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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Christian Worship: Unique vs. Unusual

Every church has some version of a contact card, slip...some way to indicate that you were in attendance and we can get in touch with you. Often absent from that card is a place for "Feedback," but we usually find a place to offer our feedback anyway. For instance, on ours, it's the "Prayer Request" space -- as in I pray God may cause the sun to stand still in the sky so that your sermons won't go past 11 am. I keed, I keed. This is all well & good -- we welcome feedback as it's helpful for us as a young, growing church. Nothing receives more feedback for most churches, ours included, than worship. Songs, styles, and offers to sing, play the triangle, or bang on the cowbell.

A friend sent me a great blog post by a pastor named Anthony Weber, who serves at Church of the Living God in Traverse, Michigan. It especially resonated with me, I admit, because of a couple recent instances of preaching through Malachi in which God shows Himself appealing to an already established norm in culture and then redeeming it for His purposes.

This past week: It was the Suzerain Treaty and the Royal Grant, which God used to construct covenants with his people (Mosaic Covenant mirrored the Suzerain Treaties of the Ancient Near East while the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants were emblematic of Royal Grants of the ANE). Three weeks ago, in the sermon "Priest: A Speaking Role" (Mal. 2:1-9), I spoke about how the gospel wasn't originally a religious or biblical term, but how it was used by Caesar Augustus and others as "objective, history-changing news that would necessarily alter people's lives."

In other words, God never meant to speak in religilous, Christianese language so as to show Himself totally separate from culture, but rather chose & then redeemed the language and norms of the day to make sense of Himself to us -- because He was and is so separate from us He needed to make sense of an Omnipotent, All-knowing, Perfect God to us.

So add "the gospel" to the Weber's list below and give how you and I worship some thought...

(Sidenote: I didn't "link" his blog because it's a facebook blog and I didn't know if/how to link that successfully)

By Anthony Weber

I’ve been pondering worship.

Worship is the total response of people, heart, soul, mind, and strength, to an object of our attention. It is also the sacrifices, the rituals, by which we express this response.

I think our worship is probably mostly our instinctive, gut-level response to things. That is not to say that we should not plan to worship, or learn how to channel or focus our worship purposefully. I’m just sayin’ that we worship instinctively. It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a questions of how, when, and why.

I am wondering if modern church worship misses the point.


In the Old Testament, when we read about how God’s people responded to Him, I think we read through 21st century eyes . We assume that God told the Israelites to start new ceremonies and rituals of a specific sort to worship him. The “holiness” of his people – the “called out” nature – included not only their lifestyles and thoughts, but their worship.

But I’m not so sure.

Look at the suzerain treaty model in the pagan cultures of the time. God uses the same model for His people. (Compare the Mari Tablets and Amarna texts with Exodus 20 and all through Deuteronomy).

Look at the covenant rituals in pagan cultures. God used the same model with His people. (cutting animals in half and walking through them – Genesis 15, among other places).

Look at the law codes of the time in pagan cultures. God used the same model with His people (compare Hittite law with Jewish law in Exodus).

Look at the literature of the pagan cultures (The Epic and Gilgamesh and Genesis share a lot of literary kinship).

God seemed content to take the treaties, covenants, law codes, and literature of the time and show His people how to use and live them redemptively.

This makes me think that perhaps (maybe even probably) the worship the Jewish nation offered God was reflective of the worship their pagan neighbors offered false idols. God just showed His people how to use it redemptively. So, when we read about all the commands for HOW to worship, they are not commands that are counter-cultural or intrinsically more holy; they are commands that implement know forms of worship, but channels them in a counter-cultural way toward the proper source of worship – Jehovah.

Not only did God redeem common modes of worship, he allowed His people to worship in a way that was understood by the other nations. Nobody was going, “What are they doing?” Everyone blew trumpets. Everyone waved banners. Everyone danced. It’s how people worshiped. They all knew what they were doing.


In the New Testament, all Jesus tells his disciples about worship is to worship Him in Spirit (God was not limited to geographical locations) and Truth (better make sure it’s really God). We do it with out body (Romans 12), our words (Hebrews 13 among other passages), and through charity and service (Philippians 4 among other passages). Other than that, our New Testament source on church gatherings really don’t discuss worship as much as how the church at that time managed their corporate time together.


If my analysis is correct, i think we ought to make a distinction between Christian worship being UNIQUE and Christian worship being UNUSUAL. It has always been unique – it has been directed toward the God of the Bible, ultimately expressed in Jesus Christ. It has not always been unusual.

There are several important questions that must be asked: How does our culture worship? Does it even matter? What kind of worship can God’s people offer that redeem already existing expressions of worship? And are there forms of worship that are intrinsically better that we must use?

My thoughts:

I think most of church worship”today completely misses the point. This brings to mind two things:

#1 – Keller‘s article on Evangelistic Worship which I posted yesterday. Some key thoughts:

- “Our worship must be comprehensible to unbelievers”

- “The only way to have non-Christians in attendance is through personal invitation by Christians.”

- “Worship isn’t just about honoring tradition or keeping up with culture, it’s about attracting nonbelievers through comprehensible worship and leading those people to personal commitment.”

#2 – Mark Driscoll‘s observation on what we do with culture. I think that *whatever* we do as worship (including, but not limited to music) has to be filtered through the 3 R’s that Mark regularly refers to. We have to decide what to receive, what to reject, and what to redeem.

Question: Given all this, what relationship is there between the way we worship and our culture?

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