Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Wednesday, September 26, 2012


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 concerning the subject of my writing today. I'm talking about worship, and since the before mentioned danger may 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 because 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, but, maybe an illustration of the above quote about why definitions are dangerous.

Major Ian Thomas said this in a message that I heard him deliver,  "Worship is simply obedience." His message 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 12 where he spoke of the presenting of 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 altogether. 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, I want to now discuss the ways and means we may use to express that worship of Him. More than that, I'm going to look at the ways and means we may have 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 as a body of believers?

But first I want to address the two basic and, 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 will not be surprised I'm sure, based on what Jesus said in John 4 about the hour coming and now is when 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 4:20-26]

Now with the grunt work done, maybe we can address the title on this particular blog post.

But let me ask a question first. Who says we have to gather at 11:00 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 in scripture that corporate worship is be on Sunday morning? You do realize that is a cultural concept__right? The early American culture, following after the European cultures, was basically rural and the people had to milk the cows, feed the chickens and do chores generally, before anything else, so they set a time well into the morning that allowed for such. 

In the NT culturally they undoubtedly met in the evening since we find that Paul preached one of his longer sermons and that tired young man fell asleep and fell out the window, but the sermon hadn't lasted all day. Only mine tend to do that. It's good to also remember that Sunday, or the first day of the week, was a work day in the Roman Empire.

Also, Sunday gatherings, for the early Church, had nothing to do with keeping the Sabbath as Sunday was never the 'Sabbath day' in the Jewish calendar, Their gathering was a celebration of the resurrected and living Lord on the first day of the week. 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 shows this clearly.]

So, 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 as you live your life or even when you do gather together at some place for some time with some kind of regularity.

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 too if desired.] 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, all are to share [prophecy/prayers/gifts/etc.] all for the edification of everyone. The hard part is deciding 'how' you do it all.

Some say 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 the biblical way either. 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. Thinking that those ways are more sacred than others is not the truth according to scripture since bible does not address those kinds of matters. Old timers tend to say "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."  Oh really! You can't like choruses and a praise team? You can't preach without a tie?

Don't hear me say that hymn books and ties are wrong. If you do you've missed my point entirely. It is the refusal to see them as ONLY cultural that creates a major problem.  I would say the same about the people who say new WAYS OF WORSHIP are more biblical. Things like choruses, testimonies, videos, and horror of horrors, a guitar and drum set backing up a praise team leading a corporate experience. 

I've certainly moved from the old way of thinking to the new way of thinking about all this in my own personal tastes for corporate worship. It just means my personal cultural biases are at play here like everyone else and I join with like minded people in it. 

But none of that FULLY DESCRIBES true worship of the New Testament at all. It's a lot more than Sundays, hymns, choruses, sermons or any other way of doing anything. It is a life lived in worship that's biblical.

Paul B.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


It was stated in an article I read a few years ago that the greatest "heresy' in the American brand of Christianity may well be the "heresy of application." The author suggested that this can be seen with the many doctrines or truths that we teach when we begin to say how those truths can be applied to our lives in a practical way. We point out "ways of doing it" and then, unfortunately, make those ways as sacred as what is "to be done." So we wind up, for example, arguing over the Lord's supper, not as to what it represents, but what elements should be used and who should serve it.

Another rather simple, even shallow, illustration of this is the truth about prayer. Prayer, by scriptural definition, is to commune in your spirit with God who is Spirit. Paul says, for example, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." [Ephesians 6:18, NIV] There is no doubting there are differing types of prayers that can be offered, but the scriptural emphasis is on the nature of prayer rather than how to do it. This is the only way the command to "pray without ceasing" make any sense at all and I'm aware that the word 'ceasing' means intermittently like a hacking cough.

So I teach that prayer is the spirit of a relationship or being in communion with Him. I point out that sin can hinder our prayer life. The Psalmist says in Ps 66:18 that "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" That doesn't mean He doesn't "hear" since God is omniscient, as much as....we'll save this for another post.

Even a marriage can be a problem to walking in communion with God if we're not careful. It says in 1 Peter 3:7.." Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." What that means is...well...another time another post.

You get the point. I teach on prayer and how it means we are to walk in communion with Him enjoying our relationship. So far so good as to what prayer is all about biblically.

