What is worship?

When I became an Anglican, I was at first quite puzzled by the choice of Scripture passages that Anglican (that is, Church of England) services kept coming back to—the Benedictus (Luke 1.68–79) in Morning Prayer, the Magnificat (Luke 1.46–55) in Evening Prayer, and the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2.29–32) at night. For one thing, all these come from one gospel and one section of that gospel. For another, if you were going to repeat a small number of passages again and again, are there not other passages you would choose first? How about the hymn to love in 1 Cor 13? Or the summary of the gospel in 1 Cor 15? Or the ‘Christ hymn’ of Paul in Phil 2? Or John’s magisterial prologue in John 1? (Of course, most of these do find their way into Anglican liturgy in the form of credal affirmations or canticles.)

It took some time for me to realise the importance of the passages from Luke as programmatic summaries of what God was doing in Jesus; fulfilling the hopes of his people Israel in bringing forgiveness, true liberation and peace (the Benedictus); enacting the Great Reversal of God’s grace over against human pride, following the pattern of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel (the Magnificat); and bringing to completion God’s plan not just for Israel but for the whole world, in anticipation of Jesus’ followers being his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (the Nunc Dimittis).

The other passage that puzzled me was the choice of Ps 95 (also known by its opening words in Latin, pointing back to the influence of the Vulgate translation), the Venite, and its alternative Ps 100, the Jubilate. But it has slowly dawned on me that Ps 95 offers a comprehensive account of what worship involves.

1. Invitational: ‘Come…’

The repeated refrain of invitation, ‘come let us worship’, has been picked up in both modern (‘Come, now is the time to worship’) and traditional (‘Come let us join our cheerful song’) hymnody. But its importance here reflects the essential direction of travel in the worship encounter. Although there is a consistent theme of the worshipper as the one who seeks, in the thirst of Ps 42, the metaphorically interpreted desire of the Song of Songs, and Jesus’ teaching on persistence in prayer in Luke 11, the primary note in Scripture is of God seeking us, rather than the other way around. It begins with God seeking Adam and Eve in the garden in Gen 3.9, and ends not with us going to heaven but the New Jerusalem coming from heaven to earth in Rev 21.2. In between it is expressed in God choosing his people, not they him (Deut 7.7), in his tender longing for his people as they go astray (Hos 11.8), in his seeking and saving the lost (Luke 15, Luke 19.10). Whether faith came to us natural out of our curiosity, or as a surprise when we were least expecting it, the underlying theological reality is that our worship is a result of God’s initiative, and not ours. In the antiphon of divine-human encounter, it is God who issues the call and we who offer our response.

2. Corporate: ‘…let us…’

There are plenty of individual psalms, in which the psalmist expresses personal faith, seeking, frustration and questioning of God—faith is at all stages a personal reality. Yet, throughout Scripture, the relationship of God with his people is first and foremost expressed corporately, and the personal flows from this. This is especially clear in the corporate regulations for worship in the Pentateuch, but continues to be evident in the corporate descriptions of life and worship in Acts and the Pauline letters. Personal experience is rooted in corporate practice, flows from it and is nourished by it. The psalmist anticipates that his personal longing expressed in Ps 42.1 would be met in the corporate experience of Ps 42.4. A similar prioritising of the corporate in our families might reduce the loss of faith in the teenage years; and encouraging corporate rather than relentlessly personal devotions might enable us to engage more effectively with the non-book cultures around us.

3. Physical: ‘…shout aloud…bow down…’

There is no mistaking the physical nature of worship that is envisaged here at every stage. The first invitation is to ‘shout’, and the Hebrew term is used both of the cry that calls the people to war and of the great belly-roar of triumph over one’s enemies when victory is won. It suggests a kind of visceral roar of celebration, and makes us wonder why the frisson of physical experience that we find on the football terraces Saturday by Saturday isn’t also present in our worship Sunday by Sunday. Though the presence of God might at times lead us to awed silence, most often it will call on all our physical skills of music-making, and involve physical actions of ‘bowing down’ and ‘kneeling’. One of the great recoveries of the charismatic renewal movement was the importance of bodily experience and expression in worship, and this should be a feature of all Christian worship.

4. Theological: ‘The Lord is a great King above all gods…’

There is, in the first half of this psalm, a constant interplay between large theological claims and exultant affective response. There are three massive theological ideas around which the response of worship orbits; in reverse order: God as creator; God as the only true god; and God as the saviour of his people. Recognising that Yahweh is ‘our maker’ focusses on the creature/creator divide, and the fragility of human existence in contrast to the power of God. But the theme also includes God’s sovereignty over the created world; it is worth noting the binary contrasts (depths/peaks, sea/land) which both function as merisms that take two extremes to include everything in between, and also reflect the theme of separation in the creation account of Gen 1. Recognising God as king makes explicit an idea which is implicit in the earlier parts of Scripture but which become increasingly visible in the period of the monarchy and reaches its full flourishing in the preaching of Jesus of the coming ‘kingdom of God’. Although here expressed in henotheistic terms (God amongst the gods), the contrast easily moves into the absolute monotheism that we find in Isaiah (‘There are no other gods beside me’, Is 45.5; compare the similar movement in 1 Cor 8.4–6). In the NT, the kingdom of God is contrasted with the kingdom of this world, and the two are in eschatological contrast. And in a world of competing spiritual powers, it is the God of Israel who saves his people.

There is no divide here between understanding and affective response, between thinking, feeling and acting. Worship is rooted in theological understanding, and theological understanding inevitably leads to a response of worship.

5. Dialectical: ‘extol…bow down…hear his voice…’

The first half of the psalm includes some striking contrasts which we might have missed because of our familiarity. The first note is one of celebration, exalting in the salvation that he brings to his people and rejoicing in his mighty power. If this feels like a move upwards, then the contrast comes in the move downwards, bowing in humility and awe in verse 6. Both the upward movement and the downward are essential in worship—God is the source of our joy, but God is no mere celestial chum with whom we party. What is most fascinating is the way that these two movements are aligned. We mighty expect a response of awe to God’s power—but in fact this leads to celebration, since the psalmist is convinced that God is for his people and (essential) on their side. What leads to wonder is the fact that this mighty God, in all his power of creation, salvation and defeat of his enemies, a God not to be trifled with, is the tender shepherd of his people, one who knows their needs and meets them with his provision. This God is not vulnerable instead of being mighty; he is both, and the wonder comes in the holding together of the two convictions.

