19 Jun 2012

Worship Wars, Bad Hermenutics & False Dichotomies: Union of Life & Assembly in God’s Story

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Church, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Worship
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.”
–         Psalm 95:6
To be scriptural our Lord’s day worship must contain all of these five required items … To have less than these required five is to render the worship vain! To have more than these, is to corrupt the worship!
–         John Banister (1951)[1]
The performance of certain acts in a set order or in a
certain way is not within itself worship.”
–         K. C. Moser (1933)[2]
Worship is certainly the rage these days.  There are major worship conferences every year. Popular Christian artists are compiling worship CDs of their own.  Dozens of books and hundreds of articles are dedicated to all aspects of worship.  In many ways this is as it should be—the church should be passionate about the worship of the God of glory. How do we understand the contrasting perspectives above???
Churches of Christ have done more than devote energy to the study of worship, especially corporate worship.  We have agonized over it!  It could be argued that our birth as a religious tradition took place in liturgical acts of worship.  From the communion festival of Barton Stone at Cane Ridge in 1801 to Alexander Campbell’s dispensing of his communion token in Glasgow in 1808 concern for proper worship has been a hallmark of our identity.
Churches of Christ despite all our agonizing have been more reactionary than programmatic. We, as a people, have rarely formulated a positive and foundational theology of worship.  Indeed we have rarely even asked the question whether we should have a theology of worship. This has often led us to embrace false dichotomies about worship.  The most frequent false dichotomy is expressed in two common but opposing understandings of worship in Churches of Christ—the “Five Acts Model” and the “Edification Model.”
Two Paradigms of Worship
The “Five Acts Model” believes worship is the five, and only the five, acts of worship by the corporate assembly of the saints observe on the Lord’s Day.  Some holding this position even affirm that worship itself can only take place on Sunday in the Gathering.
The “Edification Model” reacts strongly to the first paradigm and suggests that all of life is worship and the assembly is for edification.  The assembly, or Gathering, is not worship in any special sense but designed only for the encouragement/edification of believers. The Five Acts Model is essentially legal in character and the Edification model is essentially anthropocentric rather than God-centered.
Both positions, in my opinion, are problematic exegetically, hermeneutically flawed, and above all reductionistic of the glorious biblical vision.  As will be argued both positions overstate the case.  Scripture, in both Testaments, affirms that all life is lived out before God as worship. Scripture is a united telling of what God is doing to redeem all creation.  There is continuity rather than discontinuity on the important theme of “worship” in the Testaments. The great irony is that both the above positions are united in the use of the flawed Dispensational Hermeneutic that has been engrained in the Restoration Movement – the only difference is that the so called Edification Model championed by some progressive brethren is ironically more Campbellite than Alexander Campbell himself on this matter!
In the united testimony of the Testaments everything we do is done in honor of the God of glory. At the same time, we also believe that the assembly is Gathered in the power of God and is a time of sacramental encounter with Him.  It is a most edifying, enriching and uplifting mediation and enjoyment of the gracious presence of the Triune God. The uniqueness of the assembly is the sacramental character given it by the presence of God.
Below we briefly critique these two models offer a holistic approach to worship that values both the  lives poured out before God as sacrificial offerings and the reality of God’s presence among those gathered in his name.
The Five Acts Paradigm
As the twentieth century began the Churches of Christ emerged as a distinct group from the Disciples of Christ and much of the energy of that division was focused on defining authentic worship.  The Five Acts Paradigm was increasingly invoked.  As Churches of Christ firmed up their identity, men like M. C. Kurfees taught that there is an absolute law of worship revealed in the New Testament.  “Spiritual” worship is strictly limited to what is commanded.  Vain worship is the employment of “unauthorized” acts of worship.[3]  Defining worship against the Roman Catholics on one side and the “digressives” on the other, Kurfees itemized six acts of worship commanded: [4]
                        1) Reading the word of God
                        2) Prayer
                        3) Exhortation
                        4) The Lord’s Supper
                        5) Singing
                        6) The Contribution
Kurfees has six rather than five because he separates reading the word and exhortation, which others did not do.  These “acts” are “directly specified in the New Testament” and no one should deviate from them.[5]  Appealing to 2 Chronicles 30, Kurfees says, New Testament Christians should, like “good King Hezekiah,” worship “only as it is written.”  Of course there is a significant irony here because the Chronicler tells us that the Israelites worshiped “contrary to what was written” (2 Chr. 30:18). That is Hezekiah did not follow the pattern!
