Worship and the Incarnation

The fundamental issue of worship style is that worship must be participatory. Worship is a synergism of divine and human activity; it is dialogic. Worship that is a monologue, either of God or of the people, fails to meet the criteria of the divine-human relationship modeled by God’s Incarnation and the church’s theological reflection. 

—Robert E. Webber, “Blended Worship,” from Exploring the Worship Spectrum, 185.

God’s Initiative

Of course, where people do not understand the gospel, it is always perfectly possible for them to suppose that by going to church, singing hymns, saying prayers, or putting money into the collection they have earned favor with God.  This is the risk that the Pauline language of “pleasing God” is bound to run.  But Christian worship from the very beginning has attempted, at the level of structure as well as content, to rule this out, to make it clear that such a thing would be a shallow misunderstanding.  The main point here is the priority given, in Christian worship, to the Bible.

The Bible is not simply read aloud in order to convey information, to teach doctrine or ethics or history, though of course it does that too.  It is read aloud as the effective sign that all that we do is done as a response to God’s living and active word, the word which, as Isaiah says, accomplishes God’s purpose in the world, abiding for ever while all flesh withers like the grass.  The place of scripture in Christian worship means that both in structure and content God’s initiative remains primary, and all that we do remains a matter of response.

—N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship” (lecture delivered at Calvin College January 11, 2002), 11

God Serves Us

We can serve God because He first serves us. Understood first as God’s service to us, the liturgy becomes a locus in which God’s gracious self-giving promotes the interiorization of our faith, the articulation of our devotion, and the strengthening of our will for action.

—Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life, 217

Revelation and Response

No one can claim, of course, that every God-human encounter in Scripture follows this clear pattern; even if it did, there is no forthright command to fashion Christian worship using this deep structure. Nevertheless, with such a consistent pattern of divine-human conversation seen in Scripture, it suggests a normative approach—even a solid rationale—for seriously considering this pattern for the divine-human encounters of corporate worship.

—Constance Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 82

Revelation and Response

Accordingly, the Church’s worship will be best conformed to its true nature when its pattern echoes the crystal logical pattern we have seen in Scripture.  In the first place, the Church must be attentive to the proclamation of the Word. . . . The second aspect of Christian worship is our joining in the latreia of Christ, offering through Him the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

—William Nicholls, Jacob’s Ladder: The Meaning of Worship, 27-28

The First Word and the Last

As one body, in union with Christ and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we come before God in expectation of dialogue, an actual give-and-take exchange between God and God’s people. Biblical worship flows like a purposeful conversation, during which we speak, but only because we have been spoken to.

In a classic form of the dialogue, God issues an invitation, a call to worship:  “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing”; and we respond, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever…”

God longs for reconciliation with and among his children, and so we confess our sins and lament their effects. God assures us we have been forgiven in Christ, and we renew our commitment to live faithfully. Before Scripture is read, we call upon the Spirit to illumine our minds and soften our hearts. God speaks, through the ancient text that is opened and the message that is preached. Thanks be to God, we may hear in the message the Word of the Lord. God seals His promises in the cup of salvation and the waters of baptism, tangible gifts by which we taste and see that the Lord is good. We pray—for ourselves, the church, and the world—and we offer our gifts.

Having had the first word, God also has the last: a blessing of grace and peace. 

—Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today, 136-8

Revelation and Response (17)

Worship as response to revelation in the canticles of the Christmas story in Luke 1–2:

REVELATION: Annunciation to Mary & visit to Elizabeth (1:26-45)

RESPONSE: Mary’s Magnificat (1:46-55)

REVELATION: Annunciation to Zacharias & birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25,57-66)

RESPONSE: Zacharias’ Benedictus (1:67-79)

REVELATION: Angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth (2:8-13)

RESPONSE: The Angels’ Gloria (2:14)

REVELATION: Promise and fulfillment to Simeon (2:35-37)

RESPONSE: Simeon’s Nunc dimittis (2:29-32)  (“my eyes have seen”) RESP.

—Walt Barrett

Revelation and Response (16)

Worship in the Bible is the due response of rational creatures to the self-revelation of their Creator. It is an honoring and glorifying of God by gratefully offering back to Him all the good gifts, and all the knowledge of His greatness and graciousness, that He has given. It involves praising Him for what He is, thanking Him for what He has done, desiring Him to get Himself more glory by further acts of mercy, judgment, and power, and trusting Him with our concern for our own and others’ well-being.