6. Repentant: ‘Do not harden your hearts…’

The second major dialectical tension in the psalm is one that Anglican liturgy can barely cope with, and only manages by making the ending of the psalm optional in liturgical recitation. There is the sharpest of contrasts in the unfettering joy and commitment expressed in the first half, and the stern warning of judgement that awaits us if we do not repent and belief in the second. It is the kind of contrast we also struggle with in the teaching of Jesus, when reports of calamity provoke Jesus’ response: ‘Unless you repent, you too will perish!’ (Luke 13.3, 5). Not exactly gentle Jesus, meek and mild and inclusive. But this tension points to the reality of respectable Christian leaders who end up being abusive, congregations with good biblical teaching who are oblivious to the world around them, and all of us as we come to God with distinctly mixed motives. Worship services which focus on celebration and find the downbeat of confession of sin too stark a contrast with the upbeat of feeling good about God ignore this tension at their peril. The language of the BCP in describing sin as an intolerable burden to miserable sinners needs to be recovered.

7. Canonical: ‘…as your ancestors did…’

The psalm begins with a hint at the story of God’s dealings with his people in the mention of the ‘rock of salvation’, but this story become clearly (and uncomfortably) explicit in the second half. Worship of God by the people of God is rooted in the particularity of God’s dealings with his people and their response to him. Indeed, some psalms, like Ps 136, are entirely structured around the story of our experience of God as his people. The general refrain ‘His love endures forever’, which on its own is in danger of becoming a theological slogan, only makes sense when understood in the light of the particulars of God’s action. In a similar way, it is striking that Paul assumes that the story of God’s dealings with his people Israel has become the story that now belongs to the mixed Jewish-gentile group of followers of Jesus in Corinth, so that they are all inheritors of this canonical story of faith (1 Cor 10.6). Reading Scripture when we meet, and thus locating ourselves in this story, is not something that leads to worship—it is a constituent part of the worship itself. Christian worship will understand Jesus as the climax and fulfilment of this story—but it will not ignore the earlier episodes.


Responding to God’s initiative, confessing our sins, celebrating in song, locating ourselves in the story of God’s people, reflecting on theology, living with tensions and contrasts, and expressing all this in bodily action as we meet together—all these are essential parts of our worship. If any of them is missing, God is reduced, our worship is diminished and we are the less for it.


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53 thoughts on “What is worship?

  1. This is superb – every word of it. ‘There is no divide here between understanding and affective response, between thinking, feeling and acting.’ Amen. We currently have no clergy in our church and sister church (we have lost four leaders since June 2016!) We are thankful for visiting preachers who preside over Holy Communion and also for our three lay readers. For the past 20 months I have been helping our music-worship leader choose hymn/songs for most services and we meet monthly to pray, read the scriptures and make hymn/song choices as best we can. Your blog is encouraging and inspiring.

  2. The English Hymnal ‘Jerusalem My Happy Home’ is an interesting case – words supposed to go back to Augustine. There are 26 verses, but that’s not all. Simeon is portrayed as singing the Nunc Dimittis (only 3 verses long) for eternity, as though he knew no other; Zachariah likewise sings the Benedictus. So now we know how choirboys feel when asked to sing the nth setting of Mag or Nunc every evensong.

    But it’s not all bad. If every composer is working on the same type of task as each other (e.g. symphony) it is amazing the heights that can be reached through refinement of the process. Although we prefer the versions sensitive to the words (Stanford in G with its spinning wheel) there are others that are not especially suitable for the words but which are fine music in their own right (Gray in F Minor, Dyson in D – or the Britten Te Deums).

    In general I do wonder whether the brains behind Evensong and the BCP in general had in mind that no other songs could be truly holy to the extent that the Psalms or Canticles, which exist in Holy Scripture, are holy. The repetition of the Psalms (there being 150 of them) is far less frequent, and ends up being a really profitable cycle.

  3. I still remember Alec Motyer’s talks on Exodus When Moses says to Pharaoh let my people go that they may worship, this is not a confidence trick. It is what happened as God tells Moses what to do and then the Children of Israel do it. His main point was that the essence of worship is obedience…

    • Indeed…. When I left theological college to be made Deacon, David Wheaton had inscribed in all our gifted Prayer Books; ‘…that the life of worship is the first essential of fruitful service.’

  4. I too have thought the BCP (and its successors) rather ‘samey’ on insisting on these few passages of biblical liturgy and have wondered how much of this is due to Cranmer’s own selection from Sarum or wherever he extracted what became the BCP. But I think this can be said in their favour. Many years ago I think I recall John Nolland suggesting the Lucan canticles reflected the actual worship of the Jerusalem church and if this is right, then they do take us back ‘ad fontes’, to some of the earliest days of apostolic church worship.
    Congratulations on your new commentary, Ian.

  5. I have often been struck by the fervour and roar of a football crowd in contrast to church worship. On the other hand hushed awe and reverence is beautiful. As is a cathedral filled with gorgeous music. And dancing wildly at new Wine. Not to mention the joy and fun at Black Gospel churches.

  6. I’ve held back from commenting in the hope someone else would stick their head above the parapet first, but they haven’t, so here goes –

    Surely the title “What is worship?” is a vastly misleading summary of the content of the blog post? A more accurate though obviously less snappy title would be “What is one example of worship, an example which was frequently practised in the Old Testament, will be extensively practised in heaven, but is barely mentioned in the Bible as being practised by New Testament Christians and never enjoined for them; containing a set of precepts which may usefully be extrapolated into principles we should apply when we engage in worship today.”

    A more biblically accurate answer to the question “What is worship?” would be something like “an outward truthful demonstration of the heart’s homage and adoration of the one worshipped.”
    The most succinct New Testament example of worship is of course Romans 12:1 – in ultra-literal translation “through the pityings of God, present your bodies [as] living sacrifice holy to God [and] well-pleasing, your ‘word-ly’ service.”
    I’m sure many of subscribe to the slogan of ‘whole-life worship’ but the way some of us talk we seem to confine worship to what happens at church meetings, or even more narrowly to the sections of church meetings when we sing (and ‘move into a time of worship’).

    The one time in the Bible post-Pentecost Christians on earth are described as ‘worshipping God’ when they meet together is Acts 13:2, and even then a better rendition would be ‘serving God [as priests]’, plus they were also fasting at the same time, which suggests a more extended period of time than the average church meeting.

    So the list of precepts provided in the blog are I think a very helpful stimulus to drawing up principles we can apply when we worship God through e.g. prayer (Revelation 5:8), toiling for the sake of other Christians (Philippians 2:16-17), giving (Philippians 4:15), or loving fellow-Christians / showing hospitality / supporting suffering fellow-Christians / being sexually faithful / not being greedy for money (Hebrews 13:1-5, listing what it means to ‘serve well-pleasingly to God, with devoutness and awe’, Hebrews 12:28).
    Some of this life-worship will take place when and while we meet with other Christians at church assemblies!