By the late 1950s this particular paradigm had become deeply entrenched.  By that time over two dozen lessons on worship had been given at the influential Abilene Christian College lectures and all (save Kurfees) listed the now traditional five acts of worship.  This tradition was also cultivated through the widely used Sound Doctrine of R. L. Whiteside and C. R. Nichol. They interpreted John 4:24, like many others, to mean that we worship God according to the pattern in the Scripture.[6]  While not limiting all acts of worship to the assembly, Whiteside and Nichol, believed that there were only five legitimate acts of worship for the Christian assembly.[7]  John Banister summed up the five acts paradigm probably as clearly as can be done.  Writing in the middle of the twentieth century he said, [8]
To be scriptural our Lord’s day worship must contain all of these five required items …The essential thing is that, when we worship, we engage in all these scriptural acts! To have less than these required five is to render the worship vain! To have more than these, is to corrupt the worship!
Numerous unintended consequences flow out of the five acts paradigm.  Though none of the articulate defenders of this position would say that life (discipleship) did not matter, nonetheless an hour on Sunday was often used to determine the faithfulness of a Christian.  This position radically compartmentalizes the demands of the Lordship of Christ.  Perhaps the sharpest examples of the narrow orthodoxy produced by this theology is the hundreds of congregations that were deemed “sound” and “faithful” because they scrupulously followed five acts of authorized worship yet excluded African Americans from their assemblies.  A local church can be deemed “orthodox” while virtually ignoring the poor and hungry sleeping on the same street. Christians conceive of themselves as faithful while hoarding their money.  These Christians think themselves faithful even while hoarding their money.
There is also a certain amount of irony in this paradigm.  Its advocates believe they have deduced a timeless pattern yet it is culturally influenced.  The “five act” paradigm was, in large measure, handed down to us through the Reformed and Scottish Independents that were Campbell’s own personal heritage. Culture influenced the exercise of these acts when we stopped using wine on the Table because of the Temperance Movement.  Culture influenced us when we adopted individual cups for the Supper because of the discovery of “germs” and, at times, because of the integration of minorities into the congregation.  Our American context taught us to sing four part harmony and the revivalistic context of our heritage lead us to adopt practices like the “invitation” song.[9] Far from being timelessly written in stone the five acts paradigm, upon analysis, is theologically deficient and culturally shaped.
The Edification Paradigm
Not everyone fully adopted the Five Acts Model.  There were subtle critics of the five acts paradigm within Churches of Christ.  These thinkers resisted the reduction of worship to a list of formal acts.  While often agreeing that worship finds expression in certain specified acts, they insisted that worship should be more broadly conceived.  Though most often linked to the Man vs. the Plan controversy, K. C. Moser rejected the Five Acts consensus.[10]  His writings exhibited a deep interest in worship.  Unlike others, Moser argued that worship is always essentially the same, in both Testaments, even while some of the trappings (i.e. forms) may undergo transformation.[11]For Moser there was a close link between Christian formation and worship.  Moser, like the Five Acts model, lists certain “elements” of worship but his list is considerably different than what we find in other contemporary writers among Churches of Christ.  His five elements are: [12]
            1) requires a spiritual birth
            2) humility in the sense of spiritual need
            3) purity of heart and life
            4) produced by the Holy Spirit
            5) truth in the sense of reality
It was not until the theological crises of the 1960s, however, that many began to explicitly reject the Five Acts paradigm. The paradigm is a reaction to perceived legalism and sterility in Churches of Christ. On the one hand, the inaction of the church from the issues of life and justice alarmed a number of thoughtful people and this resonated with younger disciples.  On the other hand, many began to question the patternism that the Five Acts model assumes.  In this context, Carl Ketcherside began to promote an alternative perspective in his “subversive” journal Mission Messenger—the Edification Model.  In a series of articles in 1966, Ketcherside reached some revolutionary conclusions:  the Greek words for “worship” are never applied to an assembly; the phrase “acts of worship” is unbiblical, and the concept of sacred space has been obliterated in the work of Christ.[13]
In 1973 Ervin Bishop wrote a series of articles in The Firm Foundation bringing the issue of life or assembly to mainstream Churches of Christ.[14]  Bishop gave the Edification Model intellectual muscle with his scholarly article in the 1975 Restoration Quarterly.[15]  In recent years Mike Root has fleshed out the Edification paradigm.[16]  Root, while supportive of a number of changes in the assembly he is critical of focusing on “worship renewal” in the assembly/Gathering.  The difficulties of connecting assembly and worship is expressed succinctly by Root:
I received a brochure the other day inviting me to attend a workshop on worship being held at a large, progressive church in our area.  This is a congregation that is on the cutting edge of change, innovation, and relevancy. I respect and admire them greatly.  Yet, the first line in the description of their worship workshop states, “The primary function of the church is worship.” Oh really? I’d love to see some New Testament Scriptures to back that statement up! I guess I would agree with it if they were talking about helping Christians to be living and holy sacrifices for God, but the nuts and bolts of the workshop involve … creat[ing] a “healthy worship environment.”  While I am in favor of these things, they are talking about the Christian assembly not worship.[17]
Advocates of the Edification thesis are deeply interested in discipleship, this is healthy. Vain worship occurs in the context of discipleship not simply “unauthorized” acts. Obedience to God in all aspects of life is the Christian’s “act” of worship.  Their rallying call is Romans 12:1-2, that is, to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices … this is your spiritual act of worship” (NIV).  Worship is not something that is like a faucet that is suddenly turned on at one moment and turned off in the next. Our entire lives are lived out in worshipful service before the God of glory.  God calls for the sanctification of every act and moment of the disciple’s life. The rigid disconnect between Sunday and the rest of the week is rightly critiqued by the Edification Model.
