Saturday, July 26, 2008


Definitions are completely necessary and constantly dangerous. Necessary because to talk and act on a level playing field with each other we have to define things. Dangerous because--well let me say it in a quote--"Every definition is dangerous because when you give a simple and precise one you often end up missing significant aspects of the word defined." This is certainly true of the word 'worship.' So now we are thinking about worship and if the before mentioned danger does apply here, and it does, I want to tread softly.

What is worship? That's difficult to answer. One person said in his book entitled "Worship is a Verb" that true worshippers are never spectators in the scriptures for they are either hearing Him with the rapt attention He deserves or they are speaking to Him with the reverence, gratitude, and joy He deserves. That is certainly food for thought.

Major Ian Thomas said in a message I heard him deliver that worship is simply obedience. His statement was taken from the Abraham/Isaac incident where Abraham, speaking to his servants telling them to wait as he was going to slay his son, used the words "the lad and I will go yonder and worship" [He did not know of the ram] Abraham and Ian Thomas were right. Worship is obedience. There is no greater worship than living a life of loving obedience. This is what Paul was referencing perhaps when he called it "our reasonable service" [the word is worship] in Romans speaking of presenting our bodies a living sacrifice.

The word 'worship' as a verb means to treat or show the worth or value of someone. As a noun is speaks of the ways that reverence is shown. The Hebrew word for worship emphasizes bowing down or to do homage to God while the Greek words emphasize kissing the hand of or to serve. Putting it all together you have worship involving all that we are--our attitudes--our emotions--our actions--our mind--and our will responding to all He is and does. In worship we are occupied with God not ourselves.

The way we worship is a different thing. Moving from recognizing that life itself is to be lived as worship and we are to live it in loving obedience thereby truly worshipping Him, we are now going to discuss the ways and means used to express that worship of Him. More than that, we are moving to look at the ways and means of worshipping Him together or corporately as the people of God. You could even call it 'styles' of worship or the 'manner' in which we do worship corporately. How do we do worship?

But first I want to address the two basic, it even seems to me , intrinsic modes that people follow in corporate worship. [Or private too for that matter.] The first is what I call a 'performance' mode. We perform assuming God is the audience and as He observes us He desires we do what we are doing right and well. Then there is the 'relational' mode. We relate to Him and each other as persons present and involved in the moment. One lends itself to doing things correctly. [As if there were a standard] The other lends itself to relating to Him and others with relational authenticity. I opt for the second as you can tell based on Jesus saying that the hour is coming and now is that they that truly worship will not worry about where [this mountain or Jerusalem] or even what you are doing [sacrifices and feast days] but it will be in spirit and truth or relating in intimacy and truthfulness with God and each other. [John 4]

Now with the grunt work done, maybe we can address the Old School/New School view of this thing called 'Worship.'

Old School thinking first. Who says we have to gather at 11:oo am on Sunday? Someone will remind me I'm sure that in the NT they gathered on the first day of the week. That's true. But where is it illustrated much less commanded that it be on Sunday morning? You do realize that is a cultural concept..right? The early American culture, following the European cultures, were basically rural and had to milk and feed cows, chickens and pigs, [feed that is :)] or do chores generally so they set a time well into the morning that allowed for such. In the NT culturally they undoubtedly met in the evening since Paul preached one his longer sermons and that tired young man fell asleep and fell out the window. Sunday was a work day in the Roman Empire.

Also, Sunday gatherings, for them, had nothing to do with keeping the Sabbath in my understanding as Sunday was never the 'Sabbath day' in the Jewish calendar but their gathering was rather a celebration of the living Lord. In fact, in the New Covenant every day is the Sabbath for all who are in Christ as we are resting in an Eternal Sabbath. [Hebrews]

The where and when of corporate worship is left unstated in the NT entirely. The only reference to a 'where' is Hebrews 10:25 where the 'do not forsake the assembling' speaks of it. This 'assembling' is NOT ekklesia. It is a word from which 'synagogue' is derived. It's the only reference to a place we have in the NT since 'ekklesia' does not speak of a place but people and their purpose. In effect, it means wherever you gather [the where is not stated] and whenever you gather [the when is not stated either] don't neglect it. [Whatever neglect means in terms of attendance is not stated either] You see, there is not much emphasis on 'going' to church in the NT. It's all about 'being' the church in a worshipful manner even when you do it together.

