            Can you not see that this is all I’m saying with respect to applying ‘worship’ language as the over-arching and dominant label for our church gatherings and for singing. And the overarching and dominant label is exactly what it currently is.

            I’m simply saying it shouldn’t be, for almost precisely the same reasons as ‘priest’ shouldn’t be.

            Does that help?


          • Hi Tony,

            “do you think it would be helpful if the main category or label that we used in church for pastors was ‘priests’”

            No. I don’t think labels or categories are helpful at all. That’s part of my problem. I think we lose some of the richness and integration of concepts in the Christian life if we try to create clear distinctions between things like church and life by, for example, calling what we do on a Sunday “church”… I think “pastor” is problematic too, by extension. Though I recognise that having labels to apply to things can be convenient and usage, to an extent, dictates meaning.

            “Can you not see that this is all I’m saying with respect to applying ‘worship’ language as the over-arching and dominant label for our church gatherings and for singing”

            Yes. Can you see that I think we’re coming at the problem from two different angles. You (and Philip) seem to say “don’t use “worship” for anything, because that will solve the problem of feature creep in the word’s definition. I say “use worship to describe every response to God, because that will be more theologically correct, and solve the problem of feature creep.” I’d also say that what the no worship camp have been saying for many years is now the only paradigm for guys like me, people preparing for ministry, in our twenties, where we’ve lost any sense of what worship actually means because it’s a blacklisted word. It seems that in reacting to the guys who get the definition of worship wrong – and everybody acknowledges that those guys exist, and it’s wrong to call your music pastor your worship pastor as though music=worship… It seems we’re walking away from being comfortable with talking about worship as a human response to God at all. Which is just odd. And doesn’t work with any version of the gospel that claims that Jesus is Lord and King, as well as saviour by grace…

            So I ask you – as a representative of the “old guard” on this issue – can you see the confusion this response to unhelpful understandings of worship that are out there in the marketplace causes for young people who aren’t out there in the marketplace, but are firmly in the reformed evangelical camp?

  2. Hi Tony,

    Your reductio ad absurdum argument works well, and is helpful for showing how the argument for “labelling our church services as ‘worship services’ or our song-leaders as ‘worship leaders’” is flawed.

    I’m not sure that those are the things that those of us in the discussion have been arguing for, though.

    I would suggest that using the term ‘corporate worship’ to describe church is (a) theologically sound, Scriptural and indeed helpful and (b) not analogous to the position that your above argument refutes. Let me see if I can explain.

    Would you have a problem with this exchange?

    Outsider: What’s that guy’s job up front?
    Churchgoer: He’s the paid priest. The rest of us do it for free.

    The disanalogy between this position and your ironic one above is the same as that between distinguishing singing from the rest of a church service by calling it worship and being happy to call a church service ‘corporate worship’.

    (This kinda echoes some comments I made in the other thread that perhaps you’d not read before getting to writing this post)

    • Hi Peter

      My little ‘reductio’ was trying to mirror the arguments that I have heard and read over the last several years as to why it is “theologically sound, Scriptural and indeed helpful” to use ‘worship’, or ‘corporate worship’ as a label or category to describe our church gatherings. I’m trying to show (by analogy) that those arguments don’t hold water.

      So I’m not entirely sure how you can accept the validity of the comparison, and yet retain the position. But perhaps I’m missing something.

      I hope I’m understanding you, but yes, I would have a problem with that exchange, as would most evangelical protestants. We don’t want to call our pastors ‘priests’, paid or otherwise. It runs right against the theology and language of the NT. And even though it’s a cute point to make — hey we’re all priests but he gets paid for it — that hardly reduces or prevents the damage that is done to people’s concept of church and ministry by labelling the pastor as a ‘priest’.

      Warm regards


      • “I’m trying to show (by analogy) that those arguments don’t hold water.” And I agree. The use of ‘worship’ to distinguish church from other times or to distinguish singing from the rest of church is unhelpful and promotes falsehood.

        I just don’t believe that ‘corporate worship’ as a term for church does that. Its corollary is ‘individual worship’ which happens without the gathered body. “Worship leader” does, I think, communicate that distinction and ought be avoided at all costs.

        “it’s a cute point to make”
        Thanks. :)

        Yet you say: “hardly reduces or prevents the damage that is done to people’s concept of church and ministry by labelling the pastor as a ‘priest’.”

