Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 3


OT worship not only emphasizes how God revealed Himself (and, thus, his plan of redemption) in history, but also details how his people were supposed to respond to His initiative. They did so by remembering, anticipating, celebrating, and serving: all of which were specifically connected with cultus of the Tabernacle and then with the Temple. The overt symbolism of the sacrificial system, the priesthood, and the feasts were means whereby Israel celebrated and renewed their covenant relationship with God symbolically.[1] Passover, in particular, models most elaborately how worship can be engaging, participatory, responsive, and revelatory. However, the sacrificial system was not only symbolic, it was also “the means by which God made it possible for a sinful people to draw near to him, to receive his grace and blessing, without desecrating his holiness and so incurring his wrath against them.”[2] In this way, OT worship enacts the drama of redemption, and typologically anticipates fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The transfer from the Tabernacle to the Temple built in Jerusalem was foretold in the Song of Moses, immediately after the Exodus: “You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The LORD will reign forever and ever” (Ex 15:17-18). While the function of the Temple remained the same as the Tabernacle, its grandeur and magnificence far exceeded the moveable tent. In Solomon’s dedication prayer (1 Kings 8), he praised God for his covenant faithfulness from Moses to his father David and recognized it as the place where God had set his name and would rule over his people and extend blessing to the nations through Israel.

The book of Psalms powerfully illustrates the centrality of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh as the foundation of their songs of praise for God’s blessing and protection as well as for God’s destruction and judgment of their enemies. Each generation was to be taught the mighty acts of God (cf. Deut 6:4-10; Psalm 78), and each generation was to engage in a lifestyle of worship (in cultic and daily practice) that reflected the grandeur of the God who graciously and miraculously saved them. Moreover, it is neither necessary, nor truthful, to deduce that OT worship ignored the importance of the heart’s engagement because it involved so much outward expression. In fact, Israel’s worship differed so strongly from the nations because it engaged the heart: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might"(Deut 6:4). Hear God’s desire for his people to completely worship him: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! “(Deut 5:29). Because God extended his covenant-love (ds,x,) to Israel, he expected that they reciprocate that covenant-love back to him as well as extend it to the nations! The prophets insisted that a reformation of the heart took precedence over a reformation of ritual: cf. 1 Sam 15; Isa 1:18ff; Amos 5:21-24; Mal 1:6-14. Indeed, God’s design was for his people to reflect in their lifestyle his matchless beauty and holiness as their Redeemer King by fulfilling what was required: Micah 6:8b “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

However, Israel did not do was required and so broke her covenant with Yahweh by committing gross acts of idolatry. The prophets’ criticisms of the Temple establishment are often worded in covenant lawsuit formulas (e.g. Isa 1) and warn the nation of impending judgment for their covenant unfaithfulness. The words of Amos solemnly describe the deplorable scenes that lead the nation into Babylonian Exile:

"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 25 "Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god- your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus," says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.
(Amos 5:21-27)

Not only were they guilty of idolatry, but the reason for their involvement in the Temple cult was to procure their “safety” so that they could continue breaking their covenant with Yahweh and committing evil (Jer 7:1-11)! For this reason, God destroyed the Temple and used the Babylonians to take his chosen people away into captivity. However, the exiles were promised that a day would come when Yahweh would make a New Covenant, put his Spirit within his people, and dwell in the midst of his people forever (Jer 31:31ff; Ezek 36:22-38).

[1] Even the form of large portions of the cannon are structured in covenant form. As Leonard notes, “The entire book of Deuteronomy, though cast as a sermon by Moses, is actually the narrative of a ceremony of renewal of the covenant. It is complete with the historical prologue (chapters 1—9, including the narrative of the Sinai events), the laws or stipulations (chapters 12—27), the pronouncement of sanctions in blessing and curse (chapters 28—29), the invocation of witnesses and the appeal to take the oath of covenant loyalty, or "choose life" (Deut. 30:19)” in “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.”
[2] Peterson, 49.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Practical Suggestions for Corporate Worship

Donald Whitney has written several articles that are extremely practical called "10 Ways to Improve Your Church's Worship Service", "10 More Ways..." and "A Third 10 Ways...".

His suggestions are Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, and Spiritually-forming. Enjoy!