    Jonny Kingsman

    • Thanks for your observations, Jonny. I don’t think I would disagree with the substance of what you say—and you might be interested to read Colin Buchanan’s observations about collective worship as we find hints in the Letter to the Hebrews https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/how-did-the-first-christians-worship/

      But whatever else we describe using the term ‘worship’, Christians generally do use the word to refer to what we do when we meet together. I don’t think I say ‘What is worship? Here is the only answer’ but offer an insight into what corporate worship looked like for ancient Israel.

      I think the odd thing I find in your comment is the idea that this was not also true for the first followers of Jesus. As practising Jews, they continued to attend temple worship, and the OT was their Scripture. So they would have read Ps 95 together, and might well have taken it seriously. I agree that all of life is worship–but what I find very odd is the idea that what we do when we meet together and praise God should *not* be called worship.

      Are there any of the seven things I list which you would *not* do when you meet–and if so why not?

  7. Lots to think about and respond to there, Ian! I’ll try to work my way through in order and not miss anything out, but it may take me a while!

    “you might be interested to read Colin Buchanan’s observations about collective worship as we find hints in the Letter to the Hebrews https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/how-did-the-first-christians-worship/
    Thanks for this link. In your intro you go as far as I do in saying that ‘worship’ is not a biblical word to use about our church gatherings, but you don’t take the next step of saying therefore we shouldn’t describe our church meetings as worship. Interestingly, for the similar argument that the commonly-used term ‘priest’ used to describe the church leader is unbiblical, you do take the next step and advocate the use of ‘presbyter’ instead.

    Here is your summary of Colin Buchanan’s list
    “meeting to seek access to God’s presence; encountering Jesus; hearing the word of Scripture, which includes reading it, knowing that Jesus fulfils all God’s promises, and receiving encouragement for faithful living; offering praise; interceding; recognising the whole company of saints, including the departed; practical sharing of resources; avoiding ceremonialism or legalism.”
    This summary seems to half-omit Hebrews 3:12-13 “Look ye, siblings, lest there shall be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in the standing away from [the] living God, but exhort each other per each day…”
    The context is of course the application of Psalm 95 which prompted your current blog post, from which the writer applies the second half (but not the first half, the exact opposite of what we Anglicans do when we include the Venite in our meetings!) summarised as “Today, if ye hear His voice, harden ye not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:14)
    So the principal two purposes of the church gathering in Hebrews appear to be
    1) Hear God’s word (What the psalmist said to the Israelites, ‘Today’ the ‘Holy Spirit’ (Hebrews 3:7) says to us!)
    2) Exhort our fellow-Christians not to stand away from God (but to draw near, as you say): this exhortation can be effective for a maximum 24 hours.
    So I need to make sure I am meeting with other Christians every day to hear God’s word from the bible and to encourage each other to keep going till the next day. As I am married to a Christian, it is easier for me to do this, by reading the bible with my wife each day and applying it to each other. (Do we actually do this? No, shame on us! Doctor, take your own medicine!). All of us should consider how we can have church daily, e.g. small groups, prayer triplets, workplace fellowship groups, accountability friendships.

    I note that when you summarise your summary of what church meetings are for, you do actually head the list with the theme of mutual exhortation:
    “If this letter were our main guide for Christian assemblies, what would we thereby learn?
    Vitally, the believers met with each other as believers, and met to encourage and support each other by both spiritual and material means, sharing the truth of Christ, and sharing food and other necessities. Two perspectives dominate, each with ‘looking to Jesus’ as central—the push to get away from the world’s evil ways (13.13), and the pull of ‘seeing the Day approaching’ (10.25). Meeting each others’ material needs was integral to the agenda. But the overarching feature of the agenda was the word. It was taught as exhortation by the leaders”
    I would quibble with the last phrase in that quote, the purpose of the meeting is not just for the leaders to do the exhorting, but all of us to exhort each other, as in chapter 3’s example above.

    Enough for now, I’ve got to go to the Sunday instalment of my daily gathering with fellow-Christians! 🙂

    Jonny Kingsman

    • Hi Jonny,

      On one hand, I commend you on the comments which you’ve contributed to this blog post as manifestly evident of your zeal for Christ.

      On the other hand, I do not commend your censoriousness, which is equally evident in constantly correcting Ian’s post and any response on the comment thread for lack of comprehensiveness with little regard for the need for brevity, mindful as we all should be of the concise format of this blog.

      You wrote: ‘So the principal two purposes of the church gathering in Hebrews appear to be
      1) Hear God’s word (What the psalmist said to the Israelites, ‘Today’ the ‘Holy Spirit’ (Hebrews 3:7) says to us!)
      2) Exhort our fellow-Christians not to stand away from God (but to draw near, as you say): this exhortation can be effective for a maximum 24 hours.

      Firstly, the instruction to exhort ‘one another daily’ doesn’t mean that it’s only effective for 24 hours. Hebrews is self-described as a ‘word of exhortation’ (Heb. 13:22) and it has endured in the minds of Christians for over 2000 years.

      Secondly, looking beyond just Hebrews, the third and most important purpose of Christian gatherings is to respond the hearing of God’s word with collective worship. Therefore, while we should be ‘whole-life’ worshippers of Christ, He himself highlighted the distinctive manifestation of His presence which occurs when Christians meet together in His name: ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18:20)

      A comparison with similar Jewish sayings (when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence shekinah rests between them’ . . .) shows that this divine presence of Jesus as God’s shekinah glory in the midst of assembled Christians does not undermine His promise of personal indwelling for those who love him: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23)

      The basis for those sayings is found in the OT:
      ‘But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.’ (Ps. 22:3)
      ‘God has taken his place in the divine council.’ (Psalm 82:1);
      ‘Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.’ (Mal. 3:16)

      Yes, God calls on us, as individuals, to yield to His will and revere His presence in our mortal body. So, we, as temples of the Holy Spirit, await with eager anticipation our eternal redemption of the body (as much as mind and spirit) from the curse of sin (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:23).

      Peter sees the result of mutual edification of gathering together in this way: ‘As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:4-5).

      The church building simply provides dedicated space for fellow Christians to edify one another to become this united ‘spiritual house’ of ‘whole-life’ worshippers.

      The rationale for calling such church gatherings ‘services’ derives from the body of believers in Antioch who met to render priestly service to the Lord (leitourgounon) in Antioch (Acts 13:2; cf. Eph. 5:19) and out of which Paul and Barnabus were called into mission.

      • Hi David,

        “Secondly, looking beyond just Hebrews, the third and most important purpose of Christian gatherings is to respond the hearing of God’s word with collective worship.”

        Matthew 18:20 and its Old Testament antecedents which you quote in support of this statement don’t establish your point – Amen, Jesus is with us when we assemble, even if there are only two of us, but HOW are we to worship him in response?

        “The rationale for calling such church gatherings ‘services’ derives from the body of believers in Antioch who met to render priestly service to the Lord (leitourgounon) in Antioch (Acts 13:2; cf. Eph. 5:19) and out of which Paul and Barnabus were called into mission.”

