Monday, November 25, 2019

Biblical worship

Every once in a while I get into a potentially contentious disagreement with a Christian friend about how Christians should worship or, actually, what worship is. Often we are talking past one another. My understanding of worship, and how a worship service should be arranged and led, was crystallized by a study series on the subject led by Rev. Paul W. Manuel. This is from his "Erroneous Assumptions and Essential Attitudes about Worship":
.... The first assumption many Christians have is that…

Worship is everything we do.

On Sabbath morning, this includes the songs we sing, the sermon we hear, the prayers we offer, and the SS lesson we study—everything that happens in church.

While we should be conscious of God's presence at all times and should cultivate a reverent demeanor in all activity, such a diffuse understanding obscures the much narrower definition of worship that scripture presents as the model for our worship. Of the many words biblical authors use to describe worship (e.g., praise, bless, laud, extol), there is one Hebrew (and one corresponding Greek) term that occurs with greatest frequency, the same term English translations generally render as "worship." It entails the cessation of all activity, the concentration of all attention, and the communication of all adoration to God alone.

In other words, worship, in the primary biblical sense, is not something we do while doing other things, no matter how worthy they may be in their own right. It is our singular focus on the person of God. Worship is also not about meeting our needs. It is not about making us feel good or loved or appreciated. It is not at all about us; it is all about God.

While we can and should be conscious of Him in everything we do, especially on the Sabbath, neither the sermon, which concerns exhortation (to right behavior), nor the SS lesson, which concerns education (to right thinking), matches the biblical definition of the term. To generalize the connotation of worship—by implying that all manner of activity, when done with reverence, fulfills God's expectation—is to trivialize the commandment to worship. Although believers should always be aware of God's presence, being generally conscious of Him is not the same as concentrating exclusively on Him, which is the essence of biblical worship. .... (more)
Those planning and leading worship should always have in mind how to help worshipers "concentrate exclusively on Him."

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