If all life is worship before the Lord then what is the purpose of the assembly/gathering in this paradigm? Mutual edification is the single purpose of the gathering of God’s people.  Christians doing battle on the front lines of the kingdom need a haven and respite to have wounds mended and strength renewed.  The entire focus of the assembly is horizontal, that is, it is human centered.  Singing is for the benefit of those assembled.  Prayers are for the relieving of burdens of the tired.  Preaching is for the uplifting of the saints.  The Lord’s Supper is a time of mutual fellowship.  All the purposes of all the activities in the assembly are, in the words of Ervin Bishop, “directed not to God, but are rather aimed toward the edification of ‘the body.’”[18]  One of the great ironies of the Edification approach to the assembly is that this paradigm has disciples of Christ worshiping everywhere and at all times, except during the assembly.[19]Reverence and awe are legitimate categories for everyday life but seemingly not for the assembly.  Bishop puts it this way:
Reverence” and “awe” in the New Testament refer to the proper response of the disciples to God’s working in their lives (Acts 2:43).  These qualities relate to our daily worship of God (Heb. 12:28) in the “real tabernacle,” and not to an artificially contrived “atmosphere” in a building “made with hands[20]
This point of view suggests that there is less transcendence and mystery in the assembly than in mowing the lawn.  But worship, whether mowing a widow’s yard or among the Gathered People of God, points us beyond the realities of this fallen age to the Holy One of Israel.  In so doing worship puts the values of this age in proper perspective.  Ultimately worship frees us from the supreme idol of any age—that of Self.[21]
Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus the Christ (1 John 1:3) in the power of the Spirit.  Our fellowship with one another is grounded in the work of God in his Christ.  The promise is that when we gather in his “name” that Immanuel comes to be with his people.  To diminish or deny the presence of the Triune God in the Christian assembly cuts the very ground from under Christian identity and discipleship; it makes the “assembly merely an assembly of Christians.”[22]  But the assembly is more than an assembly of people—it is where God meets with his redeemed ones.
Beyond False Dichotomies
While we sympathize with the necessary corrective of the Edification model, it also has a number of flaws.  Just as we believe that all life has theological significance before God, likewise the assembly also has theological significance.  As much as we endorse the idea that our lives are living sacrifices, the assembly is more than mutual edification. The assembly is an encounter not just with our sisters and brothers but with Triune God himself.
 The semantic fields of “worship” have been well plowed in the past in many excellent studies.[23]  There is no need to rehearse this material here but a few comments are necessary to frame the discussion.  The most common words translated “worship” in our English Bibles are the Hebrew histahawah(170x) and the Greek proskuneo (61x). Both of these words literally mean to bow or prostrate oneself before a superior.  This word pair signifies recognizing and granting homage to a superior. These key words reveal the radical continuity in the basic meaning of worship in both Testaments.
The second major word pair is the Hebrew abadand the Greek latreuo/latreia. These words have a remarkable similarity in meaning.  They basically mean to serve, especially in some kind of religious or “cultic” (ritual) service.  The Hebrew abad is used in such passages as Exodus 3:12 “when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
A final word pair is the Hebrew sharath and the Greek leitourgeo/leitourgia.  These terms usually refer to ministering or serving often of the priests in the course of their duties. This word describes the service that Zechariah rendered to God during his tenure at the temple (Luke 1:23; cf. Jer. 33:21-22).
The Edification model assumes, hermeneutically, a radical discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.[24]  It denies the theological relevance of the Old Testament in understanding Christian worship and assembly. There are many reasons to study the Old Testament, Root states, “but not to give us insights into how the New Testament church assembled”[25].  It is not uncommon to read that the New Testament “liberalized” and “spiritualized” worship from the stifling ritualism and legalism of the Old Testament and Judaism.  Or that Jesus transformed the “fleshly” and “unspiritual” worship of the “Old Testament” to a truly spiritual approach in the New.[26]  This assumption has little actual support from Scripture and the problems with these assumptions are legion. One could even argue that the definition of “spiritual” operative in this view is Platonic and neo-gnostic rather than biblical (which is, ironically, Hebraic!).  The Law of Moses, for instance, teaches that the greatest of all things is to love Yahweh with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Deut 6:4; Lev 18:16).  Moses taught that the circumcision of the heart is an essential requirement for being in relationship with God (Deut 10:16).  The Lord himself actually performs this critical operation upon the heart of a believer (Deut 30:6; cf. Jer 4:4), it is not some legalistic work of righteousness:
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all  your heart and with all your soul and live.