Worship Articles by Donald Whitney

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 2.1


In the Ancient Near East, covenants were often made by a great king (conqueror) and a lesser king, the vassal. According to these ancient treaties, the great king would promise protection and blessing to his vassal in exchange for his allegiance and obedience to the stipulations set forth in the covenant. The great king would use the resources and power of his kingdom to protect his vassal-kings from enemy kingdoms so long as they remained faithful to their covenant obligations and continued to bring the required tribute to the great king. The structure of a 2nd millennium B.C. covenant included the following: 1. Preamble (introduces king), 2. Historical Prologue (past relations reviewed), 3. Stipulations: general and specific, 4. Witnesses, 5. Sanctions: blessings and curses, and 6. Ratifying Oath Sign.

Old Testament (OT) worship is grounded in the historic, redemptive act of God: the Exodus. It is God’s paramount self-revelatory act of redemption, second only to the Incarnation. Israel’s identity as the people of God was rooted in their covenant with God, which he initiated and established though the Exodus at Sinai (Ex 20:1-20).(1) Of course, God’s self-revelation to Israel at Sinai was in continuity with his revelation to and meetings with the patriarchs, particularly his covenant with Abraham (Gen 12-15). God’s deliverance of Israel from the evil powers of Egypt marked the beginning of his covenant faithfulness to bless the nations through the multiplying of Abraham’s seed. Furthermore, the establishment of the Sinaitic Covenant signals the beginning of Old Covenant, corporate worship. It was through their cultic worship that they offered their tribute to their Deliverer-King, and the Exodus shaped and informed their liturgy. This was taught by Moses, expressed in the Psalms, and reiterated by the prophets. Therefore, OT worship originates in God acting on behalf of his people; it cannot be conjured up and defined by anyone but God. Acceptable worship, then, is Israel’s faithful response to, or continued expression of, their covenantal relationship with Yahweh that he initiated.

Robert Webber discerns from the Exodus the basic structural elements for a meeting between God and his people, most of which parallel the 2nd millennium B.C. covenant form: 1. The meeting was convened by God whereby he recounted his saving acts of the Exodus (preamble and historical prologue). 2. The people were arranged in a structure of responsibility. 3. The meeting between God and Israel was characterized by the proclamation of the Word (stipulations). 4. The people accepted the conditions of the covenant, thus signifying a subjective commitment to hear and to obey the Word (the blessing and cursing sanctions are in Lev 26 and Deut 27-28). 5. The meeting was climaxed by a dramatic symbol of ratification, a sealing of the agreement: “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words”” (Ex 24:8). (2) Afterwards, Moses and the elders, representing Israel, offered sacrifices and ate a covenantal meal before Yahweh (Ex 24:3-8, 11). “The message of the chapter is clear: Israel could draw near to God in his holiness only because of his gracious initiative and provision.” (3) This underscores the importance of the Exodus event as the epicenter of the rest of OT worship and provides a grid to examine the rest of OT as well as New Testament worship.(4) The exile from the presence of God brought about by Adam and Eve’s sin, and experienced by the patriarchs, was (beginning to be) reversed by God’s dwelling presence in the midst of his people in the Tabernacle.

1. Because the primary focus of this paper deals with the corporate of the covenantal community, the primary focus is the Exodus onward. Edenic and patriarchal worship are only mentioned in brief. However, what must be emphasized is that since the Fall human beings have attempted to worship God on their own terms and by their own ability. For this reason, God revealed himself to Abraham and promised hope out of primordial history through the promise of the redemption that would come through his offspring.
2. Webber, Worship Old and New, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 20-21.
3. Peterson, 30.
4. Other significant covenants and covenant structures include: Adamic covenant (Gen 1-2); Noahic covenant (Gen 9:11-17); Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15:18); Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:11); and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31).

