What does respect for others have to do with outward expression? As we become an increasingly technological and fast-paced culture, it seems that the means of communication that really matter to us are those conveyed via technology. Grocery shopping in pajamas, or attending graduation ceremonies in jeans and t-shirts shows either that we are losing our concern about the outward means we use to express ourselves toward others in the real world, or our somehow our secular culture is encroaching upon our understanding of the biblical correlation between how we express ourselves to others outwardly—and what we think or feel about others inwardly. While the connection we have to the world through technology is wonderful, the shift in values that we are seeing demonstrates that the current erosion of our culture is not only moral—but also in regard to basic real-world communication. This makes me wonder, what does God think of this shift in relation to his desires for worship?
My first blog entitled, “God-Centered Worship is Faithful to the Scope and Instruction of Scripture” affirmed Daniel Block’s stance in his new book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship—principles taught in the Old Testament that are not clearly revoked or replaced in the New Testament should continue in the worship of God for New Testament believers. What then, may we ask, offers us the surest footing as we begin to study these principles? This blog will present a summary of much of what Block relates on pages 8-27 in regard to the biblical words for worship. The terms Block gives us are just the beginning of the most thorough treatment I have seen in a single volume regarding Scriptural teaching of God’s desires for us in worship corporately, and in all of life. Although I may not agree with everything in the book, it is a must read for those wishing to go deeper in the worship of God.
Block begins with the actual words that define the meaning of worship in both the First and New Testaments. As a preface to these words, Block points out that focusing upon the English term and its derivation from “worth” and “ship” is “irrelevant” adding that the term has also been used to honor goverment officials at least as recently as the past century. He explains that it is the words that Scripture uses that matter—and might I add—that keep it God-centered.
Block divides the biblical terms (used in both the First Testament and New Testament) into three categories—the dimensions of biblical worship. These are comprised of
1.) “Dispositional expressions (worship as attitude)”
2.) “Physical expressions (worship as gesture)”
3.) “Liturgical expressions (worship as ritual)”
Although many today refer to such passages as 1 Samuel 16:7 to relate that the heart is the only thing that God is interested in when it comes to our worship of Him, Block remarks “this idea tears such statements out of their contexts and assumes a faulty view of the relationship between one’s actions and one’s being—as if they can be divorced.”
“WORSHIP AS ATTITUDE”
In the First Testament, fear [yare] refers to “terror, fright,” as before opposing armies, but the same word sometimes refers to the “’reverence’ and ‘trusting awe’ placed in a superior.” The First Testament teaches that only as we live in fear of God are we capable of worshiping rightly. Furthermore, the First Testament clearly expresses that without this fear of God, his people will have many difficulties, not the least of which are problems with worshiping him. Malachi mentions “contempt for the sacrifices (1:6-12, 13b), boredom in worship (1:13a), a calloused disposition toward vows (1:14), ministerial irresponsibility and infidelity (2:1-9), ingratitude and stinginess in tithing (3:7-12), and arrogance toward YHWH (3:13-15)” all as examples of how worship is damaged when fear for God is lacking.
Block uses Deuteronomy 10:12-13 as a central text to explain the First Testament disposition in worship:
And now, O Israel, what does YHWH your God ask of you? To fear YHWH your God; to walk in all his ways; to love him, to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your being, and to keep the commands and ordinances of YHWH that I am commanding you today for your own good.
The New Testament term which Block explains carries much of the meaning of the Hebrew yare, is the Greek phoboemai, which “may express fright, but it also expresses devotion, piety, and respect.” Luke refers to “’god-fearers’ (phoboumenoi)” in the book of Acts. Other New Testament terms that Block quotes have similar meaning, “‘pious/devout,’ ‘serving God with fear,’ and reverent.” He quotes First Timothy 6:11 as common to New Testament teaching:
But as for you, man of God, shun all this [namely, the temptation to be arrogant or conceited, to crave quarrels and controversy, as well as the love of riches—which leads to other harmful and senseless things]; pursue righteousness, godliness [eusebeia], faith, love, endurance, gentleness. (NSRV)
First and New Testament perspectives on a proper disposition as a precondition for acceptable worship are indistinguishable. This is demonstrated by the repetition of the Supreme Command, which calls God’s people to love him with all their hearts/minds (Deut. 6:5; cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27); by Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:8; and by his declaration “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”(Matt. 5:8). Confronted with the glory of God, Paul fell to the ground in reverence and awe (Acts 9:4), as do the heavenly worshippers in Revelation 5:14. Echoing First Testament images and language, the author of Hebrews challenged his original readers and challenges us—”Having received a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, offering worship [latreuo] to God that is acceptable [euarestos] with reverence [eulabeia] and awe [deos], for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)”
Clearly worship that is handled in a casual or flippant manner— lacking these characteristics of disposition—is not acceptable to God.
“WORSHIP AS PHYSICAL GESTURE”
Foundational physical gestures in biblical worship are hištahawâ (Hebrew) and proskyneo (Greek). Block explains that these words are often translated as “worship” in English, although most people have no concept of what the words actually mean. Block states, “both literally refer to subjects prostrated before a superior, a posture that states the equivalent of “Long live the king.”