But it's good and needed and fun to gather somewhere at sometime and even with some regularity on the first day of the week. [Or on a lot of other days to if the NT illustrates anything about it.] But the question is when you do---what do you do? That may be the easy part. A quick study of the biblical materials shows that all [men and women] are to participate, share [prophecy/prayers/gifts/etc.] for the edification of all. The hard part is deciding 'how' you do it all.

Old school thinking says you preach and do it with the pulpit in the center of the stage area. But that's cultural. Congregationalists believe the Word is to be central and a central pulpit reminds all of us of that. I would agree. Just don't say it the right way or the biblical way. It is one good cultural way of doing it.

Others [liturgical adherents] would make the communion elements central with pulpits a side issue. Literally. Fine. Just don't say it's biblical. It's a way and maybe an OK way, but a cultural way nonetheless.

Do I need to go further to show where I'm going? I could speak of wearing ties and coats, dresses , sitting in pews, choirs in lofts, using hymnals, certain musical instruments, or even one man one sermon for that matter. All these things are but cultural methods and means of doing corporate worship in in a cultural context. Old school thinking is that they are more sacred than they really are in truth. Old school says "Don't touch these things. They're good and godly and essential and if you dare change them it is obvious you've gone liberal in your christianity. Don't hear me say these things are wrong. If you do you've missed my point entirely. It is the refusal to see them as ONLY cultural but rather to view them as sacred and godly that creates a major problem. I will say the same about the New School thinking on worship.

Well, I've moved from the Old School way of thinking to the New School way of thinking about this thing of the ways and means of corporate worship in my own personal tastes. But what does that mean? It will take another post and I can hear you say "amen, this one's long enough. I agree. Next time the New School of thinking on worship.

Paul B.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I've been quite surprised by how several blogs have picked up my previous post about my changed views on women in life and ministry and linked their readers to the original. I've also been appreciative of the comments I've received on my own blog. It is obvious with my being a baptist that my view is a little different than some other baptists hold to. That may be a slight understatement. :)

Someone genuinely inquired of me how could anyone pastor a baptist church today and hold this view. Thanks for asking. My answer to that question is simple. The same way I've always pastored churches. That is, at least, for the past forty years of a fifty year ministry. [It took me a little while to move out of Fundamentalism.] In the fundamentalism I practiced during my first ten years of ministry what I said 'went' BECAUSE I was the pastor. [Positional authority you home like church unfortunately. But that only lasted for about ten years thank the Lord.]

There have been several theological issues through the years that I've held to that were a bit different than the congregation that I pastored. Some of those differences were even written into the by-laws of some of those congregations. For example baptism. Several years ago I came to see that baptism, in my personal understanding, was an ordinance that testified a person had been identified/baptized by the Spirit into Christ __His life, death and resurrection__ and__ having experienced God's Grace in Christ__ was announcing/picturing that fact through water baptism [ immersion], whether done in a church, creek, by a Baptist, AG, Campus Crusade, or whomever. Having done so, they were now ready for local church membership if the congregation accepted their testimony. Were I the one to baptize them, I would do so, and I then asked all who wanted to receive them as members to shout 'amen.' [I called it 'greeting' them] You can see I came to believe that baptism IS NOT the door into local church membership. So I accepted one's testimony of their conversion and immersion [if mode and meaning were as I've stated] whether it was done in a church or by a baptist or not.

Not every church I pastored agreed with my interpretation of baptism. A couple of them had by-laws that stated otherwise. A large church I pastored in the eighties was one of those. With such churches I followed what had been accepted by the congregation as a whole and had been formulated into a guiding document of practice. I was able to lead some of them to change that document after a few years of teaching and building what I call high trust low fear with them. A couple I didn't even try to bring about a change of the by-laws for various reasons. In none was there a congregational split or a "my way or the highway" mentality on either side. For crying out loud we were all adults generally and certainly, beyond that, christian. We recognized there is only one Lord and His name was/is Jesus... not Paul Burleson. [Or theirs for that matter.]

There were some other theological issues in this category. For example....

Multiple Elders/Pastors
Divorced deacons/elders,
Gifts of the Spirit,
Ordination of men and women to ministries,
The Lord's supper and it's participants,
The five points of Calvinism

Several others could be named.

Those issues that became important enough, for whatever reasons, and needed to be decided on as a church body, we prayed, studied, debated, and came to a position and accepted it. If one or another of the staff held a different view than had been agreed upon, which happened occasionally, that person was able, in fact expected, to present their particular position when they taught on a passage or a subject but were always required to show the church had taken a position a bit different than theirs and that our congregational voice would be followed because the people believed they had heard from the Lord as a body about that particular truth.

