Opinions on faith and life

Defining Worship

2010-06-16

In a series of three articles beginning Here, the question is raised about the definition of Christian worship. There are two primary words in the Greek to focus on:

  1. proskuneo (lit. “to kiss the hand”) – to display great honor and respect through some physical gesture, along with words of praise and possibly also offerings; this word is never used to describe a meeting or gathering
  2. latreuo – to serve in a priestly and/or sacrificial manner; to act as an official servant to a divinity; this word is never used to describe a meeting or gathering (see also 2 Tim. 1:3, Paul describing his own service to God)

While proskuneo is more general because there are some instances where it was applied to human rulers, latreuo is narrow and restricted to the service of a deity. It should also be noted that the word leitourgos in Rom. 13:6 refers to secular service, but still narrowed in scope to be service to the needs of the government. Now for a list of typical references to worship in the New Testament:

proskuneo

  1. Matthew 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
  2. Matthew 28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
  3. Luke 24:52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
  4. John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
  5. 1 Corinthians 14:25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
latreuo
  1. Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
  2. Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.
  3. Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
  4. Luke 2:37 and then had been a widow for eighty-four years. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. (Note: Remember that this is divine service, not worship; she was serving in the temple in some official capacity.)
Note that the passage most commonly cited as referring to “Christian worship” is not in either list; it only speaks of when believers would “come together” and says nothing about worship:
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
The idea of the traditional “Christian worship service” is foreign to the pages of the NT. Instead, we see that we are simply to live the Christian life, give of ourselves out of a genuine love for God and others, and live in a state of praise and honor to God.

As with my previous post I issue this challenge: show me the traditional “Christian worship service” in the NT, in context. (And please note, per my Disclaimer page, that I do not endorse other teachings at the referenced site.) Show me buildings, props, professionals, rituals, sacraments, and list those required acts of obedience beyond the Fruit of the Spirit.

33 Comments

Charles

I wonder what your concern here really is. Is it the designation that you don’t like? That is, calling what happens on Sunday morning a "worship service"? Or are you opposed to the various items that you listed (e.g., buildings, props, professionals, rituals, sacraments) as antithetical or incompatible with worship? Or are you opposed to using 1 Cor 14:26 as a worship text? Or perhaps I have missed your concern altogether. Can you clarify?

Paula Fether

I can try. ;-)

My concern is that Christians look past tradition and see what’s in scripture. What Jesus came to do was to free people and lighten their burdens, not tighten the screws and micromanage. In that light, I see the traditional concept of Christian worship as more an obstacle to the relationship and life of service scripture teaches, than a facilitator. That is, though God can and has worked around our flawed human institutions, it is not the ideal, and in fact it can foster the hierarchy and worldliness/materialism we claim to have rejected.

What we do on Sundays is not only misnamed, but counterproductive. Our true worship is the life we live, a life not our own. And such a life will not spend great amounts of money for its own comfort but use it instead to care for the community of believers who are really in need, and reach out to the lost. Of course traditional churches believe they already do these things, but they do it very inefficiently, and the programs and props become the main attractions.

So this isn’t about terminology but looking closely at scripture, beyond the English translations, to see what exactly the Christian life is all about.

Now Charles, I sense in your comment a tone of judgment and disapproval. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but that’s the way you came across. If this is the case, can you explain what exactly offends you about this article?

Charles

I try to hold my judgment and/or disapproval until after I understand what a person means. Therefore, judgment/disapproval was not my original intention. The idea of worship in both Testaments is one of my many areas of interest and I share your desire to be as biblical as possible. That being said, my understanding of Sunday mornings is not that they replace the things that you mentioned (evangelism, service, etc.), but that serve as a catalyst for them. So it is not an either/or but rather a both/and in my view. Both Testaments teach that that there is no building that can contain God and therefore worship cannot be restricted to any one building or any one congregation. But that does not mean one cannot truly worship in a building or with a congregation either. I agree that local churches may be "flawed institutions" but that does not mean that they do not have a legitimate place. Any institution involving fallen human beings is going to be flawed. For example, one might rightly say that most marriages are "flawed institutions" but that does not mean we should get rid of marriage. I think that we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water here. By the way, I may have misread you here, but your comments seem to promote a very individualistic expression of the Christian faith. I don’t see much place in your comments to the community of believers . If you are indeed arguing for an individualistic faith independent of the community of faith, I would suggest that such an an attitude and approach is wrongheaded and antithetical to both the teaching and spirit of both Testaments. But again I admit that I may have misunderstood you on this point.