Hštahawâ – Block uses two texts to illustrate the intensity of the term’s meaning— Isaiah 49:23 and Psalms 95:7. It’s First Testament uses are wide and varied, namely it was used in: (1) response to “divine favor or revelation;” (2) “Formal ritual contexts” See: Genesis 22:5, 2 Chron. 7:3, and Neh. 8:6; and (3) this word is common in the Psalms and Isaiah, also see Zeph. 2:11, and perhaps most importantly Psalms 29:1-2; 97:7, and Nehemiah 9:6:
You are YHWH, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven are prostrate (hištahawâ) before you.
Proskyneo – with meaning similar to hištahawâ, it portrays “the widespread custom of kneeling before a superior and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, or the ground, and in a derived sense means “to worship.” Although several uses in Gospels and Acts would seem to validate its common meaning, it is only used in Acts 24:11 and in Revelation in regard to Christian worship. Block notes, however, that all uses of the verb are before divine or “supposedly divine” beings. Also, the New Testament uses other words which express prostration in worship—although not before God, these continue the understanding that prostration was used as a measure of great respect before a superior.
Prostration and American Pride: Considering the centrality of prostration in Scriptural accounts of the worship of God, the fact that we often resist prostration in worship as modern evangelicals would seem to be either 1.) an over-reactionary rejection of this as part of Roman Catholic practice, or 2.) a sign of the prideful nature of American culture, or both. As mentioned earlier, while some may profess that First Testament worship was primarily an outer expression, and that New Testament worship is primarily inner expression, Block makes four key points that convincingly expose this view’s fallacy:
1.) I Corinthians 14:25 depicts an unbeliever in attendance of the worship of God’s people and because of its genuineness he bows in worship (proskyneo).
2.) This view is based upon an incorrect understanding of Israelite worship. Clearly Scripture teaches that it is the heart and life of the person that God sees first in their worship of Him and that externals come after this. The story of Cain and Abel, as well as the collected writings of the Torah as well as the Prophets teach this plainly.
3.) This view neglects Paul’s own example and teaching expressed in Acts 24:11 (where he bows in worship in the Temple), Eph. 3:14, and Philippians 2:10.
4.) Jesus himself uses the word proskyneo no less than eight times when describing the nature of true worship and that it is not the location that matters. (John 4:20-21)
“WORSHIP AS CULTIC RITUAL”
Block gives a wonderful distinction between what many evangelicals know as a “cult”—a fringe group of heretics formed by an equally misguided leader—and the “classical” definition of cultic ritual which signifies “legitimate forms and systems of religious worship, especially external rites and ceremonies where homage is given to divine beings.” Several of the terms relate to service.
SERVICE: The term with the broadest meaning that the First Testament uses is ‘abad, “to serve.” Block makes it clear that this is not a degrading role, but rather one that lifts the status of the one who serves his superior. This verb includes usage for those who served in the court of YHWH, those who are his ambassadors, and for the Israelites who feared God and demonstrated lives of devotion unto Him. This term also is used in cases of cultic worship unto God. Secondly, šeret, “ to minister, serve” is most commonly used regarding the cultic service of maintaining the sanctuary and its articles, but also includes the care of music and the ark of the covenant. Other related terms are kohen, “priest,” and kihen, “to serve, act as priest.” Several bear liturgical meaning. As Block states, “the First Testament speaks of the full range of liturgical worship: prayer, singing, lamentation, fasting, and so forth.”
THE SACRIFICE: Although the New Testament makes it clear that “Jesus’ self-sacrificial ministry signaled the end of tabernacle and temple rituals. . . it uses First Testament language of cultic service to speak of Christian worship.” Similar to abad, we find douleuo, “to serve,” and apostolos, “messenger, envoy,” which implies that douleuo, rather than meaning the service of a “slave” (as some scholars would translate) or “bondslave,” is more inclined to mean God’s “specially appointed and commissioned agent.” “Douleuos is never used specifically of cultic service.” A comprehensive or robust sense of worship is found in Romans 12:1-2, where the Authorized KJV seems most accurate in translation:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [somata] as a living sacrifice, holy [thrysian zosan hagian euareston] and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable/logical service [logiken latreian].
This service, Block notes, is what Paul works out for us in Romans 12-15. As such it is, “the logical and reasonable response to the redemption we have received through the cross (Rom. 1-11), even as Israel’s wholehearted and full-bodied vassaldom was the logical and reasonable response to YHWH’s magnificent acts of redemption (Deut. 4:32-40; 6:20-25).”
THE PRIESTHOOD: Other cultic language is sacrificial in nature, relating to the priesthood. Block states,
Steeped in the vocabulary of the First Testament cult, the author of Hebrews demonstrates that Jesus Christ’s one time sacrifice for sins has ended the priestly service (leitourgein) and committed the ultimate ‘liturgical’ act by which we are sanctified (Heb. 10:10-12). Likewise, he is our high priest, seated at the right hand of the throne of God, a minister (leitourgos) in the sanctuary, in the true tent that the Lord has set up (Heb. 8:1-2).