        As I said in my reply to Will Jones below, talking about 1 Corinthians 14:25 –
        ‘So just like the description of the church ‘serving God (as priests)’ when they met together in Acts 13:2, I suggest this occurrence is very much the exception rather than the rule, and there are context-specific reasons why the writers use Temple / Heaven language at this point. We would be unwise to build our theology of the Christian gathering on a single occurrence of an otherwise common word.’

        If we wish to propose that we should call our meetings services because Acts 13:2 tells us to, we will have to significantly buttress the logic at every stage of the argument!

        The Holy Spirit has not divulged exactly by what activity they were serving as priests by performing ‘leitourgoi’ = ‘leitoi ergoi’, ‘works of/for the people’, but the ministry words most immediately prior are the ‘prophets and teachers’ of Acts 13:1. Then in Acts 13:2 Barnabas and Saul get set aside for a particular ‘ergon’, work. ‘Therefore’ (Acts 13:4) ‘they preached the word of God’ to non-Christians (Acts 13:5).

        None of the seven other occurrences of ‘leitourg-‘ in the New Testament have any connection with the post-Pentecost pre-heaven assembly. Intriguing examples are – giving in Romans 15:27, preaching the gospel to non-Christians in Romans 15:16, and supporting God’s persecuted servants in Philippians 2:25. In the Old Testament temple, and in heaven, lots of leitourging going on: in the earthly assembly of Christians, one isolated and incidental example of leitourging, and preaching / teaching / evangelising is a likelier candidate for the specific activity referred to.

        So I don’t think that we should call our meetings ‘Services’ because some very early Christians happened to serve as priests once while they were meeting together. By exactly the same syllogism, we should call our meetings ‘Judicial Killings’ on the basis of Acts 5:5!!! 😉

        Jonny Kingsman

        • Hi Jonny,

          Actually, the passages that I quoted do support my point, which is that, beyond just hearing God’s word and exhorting each other, Jesus who reveals Himself in the midst of our gathering as He promises, is to be worshipped in that context by us.

          This contrasts with you citing merely two purposes, which didn’t include worship at all.

          Implying that my point was about HOW we should worship is a ‘straw man’, since this comment thread shows that you began by debating not how, but whether worship should be a word used to describe church gatherings.

          Concerning Acts 13:2, you wrote: ’I would suggest this occurrence is very much the exception rather than the rule.

          Concerning Acts 13:2, I explained that the body of believers rendered priestly service to the Lord. It is only priestly in the sense of the service being directed towards Him.

          If you choose to see this as an exception, then so be it. It shows that what you see as an exception is enough to show that service is a permissible word for describing Christian gathering.

          Permissible doesn’t need to be prescriptive, so your reference to Acts 5:5 is meaningless.

        • Hi Jonny,

          Actually, the passages which I quoted do support my point, namely, that, beyond just hearing God’s word and exhorting each other, Jesus, who reveals Himself in the midst of our gatherings as He promised, is to be worshipped in that collective context (as much as individually).

          This contrasts with you merely citing two purposes, neither of which included worship.

          It’s a ‘straw man’ argument to imply that my point was about HOW we should worship. This comment thread shows that you have not been debating about HOW, but WHETHER worship should be used to describe Christian gatherings. Hence, you wrote: ‘In your intro you go as far as I do in saying that ‘worship’ is not a biblical word to use about our church gatherings, but you don’t take the next step of saying therefore we shouldn’t describe our church meetings as worship. ‘

          This is the principal statement with which I’ve taken issue.

          Concerning Acts 13:2, you wrote: ‘I would suggest this occurrence is very much the exception rather than the rule.’ You might as well take the same line regarding Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:1, 2. Yet, there is plenty of corroborative Church history to prove that meeting on the first day of the week was the norm.

          I did explain that this verse shows that the body of believers rendered priestly service to the Lord. It was only priestly in the sense of service being directed towards the Lord (to Kurion). In contrast, the other examples of leitourgoi which you cite are directed:
          1. towards Jewish brethren as reciprocal Gentile generosity (Rom. 15:27);
          2. toward the Gentiles (eis ta ethne) on behalf of Christ (Rom. 15:16);
          3. towards Paul’s necessities (tes chreis mou)

          So, your interpretation omits any distinction by recipient.

          If you choose to consider Acts 16:2 as an exception, then so be it. My point is made that service towards the Lord is entirely permissible in Church gatherings…as is God’s judicial divine intervention for egregious contempt towards Him.

          Also, if you hold that Acts 13:2 only demonstrates that ‘some very early Christians happened to serve as priests once while they were meeting together’, then you might as well also claim that Acts 16:2 only demonstrates that ‘on one occasion, in Troas, some very early Christians happened to meet on the first day of the week. ‘ Such reductive assertions don’t make it impermissible either to call church gatherings ‘services’, or to hold them on Sundays.

          After all, 1 Cor. 16:2 only instructs Christians about regularising their collections, not their church gatherings.

          I hope by this response, I’ve make my point clear and that I’ve shown that there’s no need for you to resort to self-congratulatory chortling at the expense of anyone else’s dignity.

  8. Jonny

    If I may, your post appears to be criticising Ian for not saying about worship what you wanted to say about worship. Ian was not offering a systematic study of worship per se and his title is merely an invitation to his engaging expository thoughts on very familiar scriptural songs which can help frame worship, whether personal or corporate. He is not claiming it is a summary of the what and how of NT worship.

    Rom12v1 is as you suggest a vital text but it most certainly is not as you suggest ‘the most succinct NT example of worship’ – rather as Paul clearly states, it is an ‘exhortation’ to live a life serving God and is the thematic introduction to the next 3 chapters in Romans which are precisely about how we live out our service to Christ in relation to one another and the world.

    Surely the most succinct NT examples of worship prescribed or described are in Acts2 and in 1Cor10,11 &14; Eph5v19, 1Tim4v13. Triangulating the components listed there, we see the centrality of Communion, song, the Word read and explained, exercise of charisms of prophecy/tongues/interpretation and Prayer.

    Rom12v1 will be fuelled by and flow from the corporate worship.

    • Hi Simon,
      “Surely the most succinct NT examples of worship prescribed or described are in Acts2 and in 1Cor10,11 &14; Eph5v19, 1Tim4v13. Triangulating the components listed there, we see the centrality of Communion, song, the Word read and explained, exercise of charisms of prophecy/tongues/interpretation and Prayer.”
      I don’t think any of these passages describe themselves as examples of worship in the way that Romans 12:1 does “this is your true and proper worship” (reasonable service in the old translation). I therefore say that these are not examples of ‘worship’ in its New Testament sense at all. Romans 12:1 remains as a good example of worship which describes itself in worship language, and it is pretty succinct also.