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 2.0


Although the word “worship” occurs in the English Bible, the true meaning of the word cannot be described by the findings of a word study. Even a conceptual study that merely looks at one or a few particular contexts will not accurately portray the grand theme of worship. Thus a biblical theology of worship becomes necessary not only to correct the pragmatic and anthropocentric tendencies of our day, but also to provide a definition that accounts for the relationship that exists between God and his people and the manner in which we ought to worship him. While it may be disputed if there is genuinely one central theme of the Bible, many scholars have noted and proposed the concept of “covenant” as the unifying theme and heart of biblical theology. Richard C. Leonard provides an excellent summary of the significance of “covenant” in biblical theology:

"When you stop to think about it, Scripture came into being as the expression of the relationship between God and his people. To use the formula that occurs repeatedly in Scripture, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27, etc.). The Bible typically portrays this relationship in terms of the covenant or its theological equivalents: the kingdom of God, the family of God, new life through membership in the Son of God. All issues and concerns raised in Scripture have their place within the ebb and flow of the covenant relationship between the Lord and those who have pledged their loyalty to him in worship and obedience. In this sense, covenant is the air we breathe in Scripture. Even where the concept of the covenant recedes into the background, it still supplies the framework and the thematic material for understanding all parts of the Old and New Testaments. In particular, it has profound implications for Christian worship." (1)

Although worship has been defined in many ways, it is ultimately the expression of our relationship with God, who said “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2) This sort of relationship is fundamentally covenantal. Because our worship always says something about who God is and who we are as his people our definition ought to communicate this covenantal relationship. Therefore, David Peterson’s definition of worship is most helpful: “Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” (3)

The following examines the formation of the covenantal communities of the Old and New Testaments with particular attention to their corporate worship. Then, in view of the fulfillment and escalation of redemptive history in the person and work of Jesus Christ, an organizing principle/atonement theory for corporate worship will be suggested.

1. Richard C. Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.” [n.p.] Online: http://www.laudemont.org/a-bcacw.htm. This is an online version of the article previously printed in Reformation and Revival Journal Vol 2, Number 2, Spring 1993.
2. Leonard, “The Biblical Covenant and Christian Worship.”
3. Peterson, 20 (italics original).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 1

Talking about worship is dangerous. Indeed, the first murder in human history took place between two brothers in a disagreement over worship! Though they did not know it, Cain and Abel’s quarrel sparked a question that would be asked down through the ages, “What is proper worship?” For two millennia, the church has defined and defended the orthodoxy of its doctrine and worship practices at great costs. Councils have convened, heretics have been warned and even executed, and countless denominations have arisen: all for the purpose of seeking and maintaining the purity of worship. Today, the debate continues in the so-called “worship wars.” Sadly, however, the debate is seldom over biblical doctrine, but over personal preference. Too many churches have split and many more experience unresolved conflict over whether the worship service ought to be “traditional” or “contemporary.” True worship is currently being defined by whether or not a church uses hymns or praise and worship songs, hymnals or PowerPoint, whether the service is “blended” or offers a variety of “worship” styles.(1) That “worship” has become an adjective further speaks of the decline from a biblical understanding. What emerges is a confused, individualistic, and experiential understanding of the meaning and function of the corporate worship of the church.

In his book, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, David Peterson prescribes the necessary remedy: “Vitality and meaning will not be restored to Christian gatherings until those who lead and those who participate can recover a biblical perspective on their meetings, seeing them in relation to God’s total plan and purpose for his people.”(2) The goal of this study is to put Peterson’s suggestion into practice by exploring why and how the Christian church ought to gather for corporate worship in view of God’s plan and purpose for his people as understood within the drama of redemptive history. Why the Christian church gathers for corporate worship will be answered by exploring the biblical-theological foundation for the community worship. How the Christian church gathers for corporate worship will be answered by offering pastoral considerations for such corporate worship in view of biblical-theology and historic precedents.

1. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church offers 5 additional “worship venues” in addition to their main service and Spanish service because “not everyone has the same taste in worship styles.” These venues include Praise (gospel choir), OverDrive (Rock’n Roll), Ohana (Island style), Elevation (for singles) and Passion (intimate and younger). Saddleback Church, "Worship." n.p. [cited April 12, 2005]. Online: http://www.saddleback.com/flash/venues.html.