The Old Testament rejects any kind of ritualistic formalism that separates a consecrated life and worship (Ps 50:16-17)
            What right have you to recite my laws
                        or take my covenant on your lips?
            You hate my instruction and cast my
                        words behind you.
The Old Testament teaches that God desires the sacrifice of a contrite heart (Ps. 51:16-17), that obedience is better than cultic ritual (1 Samuel 15:22) and that a true fast includes helping the poor (Isaiah 58:6-7).  The Prophet Jeremiah makes it abundantly clear that lifestyle gives validity to worship rituals (Jer. 7:1-15).  Amos denounces those who keep a form of religion but have a life that is antithetical to it (5:18-24):
            I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
            I cannot stand your assemblies.
            Even though you bring me burnt
                        offerings and grain offerings,
            I will not accept them.
            Though you bring choice fellowship
            I will have no regard for them.
            Away with the noise of your songs!
            I will not listen to the music of your harps.
            But let justice roll on like a river,
                        righteousness like a never-failing
                        stream!(Amos 5:18-24)
Old Testament faith is not only a religion of cultic rituals but also devotion of the whole life and heart to God.[27]Union of Life and
Worship in the Story of God
Throughout the story of God revealed in Scripture there is a symbiotic relationship between discipleship, or life, and assembled worship.  For example one of the word pairs mentioned above, abad and leitougia, tie the daily life of the disciple with worship of God.  The Israelite bondage in Egypt is characterized as abad (Ex 5:9), yet Moses uses the same word to describe the worship of God on the mountain (Ex 3:9).  Moses further links abad with worship when he warns of “worshipping and bowing down” before false deities (Deut 4:19; 8:19; 17:3).
In the NT, Paul also links discipleship and worship.  Romans 12: 1-2 demands that Christians offer up their bodies as a burnt offering to God. 
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as
a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (lateria)
Our lives (discipleship) become worship through spiritual service.[28]  Serving meals to the homeless at Project Feed is truly just as much worship as serving the Lord’s Supper to the gathered people of God (cf. Heb 13:15-16)—both are leitougia.  When we offer financial assistance to underprivileged students we are worshiping the God of glory.
Worship in Israel
Deuteronomy, anticipating Paul, makes extensive connections between life and assembly.  Israel is saved by the amazing grace of Yahweh without any work on her part (Deuteronomy 7:7-9; 9:4-6). Israel was called into a covenant of love with God to be a worshiping community—a community that imaged God in holiness and approached him in praise through gatherings.  As a holy community God promised to dwell in their midst indicative of the special bond that existed between Redeemer and redeemed.  The Ten Commandments demand exclusive devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by loving him with all their hearts.  Loving God is always a verb in which love is tied to daily life.   How is this done?  Moses says the people must first “circumcise” their hearts in response to God’s prior love for them.  The Prophet then makes a seamless transition into describing the character of God as the defender of the fatherless, the widow and lover of the alien and says “And you are to love those who are aliens” (Deut 10:18-19).  The vertical dimension of Israel’s existence finds expression in her horizontal relationships with other human beings.[29]
Moses weaves discipleship (i.e. life) with corporate worship of God throughout Deuteronomy 12-26.  This section, often seen as sort of a commentary on the Ten Commandments, continues to ask what a covenantal relationship with Yahweh means.  This section opens with a gracious provision for the perpetuation of the extraordinary “day of assembly” (Ex 19-24) at Mount Sinai, when God invited his people into his presence to rejoice.[30]  Israel lived its entire life as a gathered people before the Lord. The liturgy of Israel constantly forced her to remember her redeemed status while shaping and molding her life in service to the nations.  So as Israel confesses her love and devotion to Yahweh, Moses keeps reminding her of what it truly means to love God. God demonstrated his love by rescuing Israel with a mighty hand, he showed his love through his protective guidance in the wilderness, and he affirms his love through the gift of the promised land (Deut 26:5-10).  So what does it mean for the worshipper to love God? Deuteronomy 12-26 explains what this love looks like in the context of daily life. [31]
1) Showing liberality and kindness toward the poor, always conscious that we had God’s kindness shown
towards us (15:1-8; 23:19-20; 24:14-15, 19-22)
2) Respecting the property of others (19:14; 23: 24-25) and the dignity of fellow human beings (24:10-11),
even if she is a criminal to be punished (25:1-3)
3) To actively protect our neighbor against accidents (22:8) and to help her when loss has been suffered
 4) To practice justice in court (16:18-20; 19:15-21; 24: 17-18) and in all business practices (25:13-16)
 5) Recognizing that there is a sphere of justice belonging to God alone (19:1-10)
 6) Respecting and protecting the realm of nature as stewards of God’s good creation (5:14; 20:19-20;
22:6-7; 25:4)
 7) Fostering the well-being of the family (24:5; 22:13-21)
All aspects of life are lived out in the Presence of the One who redeemed them.  There is a certain manner to live precisely because the Holy One is in our midst! To love God means to offer him worthy, and even costly, sacrifices (Deut 17: 1; 23:18) and to honor him in what we say from the heart (23: 21-23).  Because of the grace given to Israel she was to rejoice in worship assemblies.  Whether the occasion was one of the three great pilgrimage feasts ( 16:1-17), the payment of a vow or freewill offering (12:1-19; 14: 22-29), a special day dedicated to God (27:1-8) or the offering of first fruits (26: 1-11), Israel is to always “rejoice before the Lord” (12: 7, 12, 18; 14: 26; 16: 11, 14; 26: 11; 27: 7).