        To be clear, I’m not advocating we call ministers priests. Not at all.

        I’m suggesting that a little line like the one in my exchange communicates two things I’m sure we agree on:
        (1) The reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
        (2) The dude up the front is set aside to do ministry full-time.

        I’m definitely not suggesting that line would make it ok to call ministers priests. (unless you gave everyone at the church name-badges that said “Priest so-and-so” on them. Though you’ve got obvious branding issues there and Mormon lawsuits coming your way) I’m as loooow church as a raised-anglican can be. By conviction too, not just by tradition.

        I am suggesting that the ‘cute line’ is perfectly able to communicate the two things above that we agree are true.

        The point here being that I believe that the term “corporate worship” (as opposed to the individual worship that I do at other times) is not a term that is theologically wrong to use to describe church, nor does it suggest the idea that worship happens only at church. (If you just called it ‘worship’, then I’m against it. “Worship service”? Against it but can see why someone would want to retain it.

        I also happen to think that there is some value in having the category of worship in mind as a part of our thinking with respect to what happens at church, but given that we’re not on the same page with even this stuff just yet that should probably wait.

  3. Preach it Brother Tony! Or should that be Father Tony?

    After all, all of us men with children are fathers, you are ordained and have children, so it must be alright for us to call you Father—or just because you’re ordained, are we not allowed to do that?

    What confusion could possibly arise?

    Father Cheng.

  4. Ok, so I think I misunderstood your question before (or maybe I’m still misunderstanding your point). I thought you were making some connection between worship and priesthood, in some kind of cultic relationship. But I think you are just making a comparison between two situations which have a universal application, then asking, in a specific case can we use the particular label. So worship is all of life, therefore corporate singing should be called worship. All people are priests, therefore pastors should be called priests. Yes?

    If that is so, I think there is a significant difference. Let me first try with another analogy. All Australian citizens are Australians. But we don’t just call every Australian policeman (or pastor or whatever) an Australian, we call him a policeman (or whatever), because his Australian-ness is not particularly relevant or distinctive or useful. But on the otherhand, I think we could make a case to call one of the Rugby Wallabies playing against NZ an Australian, because his Australian-ness is particularly relevant to what he is doing in playing rugby for Australia etc. Similarly, when it comes to priest/pastor, it is not specially relevant to call the pastor a priest, that is not at the forefront of his distinctive role in pastoring. On the other hand, when I sing to God, it is distinctly, essentially and blatantly about worship. So it is very relevant to call it worship. Moreso than say reading the announcements during the corporate gathering, or telling people about rules for using the car park or fire safety etc. This may be a difference of where I’m coming from, but yes I think all of life is worship, but some things are more “in your face” worship than others.


  5. Cleverer and cleverer…

    The analogy between ‘worship’ and ‘priesthood’ is a good one, Tony, thanks.

    It forces us to ask the question: What is actually wrong with the language of priesthood? Why do we react so strongly against it? The answer is: it assumes and promotes a very damaging, alternative theology of how we gain access to God. If we call the person up the front a ‘priest,’ we’re effectively saying (or at least being heard to say) that our access to God comes through that person.

    It’s the same problem with using the language of ‘worship’. Worship, for most people, is about access to God. Therefore if we designate our corporate gatherings, or our singing, or whatever, as ‘worship’, we’re saying that we access God primarily through our experience of corporate gatherings, or through an experience of singing, etc.

    But we access God through Christ, by his Spirit and his word. Our our priest is Jesus, we are a priesthood in the Spirit, and we worship God by hearing and responding to his word.

    BUT that observation makes it just a little bit harder to brush aside the traditional Anglican language of ‘priest’ and ‘worship’. Because it is this very theology of access to God through his word which underlies Cranmer’s language. Cranmer thoroughly redefined the language of both ‘priest’ and ‘worship’ in line with his theology of the word. Through re-writing the liturgy, he made it clear that the ‘priest’ was no longer defined as the one who made sacrifices, but rather the priest was defined as the one who proclaimed God’s word to people. He also made it clear that ‘worship’ was defined as the gathering of God’s people to hear and respond to his word. So he used Psalm 95, which speaks of ‘worship’ in the context of hearing ‘God’s voice,’ to introduce the Bible readings, and made the corporate reading of the Bible and the proclamation of the gospel (by the ‘priest’) central to everything.

