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


Jonathan Dodson said...

sounds familiar...and good...i look forward to more...

jason said...

Thanks Josh. looking forward to this series and how you are going to talk about biblical theologies place in worship.

Josh said...

Good to know that there will be at least two readers looking forward to future posts! Please be sure to offer critical interaction. I hope to add my own comments: clarify ideas, offer new insights, suggest more readings, extra quotes.

corey thomas said...

make it 3 readers!

i have one initial comment about your mention of the saddleback church venues. if the different settings on campus are each following a biblical worship structure, but their modes look diferent because each is trying to be relevant to a specific culture, then what would be wrong with that? i will quote John Frame again and ask anyone to please help sort out exactly what he is saying:

"If song [venue, look, feel, style, etc...] is an element... [then] we must find commands to tell us what words we may sing in worship. But is it possible that song is neither an element nor a circumstance, but a way ("mode") of doing other things? I, at least, think that is likely. Song has no unique and independent functions in biblical worship; rather, it is a way of praying, a way of teaching, a way of praising, and so on. The "elements" are praying, teaching, praising, not song as such. And therefore when we want to know what we may sing, we ask not 'what does God command us to sing?' but rather 'what does God command us to do in prayer, praise, teaching, etc.?'


it follows then that the question is still NOT "what type of venue, song, call to worship, prayer, sermon, etc... does God command us to worship with?" it is "what does God command us to do" in each?

I am all for a reformed view of worship and I have lots of problems with the saddleback model, but where is the balance? What lines should be drawn? What limits are there if ways in which we can be biblical are limitless?

corey thomas said...

by the way, i really appreciate this discussion that is going on in several blogs. it is helping to form a solid, biblical philosophy of worship as i embark on a new journay as worship director at grace hills church in laguna hills, ca. this kind of discussion and encouragement is vital to all of us as we take our positions in the church seriously. i want to thank everyone involved for their grace and patience as we discuss.

Josh said...

Corey,thanks for joining. I appreciate your questions and the friendliness in how you ask them.

First about Warren.
My mention of Warren's "worship venues" is more a critique of what I believe is at best a non-helpful way of discussing worship and music that we use in corporate worship. In the paragraph that introduces the Venues, we get a common, confusing message that music is the sum of worship:

"Not everyone has the same taste in worship style. That's why we've put together different worship venues on the Saddleback campus each weekend."

The phrase "Not everyone has the same taste in worship style" actually communicates "not everyone has the same taste in MUSIC style." Sadly, this sort of marketing of their reinforces the sacramentalization of music and further confuses what biblical worship is. Did you check out the website. If so is your TASTE IN WORSHIP STYLE more "gospel choir", "rock'n roll", "island" etc...? To give Saddleback the benefit of the doubt this is at best sub-biblical marketing.

I brought this example up in the intro because it is a clear example of how much of evangelicalism does not understand the WHY of corporate worship. As a whole, we do not understand the place of gathered worship in view of God's total plan and purpose for his people.

After we lay down the WHY principles we can attack the HOW questions, such as the use of different music styles, the role of different service-styles,etc.

Secondly (and briefly since we will discuss this later), music I believe is an element of corporate worship. If you define "element" as that which should be done in corporate worship because of NT/apostolic command or clear example. Eph. 5:19, Col 3:16, and 1 Cor 14:26. Yes, music can also teach, but it is not a replacement for the preaching of the Word. Yes, song is testimony, but it is not a replacement for the testimonies of the people.