The union of life and assembly as worship comes to the forefront in another significant section of Scripture, the Psalms.  The Psalms themselves are set in the context of the worship gatherings of the ancient people of God.[32]  The Psalter opens with the critical connection between discipleship and the cult established in the Torah.  A blessing is placed on those who not only meditates on the Torah (worship—devotion) but also lives the Torah (Psalm 1).   Not very deep in the hymnbook of Israel we find this challenging song (Ps 15, NIV)
            LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
                        who may live on your holy hill?
            He whose walk is blameless and who
                        who does what is righteous,
                        who speaks the truth from his
                        and has no slander on his tongue,
                        who despises the vile man
                                    but honors those who
                                    fear the LORD,
                        who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
                        who lends his money without
                                    and does not accept a bribe
                                    against the innocent.
            He who does these things will never be shaken.
The Psalmist reminds Israel that only those who pursue holiness are welcome in the presence of the Lord.  Through worship an alternative world is created as the worshipper to experiences God and is shaped by that gracious encounter with the Lord.  The assembly thus presents an incredible vision of what it means to live as God’s people and also is a means of grace empowering transformation into that vision.[33]
In the alternative world created through corporate worship, Israel learned to even judge the gods by overhearing the voice of the Lord that evaluated their lives.  This experience becomes a powerful incentive to a consecrated life (Ps 82: 1-4):
            God has taken his place in the divine council;
                        in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
            “How long will you judge unjustly and show
                        partiality to the wicked?
            Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
                        maintain the right of the lowly
                                    and the destitute.
            Rescue the weak and the needy;
                        deliver them from the hand
                                    of the wicked.”
Throughout the rest of the Psalms the worshiper encounters a God who inclines his ear to the orphan and oppressed (Ps 10:12-18), who identifies himself as a Father of orphans and defender of widows rights (Ps 68:5-6).  In the worship Gathering the redeemed slaves of Israel are reminded that Yahweh continues to set the captives free (Ps. 146: 7-10).  As a gathered people, Israel is reminded that it is not only ritual is required but holy lives dedicated to the service of other human beings.
Prophets like Amos and Micah attended church services like those presupposed in the Psalms.  But these prophets noticed that many did not like certain selections when sung.  Micah knows of those who wanted to sing and apparently pay as precise attention to the details of cultic rituals. Their enthusiasm for assembled worship despite their neglect to pour out their lives upon the altar for God, led them to the mistaken belief that God remained among them (Micah 3:9-11):
Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel,  who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong.  Its heads give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, ‘Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us.
These ancient believers accepted the premise that Gathered worship and life are not connected—they acted as if their cultic observance covered up their failure to be holy.  Yet Micah, with his poetic flare, says that even if these Judeans offered rivers of oil and their firstborn on Yahweh’s altar he would nevertheless reject their worship.  Instead, God wants a whole sacrifice (Micah 6:8):
 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
But this emphasis on sacrificial life worship does not undermine the nature of divine presence with the worshiping assembly.  The power of a “sacramental” encounter with the Living God in the worship gathering is also powerfully attested in Scripture.  Around 742 B.C., Isaiah entered the temple courts (Isa 6).  Perhaps on that day he joined the singing of Psalm 29:1-2:
            Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
                        ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
            Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.
                        worship the LORD in the splender
                                    of his holiness
If Isaiah was there that day he might have encountered God in a manner similar to other worshipers who suddenly experience the disturbing presence of God and cry aloud, “Glory!” (Ps 29: 9b).  Whatever the case, Isaiah did encounter God in worship at the temple.  In the world that opens up during a worship encounter, he saw God seated on his throne and robed in majesty.  In the moment of worship he was privileged to hear the seraphs in their worship of the Holy One of Israel (Isa 6:3):
            Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
            The whole earth is full of his glory”
The sound of the angelic worship rattled the doors of the temple in much the same way Psalm 29 speaks of the voice of the Lord churning up cedars (Ps 29: 3-9).  Though Isaiah was a godly man he saw himself as unclean through his encounter with the Living God (Isa 6:6).
Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among
a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.
God does not call us to this worship moment to shame us.  Rather his goal is to transform us.  Isaiah’s “sacramental” encounter was not only transformational but also missional because it was through worship that he found both the Lord’s gracious forgiveness and his vocation to the prophetic ministry (Isa 6:6-8):
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send? And
who will go for us?”And I said, “Here I am, Send me!
