Worship and an affectionate evangelicalism 1

Thanks Tony, for dumping me in it to revive the debate on ‘worship’ language! I guess I am happy to put my neck on the block because I believe this to be an issue that is still current—whether people think it is or not. I would like, eventually, to get to discuss whether there can be such a thing as an affectionate evangelicalism without being charismatic. But understanding the worship thing is, I think, fairly foundational to getting to that point. I apologize in advance that it will take more than one post to unravel my thoughts on all this.

As an aside, I have to admit I was slightly afraid when I saw Bob Kauflin and Tony Payne in the same room (the room being the TWIST 2011 Pastors’ Conference). In retrospect I am not sure why I was nervous, as these two guys have probably had the deepest influence on my own thinking about singing and worship in church. While they come from opposite starting points I have been hugely encouraged to see how close their thinking actually is. I am really thankful to Bob for heading over to TWIST, stirring us all to consider the truth on these matters, challenging our long held convictions and provoking obedience to Christ in the church.

Worship in all of life

So it feels like old news to be dragging this one up again. But as was noted in a previous post, it seems that more than one person or group in our circles are now attempting to reclaim worship language when talking of church and singing. It was Tony who first got me seriously thinking about this whole thing. You might remember the famous email battle he had with Don Carson over whether our contemporary worship language is really appropriate considering the complete lack of it in the NT in relation to the church.

That discussion fed what I already considered to be a flaw in David Peterson’s otherwise excellent Engaging with God: a Biblical Theology of Worship. After following the biblical course of the various original worship words, Peterson brings us to a point of seeing worship to be an all of life activity. (Yes, this is a simplistic summary—but what most of us seem to come away with.) The point is then made that as church is part of life (and a vitally important part at that), then it should still be spoken of with validity as worship. That sounds right, until you start unpicking the logic.

Start with worship as an all of life thing. People tend to go to Romans 12:1 as a proof text for this:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

However a more accurate translation will quickly show that there is no such thing as ‘spiritual worship’. Much more likely is that we are to render ‘reasonable service’ to God in response to being saved, the argument of Romans 1-8. (It is worth pointing out the Greek word for service here is latruein as opposed to proskynein, the word more normally rendered as worship.)

Some will argue that Romans 12:1 is the fulfilment of OT worship. Just as OT believers offered sacrifices to God, Christians offer their whole lives. That is true. However, in no way can this ‘service’ be the end point of a biblical theology of worship—if for no other reason than OT Israel were called to do exactly the same thing:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul… (Deut 10:12)

In both Deuteronomy and Romans, this service occurs under the umbrella of God’s grace. It is as God’s already redeemed people that he calls them to a life of complete obedience and heartfelt service. Nothing new here. But significantly, the OT ‘service’ language is never then used to describe the gathering of the church. Church gets its own new language—church language.

What I am saying is that the commonly held evangelical argument for all of life worship is not necessarily in accord with the Bible’s trajectory for worship. Mainly because it based on this and other verses being poorly translated and thereby misinterpreted. I am not saying that the NT doesn’t talk of doing all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31 ), or doing everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ giving thanks to God (Col 3:17), or indeed offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). It’s just that none of these are fundamentally ‘worship’ in Bible terms. Romans 12 etc. describe our service to God in response to being saved. And yes, Christian singing definitely has a responsive element to it—but also a whole lot more, as others have already clearly stated.

The problems start, however, when we confuse service with true worship and import our erroneous baggage (singing, church etc.) with it—the implications of which I will explain in the next post.

11 thoughts on “Worship and an affectionate evangelicalism 1

  1. Interesting comments, Phillip.

    Some immediate reactions:

    1. As I remember it, one of the arguments of Peterson’s book was that latreia still does carry with it a ‘worship’ dimension – drawing a sharp distinction between worship and service might not be very helpful. (see latreia in Heb 9:1)

    2. Besides the word ‘worship’/service, Romans 12:1 is relevant because of the offering-sacrifice language. This points to the worship concept.

    3. Pointing out that Israel were also called to ‘all-of-life-service’ does nothing more than demonstrate that there were anticipations of the NT reality. For example: God dwells in heaven not in the temple (1Ki 8); God desires the contrite heart not sacrifices (Pss 40, 50, 51, 69)

  2. Thanks very much Phillip (and Tony) for helping us think through this important stuff about worship. It’s much needed. However long the debate’s gone on for, it’s obvious that widespread clarity is still a long way off. I know that many of us up here in Brisbane are continuing the reflect on how best to respond to the Twist Brisbane event with Bob Kauflin – thanks for helping us to do that.

    Very interesting thoughts re: worship/service – not to mention with far-reaching consequences for how we talk about church and music ministry.

