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.


Aussie John said...


Great stuff! I'm glad I'm not the only "old heretic"!

I'm looking forward to more.

Paul Burleson said...

aussie john,

Thanks for stopping by.

I have friends (?) who emphasize the "old" and friends (?) who emphasize the "heretic." Both groups are right I think. :)

Anonymous said...

Paul, thanks for taking on this volatile subject. Worship should never be one sided...We respond to God who first reached out to us, simplistic but a beginning. God as the audience is a little odd since God also enjoys getting involved WITH us in the worship. It seems to me to be a circle of giving back and loving...where does it start...where does it end. Looking forward to hearing you. Here are some resources that I have found helpful
Ken Colson

1. "The Air I Breathe" (Worship as a way of life)
Louie Giglio, Multnomah Publishers

2. "My Heart's Desire" (Living Every Moment in the Wonder of Worship)
David Jeremiah, Integrity Publishers

3. "Return to Worship" (A God-Centered Approach)
Ron Owens, Broadman & Holman Publishers

4. "Worship Evangelism" (Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God)
Sally Morganthaler, Zondervan Publishing House

5. “Let the Nations Be Glad!” (The Supremacy of God in Missions)
John Piper, Baker Academic

6. “It’s Not About Me” (Rescue from the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy)
Max Lucado, Integrity Publications

7. “Face Down” (The Worship Series)
Matt Redman, Regal Books

8. “Extravagant Worship”
Darlene Zschech, Bethany House

9. "Worship His Majesty" (How Praising the King of Kings Will Change Your Life)
Jack Hayford, Regal Books

10. “Whatever Happened to True Worship” (A Call to True Worship)
A. W. Tozer, Christian Publications

11. “Real Worship” (It Will Transform Your Life)
Warren Wiersbe, Thomas Nelson, Publishers

12. “The Purpose Driven Life” (What On Earth Am I Here For?)
Rick Warren, Zondervan Publishing House

Paul Burleson said...


What a great list of resource material. I'm familiar with some of the books but not all. Coming from one like you who has a responsibility and ministry of leading others in understanding and experiencing real worship I take them all seriously. Thanks.

I would add only one to that list. "Rediscovering the Jewel of Worship" published by Multnomah Press. The author escapes me but the content is tremendous.

Anonymous said...

Bro. Paul, words well spoken. I look forward to worshipping with you this coming Sunday as I return from being out for the past 3 Sundays, Glorieta for 1 and then a couple of Sundays vacation. Your words continually encourage me in my walk and ministry. Thanks for your and Mary's friendship and encouragement. Dan Heath

Paul Burleson said...


It's guys like you and Ken in Montana who spend your lives leading the rest of us in corporate worship while guys like me talk about what it means. I'm the one who should be thanking you for the countless times over the past 16 years when I've shared the spirit of real worship under your leadership. I'm looking forward to doing it again next Sunday and many times after that.

Welcome home. El Chicos I presume? :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks brother Paul for a great explanation. I truly appreciate the definition of worship being all that I am in response to all that He is. Isn't it great to have a freedom to come to the Father with this as your motivation. It is when one tries to contain my response or desire for me to match their stereotype that confusion happens. Appreciate the list that the brother earlier suggested for reading. I've read most of them and look forward to the others. This is great brother Paul. Can't wait to see what you got next.

Steve in San Antonio

Paul Burleson said...


It's good to hear from you again Steve. I'm preparing my message on 'Sanctification' for Wades's fellowship next Sunday and am finding, like worship, that a simple definition doesn't cover near all of it. But the part you connected with is my favorite understanding of the core meaning of worship as well. This is just fun stuff to look at isn't it.

Anonymous said...

Paul,Just a comment on the "2 partners" blog. POOL PARTY?!?!
Ken Colson

Paul Burleson said...


You got that right. Bring your trunks I'll cook the burgers.