In the assembly of the saints we too, like Isaiah, see the “face” of God (Pss 95: 2; 96: 6, 9, 13; 98: 6, 9; 100: 2).  As we bring our broken and fallen lives into his presence we find healing, comfort and transformation.  The assembly remembers through liturgical action the story of grace and enables us, like Isaiah, to find our own place in the story.  We come to the gathering of the people of God used and often abused but we leave as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How can this be?  Because God, as he has always done, comes to dwell among a rag tag group of aliens and transforms them into a kingdom of priests.  Israel became a Gathered People.
Jesus the True Worshipper
Jesus was and is many things.  Jesus is the Messiah, the hope of Israel.  Jesus is the New Adam, the one in whom humanity is made right.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who protects his sheep.  Jesus is Immanuel the living tabernacle of God among his people.  Jesus is also the true worshiper.  Jesus’ life was one of worship. We see in the Gospels a life supremely lived out as worship to the Father and we see in Jesus one who gathered with the people of God in worship assemblies on a routine basis.
The rhythm of Jesus’ life was to some extent shaped and molded by the great pilgrimage festivals of Israel’s worship calendar.  These feasts (i.e. worship gatherings) connected Jesus with the history of God’s redemptive acts in Israel and empowered his vocation as Messiah. Luke tells us that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover “every year” (Luke 2:41).  During one Passover the preadolescent Jesus looses himself at his “Father’s house” (Luke 2:49).  It is the Gospel of John, however, that draws extensively on Israel’s liturgical calendar and Jesus’ habitual attendance at these worship gatherings  In John 5-10 Jesus attends all the major feasts of prescribed by the Torah except Purim.  Israel’s worship assemblies provide an interpretive lens for understanding the identity and mission of the Messiah.
 Jesus habitually made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover (Jn 2:13, 23; 11:55).  The Last Supper was a Passover meal (Mark 14:12).  In the Gospel of John Jesus himself is the Passover lamb. The second pilgrim festival of the Jewish year was Weeks, also called Pentecost.  John tells us “some time later Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews” (5:1). Though the festival in John 5:1 is not named it has since ancient times been identified as Weeks.[34]The content of the chapter five is directly related to the themes of the Festival of Weeks.  For example, the gathering celebrated, among other things, the giving of the Torah and during this festival Jesus confronts the Jewish their lack of faith.  Moses it was believed by many was in heaven interceding on Israel’s behalf as he did during the Golden Calf tragedy.  Rather than interceding Moses will accuse Israel of being, yet again, hard hearted.
The texture of John 7 and 8 is woven with imagery from the Festival of Tabernacles. Jesus arrived at the temple halfway through the feast (7:14).  On the last day of the feast Jesus seized a great teaching opportunity.  Each day at dawn a priest filled a golden pitcher from the pool of Siloam and brought it to the temple while the people sang the words of Isaiah 12, “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3). The temple choir sang the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) as the priest poured the water and wine into a bowl at the altar.  The dramatic ceremony recalled God’s blessing of water in the wilderness (Ex 17:1-6) and the promise of living water flowing from Ezekiel’s new temple (47:1-12).  In this assembly Jesus identifies with and claims to be the source of this water (John 7:37-39).  What happens in John 8:12ff apparently takes place during the evening of the last day of the Festival.  Near the end of the feast lamps and torches were placed in the Court of Women of the Temple.  Pious Jews brought lamps and would dance and sing as the Levites played zithers, harps and other musical instruments.  The entire area was ablaze with light and rejoicing.  Jesus seized this moment of worship to proclaim “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). What a powerful claim by Jesus made in Israel’s worshiping assembly.
The last major feast mentioned by John (John 10:22) is not found in the canonical Old Testament.  The Festival of Lights or Dedication originated in the dark days of oppression at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes who sacrificed swine and raised an image of Zeus in the temple of God.  Dedication celebrates the re-dedication of the temple by the Maccabees in 167 B.C.E. Though not commanded in the Torah, Jesus participated in this festival honoring the salvation of Israel from the hands of the pagan Antiochus.  John uses Jesus attendance at the temple during Dedication to highlight the irony that these leaders believed in the miracle of lights but they die not “believe the miracles” of Jesus (10:38, NIV).
The festivals provided Jesus an opportunity to gather in sacred assembly with his fellow Jews to worship the Father.  But the festivals also provided Jesus with opportunities to make powerful claims about his mission and vocation as the Messiah of Israel.  In the context of these worship assemblies Jesus affirmed that the hopes and dreams of Israel expressed in the feasts were realized in his own person.  Jesus was the fulfillment of these festivals.
Jesus, the true worshiper, moved beyond participation in the cultic assemblies. Jesus was devoted in personal worship and service to others. He dedicated himself to regular seasons of prayer. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).  Prayer seems to have saturated the ministry of Jesus which inspired the disciples to ask for special instruction in this spiritual discipline (Luke 11:1-4).