—J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, 98-99

Revelation and Response (15)

Knowledge of God is the result of the divine initiative, to which man responds by self-committal to God, entering through Christ into a holy fellowship. “We love, because He first loved us.” That is the sequence of this worship: the revelation of God in holy Scripture, and the response of His children in the fellowship of the great prayer.

—William D. Maxwell, Concerning Worship, 38

Revelation and Response (14)

As one body, in union with Christ and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we come before God in expectation of dialogue, an actual give-and-take exchange between God and God’s people. Biblical worship flows like a purposeful conversation, during which we speak, but only because we have been spoken to. In a classic form of the dialogue, God issues an invitation, a call to worship: “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into His presence with singing”; and we respond, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.…”

—Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Sue A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today, 136-37

Revelation and Response (13)

If your idea of God, if your idea of the salvation offered in Christ, is vague or remote, your idea of worship will be fuzzy and ill-formed. The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you. That’s why theology and worship belong together. The one isn’t just a head-trip; the other isn’t just emotion.

—N. T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, 9-10

Revelation and Response (12)

During the time of the patriarchs, altar building happens as a commemorative habit whenever the patriarchs are confronted or comforted by God, regardless of circumstances and place. Noah builds an altar after the flood waters recede (8:20). Abram builds altars to mark God’s faithfulness as he enters Canaan and it marks a place in the land promised to him to which he returns (12:7-8:13:3). Abram builds yet another altar in Hebron (13:18) and one in Moriah (22:9). Abraham’s son Isaac builds an altar in what will become Beersheba (26:23-25). Isaac’s son Jacob builds an altar as he flees his homeland (28:16-22) and another in Shechem upon his return (33:18-20).

Most Old Testament scholars acknowledge that these were altars compiled of rocks upon which an animal would be sacrificed in a way similar to that of neighboring Canaanites. However, what is noteworthy and counter to the surrounding culture is that many patriarchal altars were erected not to evoke a divine encounter but to commemorate such an encounter when God had met someone in a surprising way. The importance of this distinction cannot be overstated. These altars were not erected to get a god’s attention or to try to gain a god’s favor but to mark the site of an encounter with the God who had revealed Himself to humans. To serve or to worship (In Hebrew the work translated either “to worship” or “to serve” is a single word: abad) this God who proved Himself faithful is a foundational idea for the practices of God’s people.  Christians do not worship or serve God to either merit or encourage divine faithfulness.  Worship, mission, witness and all Christian service is a response to the God who has demonstrated His faithfulness already. The basic pattern of biblical worship evident in these texts is that it is God who initiates the encounter, not the worshiper. This leads to a foundational pattern for biblical worship in which a “call to worship” using God’s Word signals that it is God, not the worship leader, who invites His people to worship. Worship is a response to the call of God. Worship happens at the initiative of God’s grace and is only made possible by His mediating presence on the worshiper’s behalf. Throughout Scripture, biblical worship is increasingly marked by the need for God to provide the efficacious grace that makes worship acceptable and pleasing to Him.

—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship, Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 37

Revelation and Response (10)

Historically the assertion of the Son’s deity is not only the ground of a true knowledge of God, but also the presupposition of true worship. The indissoluble unity of the revelation of God and piety means there is no speech about God without reverential worship. 

—Ngien, Dennis.  Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of our Responsive Worship, 4-5

Revelation and Response (9)

The sequence of God-human exchange found most prominently in the Scriptures is that of revelation and response. Is it not appropriate then, that the prominent sequence for God-human exchange in worship is also revelation/response? Christian worship is always a response to truth, the truth as revealed in Jesus Christ. This sequence is the native pattern of worship: it is the natural result of what happens when humanity encounters God. It therefore forms the basis for the simplest twofold service, Word and Table. The word is revealed and worshipers respond with Eucharist (thanksgiving). Revelation/response is the normative pattern of dialogue between God and the worshiping community. Ultimately, worship is a conversation between God and God’s chosen people. There is a mutual exchange, a holy dialogue, an invested sharing back and forth in worship. The reciprocity inherent in a true worship experience is a beautiful thing in which to participate; it is a living, vital conversation, not a religious program.

—Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect, A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, 9