      “Rom12v1 will be fuelled by and flow from the corporate worship.”
      Rom12v1 SAYS that it will take place “in view of God’s mercy”, or on an alternative phrasing that it will take place through Paul’s beseeching of us through the mercies of God – comes to pretty much the same thing I think. In so far as ‘corporate worship’ exhorts us to view God’s mercy, or helps us to hear Paul’s beseechings of us by the mercies of God, (for instance Romans 1-11, linked to Romans 12 by the logical connective ‘Therefore’ in Romans 12:1) I think your sentence is true. But it doesn’t bring us any nearer to answering the question whether we should describe our meetings as ‘worship’ in the New Testament sense of the word.

      Jonny Kingsman

  9. “But whatever else we describe using the term ‘worship’, Christians generally do use the word to refer to what we do when we meet together.”

    I totally agree that Christians generally do use the word ‘worship’ to refer to what we do when we meet together: however the key question is, should we?

    I think this is the area in which evangelical churches today are most in need of reformation, because this is where the practice of the vast majority of such churches are furthest away from what the bible teaches.
    I doubt that even five percent of self-identifying evangelical churches make serious effort to match their use of the word worship to that taught in the New Testament, yet surely all want to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

    If we don’t worship God in the way He prescribes, we are breaking the second commandment and committing idolatry – it is not worship, but sacrilege.

    In my own case, my all-time favourite activity is playing electric guitar in church gatherings, so if the acceptable worship God wants from me is generating enthusuastic singing, I’m sorted! 😉 Sadly for me, I believe Jesus says to me as he said to the Pharisees “go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
    If I can be a good ‘worship-leader’ by playing the electric guitar well, great for me, I reckon I can manage that. But if instead I must lead worship by setting an example of being hospitable, compassionate, supportive of my fellow-Christians . . .

    Jonny Kingsman

  10. “I don’t think I say ‘What is worship? Here is the only answer’ but offer an insight into what corporate worship looked like for ancient Israel.”

    I entirely agree, but your headline is ‘What is worship’ without further qualification, and you and I both agree that the body of your blog post is not a comprehensive definition (or even, I suggest, a definition of essentials).
    Instead you present a helpful insight into what corporate worship looked like for ancient Israel; as I put it, a set of precepts from which we can extrapolate principles which we can then apply to our New Testament worship.

    Jonny Kingsman

    • Hi Jonny,
      Just a thought about worship – what do you think about the fact that the gathering of the faithful at church is often described as a ‘service’and that those who attend the service are often described as ‘worshippers’? (As you probably know from an earlier comment I made here, I think Ian’s blog is superb)

      • Hi Christine
        “Just a thought about worship – what do you think about the fact that the gathering of the faithful at church is often described as a ‘service’and that those who attend the service are often described as ‘worshippers’?”

        I think I answered this one further down the thread, after you had posted your question but before I had read it –
        “The three main continuations of the temple for us are
        1) Jesus (John 2:21) – we meet God, draw near to Him, and come into His presence by trusting in Jesus, not by attending temple services any longer.
        So not by attending church ‘services’! (They’re not services, they are ‘rites and ceremonies’ as the prayer-book has it – better, they are ‘assemblies’ translating ekklesia, but sadly the overtones of school assemblies are probably too prominent to ignore)”

        • Hi Jonny,
          Thank you for reply but I must say I am still a bit bemused.
          For what it’s worth, let me tell you that I became a Christian in 1992, at the age of 48. At that time I was the only Christian in my family. The only way I could be in fellowship with other believers was to attend a local church (I also had a few Christian colleagues) In my non-Christian years I thought the liturgy was just mumbo-jumbo and I used to joke with non-Christian friends that congregants were probably saying ‘rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, soda water bottle rhubarb’. When I finally joined in the liturgy myself with other believers, I realised that they understood and meant every word they said and I found this encouraging and faith-building. Going to church services became for me the light in my mainly-secular life at that time. You call these services ‘rites and ceremonies’ and seem to have a dismissive attitude to them but they were a Godsend for me. I am actually a charismatic Christian and I regularly pray in tongues in private, but I have surprised myself by also becoming a conservative Christian in many ways . In our chaotic world God creates order, and there is beauty in orderly, faithful service – and services!

          • “You call these services ‘rites and ceremonies’ and seem to have a dismissive attitude to them but they were a Godsend for me”

            Hi Christine,
            I don’t have a dismissive attitude to church meetings! As I said from Hebrews 3, we need them once a day in order to keep life-worshipping God for another 24 hours! You have clearly been encouraged to keep going as a Christian by attending church meetings, and that’s exactly how it should be – praise God! 🙂
            I was only saying that we shouldn’t call these vital church meetings ‘services’…

            As for whether to call the meeting a ‘service,’ it’s the 17th century Book Of Common Prayer which called Christian meetings ‘Rites and Ceremonies’ and studiously avoided calling them ‘services’. My preferred term is ‘assembly’ because I think it is the most literal translation of the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ – the 39 articles in the Book Of Common Prayer also use the term ‘congregation’ which is also pretty good, because it emphasises the human-ward direction of the benefit – it is not that we are benefiting God, as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25). Instead, we are benefited as we hear and obey God’s word and as we are exhorted to hear and obey God’s word by each other.
            In many areas, our opportunities to respond in obedience to God’s word will begin after the ceremony is over and we begin ministering to one another over coffee / put into practice on Monday the change in behaviour we resolved to make on Sunday. So to a large extent we leave church in order to worship! 🙂

            Jonny Kingsman

  11. Come off it Jonny
    You claim: ‘I doubt that even five percent of self-identifying evangelical churches make serious effort to match their use of the word worship to that taught in the New Testament’

    On what basis can you assert that? It would presuppose you are the absolute authority on what NT worship is – what are your criteria for being in position to make such a claim? Do you know all self identifying evangelical churches and are able therefore to sit in judgment? of course not!

    NT worship as seen in Acts or 1Cor 10-14 was clearly centred on the Word, Breaking Bread and the dynamism of the Spirit as seen in speaking in tongues and prophecy – is that how they do things weekly at your church?

    Jonny, we respect civil robust engagement on Ian’s blog and we all take it and give it – but me thinks you are being dogmatically absolute and have decided what is worship and your view is a procrustean bed to lop off everyone else’s.