    I’m not saying that we should necessarily retain the language of ‘priest’ and ‘worship’ as Cranmer did. But we should, like Cranmer, recognise that there’s something more fundamental than our choice of words: our theology of how we access God (both personal and corporate). Cranmer decided to retain the language, but he also decided to do his darndest to make sure that the right theology was being preached and practiced through the use of that language. Maybe he was wrong, in the long run. But it would be tragic if we did the opposite: i.e. got caught up in arguing about the use of words but neglected to question the underlying theology of how we access God and how our understanding of church relates to our doctrine of the Word of God.

    By the way, I’m not saying you’re doing that at all, Tony – just that it can be an unfortunate side-effect of the debate!

    • Lionel, this is a great post.

      The notion of ‘access’ seems to be what this whole debate is actually about. Those who don’t like ‘worship’ language are concerned that people will think using ‘worship’ langauge conveys that access to God is through some other way other than ‘through Christ, by his Spirit and his word’.

      The question is: does it? It might do in the way it is misused in Pentacostalism, granted.

      • I think that’s a great summary of the issue, Michael.

        It would seem to me that ‘priest’ has ‘access’ as more dominant idea that the wider usage of ‘worship’.

        However, once ‘priest’ or ‘worship’ are used in a qualified sense the problems of thinking in terms of ‘access’ are even less:

        – ‘priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God’ (Rom 16), ‘priestly duty of full-time ministry’ (1 Cor 9), ‘priestly duty of teaching’ (Mal 2).

        – ‘corporate worship’, ‘worship of praise’ (Heb 13), ‘worship of giving’ (Php 4), ‘worship of hearing and trembling at the word’ (Is 66).

        • One of the stand out best theological works on this is by JB Torrance (we are still debating about words, I notice). He shows how an understanding of the Trinitarian context of our corporate worship completely obliterates any sense that we are gaining a kind of access to God in some way which would subvert the gospel.

          I think Tony is making some big concessions here by running the priest analogy. Because in the end, it just comes down to ‘what is the most helpful language to use’ – and I think it is by no means at all obvious that worship language used with the right qualifications is unhelpful or unloving in the slightest.

          • But Tony’s talking about using worship as the “main default label”, which is a different issue to whether we can use it “with the right qualifications”, surely?

  6. The word “priest” doesn’t trouble me unduly – after all, it’s origin is the word “presbyter”, which no-one has a problem with!

    The cultic connotations of the word are probably much less now than a generation ago. Certainly we’d have to explain to outsiders exactly what an “Anglican priest” does – but we’d also have to explain to them what an “Anglican presbyter” does as well!

    • Excellent point!

      It was the first thing that leapt to mind when Lionel said: “What is actually wrong with the language of priesthood? Why do we react so strongly against it? The answer is: it assumes and promotes a very damaging, alternative theology of how we gain access to God. If we call the person up the front a ‘priest,’ we’re effectively saying (or at least being heard to say) that our access to God comes through that person.”

      I understand that what Lionel says is true historically. But I’m not so sure we will always be heard to be saying this by people today — whether they’re church-goers or not.

      I can recall several conversations with non-Christians in which I’ve been at pains to explain why I prefer not to refer to ordained pastors as ‘priests’ only to discover that the issues had never even crossed their minds!

      • Chris, I’ve had those same conversations with non-Christians.

        But I’ve had lots more of those conversations Lionel is talking about with Christians who are doing just that sort of damaging category transfer.

  7. Etymologically in English of course, priest is not from hieros, Greek for priest, but from presbuteros, elder. So we are not all priests at all. Only those who are leaders in the church. Perhaps you should campaign for all Anglicans to be considered part of the hierarchy instead.

  8. Hi Tony,
    is “service” your prefered overarching word for what goes on at our church gatherings? Isn’t that just as problematic?