Thus Christians, made brothers and sisters and fellow heirs with Christ, have now become “priests of God” (hiereis tou theou) as related in Revelation 20:6. I Peter 2:5 calls the body of Christ “a holy priesthood” (hieratouma hagion), as well as a “priesthood of royal rank” (basileion hierateuma). “Revelation 5:10 sings of people from every tribe and nation being made a kingdom and priests (hiereis).” In Philippians 2:17, Paul metaphorically speaks of himself as poured out as a “living sacrifice.” Block notes that in the New Testament corporate worship is “never explicitly called a liturgical event.”
PRINCIPLES FOR APPLICATION
Based upon study of the above terms, we can and should draw certain conclusions which may be used to cultivate worship that is in accordance with Scripture. Following is a merging of Block’s conclusions with my own concurring thoughts.
1.) CONSISTENCY–Block teaches we should have “consistency between confession and practice.” The connection between “faith and works” in James 2:14-26 affirms Block’s interpretation—as the apostle confirms in these verses that the outward actions of the believer display inner faith. Similarly loving the Lord with all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12) means that our entire being is actively involved in this affection. We should note that there is a consistency or congruency, if you will, between each of the dimensions of worship that the bible teaches (dispositional, physical, and liturgical). In other words, fearing God correlates strongly with bowing prostrate before him in homage, and these correlate with Scriptural liturgical actions—whether they be in corporate worship or in service to the Lord in all of life. This correlation seems to heavily imply that all other aspects of Christian worship would also be in agreement.
2.) REVERENCE AND AWE–It is as Hebrews states, “with reverence and awe” that the authentic worshiper approaches God. Therefore Block elaborates, “True worship expresses the submission and homage of a person of lower rank before a superior. . . .[Thus] true worship lets God be God on his terms, and we submit to him as Lord with reverent and trusting awe.”
3.) OBEDIENCE–True worship involves obedience reflective of a godly heart. 1 Samuel 15:22 states, “And Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice. . . .'” Similarly we should note Micah 6:8 and Matt. 23:23. These passages reveal that obedience to God’s moral law is of higher rank in the worshiper’s priorities than cultic observance.
4.) COMMUNICATION–“True worship involves reactive communication.” Worship is comprised of God’s revelation of himself to us and our response to this revelation. The definition of worship that we use at Bethany Baptist Church is therefore:
We believe that biblical worship entails our most complete and affirming response to the revelation of who God is and what he has done. Furthermore, as the church we joyfully embrace the worship of God in two ways: (1) through corporate worship each Sunday morning and (2) through lives of worship, dedicated and obedient to God’s Word—both made possible only by our relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.
5.) GOD ALONE–Although we may bow as a demonstration of humility before human authorities, only God is worthy of our worship.
6.) WILL–Block states,
For worshipers’ acts of homage to be favorably received by God, they must align with his will rather than with the impulses of depraved human imagination. Forms of worship may vary from culture to culture, but true worship comes from hearts totally devoted to God and determined to please him. Scripture clearly reveals the forms of ethical worship acceptable to God, and since the New Testament gives minimal attention to corporate worship, true Christian worship should be grounded on theological principles established in the First Testament. Unless the New Testament expressly declares those principles to be obsolete, we should assume continuity.
CONCLUSION—ON GOD’S TERMS
True worship occurs on God’s terms—heeding the words that Scripture uses to define it—both for the corporate gatherings of local church and in all of life. When faced with the weightiness of the list of these ‘worship words’ and the range of their implications—rather than being tempted to rise in revolt in our hearts against them, or feeling crushed by the weight of the implied expectations upon us—we should continuously turn to God to change our desires and affections and enable us to worship in ways that display transformed lives for his glory (Romans 12:1-2).
When we see corporate worship as Scripture defines it, we will begin to understand it as training for worship in all of life. In other words, worshiping God as the gathered Body of Christ as He prescribes, trains our disposition before God and others for every activity. Thus in developing our philosophy of corporate worship, including the forms employed (preaching, architecture, music, etc.)—these tools need to be such that are suited for this high task. Might we prayerfully ask, study, and spiritually discern: are tools we are using more palatable to the spirit or to the flesh in the devotional task of worship?
In Galatians 6:7-8, Paul speaks of sowing to the spirit (resulting in spiritual life) rather than sowing to the flesh (resulting in spiritual death). When seeking to adhere to the principles for worship that flow from our study of biblical worship words, we will be tempted toward legalism or toward licentiousness—two extremes that Galatians teaches are a result of sowing to the flesh. Instead Paul encourages us to follow an entirely different path, the path of sowing to the Spirit—depending upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to love God and love others rightly, and thus learn to love the law. This fulfills the law of Christ.
Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.
Dawn, Marva J. How Shall We Worship?: Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2003.