    • “You claim: ‘I doubt that even five percent of self-identifying evangelical churches make serious effort to match their use of the word worship to that taught in the New Testament’
      On what basis can you assert that? It would presuppose you are the absolute authority on what NT worship is – what are your criteria for being in position to make such a claim? Do you know all self identifying evangelical churches and are able therefore to sit in judgment? of course not!”
      No, it presupposes that for >95% of those churches I don’t believe that they take care to use the word worship in the way the New Testament uses worship words, and they don’t teach the meaning and use of the word worship scripturally. I’ll be delighted to be wrong. Maybe Ian could do a poll – I suspect though the view I espouse would not be shared (at least before people have read my posts 😉 !!! ) by more than one in twenty of the readers on here who would describe themselves as evangelical…

      “Jonny, we respect civil robust engagement on Ian’s blog and we all take it and give it – but me thinks you are being dogmatically absolute and have decided what is worship and your view is a procrustean bed to lop off everyone else’s.”
      Well, Simon, I have decided what I think worship is according to the bible – as I wrote earlier, “A more biblically accurate answer to the question ‘What is worship?’ would be something like ‘an outward truthful demonstration of the heart’s homage and adoration of the one worshipped.’ and I have decided how I think the New Testament teaches we should worship God between Pentecost and Jesus’ return – as I wrote earlier, “we worship God through e.g. prayer (Revelation 5:8), toiling for the sake of other Christians (Philippians 2:16-17), giving (Philippians 4:15), or loving fellow-Christians / showing hospitality / supporting suffering fellow-Christians / being sexually faithful / not being greedy for money (Hebrews 13:1-5, listing what it means to ‘serve well-pleasingly to God, with devoutness and awe’, Hebrews 12:28). Some of this life-worship will take place when and while we meet with other Christians at church assemblies!”
      Would you care to contribute your own “civil robust engagement” on what worship is according to the bible and how we should worship God in this era of salvation-history according to the New Testament? As a self-identifying evangelical I commit in advance to believing what the bible teaches and practising what the bible commands. I don’t want to lop off other people’s view to conform to my view as such – instead I think we should all be reforming our views to conform to the bible.

    • /*cheeky selective quote coming up for rhetorical & comic effect*/

      “… 1Cor 10-14 … – is that how they do things weekly at your church?”

      I hope not! 😉 Do you think that Paul wanted the Corinthian church to be like the Corinthian church, Simon? 🙂

  12. “I think the odd thing I find in your comment is the idea that this was not also true for the first followers of Jesus. As practising Jews, they continued to attend temple worship,”

    Sure, the first followers of Jesus continued to attend temple worship, but what happened after the temple was destroyed? The church gathering continues the synagogue, not the temple.
    The three main continuations of the temple for us are
    1) Jesus (John 2:21) – we meet God, draw near to Him, and come into His presence by trusting in Jesus, not by attending temple services any longer.
    So not by attending church ‘services’! (They’re not services, they are ‘rites and ceremonies’ as the prayer-book has it – better, they are ‘assemblies’ translating ekklesia, but sadly the overtones of school assemblies are probably too prominent to ignore)
    and not by singing ‘worship songs’ (as the music starts, let us come into the presence of God – natch, we come into the presence of God by the shed blood of Jesus)
    2) Our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19) – the holy ground where God is worshipped in blazing purity is my body, not the temple any longer.
    So God doesn’t mind if the youth group play table-tennis on the Communion table in the ‘sanctuary’ (Although I wouldn’t risk it, for fear of offending certain beloved church-members), but He does mind a great deal if I am sexually immoral.
    3) Church (Ephesians 2:21) – defined of course as the people not the place (the bookstall is not at the back of the church, it is at the back of the church building). In Christ we as a church are being built together to become a temple.
    So the visible place the world can look at to see God dwelling in the world today is no longer the temple, but God’s assembled people, the church.

    “and the OT was their Scripture. So they would have read Ps 95 together, and might well have taken it seriously.”

    Yes they would, and so do we, as we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music…” (Ephesians 5:19)
    but as New Testament believers, they would have had to focus on the Psalms through the lens of Jesus and the cross, and so do we. I love the hymn “How lovely is Your dwelling place”, Psalm 84, about the temple, but as we sing it today we are singing about Jesus / our Spirit-indwelt bodies / church, as outlined above. Jesus has radically transformed the way we worship God, no longer ‘on this mountain’ but ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:21-23)

    Jonny Kingsman

  13. “I agree that all of life is worship–but what I find very odd is the idea that what we do when we meet together and praise God should *not* be called worship.”

    Emphatically we should *not* call what we do when we meet together ‘worship’! We should call it a meeting!
    I prefer gathering, or assembly, but those words start to sound churchy.
    My parish church advertises “Evening worship” on its notice-board, and perpetuates the impression that what we do on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning is not worship in a way that what we do on Sunday evening is. The result? God in a box. But “God…does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything” (Acts 17:24-25)

    So if we don’t meet to ‘worship’ what do we meet to do? The one-word answer is we meet to ‘edify’ – see 1 Corinthians 12-14 and many other places. “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26). Back to the (primary) theme of exhorting one another, as discussed in relation to Hebrews above.

    Jonny Kingsman

  14. “Are there any of the seven things I list which you would *not* do when you meet–and if so why not?”

    1. Invitational: ‘Come…’
    In worship? Yes, we should come to Jesus in our whole lives. But we haven’t “come to a mountain that can be touched” (Hebrews 12:18) but to “Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22)
    In the meeting? Yes, unless we assemble with other Christians, it isn’t church (pedants: videolink for the housebound should ideally be two-way!)

    2. Corporate: ‘…let us…’
    In worship? Yes, “in whom (= the Lord) also ye are being edified together unto an ‘edified-down-thing’ of God in spirit” (Ephesians 2:22)
    In the meeting? Yes, “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13)

    3. Physical: ‘…shout aloud…bow down…’
    In worship? Yes, “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
    In the meeting? Yes, but my goal is to edify, *not* to worship God!
    Do I do the actions for this children’s song enthusiastically, to edify eg the children? Or do I not do the actions, to edify the embarrassed new Christian who needs assurance that you don’t have to do the actions to belong to this fellowship?
    Do I dance to the beat of this funky song, to edify those who can see me that the truths we are singing about are joyful?

    4. Theological: ‘The Lord is a great King above all gods…’
    In worship? Yes, “in view of God’s mercy…offer your bodies…this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1-2)
    In the meeting? Yes, “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19)

    5. Dialectical: ‘extol…bow down…hear his voice…’
    In worship? Yes, “as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you hear his voice” (Hebrews 3:7) … “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13)
    In the meeting? Yes, same verses, although I would argue that the New Testament application of the “Hear His voice” half of the psalm means that hearing God’s word is essential to a church meeting being church in a way that other activities such as singing are not.
    Haven’t worked that one out in full, but I think both the Old Testament and the New Testament definition of ‘church’ is a gathering of God’s people (two or three is enough) to hear God’s word. E.g. “the day of the church” (Deuteronomy 10:4) describing the gathering of God’s people on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.