Jesus went about “doing good” (Acts 10:38). A careful reading of the Gospel narrative reveals that Jesus and his disciples also shared of their means with the poor.  Judas carried the “common purse” (John 12:6) or “money box” (RSV) used to hold the funds of disciples from which they lived and gave to the poor.
Jesus was consecrated to the Father. He embodied the call of Israel to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests.  In him we see devotion to God in assembled worship and a life filled with worship to the one true God.  In Jesus we see the truth of what he said to Satan, “worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Matt 4:10).
Psalm 40 brings the themes of this chapter together in a single text.  The psalm worshiper confesses that God desires, lives poured out as sacrifices. Yet at the same time the psalm reveals how the worshiper will also praise God in the “great assembly.”
            Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
                 but my ears you have pierced;
                        burnt offerings and sin offerings
                        you did not require.
            Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come –
                 it is written about me in the scroll.
            I desire to do your will, O my God;
                 your law is within my heart.”
            I proclaim righteousness in the
                 great assembly;
                        I do not seal my lips,
                        as you know, O LORD.
            I do not hide your righteousness
                 in my heart;
            I speak of your faithfulness
                 and salvation.
            I do not conceal your love
                 and your truth from the
                        great assembly.” (Psalm 40:6-10)
Thank offerings often accompanied responses to God’s grace (cf. Ps 50:14-15, 23; etc).  Psalm 40 emphasizes the importance of the assembly for declaring God’s praises for the salvation granted to his people. The Israelite who sought and received deliverance came to the great assembly of God’s people and glorified his name. God’s deliverance required public proclamation. [35]
The preacher of Hebrews appeals to the “great assembly” to indicate that Jesus himself joins disciples as they praise God for such a great salvation (Heb 2:12, NIV)
            “He [Jesus] says,
            I will declare your name to my
            in the presence of the
                        congregationI will sing
                        your praises.”
The preacher later appeals to Ps 40:6-8 in demonstrating that Jesus was sacrificed for all humanity (10:5-10).  Jesus sings in the assembly of the saints but also worshiped in life as he gave his own life for his brothers and sisters.
The horizontal and vertical dimensions of worship are held in substantial unity in Scripture.  Assembly means nothing apart from the sacrificial lives of the people of God.  It is also true that assembly is essential in shaping the lifestyle of the gathered. Through worshiping assemblies God’s people experience the grace of God’s presence.  Through worshiping assemblies the covenant community is empowered to bear witness even in its weakness.  Through worship gatherings we proclaim the story of redemption, the renovation of our lives, and the reclamation of the world by the Creator.

The assemblies of the early disciples in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:23-31 are indicative of these themes.  Christians gathered to listen to apostolic teaching, to enrich each other through fellowship, to commune with the risen Lord at his table and to kneel in prayer.  As a result of gathering together in the presence of God they praised God, spoke the word of God with courage, and they demonstrated compassionate love to all in need.  The gathering of the people of God promoted both the worship of the Holy One among them and issued in taking up the cross and following Jesus.

If you are interested please check out further development of this blog in my book A Gathered People written with my fellow disciples and friends, John Mark Hicks and Johnny Melton.  It is available on Amazon at this link: A Gathered People

[1] John Banister, The Worship of the Church,” Abilene Christian College Lectures, 1951 (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1951), 146.
[2] K. C. Moser, The Way of Salvation (Delight, AR: Gospel Light), 168.
[3] M. C. Kurfees, “The New Testament Law of Worship,” Abilene Christian College Bible Lectures, 1920-1921., pp. 42-43.
[4] Ibid., 45-46.
[5] Ibid., 47.
[6] R. L. Whiteside and C. R. Nichol, Sound Doctrine, Vol. 3 (Clifton, TX: Nichol Publishing, 1923), 77.
[7] Ibid., 78-84.
[8] John Banister, “The Worship of the Church,” Abilene Christian College Lectures, 1951 (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1951), 146.
[9] Thomas H. Olbricht, “The Invitation,” available at  http://www.acu.edu/sponsored/restoration_quarterly/archives/1960s/vol_5_no_1_contents/olbricht.html;      Andre Resner, “To Worship or to Evangelizse? Ecclesiology’s Phantom Fork in the Road,” Restoration Quarterly  36.2 (1994): 65-60.
[10] John Mark Hicks, “K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: A Historical Perspective,” Restoration Quarterly 37 (1995): 139-157; and “K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: A Theological Perspective,” Restoration Quarterly 37 (1995): 193-211.
[11] Moser, The Way of Salvation, 165.
[12] Ibid, 169-171.  Moser in sharp contrast with interpreters like R. L. Whiteside does not interpret John 4:24 to mean worship by “divine” instruction (pp. 171-172).
