I am presently reading the book “Worship by the Book” which is edited by D.A. Carson. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some reflections on and/or summaries of the book. In chapter one Carson is attempting to establish a definition of worship. He starts by addressing the challenges that prevent us from coming to a common understanding of worship, specifically in regard to the corporate worship gathering. He discusses how one popular method in the church attempts to adapt the forms of worship in order to make them more acceptable to every sociological distinguishable cultural subgroup (boomer, buster, etc…). The trouble with us relying entirely upon this model is “sooner or later one is troubled by the sheer lack of stability, of a sense of heritage and substance passed on to another generation, of patterns of corporate worship shared with Christians who have gone before, or any shared vision of what corporate worship should look like.” In his opinion Carson says that this philosophy then creates a “swarm of traditionalists who like things that are old regardless of whether or not they are well founded.” (P. 12)
He explains how those who represent different opinions regarding the current styles and approaches are not doing well at going to the scriptures to correct and guide their ideas regarding worship; rather, they tend to read their ideas and experiences of worship back into scripture. This means a person who loves liturgical forms of worship often begins their arguments in the Old Testament, citing the use of choirs, antiphonal psalms, and other ancient liturgical patterns of worship. Similarly a charismatic will go to 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 to establish their view, etc…. Consequently, the present cultural climate within church worship presents several challenges to us coming to a unified understanding of Biblical worship. There are also some more technical challenges.
One of the challenges involves the fact that the English word “worship” holds numerous meanings when contrasted with the original languages of the scriptures. The Biblical authors often meant different things when they were referring to worship; consequently, the various Greek and Hebrew words that are translated into our single word “worship” often represent entirely different meanings than what we commonly associate when we use the word either in verbal or written form. Carson concludes that a simple word study is an inadequate means for arriving at a common definition of worship. Carson goes on to also point out that biblical theology and systematic theology are also unable to bring full clarity to the meaning of worship in the scriptures (this explanation, though interesting, is a bit too technical and lengthy to unpack in this post).
In conclusion to this section of chapter one, Carson re-caps that due to culturally divergent views, linguistic pressures, and the shortcomings of both the systematic and biblical theology matrix there are some significant challenges the believer faces when attempting to come up with a responsible theology of worship.
For me, this section of chapter one was eye opening because when discussing worship in the church, we tend to be overly simplistic in our use of the word. The lack of proper use and definition keeps us from unlocking the rich meaning and purpose that worship should play in the life of the believer and church.
In upcoming posts we’ll look at how Carson starts to work toward establishing a Biblical definition of worship.