This happened to me more than once. Divorce automatically disqualifying one for ordination is an example. I submitted to the congregation which had an adopted document stating a position other than mine but showed why I had a different personal view of the scriptures on it. Were it to ever have become too big a point of conviction for me I would have either asked the church to reconsider our official position [I did this a couple of times] or I would find another place to serve. [In all my years I never had to leave.] Sometimes I was able to live with it and sometimes they were willing to hear me. Remember that what the church decided as a position on a matter and wrote into a guiding document NEVER assumed the authority of scripture. It could be reconsidered. It was this Lordship thing. We had settled that. It was also this autonomy thing. We had settled that too.

You might be interested to know Mary and I finished a ten year ministry with a new start church [as members not pastor] a couple of years ago and were in the process of finding where we were to be in local church life. We heard of Henderson Hills in Edmond Oklahoma and their decision to examine scripture about this issue of baptism being the door into membership or not. We knew immediately they were courageous and were desiring to be biblical in whatever they practiced. The outcry from a few other baptist congregations and leaders was ferocious. We loved the spirit of HHBC as they responded and decided to visit. The worship, word and spirit blew us away and we had found our place of service. We're still there.

With due respect to any who hold a position one way or another on that issue of the door to church membership it is for a congregation to search the scriptures and make such decisions. That's being baptist as well as biblical.

A decision about that issue has unofficially been made at HHBC. You may ask whether I agree with it or not. It doesn't matter. When I speak, and I have, I teach what I believe about whatever text I'm dealing with at the time and abide with the congregation on any positions [official or unofficial] that have been taken for whatever reasons they've been taken. get the picture. I love it.

By the way, my present fellowhip [HHBC] does NOT hold to the position on women in ministry I hold to. But that's OK on both sides. I''ll bet, if I were a betting baptist, we differ on several of those ever present truths that are non-salvific. But we love studying the text and finding the meaning together. It's called "koinonia" and it's great.

I'm presenting this because there is abroad in the SBC, of which I'm a part, a mentality that seems to be saying you have to agree on all issues to truly be a baptist. I think being a baptist is tied as much to the spirit I saw in the local churches I pastored and in my present fellowship as it is in creating a catalogue of things that must be believed in order to be a baptist in good standing. Then we can cooperate with other baptist churches in a missionary endeavor and a convention experience annually if we choose.

Being a baptist is fine. I am one as I've labored to show. Being a New Testament christian and a Kingdom person by loving anyone who names the name of Jesus as Lord and discussing different views of non-salvific matters with grace, is more than fine. It may be as/more important than being a baptist. I am the former by personal choice and conviction. I am the latter by personal conversion and want to show it by character and koinonia as well as belief and behavior.

Nuff said. Back to the drawing board on what we're presently looking at next time.

[Next time Old School/New School thinking on worship.... the Lord willing.]

Paul B.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Most of my ministry life has been lived in what today is called 'complementarianism' with regards to women in life and ministry. This simply means I lived, believed and taught that women were to submit to their husband's leadership in the home and were to do the same in church life. Men ruled. Women submitted. As men we had our place and women had theirs. [Complementary] But ours was at the front of the line. We were to love and provide, to be sure, but always from our place at the front of that line. For years of marriage and ministry I never questioned the biblical basis for this nor did I question the rightness of it in a practical way. How could it be otherwise? The bible said it and that settled it. I was old-school in this you see.

When I faced those situations where it was abused either by a man controlling a wife and robbing her of her person, choices and input [or a pastor robbing people of the same] or a wife refusing to obey a husband by attempting to be herself uniquely by exercising her mind or will on issues I passed it off as them being people who generally messed life up because of strong personality [his] or rebellion. [hers] If they would simply calm down and obey the bible all would be well was my mantra.

There were three basic shifts in my understanding along the way that shook my life and forged a new direction for me that resulted in my now belonging to the new school of thought on this issue. The newness is not that the scriptures or my culture or my convictions about scriptural authority have changed. But my understanding of things as they really are in the purposes of God has changed. What follows is a bit of that journey.

Shift number one was in my own life. I view my marriage as a gift from God as I'm sure most of you do. My marriage partner is a gifted and capable woman who is unique in her person. Her discovery of her giftedness and uniqueness was what caused me to look again at women NOT being able to lead or teach men [or anyone for that matter] as I saw in her one who knew more bible than most preachers [she memorized and quoted over 5oo verses at camp one year] and knew theology [still does] better than most of my bible college buddies.