Lin

"Any institution involving fallen human beings is going to be flawed."

I am really tired of this one. Fallen human beings who are seeking the Kingdom want more Holiness. More likeness of Jesus Christ. The excuse above is used too many times to subtly steer a person to accept that what we do in the institution is ok. It is not ok. We actually pay other people to lead us in what we call worship? It is planned and scripted. Show me in the Word where it says one person is to speak to people week after week.

What happens if they grow past the main speaker? They become restless and leave.

What little bit of a model we do have in the NT is one of many being engaged when the ekklesia meets. They do not have special education to qualify for this because it is of the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine if we followed that model at all? Several speak and the others judge!

The Reformation replaced the mass with a pulpit that became erroneously a sacred piece of furniture. The Word is at center, I agree, but not a man upon a stage.

We are to worship in spirit and truth. Pure of heart. We are all to be involved.

Lin

"I don’t see much place in your comments to the community of believers"

Here we go. You are a paid professional Christian, aren’t you? You make a living in ministry? My guess is you do or are striving to.

Exactly what does this community have to look like to you?

I rarely occurs to some that we might be in sin for supporting the very flawed legally structured institution that spends money on buildings, salaries, programs and events and does little to take care of brothers and sisters in need.

Charles

Lin,

While you might be tired of the fact that "Any institution involving fallen human beings is going to be flawed.” But that makes it no less true. Furthermore, even if a truth is used as an excuse, it is no less true. I share some of the concerns that you have about the way some worship is done. But I suggest that one needs to be careful not to use a caricature of some as a blanket example against all. You are correct that, "What little bit of a model we do have in the NT is one of many being engaged when the ekklesia meets." But you are not correct if you are suggesting that everyone is engaged in the same way. This is not true in either Testament. Ephesians 4:11 states that "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." Therefore, not everyone is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor/teacher. The fact that everyone is to be engaged, but not necessarily engaged in the same way is also evident in the giving of spiritual gifts and/or gifted people (Rom 12:6-8; see also 1 Cor 12,; 14). You are correct in affirming that, "We are to worship in spirit and truth. Pure of heart. We are all to be involved." But I would suggest that our involvement can and should take different forms and perhaps fulfill different roles.

Paula Fether

Charles,

Perhaps you haven’t yet read my recent post about "imperfect churches and clean shoes". I think that would help clear up some things.

Also, comparing the clearly Biblical teachings on marriage to the conspicuous-by-their-absence statements about Christian worship and assembly is really apples and oranges. And I do believe that, as opposed to most of the world’s religions, the relationship at the center of the Christian faith is truly an individual one. Of course we all want to meet together; that isn’t what I’m against at all. Instead, what we need to do is stop thinking that religious practice with its rituals and hierarchy and sacred buildings is the reality instead of the shadow. This tradition gets in the way of what Jesus established: freedom from human regulations, and clearly not replaced with new ones. No one is advocating an isolated Christian life, but one where we truly build each other up--- as we are doing even now, in this blog.

I love being with others of the faith. I love sharing my spiritual gifts with them and benefiting from theirs in turn. But that is not what happens in "church", of which I faithfully and actively participated for the first 47 years of my life. People go to see and hear performances, be they oratorical or musical. They want an experience, a spiritual rush. They go to get pumped up and to do the religion thing. They let a precious few practice their spiritual gifts while the majority sit and stare. That is not building each other up.

There is much more on this topic here in my blog, and if you’d like it all in one document, click on the Reconciled image on the right. It will take you to my books site, where you will also see one called Nicolaitan: Power and Control in Christianity. Those two books sum up my views on the Christian faith and life.

Charles

Lin,

Have you ever heard of an ad hominem argument? Whether I am in vocational Christian service or not is not the point. Take my arguments on.

Nonetheless, you do ask a valid question about community. Broadly speaking, my understanding of community is that there are a group of believers/followers of Jesus Christ who gather together to stimulate and encourage one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25). This stimulation and encouragement can take a variety of forms including corporate worship, corporate prayer, instruction, accountability, and the like.