  9. Thanks for the thoughtful comments everyone. My time is up for interaction on this thread, and so a few final comments from me (sorry I can’t reply to everything):

    1. Nathan, thanks for your last comment. I hear what you’re saying. You don’t want to have the old debate again; you want to move on and think through how ‘worship’ should be used, not just say how it shouldn’t. And that’s no doubt what you need to do — I don’t know why ‘worship’ should be a blacklisted word or concept, or never applied to anything. (I’ve never thought or said that!) But forgive me for re-running the debate again in this context, because it is by no means over or settled in the wider Christian and evangelical worlds, certainly not judging by people’s continued insistence on using ‘worship’ as the main default label for church gatherings and for singing. (And I’m saying: that’s about as defensible, biblically, theologically and contextually, as using ‘priest’ as the main and default label for pastors)

    2. Why keep making this argument? Because of love and edification. What we do in church really matters, and the Scriptural principle that should guide our decisions is love; the desire to do what is best for others for their benefit; for their edification — whether our church members or those who visit us.

    In love, we should stop using language and labels that are inaccurate, unhelpful and confusing for our people; that by their continued use teach an unbalanced and unbiblical view of ‘worship’, and which (given our history and context) send confusing and potentially damaging messages about God and our relationship to him, the nature of church (and singing), and so on.

    This is ultimately why we stopped calling our ministers ‘priests’ — because we care for people and to want to remove barriers or confusions that get in the way of communicating the gospel and the Bible to them. Lionel, to take up your point, we took the Cranmerian principle and just continued to apply it: to take our theology of God, and of relationship with him, and continue to reform our forms and practices in light of that, in faithfulness to him, in light of our context, and for the edification of his people.

    3. Getting the labels and language right is a start; it’s important (for all the reasons above). But it’s only the first step. The challenge with respect to singing is (as I said in one my earlier TWIST posts) is to “continue to articulate (and put into practice) a robustly evangelical approach to singing: one in which the singing is gospel-centred, and is addressed to one another and to God (depending a bit on what we’re singing); one in which the words and theology are vital, but in which the moving of the affections is also important”.

    I think that’s what Philip Percival particularly wants to move onto in his third instalment, having planted a flag in the ground re ‘worship’ — and with me now having dipped my oar in as well!

    Over to you again Philip.

    • Also – briefly (again)…

      “people’s continued insistence on using ‘worship’ as the main default label for church gatherings and for singing.”

      Part of the reason I think we need to “move on” is that I think it is appropriate to use worship in these cases – but only with the understanding that it is bigger than these cases. This is my problem – I’m not suggesting it has been blacklisted wholesale (though I’m led to believe that’s the trajectory Philip’s posts will end up at – ie we don’t worship, Christ does…). I’m simply saying that blacklisting it in the contexts that you implicitly do again here (singing, gathering) we’re forcing worship out of being things that should actually form part of worship… that’s how it reads, anyway, even if that isn’t the intention.

    • Hey Tony,

      I’m sad to hear that your contributions to this topic have ended. I’d have been keen to hear your thoughts on my response to your last comment.

      I think we’re very much agreed on the issue of applying helpful categories that communicate truth accurately to people so that what we call things supports rather than undermines the truth, all in love for people.

      We also agree that there are ways, which have been and are being used, of describing gathering and singing which aren’t helpful. (thought the better of mentioning your use of ‘service’, but then Michael Hall brought it up anyway) :)

      I understand the battles that have been fought over this and why they’ve been fought.

      Despite the massive agreements, and understanding why you hold those positions, I think it right to hold the position that I do. And this is true for me for all the same reasons that you hold your position.

      If it is forbidden to use worship to describe church, church won’t be thought of as worship, which it is. I would suggest that this is reality. That using worship wrongly with respect to church also suggests untrue things (in ways that people have experienced to be hugely harmful, I recognise this) doesn’t alter the above statement. I would suggest that it just requires that it be done with care and attention to communication.

  10. Correct me if I’ve got this wrong, but it seems that when it comes to both the words worship and priesthood we’re all in agreement that they’re biblical concepts, that they’ve been wrongly and narrowly applied, and that most people outside our camp understand or use the terms incorrectly…

    If this is the situation, and that’s at least the understanding I’m running with… The argument advocated here seems to boil down to wrong use negates right use… And thus we should also ban everything in creation. To continue the process of reductio arguments…

  11. After careful study of the Greek text, I think “presbyter” is probably better than “the dude out the front”.

  12. From the Concise Oxford English Dictionary –

    “Priest: an ordained minister of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church, authorized to perform certain rites and administer certain sacraments.”