    Mikey’s raised some good points – it does seem like a big step to say that latruein should be translated as ‘service’ and not ‘worship’.

    My Greek dictionary tells me that both the noun and verb forms can be translated as either ‘serve’ or ‘worship’; and a handful of Romans commentaries within arms reach all highlight that the cultic context of the word (ie. ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice’) makes it far more likely that ‘reasonable worship’ is the more faithful rendering.

    Interestingly enough the only thing I’ve found which says that ‘service’ is a better translation is written by David Peterson (but later revised by Peter Bolt – the Moore College correspondence external notes on Romans).

    Can you give us more of your thinking as to why ‘service’ is more accurate and more likely, as you’ve said above? Obviously it’s well worth our consideration.

  3. Hi guys. These are great questions.

    Just to be clear – I am not saying that latreia does not come with cultic connotations in the NT, or that Romans 12:1 isn’t picking up on these. Aside from Romans, it is used in Hebrews, John, and a few other places, all referring in some way to OT temple service.

    A few things to point out, however:

    1. Those cultic connotations are not suggesting any continuance of OT temple service. Rather it is a reminder of the big picture set out by God at the start, and that the sacrificial system was in a sense a practical working out of that picture until Christ. (So, Mikey, you surely cannot be saying that the NT trumphs the first 3 commandments. There isn’t to my mind any NT reality that changes the original intent of the law in this respect).

    2. So in the OT – temple/cultic service was but a subset of a more general requirement for Israel to serve God in all of life. And its worth bearing in mind that latreuo has a broader meaning of service or work (outside of the NT) than just religious service.

    3. Latruein and Proskynein do often occur in the same same context, (eg Matthew 4:10). But that equally suggests that each word has a different meaning and cannot both mean ‘worship’. I have more to say on this shortly.

    4. You can’t say that Romans 12:1 points to the worship concept, if that concept never was never there to start with, even if there is a relationship between the two words.

    What I want to reiterate is that Romans 12:1 does not equal ‘worship’ in the proskynein sense (or in any other of the ways people are currently using it – church services, singing or whatever). And Paul certainly does not use it to take us to the doctrine of the church. When he does talk about church he uses neither latruein or proskynein – but that is the subject of the next post!

  4. Hi Philip; it’s good to keep the debate going, I agree.

    I’ve read and re-read your article a couple of times, and don’t quite get your point. Your final paragraph seems to suggest that the whole argument about ‘all-of-life worship’ is misdirected because the latr- word-group is quite separate from Old Testament ‘worship’ context. Is this what you’re trying to say?

    If so, it doesn’t make sense to me. The word latreuein in the (Greek) Old Testament is quite commonly used in direct parallel with the word for ‘worship’, proskunein: e.g. Exod 20:5, 23:24; Deut 4:19, 5:9, 8:19, 11:16, 17:3, 29:26, 30:17; Josh 23:7, 23:16; Judges 2:19; 2 Kings 17:16, 17:35, 21:21; 2 Chr 7:19; Dan 3:12, 3:14, 3:18, 3:28, 6:27. Cf. Matt 4:10, Luke 4:8. So the use of the word latreia in Rom 12:1, especially in parallel with the word ‘sacrifice’ (cf. Mikey’s comment), must be referring to Old Testament ‘worship’ ideas, surely?

    On the other hand, I agree with your point about New Testament language. It’s quite significant that the New Testament hardly ever describes the New Testament church gathering using either of these terms.

    Interestingly, the New Testament language of “worship” and “serve” is used occasionally by Paul to speak about his own personal ministry! (see Rom 1:9, 2 Tim 1:3).

    • Sorry, I posted my comment before reading your prior comment. I think this prior comment may have answered my question. If I understand you right, you’re saying that neither of these words (latreuein or proskunein) means ‘worship’ in the narrow cultic sense that is often assumed in discussions today. Is that right?

    • No, scrap that last comment; I apologise for clogging up the comments on your post by thinking out loud!

      Now having re-read you again, I reckon you’re saying that proskunein means ‘worship’ and usually has cultic connotations; whereas latreuein means ‘serve’, it’s about living all of our life for God, and it occurs in both Old Testament and New Testament. The two concepts are often connected in the Old Testament, but they are nevertheless quite distinct. Have I finally got you?

      • Lionel, while it is true that the terms often appear together in the OT, they also appear alongside other activities related to God (e.g. Ex 23:24; Josh 23:7) which cannot all be conflated under a unified rubric (i.e. they are not in “direct parallel” but rather complement one another). Thus the appearance of the terms together cannot be assumed to imply they are synonymous.

        Aside from this I’ll just point once again to my previous comments on the topic on my blog (http://blog.shields-online.net/?p=108).

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