Our relationship clashed with my old-school thinking as she awakened to her uniqueness and personhood in Christ and I began to see her gifts and abilities as from God for me AND the church. [This was not without it's painful times of struggle for both of us.] It also gave us pause because neither she nor I was willing to violate the scripture because of our experience. So what did this mean for us? The old-school way of thinking wouldn't do. That was a given. But something had to give.

Shift two came as a result of studying the scriptures afresh. Laying aside culture, preconceptions, teachers and theological systems I'd learned, I began searching the text anew for myself. For starters, in 1 Timothy 2:12 I began to see the text is less clear than most complementarians see it and that lack of clarity was NOT there because of our culture imposed on it but because of Paul's language used in the text to address HIS culture. It was understanding his culture that came into play for me as I began to grasp what he was saying.

To take that verse as an absolute universal principle for all women of all times and to impose a standard of silence and no authority over men flew into the face of so many other portions of the text of the New Testament. The Samaritan woman of John 4, Lydia of Acts 16, and Mary of Matthew 28 who seemed to speak the Word of God to all including men seemed contrary to 1 Timothy 2:12 being a principle for all time and places.

The ministry of Jesus seemed to do the same. He taught, commissioned and sent out women as well as men as indicated in the gospels. Add to that others like Phoebe who was a deacon, [there is no Greek word deaconess] Junia whom Paul said was outstanding among the apostles in Romans 16:7 [there are many more that could be given] and I saw there was something about 1 Timothy 2:12 that I needed to examine anew. So I did.

Another passage that gave me pause was the declaration of Peter that the New Covenant era would see our "sons and daughters" and "young men and old men" ministering. This means at least that New Covenant relationships were not based on age, gender or race but on the gifting and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Add to that the Galatians 3:28-29 reference to neither male nor female nor bond nor free and you have a whole different thing in Christianity. I know it refers to salvation but the rest of the book refers to all no longer being slaves but sons [generic] with full rights of sonship with no distinction made to gender or race.

Is New covenant relationships to be based on gender or race or not? If not, then why make it so in the home or the church? Unless Paul said to in 1 Timothy 2:12. Did he? I don't think so.

In short, I now saw Paul referring to "a man and a woman" in 1 Timothy 2:10-12 [language is singular] and I saw the word "authority" as a word that meant disruption and using gender means [sexual]to take control and referring to a specific church situation in Ephesus. In other words, I saw it not as a universal principle for all time in all places but a specific event in that time.

I also had to examine 1 Corinthians 11 and began to see it differently. My final opinion is as I've read one person say, " that Paul was telling women to not flaunt their freedom in Christ to dishonor men." That's spot on in my judgement. A fresh look at the word "Kephale" [head] caused me to question the definition of it being "authority." I began to see it as referring to something totally foreign to that meaning for their culture. My purpose here is not giving the results of my research but my journey. Check out the lexicons up to 1950 and you will see what I mean. If you get bogged down in the "head" thing it would be good to remember [as I read someone say] "that certainly the Son has chosen to submit to the Father but don't forget the Father has put everything under the Son's personal Lordship." [Phil. 2:9] That's interdependence instead of competition and control for sure. What a novel idea for the home and church were we to be Christlike as believers.

The final shift in my thinking came as I examined our culture. There was no problem seeing the cultural standard of man/woman relationships being one of a struggle for control. It was there in Paul the Apostle's day and it is in our day. It is the history of the human race. But from where did it come? My conclusion became that the text of Genesis 3 [the fall]introduced a corrupted male/female control issue that was not in the original created order. It resulted from the fall not creation. God wasn't in to creating a "whose the boss" mentality but a "how can I serve you" way of thinking.

Grace is a recovery of God's purpose in all things and I have concluded that, while we live in a fallen world, the redeemed people of God are to manifest a gracious, helping, mutual submitting and leading way of life that only grace can produce in our families and churches. It would be a shock to our culture and religion in general and it takes the Holy Spirit's empowering to accomplish it but that is ours to experience as believers.

I was old-school in this issue but I'm now of the new-school of thought and, by the grace of God, I wish to live that new school thinking out. It's basis is not my experience, culture or theological systems, but the authoritative text of scripture when properly understood in my humble, personal opinion.

Next time the old-school/new-school styles of worship.

Paul Burleson