    6. Repentant: ‘Do not harden your hearts…’
    In worship? Yes, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38) and we gained access to God’s presence at the moment that “Jesus breathed his last” (Mark 15:37) and died for our sins, provided we “Repent…” (Mark 1:15)
    In the meeting? Yes, but it’s not the case that we are unforgiven before we express repentance in the meeting and forgiven afterwards:
    in the church I belong to we gradually changed the description of the liturgy after the ‘Confession,’ from ‘Absolution’ to ‘Assurance of forgiveness’ to ‘God’s promise of forgiveness’ to no title at all, just a bible verse which declares God’s forgiveness such as 1 John 1:9.

    7. Canonical: ‘…as your ancestors did…’
    In worship? Yes, but respecting our place in salvation history, e.g. the care that was lavished on building the temple, we should lavish on edifying the church.
    In the meeting? Yes, paying special attention to what is prescribed in the New Testament rather than merely described. “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Timothy 2:13)

    Phew! I’ve made it through all your comments and questions and responded to each of them! I look forward to the day when I join you and all the saints in heaven, worshipping God. I’ll be one of those “holding guitars of God” (Revelation 15:2) and I’m getting ready to jam! Peace and love,

    Jonny Kingsman

  15. Hi Jonny

    I feel like you may be missing the basic concept of worship here, which can be found throughout the NT. The NT expands the concept of worship to include the interpersonal aspects you speak of, but the basic concept remains. See e.g. http://biblehub.com/greek/4352.htm

    ‘proskuneo: to do reverence to
    Short Definition: I worship
    Definition: I go down on my knees to, do obeisance to, worship.’

    Worship means to do reverence to, and frequently throughout the NT there is reference to people ‘falling down’ and worshipping – the word means both to do reverence to and the physical motion of bowing down. By extension it means other acts which do reverence to God, especially sacrifices in a sacrificial system. By further extension it can mean any acts which do reverence to God.

    The NT use of worship takes for granted that it involves doing reverence to God by physical acts which express that, including the core meaning of bowing/kneeling. See e.g. Revelation 7:11, 1 Cor 14:25 ‘After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”’

    In Hebrews (Heb 12:28) we find that an ‘acceptable worship’ is thanksgiving to God that we are receiving salvation, having come to the ‘assembly ‘(v23). Chapter 13 goes on to elaborate that confessing God’s name and acts of love are also sacrifices pleasing to God.

    So I don’t think you have any grounds for arguing that what Christians in the NT did when they assembled did not involve worship. The NT continues the standard understanding of worship as doing reverence to, including by bowing or kneeling, as part of offering thanksgiving to God through prayer and song – and that is what the first Christians did when they gathered as well as when apart.

    • Hi Will,

      The New Testament use of proskuneo, to (bend/fall forward to kiss in) worship, is the classic example of worship / temple / liturgical words which are frequent in the gospels and Acts while the temple is still standing and Jesus is physically present, are frequent in Revelation where God’s people are worshipping Him face to face, but are conspicuous by their absence in describing what happens when Christians meet together between Pentecost and Heaven – one occurrence out of 60 in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 14:25, which you cite.

      So just like the description of the church ‘serving God (as priests)’ when they met together in Acts 13:2, I suggest this occurrence is very much the exception rather than the rule, and there are context-specific reasons why the writers use Temple / Heaven language at this point. We would be unwise to build our theology of the Christian gathering on a single occurrence of an otherwise common word.

      Hebrews 12:28 doesn’t quite say what you think it does. It doesn’t say that thanksgiving ‘is’ our acceptable worship, rather that it is thanksgiving ‘through which’ we should offer acceptable worship. The life-worship examples of what worship actually is for the post-temple pre-heaven Christian follow in chapter 13.

      The ‘assembly’ of Hebrews 12:22-23 is not the gathering of Christians on earth but the heavenly gathering of all God’s people on the heavenly Mount Zion, which we participate in when we worship God by e.g. showing hospitality (Heb 13).

      Our problem is that we can’t bear to be without the physical manifestation of God dwelling among us in the form of the Temple or of Heaven, so we idolatrously recreate the Temple / Heaven on earth and try to worship God there.

      So in Hebrews we are told we don’t need earthly priests (is your ‘worship-leader’ at church bringing you into God’s presence as we sing this next song?), sacrifices (over the last 50 years Church Of England liturgy has moved ever closer to describing the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice which we offer to God) or temples (does your local Church building have a ‘sanctuary’ railed off at the east end? A notice saying please respect this holy place?). But these are just shadow.

      And in 1 Corinthians we are told we will have resurrection bodies (ch15). “now… through a glass darkly…then…face to face…now…in part…then… fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But want to experience the heavenly worship NOW, so we hold ‘worship services’ with supernatural manifestations of God’s presence and direct speech to and from God via ecstatic utterances in the language of heaven. But Paul says, outsiders who see us doing that will say we’ve gone loopy. But if they hear us doing what we’re supposed to do when we meet together, namely exhorting one another to apply God’s word (or ‘prophesying’ to use Paul’s word for it!), THEN the outsiders will really experience heaven, so they will fall forward and kiss in worship! (1 Corinthians 14:25) 🙂

      Jonny Kingsman

      • Hi Jonny,

        In your response to Will, you’ve omitted any recognition that such supernatural prophetic insight as Paul describes amply demonstrates God’s presence among his people and is the impetus to fall down and worship Him.

        Beyond just urging each other to apply God’s word and distinct from divine indwelling through the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 14:25 shows just how the Lord, as He promised, can manifest His divine presence through insightful wisdom among those who gather in His name. This presence is a significant encouragement in collective worship.

        It’s a false dichotomy to set ‘life worship’ at odds with ‘worship in earthly gatherings’, when the latter, being directed towards Christ, is simply a sub-set of the former.

        • Hi David,

          “It’s a false dichotomy to set ‘life worship’ at odds with ‘worship in earthly gatherings’, when the latter, being directed towards Christ, is simply a sub-set of the former.”

          The latter may be directed toward Christ, but suppose He doesn’t want to receive it? If we are being casual about the forms through which we worship Him, let us beware!
          “only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.” (Numbers 4:15), but Uzzah the Kohathite put the Ark on a cart instead of carrying it, and “Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.”

          It’s not a false dichotomy to set ‘life worship’ at odds with ‘worship in earthly gatherings according to Amos
          “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, 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 5:21-24)

          or James
          “Those who consider themselves religious (threskos) and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion (threskeia) is worthless. Religion (threskeia) that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

          or Jesus
          “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ” (Matthew 9:13)

          • hi Jonny,

            My rebuttal will be succinct.
            1, The example of Uzzah is inapplicable because it is more akin to the severity of the OT Mosaic provision (including the earthly Ark of the Covenant) , which, in Heb. 12:18 – 24, is contrasted sharply with the gracious NT provision of Christ, as our heavenly mercy-seat, and whom we are encouraged to approach boldly (Heb. 4:16).