2. David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 21. No other book has shaped my understanding of biblical theology in general (and my biblical theology of worship in specific) than this. In many ways, this study is a summary of my reflections on his work, and I am completely indebted to him

Weekly Series: Covenantal Corporate Worship

If you ever visit this blog, you probably know that I talk a lot about worship. It's not so much a soapbox as it is a response to the fact that we humans have been created for worship. Worship is the primary matter of the universe, and life is a battle for worship. For the next few months (?), I'll be doing a weekly series called "Covenantal Corporate Worship" where we'll explore two major questions: 1. Since all of life is supposed to be worship, WHY should we still gather for corporate worship? 2. And if we are supposed to gather for worship, then HOW should we?

I've learned a lot from further reflection, study, and experience since I wrote this, so its far from being any "final word." Tell me what you think!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Richard Baxter and "Lord I Lift Your Name on High"

As I was reading Reggie Kidd's With One Voice, I came across a wonderful quote that gave me a renewed appreciation for the nearly sung-to-death "Lord I Lift Your Name on High." It comes from: The Saint's Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter. I wonder if Rick Founds was reading Baxter when he wrote the song? This week we will be introducing the song with the quotation below. Baxter captures what the weight of what Scripture means when it says that "we love, because God first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Christian, believe this, and think on it: thou shalt be eternally embraced in the arms of that love which was from everlasting, and, will extend to everlasting; of that love which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to glory; that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spit upon, crucified, pierced; which did fast, pray, teach, heal, weep, sweat, bleed, die; that love will eternally embrace thee.... Know this, believer, to thy everlasting comfort, if those arms have once embraced thee, neither sin nor hell can get thee thence for ever.

Link:The Saint's Everlasting Rest

Further Up & Further In Music

Last week while I was at the Bethlehem Baptist Pastor's Conference, I heard a great song, "Only Jesus" written by Marc Heinrich. The song is available on Marc's website (along with many others) in mp3 as well and lead sheet. I've just begun to plumb the depths of some incredibly profound and stirring songs. Be sure to check it out.
"Only Jesus"
By Marc Heinrich

When the trial comes
And all hope seems lost
I will find my strength
In the mighty cross

Chorus 1
Only there
Only Jesus
Only there can I cast my burdens down
Only Him
Only Jesus
Only there is joy in sorrow found

Verse 2
If my love grows cold
And my faith feels lost
I will find my heart
In the healing cross

Link:Further Up & Further In Music

Birch Flooring

Friday, February 03, 2006

Have You Heard Mark Heard?

There are few musicians who have spoken so loudly to me as Mark Heard. He spoke almost like a prophet, in lyrics that were "often haunting and rarely ordinary."

Listen to how Heard defined his "mission" in the liner notes of his 1983 album, Eye of the Storm: "I prefer to see myself as a writer who is a Christian, and I prefer to let my faith flavor my observations rather than dictate them. I prefer for my pen to act as a nerve receptor and write about the world - the real one - that exists outside society's and Christian society's simplistic, plastic, media-fed notions of what life is and what is important....I prefer not to excommunicate myself from either the 'secular' world or the church, in favor of attempting to write in a way that is communicative to both but calculated towards neither."

His album High Noon ends with the song "Treasure of the Broken Land", a song he wrote after watching his father be slowly and painfully overtaken by death. Its a gripping song that is drenched with heartache and hope.

Treasure Of The Broken Land

I see you now and then in dreams
Your voice sounds just like it used to
I know you better than I knew you then
All I can say is I love you

I thought our days were commonplace
Thought they would number in millions
Now there's only the aftertaste
Of circumstance that can't pass this way again

Treasure of the broken land
Parched earth, give up your captive ones
Waiting wind of Gabriel
Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I saw the city at its tortured worst
And you were outside the walls there
You were relieved of a lifelong thirst
I was dry at the fountain

I knew that you could see my shame
But you were eyeless and sparing
I awoke when you called my name
I felt the curtain tearing

Treasure of the broken land
Parched earth give up your captive ones
Waiting wind of Gabriel
Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I can melt the clock hands down
But only in my memory
Nobody gets the second chance to be the friend they meant to be

I see you now and then in dreams
Your voice sounds just like it used to
I believe I will hear it again
God how I love you

Treasure of the broken land
Parched earth give up your captive ones
Waiting wind of Gabriel
Blow soon upon the hollow bones

Written by Mark Heard © 1992 Ideola Music/ASCAP

Link: Mark Heard Tribute Project