But the next person teaching on prayer suggests, by way of personal application, that to bow one's head and shut one's eyes will help you to pray [be in communion with Him] because doing this enables you to shut out distractions.

Good idea! I think I'll try that! Sounds like a great thing to apply to the truth of prayer to my life and make it more effective. It actually CAN help.

 Except [now the problem] the next teacher says that prayer IS bowing your head and closing your eyes in order to commune with God who is Spirit. Thus, the method my wife and I often enjoy using when in a restaurant where we raise our glasses of water/tea and thank the lord for our meal as we toast Him, is wrong. Why?  Because some bible teacher says it couldn't be real prayer since both of us were thanking Him with eyes wide open and heads unbowed.

That is NOT real prayer__so says the teacher__except__ by scriptural definitions,__it is! That's why it's important to remember that Application [how you do it] is NOT sacred and binding. You see the problem.

Another illustration, perhaps just as trivial, is the use of the Bible. God speaks through His Word. That's the function of scripture. When we read the text, He speaks to us. Someone teaches this as..."God speaks through His Word [Truth] so when you meet Him early in the morning you are putting your focus on Him first." Nice! In fact, that's a correct statement...after a fashion! 

But the next person teaches that since God speaks through His Word and since it's wise to focus on Him first, you are really being spiritual when you meet Him early in the morning before doing anything else.

NB..NB becomes their teaching. "No Bible, no breakfast," is what they teach and if you want to really be spiritual in your walk, you'll do it that way. So if I read my newspaper first or get ready, go to work, and have a time in the Word at lunch, by their definition, I'm not spiritual. When you read your bible and how often you read your bible measures your spirituality.

Of course, were this really "the truth" then no one could have really been spiritual until the inventing of the printing press and the mass distribution of the Bible. The "truth" is God does speak through the text of the scripture and ANYTIME you choose to read He will speak, and you ARE spiritual by the Grace of God, not because of how you perform ANYTHING.  

Different personalities will choose different times to read the bible. Prior to his home-going I heard Ron Dunn say many times that, with his personality, it was NEVER early in the morning for him. [Of course, he would then add that he was doing it other times than early morning so he would not be prideful about his bible reading or quiet time with the Lord, since no one ever brags about a quiet time unless it's early. :) ] 

Thus, the title of this post, "The heresy of application." The "how you do it" becomes as sacred as the "truth taught." It must not be lost on us that much, if not most, of our debating and disagreements are about the "applications" we make of the truths of scripture. We wind up fighting over the things the bible leaves to our own choices.

I guess I'm calling on all of us to be honest about our application and call it that. Our application. It is not "the truth for anyone else." I may be stating what I think is a logical conclusion for me to another person, but it is only my conclusion about me, not a sacred responsibility for the one with whom I'm talking. When this simple distinction is made one will not state as facts anything about the behavior or actions of another that cannot be documented from the scripture. And you won't find much there because the scripture speaks about "being" not "doing." The clear thing said scripturally about our DOING  is..."Whatever you do.. do it all for God's glory."

I can live with that.

Paul B.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Is the one who says what I'm posting here, seeing it correctly or not?  What think ye? 

 " The context of 1 Tim 5:1-22 is a set of instructions for relating to various people in the church -- elder males, younger males, elder females, younger females, elder widows, younger widows, all summarized in the instruction in 5:21 to "observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality." So the entire passage is providing instructions for fair treatment of all in the body, whether old, young, male, or female, while recognizing and acting according to the unique needs and circumstances of each. We may do different things with or toward different people, but there is no language that elevates some over others just because of their gender and/or age."

"Then you have in verses 1 & 2  the instruction to entreat (rather than rebuke) various people. Verse one deals with entreating "elders" (presbutero, the singular masculine form of presbuteros, whom we are to entreat "as a father") and then younger men ("as brothers"); verse two gives the same instruction for "elder women" (presbuteras, the plural feminine form of presbuteros, whom we are to entreat "as mothers"), and then younger [women] ("as sisters")."

"Given the parallel construction of these two verses, the appropriate translation should be consistent."

 "One could either translate presbutero as "elder men" [referring not to the concept of a specific church function, but just to "old guys" and presbuteras as "elder women" [referring not to the concept of a specific church function, but just to "old gals. Or translate it as "elders," [function]  but you have to translate the language the same either way." 