Paula Fether

Again, no one is advocating the abandonment of spiritual gifts and interaction. What we’re saying is that the tradition of "going to church" with its order of "worship", "head pastor", and lecture ("sermon") is not Christian worship.

We should meet together to build each other up and to learn from those who show by both knowledge and example that they have achieved a high degree of spiritual maturity. These leaders are examples, not rulers, and there are more than one in any given group of believers. Nothing in scripture gives directives on when, where, or how such meetings are to be conducted-- a significant oversight for something many believe is decreed as a requirement or rule.

Charles

Paula,

I have not read your previous post. I was only commenting on what I seen in this post, and what I did not see was much on community. Thanks for the clarification.

Concerning churches, it sounds like you may have have found a way that fits your ecclesiology better. I think that is great (no sarcasm intended). I think each person will gravitate to certain forms for a variety of reasons. I am not one who particularly enjoys so-called "high church" or more liturgical churches, but to each his or her own. I think that Romans 14:4 would apply here. When the dust settles, you will be accountable for the way you worshiped and served and so will I. I wish you the best in that and hopefully you can do the same for me.

Paula Fether

Here’s a test, Charles...

Next Sunday, close the church doors. Post an announcement that you and the other teachers are going to give lessons in their homes. There will be no professional performances or orders of worship. Just come to the home nearest you, at a time the homeowner deems convenient, and fellowship together. If the Spirit is truly moving, people will know.

If you’re willing to do that, then you truly believe that the "church" is not the building or the program or the hierarchy.

Paula Fether

We cross posted, sorry.

But I hope as well that you see the point I’m trying to make: that the traditional church paradigm is an obstacle to real fellowship and worship. I really, seriously would like you to try my little test sometime.

Charles

Paula,

It might surprise you to know that the church I attend has been meeting for the last three years in an elementary school that we rent and that taking a Sunday to do what you have suggested--we have done something very similar. So did I pass the test?

Charles

Paula,

I would caution that your dogmatism in stating that "the traditional church paradigm is an obstacle to real fellowship and worship" is not helpful and come across as a bit judgmental. Please also recognize that the more informal model that you advocate has its own obstacles. Problems within the church are not new. Look at the Book of Acts, 1 Corinthians, or the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. Most if not all of these churches utilized a model that you advocate.

Paula Fether

Charles,

There is a saying: People can come out of Babylon, but Babylon doesn’t always come out of people. Whether you own a building or not, the question is whether you think of it as a sacred place that is made such only by the presence of a presiding official, and whether you really hope someday to get a "real church".

I was in a church that met in an elementary school too. But "Babylon" was still there: the Pastor leading, along with a musical performance, people all sitting facing the same way instead of each other, and an "order of worship". We had our nursery organized, carry-in dinners, the whole nine yards. We set up committees and elected officers. And we thought that was "worship".

Do you meet when and where the Spirit leads, or only by schedule and planning? Would the people meet together without some official presiding? Would more than a small handful of people really participate? Do any of the people still remain students even after decades of Sunday School? Is the group more organized after the pattern of a business or club? Are there bylaws and membership rolls?

The model I’m trying to explain is one that lets the Spirit lead "without packages, boxes, or bags" (to quote How the Grinch Stole Christmas). People just live and get together, and if the Spirit is leading, they will seek out those who know the Word and are gifted to teach it. It doesn’t need a committee; it doesn’t need trustees; it doesn’t hope someday to have its own property, a nice sound system, or slick Powerpoint presentations.

What are your goals as a group? To get bigger, or to start many more small groups, held together not by a creed or oversight committee, but by the Spirit? Do you receive a salary from them? If so, where does scripture say that only one spiritual gift gets paid? (Please note that "double honor" begs the question of "single honor"-- who gets that, and how much is it?)

I don’t need you to answer all this for myself, but for yourself.

As for my alleged dogmatism, surely you don’t think that having a strong personal conviction is a bad thing? I can see that it is "not helpful" to the traditional model, but nobody likes their comfort zone upset. Nevertheless, I am called to challenge that model. I realize this may affect you personally, but this is my mission and I would be a coward not to continue in it because of opposition.

I am well aware of the obstacles of home fellowships, but throwing that out because of them is exactly the "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" you mentioned before. I see nothing in the references you gave that remotely resemble the model you advocate; that is the challenge of this post. Show me the traditional model in those passages.

