What is Worship Really All About?
by MYRA WATKINS - With the release of Every Nation Music’s debut album, One, just around the corner on April 23, we’ve been thinking a lot about worship. Every Nation pastor Paul Barker held a seminar,”Crafting a Theology of Worship,” in Manila, Philippines, which covered many areas surrounding the topic. This article is the first in a three-part series covering that seminar. Hopefully, the lessons from it will leave you with a better understanding of worship (and maybe even an enhanced worship experience). Very few people know why the church actually gathers. In 2002, 4,000 churches took part in a Vital Signs survey, which measured the health of each church in various areas. In response to a question about the “theology of worship,” thirty-one percent of those polled didn’t even understand the question, as we can see by their responses below:
- “[It's] to make people feel better about themselves and the world”
- “Our worship isn’t really about theology”
- “We give people a quality experience that makes them proud to be Christian”
- “We focus more on faith than theology”
- “Get people on their feet, and make them excited about God”
- “Worship is a safe place away from the world”
- “It’s like the filling station — people come to get refueled to cope with the week to come”
- “It’s what churches do on Sunday morning”
Do you identify with these answers? Do they make you question your understanding of worship?
The question is not whether or not we’ll do theology when we gather on Sunday morning — it’s what kind of theology, or what depth of theology we’ll do.”
Since worship services are about God and how He relates to us, theyare theological. The question is not whether or not we’ll do theology when we gather on Sunday morning — it’s what kind of theology, or what depth of theology we’ll do. The congregations experiencing the most vital, vibrant, transformational, and meaningful worship are those where the leaders can articulate a clear, precise, deeply spiritual, and widely shared answer to what underlying beliefs about God shape their understanding of worship.
Worship is the ultimate expression of theology since it’s about contemplating who God is and what He’s done. In worship, we stand in awe and express that awe through thanks and praise. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, this always began with praising God as our creator. Yet it encompasses far more, as we will see.
WORSHIP IN THE SCRIPTURES
The Old Testament Concept of Sacred Time and Space
During Old Testament times, people couldn’t worship God whenever or wherever they wanted. There were exceptions, such as David worshipping in the wilderness of Judah, but for the most part, worship was confined to particular locations — like the tabernacle and temple — and particular times — like the Sabbath, feasts, etc. That’s the concept behind “sacred times” and “sacred places.” But the New Covenant abolished this concept. When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well, he said that true worshippers “must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus taught that the entire concept of sacred times and places was overturned in Him. God is spirit, and He cannot be confined by mere location.”
“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” — John 4: 20-24
Jesus taught that the entire concept of sacred times and places was overturned in Him. God is spirit, and He cannot be confined by mere location, even if He chose to disclose Himself that way in the past.
Worship as a Way of Life
Worship is not confined to a place or a time, but becomes the motive and essence of everything we do. In Romans 12, Paul teaches that we no longer offer a lamb or a bull like in Old Testament times, but our bodies as a living sacrifice. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Worship language moves the focus away from a place or a time to all of life. Worship is no longer connected with set feasts, such as Passover; or a set place, such as the temple; or set priests, such as the Levitical system prescribed. It is for all the people of God at all times and places, so it permeates every sphere of life and how we live.
In the New Testament, all of life is holy, and all of life is worship.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring us into the presence of God. We shouldn’t give corporate worship credit for something that only Christ provides.”
It’s easy for us to become enticed by the concept of sacred time and sacred space because it frees us up to see all other time and places as “my time” and “my space.” It allows us to compartmentalize worship from our everyday lives. If we’re not careful, the language we use in worship can reinforce the Old Testament concept of sacred time and place.
“worship leads us into the presence of God”
“worship takes us from the outer court into the inner court”
Taken at face value, these statements are simply untrue. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ bring us into the presence of God. We shouldn’t give corporate worship credit for something that only Christ provides. Furthermore, our worship on Sundays involves far more than the songs we sing; it includes the ministry of the Word and evangelism. A song leader may lead part of worship, but the preacher also leads part of worship. Through preaching, teaching, listening to the Word of God, and applying the Word to our lives, we are all worshipping God.
Food for Thought:
What are the implications of the New Testament view of worship as all of life?
What terminology or practices do we have that reinforce the idea of sacred time and space?