God-Centered Worship

Trinity Symbols

What is God-centered worship? Isn’t all corporate worship in Christian churches God-centered? No. Some churches have made other concerns—man-centered concerns—the focus. By its most basic definition, worship that is God-centered is not man-centered. Churches that seek to be attractional by the world’s standards rather than biblical standards fall into the second category. Worship that is God-centered is focused upon God and governed by Him. This means that Scripture guides its practice.

Scriptural worship in both the Old and New Testaments is foundationally about God: revering, honoring, and glorifying God for who He is and for His acts of grace and redemption. As the O.T. priests offered animal sacrifices to atone for Israel’s sin, they acted in faith in God’s promises for the coming messiah and final sacrifice in Jesus Christ. Daniel Block defines the “Dimensions of Biblical Worship” as fear, prostration, and service (Block, 8-23). All point us as worshipers to center around God and His being. Hence, our worship is always unto God; He is the focus or object of our worship. Certainly there are horizontal as well as vertical aspects to corporate worship. The various functions of preaching and singing (Col. 3:16-17) as a part of Scriptural instruction in worship make this clear. Yet all of this is done through Christ as we “draw near” to God with “full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-25).

As fostering understanding of God-centered worship is foundational to this site, I want to point you to other articles that contribute much toward this goal. One tradition that demonstrates a pursuit of Scripture-regulated worship is traditional Reformed worship. Author Terry Johnson represents this heritage and does a excellent job of helping us understand what God-centered worship is and is not in his article “God-Centered Worship” (Tabletalk Magazine). Johnson states:

The Christian life begins when a Copernican revolution takes place when I remove myself from the center of the universe and recognize that God alone reigns there (Matt. 16:24Rom. 12:1–2). Nowhere should this revolution be more obvious than in the worship of the church.

Johnson’s article provides a succinct presentation of how God-centered worship, worship that keeps its aim set upon glorifying and enjoying God, is not only the type of worship that God desires but is also the best for us.

For further reading on God-centered worship, see the articles below:

  1. “God-Centered Worship,” by Dr. Guy Waters. Waters is Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and the author of several books. This article focuses on the biblical functions of each person of Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is vital for us to understand the God we are worshiping as Scripture reveals Him. Waters states, “In Romans 1:21–23, Paul says that to worship anything or anyone other than the true God is evidence of futile thinking, a darkened heart, and the abandonment of wisdom.”
  2. “Restoring Biblical Worship,” by David De Bruyn. De Bruyn is Pastor at New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. This article speaks to the concept of rightly ordered worship and rightly ordered affections. De Bruyn states, “Corporate worship ought to set the tone for private worship; not vice-versa.” Thus, we should have a “carefulness and watchfulness” regarding our worship and God’s prescriptions for it.
  3. The God-Centered Worship Essentials series on this site. Open this link and scroll down to the bottom to begin with the first article.


Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

Johnson, Terry. “God-Centered Worship.” Tabletalk Magazine (January 1, 2005).

Waters, Guy. “God-Centered Worship.” Tabletalk Magazine (April 1, 2012).

De Bruyn, David. “Restoring Biblical Worship.” Religious Affections Ministries. Accessed May 30, 2016. Available from http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-worship/restoring-biblical-worship/; Internet.

Goodness, Truth, and Beauty–Do These Really Matter Today?

Glasses on Open Bible ca. 2001

The good, the true, and the beautiful. How can we best understand God’s standard for these? Where we look first matters a great deal. Do we look first to the shifting culture around us or to God’s Word? In the light of general and special revelation (creation and Scripture), God expects Christians to discern what is good, true, and beautiful from what is bad, false, and ugly (Ryken, 37-45). Clearly this discernment matters. However, there has been such a devaluing of these standards in the last century that many in our culture seem no longer able to make these distinctions. The postmodern worldview that is now so prevalent has left in its wake many who believe that in the arts, as well as in theology—goodness, truth, and beauty are merely a matter of subjective taste.

In contrast, God’s instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus 31 reveal His aesthetic standards in the crafting of both the structure and its articles (Ryken, 37-8). As a copy of the heavenly temple this was the place where the presence of God dwelled with His people, and He was worshiped. Everything in its construction pointed to the goodness, truth, and beauty of God Himself—the infinite excellence of His character and being, or glory  (Block, 257-8, 305). Here there is a principle revealed for the Christian artist. As Philip Ryken states, “. . . [O]ur art must be in keeping with the character of our God, who Himself is good, true and beautiful” (Ryken, 44).

Dr. Harry Reeder’s excellent article, “The Triune God: Good, Beautiful and True” (Tabletalk Magazine), underscores the significance of defending these standards. Along the way he unpacks the language used in our culture that distorts these realities. Reeder states “Each of us is an abettor in the relativization of goodness, beauty, and truth, claiming that there is no true truth, only ‘my truth,’ which may or may not be ‘your truth.’” He follows with good news for the Christian:  “Our Redeemer will deliver us from our sin so that we might not only behold truth, beauty, and goodness, but so that we will love truth, beauty, and goodness because we first love Him, the Lord of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Dennis, Lane T.; and Grudem, Wayne, eds. ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Reeder, Harry. “The Triune God: Good, Beautiful and True.” Tabletalk Magazine (September 1, 2010).

Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006.

Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

God-Centered Worship is Made of both Inner and Outer Expression

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.”

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)

Block states,

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.

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)

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.”

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.



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.

God-Centered Worship is Faithful to the Scope and Instruction of Scripture

Have you ever wondered why today’s church may attract a lot of people, but those individuals seem to have trouble growing into deep abiding discipleship? Often this is because worship has become more centered upon the desires of the people than it is upon pleasing the heart of God. For worship to transform lives, it must be God -centered and thus rendered according to God’s instruction. The church must clearly keep in mind that as God is the author of Scripture, He is the author of Scripture-defined worship. When we acknowledge this, it will drive us to God-centered worship—worship cultivated for the glory of God.

It would seem that the approach to worship in many churches today is to base its understanding and value system regarding biblical worship, both in all of life and corporate worship, almost entirely upon the New Testament. World-class Old Testament scholar, Daniel I. Block has rightly proclaimed to us in his recent book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, that worship based upon the full counsel of God, should employ at least a “continuity of principle”—observed between the testaments upon study and comparison of (1) the underlying theology of the Israelite worship and (2) the theology of the New Testament. Thus, Block states

To be sure, in the light of Christ, the forms have changed—the sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, and the temple have all been declared passé through the death and resurrection of Jesus—but does this mean that God’s first instructions on worship have no bearing on contemporary worship? Hardly. If Jesus Christ is YHWH, the God of Israel in human flesh (Matt. 1:23; John 1:23; Rom. 10:13; Phil 2:11), and if Jesus Christ is eternally changeless (Heb. 13:8), we should at least expect a continuity of principle between the Testaments. Jesus does not declare the old theology obsolete; rather, in him the theology underlying Israelite worship finds its fulfillment.

So, it can only follow that principles gained from studying both the Old and New Testaments should apply in all of our worship of God—in both our corporate gatherings and in our daily living. Where the New Testament clearly cancels out the Old, we should make changes as instructed, but where it does not, we should employ the theological principles learned from the Old Testament and seek to understand them in the light of New Testament revelation in our lives and churches. By employing these principles, I mean that we adopt them as part of our doctrine that guides how we think about the worship of God and the way we do it. Our right understanding of truth as inspired by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word, and the illumination of our minds and hearts by the same, is essential in this process.

My next blog will outline the biblical words for worship according to Daniel Block’s excellent study.

Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.