    If I talk about an “Anglican Priest”, I suspect Joe Average Aussie would understand me to mean “the dude up front” (using David’s phrase). I suspect that only biblically literate evangelicals would be aware of any cultic connotations. And I think they are being over-sensitive.

    Reminds me a bit of a story my wife told me. When she was at Unichurch, someone (not staff, I hope!) told her you shouldn’t call a minister “vicar” because it suggested they were a representative of Christ. The origin of the title, of course, is actually quite a bit more mundane, and perfectly harmless.

    • I reckon if you were trying to get a quick overview of Joe average’s views on what a “priest” is you’d be better going reflected by Wikipedia than by the OED: “A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities.”

      My neighbour here in the north of England has found out that I’m an ordained Anglican minister. He calls me a “vicar” and “priest”, half-jokingly (but only half). And he keeps popping around asking me to pray about world events, because he reckons I’m closer to God than the average Christian. It’s a good opportunity to talk to him about Jesus, granted. But even so, I keep asking him not to call me a priest.

        • Yep – which is Cranmer’s point. And I can certainly see his point. It’s got biblical backing (Rom 15).

          But that’s not how people in general think. So Wikipedia links mediation with “sacred rites”; I don’t think the author is thinking of Bible teaching here.

          Furthermore, when talking with my neighbour, it’s not very easy (or desirable) to spend time debating such linguistic subtleties.

  13. Lionel, you might find some from the older generation are more comfortable calling you “Vicar” rather than Lionel. Perhaps “all things to all men” means that you should not make a big deal out of it.

    • He’s only a few years older than I am. I don’t actually mind the title “vicar”, it’s part of the charm of living in England (although I still don’t drink tea very much). But I do mind him using the word “priest”. I’m not objecting because of an etymological or theological oversensitivity. I’m objecting because of what the word means for him. By using the word “priest”, he’s giving expressing to his assumption that a relationship with God is my job, not his. So it directly obstructs my ability to communicate the gospel to him.

      • By using the word “priest”, he’s giving expressing to his assumption that a relationship with God is my job, not his.

        I think you will find this a popular view of *any* religious minister – ie. that they are somehow “closer” to God.

        • (Sorry clicked ‘reply’ too soon on previous comment).

          Exactly – and in this case, the word “priest” is his way of expressing this view. I won’t go into the details of our conversations, but that’s how it is.

          This discussion is getting slightly bizarre, Craig. Your responses seem to suggest that know more about my conversations with my neighbour than I do.

          • Fair enough Lionel – obviously how you chat to your neighbour is your business. We’ll leave it at that.

  14. Hi everyone, thanks for the comments and discussion.

    Just checking in again briefly before heading off to the States for some Trellis and Vine workshops.

    I have to confess to being a bit surprised at some of the comments, especially about ‘priest’. I chose the ‘priest’ analogy as a no-brainer example of the kind of language that we would avoid as the default/overarching description of an aspect of church life (in this case, our pastors and leaders) for a range of reasons — the theology of the NT, our history, our current church context, and the way the word is commonly understood in the community. If you don’t share the view that ‘priest’ just communicates all the wrong things (to outsiders and insiders), and so that therefore in love (and for edification) we should not use it as the chief/default label for our pastors — well I’m not sure what to say, perhaps apart from saying that I think we’re living on different ecclesiastical planets.

    I’m also a bit surprised, Michael J, that you think I’m making a ‘huge concession’ in saying that ‘what is most helpful’ should be the driving concern. Edification should always be the driver for decisions we make about what to do in church, including how we speak, label things, etc. And I’ve been saying this for a long time! (See for example my email exchange with Don Carson back in 2000 — pretty much the only significant difference between us on the subject was a different judgement about what was ‘strategic’ or ‘pedagogically useful’. See here: http://www.matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2000/12/is-the-church-a-house-of-worship/)

    And as for your assessment that with a few qualifications, retaining ‘worship’ language (eg. as the default description of our singing) will not be unhelpful ‘in the slightest’? Well all I can say is that we must be looking at very different church landscapes! (Or with very different eyes)

    Anyway, plane is boarding. Thanks again for the interaction. I’m looking forward to what Philip P has to say about singing — which is the real subject of this series!

