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.