Paula Fether

To clarify:

I realize your point that in spite of being the correct model, churches in the 1st century had big problems. But what does that prove... that house churches are bad? Or are you using the tu quoque fallacy? ("you can’t criticize my model because yours is bad too")

The question on the table is not whether house churches are perfect, but whether traditional churches are supportable by scripture. I still await scriptural support for that model.

Greg Anderson

I think that the main reason people go to church, play church, or whatever you want to call it, is because people need people and want to be wanted.

The need to be wanted by others is one of the most basic human needs there is. Whether plaiting a May pole with gaily colored streamers in an intricate dance to celebrate Spring planting or genuflecting to the softly spoken magic spells of the institutional church, people want to be with those of like feather so to speak.

I long ago gave up the notion that I am a worthless maggot in the hands of a pissed-off god (Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards) in favor of a deity (God) who created me to be like him.

Paula Fether

Good point, Greg. That’s why it was so hard for me to leave. Nobody wants to be alone (which makes the charge of not wanting to meet together all the more ironic). Everybody wants to belong and be accepted and supported. But one’s faith is not really tested in that environment.

I think there is a wide gulf between desiring fellowship and requiring it. Especially if that fellowship is deemed "not official" without the proper authorities presiding.

Charles

Paula,

I answered your original challenge in post 11 and now you are moving the goalposts as it were with a whole litany of things. If that is what you truly wanted shouldn’t you have said so.

Concerning the biblical passages, you seemed to have missed my point entirely. I am suggesting that these passages tend to reflect the informal gatherings that you would advocate, yet it is clear that these churches had many problems and issues (like all churches do). So maybe forms don’t make it all right OR all wrong. Just as an aside, most of my church tradition has been as a Baptist. Did you know that many early Baptist advocated the kind of informal worship that you commend. They believed this so strongly in the Spirit’s leading that they would not sing hymns, because the words and music were already planned and might hinder the Spirit’s leading. A study of Baptist history also shows that these believers were often just as carnal as those in much more liturgical churches. I am not saying that the informal form led to the shortcomings, only that the forms themselves do not ensure that one group is more spiritual than another.

I am not advocating throwing out home fellowships. In fact I have not advocated throwing out anything. As I stated earlier to each her or his own. Indeed, I have wished you well in the model you have chosen to pursue. By the way, if you read carefully, you will see that I have not advocated any particular model. The points that I have been making could apply to any model. I am also not against personal convictions. I got a boatload of them myself. What I have learned as I have gotten older is that I am willing to extend grace to folks who believe differently in areas where there is ambiguity (like church polity, etc.). Maybe you feel called to the challenge as you have noted but I have not. But if you will permit a bit of admonition, let me remind you that you are also included in the "nobody" of your statement "nobody likes their comfort zone upset." It works both ways.

Paula Fether

And another thing...

I’ve met Buddhists. They live their religion. They hold fast to it without a hierarchy or official committees. They get together whenever and wherever they feel like. They don’t try to control people (well, at least most of them; there’s a bad apple in every basket).

By putting up walls, we model a God who is confined by them. We make a club out of it, and I have yet to see how the average church differs significantly from the average club. There is precious little difference.

Paula Fether

Charles, I don’t see any answer to my question in any of your responses. My question remains a very simple one that has not moved an inch: where in scripture do you see the model of the traditional church? If anyone has moved the goalposts, it is you. You tried to make this a comparison of trad. church and house church instead, and put them on equal footing just because "we’re all imperfect". WE are not the focus here, but the model of "church", and specifically whether scripture supports anything but believers meeting and participating as the Spirit leads, without officials or committees making a business out of it.

If you are not advocating a particular model, then why all the hostility to this post? If it’s live and let live, why the charge of dogmatism?

And let me remind and admonish you as well: I DID leave my comfort zone; how did you miss that? And you still don’t see my point in all this: that the traditional model of a club or business is absent from the NT and fosters a top-down, clergy/laity, the few doing the work kind of attitude. It is what Jesus came to replace with "spirit and truth". I don’t know how else to say this.