    • I chose the ‘priest’ analogy as a no-brainer

      It’s good to be challenged on our “no-brainers” don’t you think?

    • I wonder if in this comment you’re advocating a position with regards to language and terminology that will eventually leave us with nothing. Or an entirely new language. Mostly comprising of Orwellian double speak.

      Assuming that wrong teaching about everything is possible, and as time goes on the probability of such teaching approaches 1, all Biblical terminology will eventually be tainted by wrong views so that to use it will carry the danger of it “not being edifying”…

      If we follow somebody like Augustine down the “wrong use does not negate right use” we’re left trying to articulate the correct understanding of a word against a bevy of incorrect understandings, and we’re not chucking in words that the Bible uses. This is the problem with taking a “majority rules” approach to the definition of words…

      • I’m still not sure why there is such a push to use the term ‘worship’ or ‘corporate worship’ to describe church. Most people I know don’t use it to describe all of life (except as a footnote). Therefore, it IS being used unhelpfully and in a narrow sense. Even ‘corporate worship’ should be used to describe other corporate Christian endeavours according to this logic. Why not just stick with more biblical language to describe church to prevent the current unhelpfulness. It doesn’t have to be a rule you put on every word. But same with ‘priest’ why not just use more biblical language to avoid the current unhelpfulness associated with it – and it is unhelpful to many Christians especially.

    • Hey Tony,

      Thanks for coming back on board. :)

      It seems strange to me that you should limit the distinctions between your position and Carson’s position to being so small, while painting the distinctions between yours and others commenting here as so broad. I say this because in that exchange Carson affirms the helpfulness of ‘corporate worship’ as a term to describe what’s happening at church, and largely for the same reasons that I’ve argued here.

      Safe and productive travels,

  15. Our singing or introduction to our gathering usually begins with the comment that we will sing praises to God. This is a simple and clear way of explaining what we are doing, and applies when we are singing directly to Him, singing confessional songs or encouraging others through song to serve Him because of His goodness shown to us in Jesus. Colossians simply says let the Word dwell in you richly as you sing. Hebrews 13 seems to uses the word sacrifice for both words sung/spoken and in our deeds, if I read it right. The NT writers say both of these are to be done with joy. Not complicated. What i don’t see in these texts is the kind of highly emotionally charged ecstatic, God and me ‘zone out’ type experience. Clearly that worship experience would not translate well to say preaching or serving coffee or driving a bus. Instead, the singing and doing deeds are characterized by a joyful love for God and others.. Which is how we are called to do all of life.

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  18. I think it’s a bit ridiculous to argue over whether the horse comes first or the cart comes first. I read D.B. Knox on this and I’m sure I disagree with whole premise that the primary purpose for gathering together is fellowship with others. Why? Well, first of all, it is idolatry. To put any person or creature ahead of God is plainly idolatry. We are not to love anyone more than God, not even our own family.

    Secondly, the Decalogue clearly puts the commands of the first table of the moral law first and those first four commands have to do with our relationship with our Creator. The second table of the moral law, or the remaining six laws, have to do with our relationship with one another. These laws can be summarized further in the two greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

    The Westminster Confession, which is based on the Irish Articles which are in turn based on the Thirty-nine Articles, is supplemented by the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question of the Catechism reads: What is the chief end of man? Answer: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

    Why does the Catechism not mention one’s neighbor? The answer is that Scripture commands absolute worship and glory to God and God alone. Deuteronomy 6:4.

    The Apostles Creed likewise puts God first. … It is only after we get to the third person of the Trinity that we see any mention of communion or fellowship: … I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints….

    While it might seem “relevant” to emphasize personal relationships above God, it is inherently anthropocentric. It is nevertheless true that communion and fellowship are essential to the gathering together. But if that gather is only for fellowship and not the glorification of God and the preaching of His Word, then what you have is a social club or a secular gathering, not church. Church is the gathering together of God’s people for the worship of God, not the worship of your neighbor.

    I see no problem with calling a church service a worship service since that is what it is. When Moses walked on Holy Ground he didn’t look around for someone with whom he could fellowship.


  19. We shouldn’t use the word “church” since people think it is a building. Assembly? “I’m going to assemble today”. Church: Assembly required.

    And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:9-11 ESV)

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