[13] W. Carl Ketcherside, “Introduction to Worship,” MM28.8 (August 1966), 131-132.  Ketcherside continues his examination of worship in “Holy Places and Days,” MM 28.9 (September 1966): 145-150; “Acts of Worship,” MM 28.10 (October 1966): 161-165;  and “Worship and Money,” MM 28.11 (November 1966): 177-182
[14] Ervin Bishop, “The Christian Assembly (1),” Firm Foundation 90.10 (6 March 1973), 151; “The Christian Assembly (2), Firm Foundation 90.11 (13 March 1973), 167,171; “The Christian Assembly (3),” Firm Foundation 90.25 (19 June 1973), 391, 395; “The Christian Assembly (4),” Firm Foundation 90.26 (26 June 1973), 407, 411; “The Christian Assembly (5),” Firm Foundation 90.32 (7 August 1973): 503, 506; “The Christian Assembly (6),” Firm Foundation 90.33 (14 August 1973), 519, 523.
[15] Ervin Bishop, “The Assembly,” Restoration Quarterly 18 (1975): 219-228.
[16] Mike Root, Spilt Grape Juice: Rethinking the Worship Tradition (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1992); Unbroken Bread: Healing Worship Wounds (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997); Empty Baskets: Offering Your Life as Worship (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2000)
[17]Mike Root, Empty Baskets, p.25.  Emphasis in original.
[18] Bishop, “The Assembly,” 226
[19] See the trenchant observations in Michael Weed’s “Amusing the Saints: Edification Without Transcendence.” Christian Studies8 (Fall 1987): 46-58.
[20] Ervin Bishop, “The Christian Assembly (5),” Firm Foundation 90.32 (7 August 1973): 503.
[21] Michael Weed, “Amusing the Saints,” 55.
[22] Ibid., 56.
[23] Andrew E. Hill, Enter His Courts With Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 1-10.
[24] For example advocates of the Edification Model try to discount the force of the histahawah/proskuneo connection.  It is claimed that proskuneo is never used of Christian worship.  Its use in John 4:24 is explained that Jesus radically transforms the meaning of the term, see Bishop, “The Assembly,” 221.  See ch.7 for further discussion of John 4:24.
[25] Mike Root, Spilt Grape Juice, p. 48.
[26] See Dusty Owens, “The Worship of God,” located at http://www.theexaminer.org/volume7/numaber4/worship.htm. See Kenneth L. Barker’s “False Dichotomies Between The Testaments” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society  25.1 (March 1982): 3-16 for an incisive refutation of the kind of logic that lies behind much of the Edification Models characterization of the Old Testament.
[27] Hill, Enter His Courts With Praise, 11-29
[28] Ernst Kasemann, “Worship and Everyday Life,” in New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969, 1979), 188-195.
[29] Patrick D. Miller, “The Way of Torah,” PrincetonSeminary Bulletin 8 (Spring 1987):  17-27.
[30] Daniel I. Bock, “The Joy of Worship: The Mosaic Invitation to the Presence of God (Deut. 12:1-14),” Bibliothecha Sacra162 (April-June 2005): 134.
[31]Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Plumbing the Riches, Deuteronomy for the Preacher,” Interpretation (July 1987), 279-280.
[32] William L. Holladay, The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 17-65.
[33] On the alternative world created and experienced in worship see especially Walter Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 1-28.
[34] George R. Beasley-Murray, John: Word Biblical Themes (Waco, TX: Word, 1989), 77.
[35] John Goldingay, Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1-41: Baker Commentary on Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 579.

One Response to “Worship Wars, Bad Hermenutics & False Dichotomies: Union of Life & Assembly in God’s Story”

  1. Scott Says:

    I find these quotes applicable for what the churches of Christ believed and how they believe now.

    In the text Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell (Nashville: McQuiddy Printing, 1957. P. 749), David Lipscomb stated,

    “Worship more specially refers to praise, prayer, adoration, and thanksgiving; service, to obedience to the law of God in carrying out His will in the world. It has always been difficult to draw the line between service and worship. It is especially difficult under Christ, inasmuch as all service must spring from faith in and love to God, and so becomes an expression of praise and honor to Him.”

    In Questions and Answers Open Forum Freed-Hardeman College Lectures (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman, 1976. P. 333), Guy N. Woods is asked the question, “Would you please comment on the difference between serving God and worshipping God?” Woods commented that, “There is not nearly as much difference between these concepts as many today apparently believe. Occasionally, we see over the entrance to a church auditorium these words, ‘Enter to worship and leave to serve.’ This concept results from ignorance of what the New Testament teaches about service and worship to God. When, for example, a basket of food is carried to a needy family, the act is grounded in the concept of service, but it is done out of regard to our relationship to God, and to this extent involves an act of worship. Therefore, we worship God in serving others!”

    In the book published by Gospel Advocate, The Church of Christ (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1997. P.135), Edward C. Wharton stated, “We should not think of worship as confined to praise or a worship activity in a church house.”

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