Charles

Paula,

In regards to comment16, I don’t think I am guilty of the tu quoque fallacy. As I noted in my previous comment I am not advocating a model. What I am suggesting that every model has strengths and weaknesses and that the relative ambiguity of the New Testament (an ambiguity that you have acknowledged) allows for a variety of expressions of ecclesiology. You ask whether traditional churches are supported by Scripture. In answer i that, it really does matter what you mean by "supported." If the New Testament is ambiguous on the matter then one might argue that all models are supported or one could argue that no models are supported. The issues are complicated whether you examine the New Testament passages or the extra-biblical evidence from the early church. If you have not read it, you might want to look at a series of blog posts that Ben Witherington did in reviewing Barna and Viola’s Pagan Christianity. You might not agree with all the Witherington suggests, but I think that Barna does a nice job of bringing out some of the complexity of the issues at hand.

Charles

Paula,

The moving of the goalposts was related specifically to the test. You gave me a simple test and I gave you a simple answer and then you tried change the test. Reread the comments and see if it is not so.

Charles

A couple of further points. You have charged me with hostility, where is the evidence? I suggested that your statement was dogmatic? Wasn’t it? How do you define dogmatism?

Concerning comfort zones, you do realize that what we are in now might be our new comfort zone. Isn’t it possible that your comfort zone in this case might possibly be your belief that you have it right and most others have it wrong?

Paula Fether

Charles,

I never said the NT was ambiguous, but only that it is silent about the traditional model. Big difference. And the absence of instructions for worship speaks volumes.

And I’m glad you mentioned that series by Witherington. I read the whole thing and thought Jon Zens’ responses were outstanding. (link)

As for the goalposts, your meeting in a school was answered by my own testimony of the same, and I explained that the test was about giving up the program, the Babylon. I don’t know how to make that any clearer. And now you accuse me of saying everyone else is wrong and I alone have it right. Yet at the same time you say you allow people to have their personal convictions. I don’t know what answer you’d like from me. And as for comfort zones, you originally accused me of not having left one, and now you move the goalpost by saying I have to leave it again!

Anyway, my point and challenge still stands: show me scripture that sets up officials, programs, liturgies, sacred furniture such as altars, or anything else that is part and parcel of the traditional model. I’ve seen house churches that had all of those things; they didn’t understand what it means to meet in homes. This isn’t merely a preference for location or style, but a matter of being a Body instead of a business.

Lin

“He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” Therefore, not everyone is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor/teacher."

I never said everyone is to be engaged in the same way. But lets think about that passage for a moment. In our present institutions how is it structured so that more people are developing their God given spiriutal gifts?

For example, We see no where in scripture there is ONE pastor in a ekklesia. (It does not count to say there is a senior and junior pastor. Those designations are no where in scritpure. A "pastor" is a function...a shepherding function. Not an "office".

Charles

Paula,

This is getting a bit counterproductive. We seem to talking past one another. As I have noted, I share some of your concerns and my initial comment on your post was really and sincerely to get at your thinking on an area of interest in mine(comment 3). I obviously made a mistake in that regard but I still wish you the best.

Paula Fether

Charles,

Such difficulties in communication are common, especially when the topic is controversial. All I can say in this case is that I did my best to clarify my argument. I’m not sure why you now consider it a mistake to have asked, other than my being apparently unable to explain my point in clear enough terms. But it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

I thank you for stopping by and challenging me, and hope that you will be all that God wants you to be. God bless.

Lin

Have you ever heard of an ad hominem argument? Whether I am in vocational Christian service or not is not the point. Take my arguments on."

YOu are right, of course. But my long time experience is that those in ministry make the same type of comments you made early on.

But after reading all the comments, I am not so sure what your concern really is about Paula’s post.

Paula, I am glad you linked to Zen’s response which I also found excellent.

Paula Fether

Yes, Zens’ response at that link really does answer these questions much more clearly and thoroughly than I could do. I thought I was making one simple point and asking one simple question, but I obviously didn’t accomplish that. This must be why Viola sells books by the millions, and I’m just another blogger. ;-) But it’s the thought that counts.

Lin

I was disappointed that Viola teamed up with Leonard Sweet for a book. What is up with that?

Paula Fether

Mysticism. I even emailed Viola with my concerns over a year ago, but he’s firmly in its grasp. And that’s all it takes for many to lump his excellent teachings on "church" in with heresy. ::sigh::

Lin

This is just one more example of how following men is so dangerous. every single teaching must be "Bereaned".