What is being said is, if you translate the former  [verse 1] as "male elders" referring to the church function, which is how most do translate it.  then the latter [verse 2] would have to be translated as 'female elders' also."  [Not just "elder women."]  

The point being, the KJV can't have verse one referring to "male elders".....[Church function]  but verse two which is the feminine form referring to women who are not "elders"  [Church function]  and be CORRECT  with the meaning of the text. It sounds like the KJV had an agenda and it wasn't textually accurate in translation at this point. What do you think?

Paul B.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


I've looked and looked for a metaphor, illustration, or picture that would help explain a point I would like to make about Christians being in so many different denominations. I believe true believers can be found in many denominations and my love and my acceptance are to cover them as members of the Body of Christ.

Here's how I would illustrate it. Remember, as with all parables/metaphors/illustrations, you can't press every point. If you do try that, you will miss the heart of what is being said. [Think.."If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, be removed..."]

OU football is a passion with me. [Don't tune me out yet, please.]  My wife is as bad as I am about it. Maybe worse!  She and her sister, Jenny, once took oranges into an OU/Nebraska football game, the winner of which went to the Orange Bowl, and tossed oranges onto the field after OU's win. Some of our kids sent her a pretend note on the DA's stationary charging her with a misdemeanor and announcing a fine for the violation. They had a ton of fun at their mother's expense.

[I was out of town and would NEVER do that kind of thing anyway.  ;)]

But we like OSU too. The Cowboys [that's the Oklahoma State Cowboys] are our second favorite team. We're pulling for them against every foe they play.... except one.

The Tulsa Hurricanes are our third favorite team. We lived in Tulsa for ten years and love the "Canes" except when they are playing you know who. How can we like all three? They are all from our favorite State called Oklahoma.

Recently I heard an exchange on sports radio that made me half mad. One caller, an OU fan, was taking to task another caller who was also an OU fan. What about? The latter OU fan had said he likes OSU also. The former OU fan was irate that a true OU fan would dare say he had any feeling but hatred for OSU. You see where I'm going with this don't you.

Let's say Christians__that's anyone who names the name of Jesus as Lord__are like a State. Within that State, you have different groups. [OU/OSU/TULSA fans] They all like football and the common ground for those groups is Oklahoma. They've just chosen to align with different groups within the State for whatever reason. That's OK. In Oklahoma you're free to be a bit different. It's even OK to believe your group is closest to what governs true greatness in football. [OU is certainly that.]

Somehow though, it is possible to respect ALL those involved in football, whether OU, OSU, or Tulsa. And, certainly, there is no need to be angry with one who is a fan of one group but doesn't hate the fans of the other group. I don't think you should penalize a person because they are appreciative of another group's fans. After all, it is Oklahoma we're talking about here. Let's respect all fans, choose which group best matches our particular understanding of football, and not be angry at those among our group who have a love and appreciation for all fans, in Oklahoma.

Further, let's suppose, as has happened on occasion, something untoward [that's an old word that means "bad" for all you new translation buffs] transpires on the OU team. If the people in charge hide the wrongdoing, the trust factor of many OU fans would be damaged when it becomes known. [Not to mention that it is ethically wrong to hide reality anyway.] But, if honestly faced, spoken of, dealt with, and corrected, not only is trust restored, but the ultimate goal of good football will go on unhindered in Oklahoma. Having problems is no problem. Not facing problems honestly and openly is a major problem.

Some rabid fans might see dealing with the problems as disloyalty or hurtful to the team and even the State. I don't. I see it as honesty, courage, and a true commitment to what makes football a truly great sport. And, I respect the ones who had courage enough to speak to the problem when they knew many rabid fans would not understand and there could be a heavy price to pay.

Well, I don't know whether anyone understands what I'm saying or not. But it sure helps to say it. As with all parables/metaphors, as I said at the beginning, don't press every point and miss the message. If you're not a football fan__forget it.

By the way, OU will win the Big 12 championship. OU will win the National Championship. OSU will have a great season. Tulsa will win their conference championship. Take it to the bank.

[Now Longhorn football__that's a different State entirely.]


Paul B.

Paul Burleson