            The latter boldness bears no resemblance to Uzzah trying to drag the Ark around on the back of a cart.

            2. The prophecy of Amos just condemns ritual which lacks substance. The language reminds of a marriage in which one partner thinks that they can cover their unfaithfulness by regularised gestures, such as bringing home flowers, or preparing a weekly candlelit meal.

            God refused Israel’s mere ritualised gestures on the same basis: there was no substance to them. in contrast, Jesus did accept worship from His disciples when He was in their midst.

            3. In castigating those who renege on vociferous, but empty vows of devotion to God, James is simply echoing Eccl. 5:1-2 and Is. 58:6.

            So, if we are truly devoted to God, then our vows of love to Him should be realised through inconspicuous deeds of compassion (1 John 4:20-21)

            4. Jesus’ quote from Hosea 6:6 was truly apt aposiopesis regarding God’s condemnation of Israel’s widespread faithlessness (rather than just the known sinners with whom He kept company).

            This prophecy targeted the supposed pillars of His society who combined their supercilious piety with a streak of self-advancing ruthlessness. (Hos. 6:7-11)

            We see the same sad story today.

          • Hi David,

            “The example of Uzzah is inapplicable because it is more akin to the severity of the OT Mosaic provision (including the earthly Ark of the Covenant) , which, in Heb. 12:18 – 24, is contrasted sharply with the gracious NT provision of Christ”

            Why, in your opinion, did the author of Hebrews 12:18-24 include the phrase “for our God is a consuming fire” in Hebrews 12:29 as the motivation for the injunction to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” in Hebrews 12:28?

          • Hi Jonny,

            Heb. 12:29 echoes Deut. 4:23-24, where the Israelites were warned not to fall prey to idolatry by abandoning their faith in the Lord would lead them into the Promised Land.

            For those who have been reconciled to God’s will, reverence and awe is inspired by the contrast of goodness and severity in God, as Paul describes in Rom. 11:22:
            ‘Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.’

            Isaiah 66: 19-24 uses the same contrast of outcomes: the outworking of divine wrath against those who defect from God inspires those loyal to Him to reverence and awe.

            The exhortation in Heb. 12 concurs with these passages. In both cases, we are exhorted to focus on the eternal kingdom to which we belong, persevering towards the new heaven and new earth where all conforms to God’s will, as this is the only kingdom which will endure beyond God’s destroying the entirety of this present world, upon which some may idolatrously want to set their affections.

            In contrast with those encouraged to draw near with faith in God’s provision for them in Christ, those who draw back (as the Hebrew ancestors did), are reminded that to disregard the supreme preciousness of God’s grace in Christ (as Esau disregarded his birthright for a bowl of soup Heb. 12:16) would be to bring themselves under the Law as idolaters, thereby incurring its condemnation, as Deut. 4:24 portends.

      • Hi Jonny

        Your arguments on this just aren’t convincing.

        Why should Acts 13:2 be an exception? It’s just what they were doing when they came together. They were devoted to ‘prayer’ after all.

        Hebrews 12:28: is also clear ‘Let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.’ Thanksgiving here is unmistakably presented as a form or means of worship.

        The more pertinent question is: Why would the church not engage in worship when they came together? You really have to engage in a denial of obvious meanings of words and verses to hold that they studiously avoided this when they assembled. Indeed, if they had a strange doctrine of not worshipping when they assembled then you would have expected the apostles to spell that out: ‘Be sure not to offer worship when you come together, lest this detract from your acceptable worship as you minster to one another and show one another hospitality’.

        • Hi Will,

          “Why should Acts 13:2 be an exception? It’s just what they were doing when they came together. They were devoted to ‘prayer’ after all.”

          I’ve answered this more fully in discussion with David Shepherd further up the page, but briefly it’s an exception because it’s outnumbered 7 to 1 in the New Testament by instances of the word-stem which aren’t talking about what happens at the earthly assembly.
          And we don’t know ‘just what they were doing’ – it’s a temple-service metaphor, and the precise referent is undefined. Preaching / teaching / evangelism better fits the nearer context than being devoted to prayer in Acts 2, and is more consonant with the message of Acts as a whole that we should spread the word of the Lord to the ends of the earth.

          However, lest I am misunderstood, let me stress that I think we should meet often (Hebrews 3:13), that we should be devoted to prayer when we do (Acts 2:42), AND that ‘the prayers of the saints’ ARE acceptable worship which we should offer to God today! (Revelation 5:8). We should be praying throughout our lives, and as I said in my initial comment on Ian’s article,
          “So the list of precepts provided in the blog are I think a very helpful stimulus to drawing up principles we can apply when we worship God through e.g. prayer (Revelation 5:8)…Some of this life-worship will take place when and while we meet with other Christians at church assemblies!”

        • Hi Will,

          “Hebrews 12:28: is also clear ‘Let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe.’ Thanksgiving here is unmistakably presented as a form or means of worship.”

          I am intrigued by your translation, ‘Let us give thanks, by which we offer…’ – it tracks fairly closely the NIV ‘let us be thankful, and so worship…’ but substitutes an indicative ‘we offer’ for the NIV’s recognition of the subjunctive long ? in ‘latreu?men’ ‘Let us…worship’. The verse as whole is not a description of what worship is, but an injunction to offer worship in an acceptable way.

          But does even first half of the phrase describe what worship is, i.e.
          ‘Let us give thanks’ = ‘Let us…offer…worship’?
          I suggest not!

          I learnt Classical Greek not New Testament Greek, but if I was confronted by the individual Greek words in isolation and asked to translate them, I would come up with ‘ech?men’ = ‘Let us have’, ‘charin’ = ‘grace’ (not ‘thanksgiving’ as a first definition), and ‘di(a) h?s’ = ‘through which’ (with dia followed by the genitive case meaning ‘through’ not ‘by’ as a first definition. I suspect most students of Greek (and most native speakers of New Testament Greek?) would do the same.
          If this is right, the most literal translation available of the phrase would be ‘Let us have grace, by which let us serve well-pleasingly to God…’ – an interesting difference of emphasis!
          To establish this fully, one would need to go through the concordance and check how many instances of ‘charis’ should be translated by ‘grace’ not ‘thanksgiving’ and vice versa, and how many instances of ‘di(a)’ with the genitive case should be translated by ‘through’ not ‘by’ and vice versa. My heart quailed at looking up each of the 157 occurrences of ‘charis’ and the 669 occurrences of ‘di(a)’ (not sure how many of these are with the genitive rather than accusative case), so I haven’t bothered.
          But it does at least raise the intriguing possibility that many translators of Hebrews 12:28, including the NIV, have read THEIR presuppositions about worship into their translations, from which translations people such as yourself have read YOUR presuppositions back out from the translated text in front of you! 🙂

          This shift by the translators in emphasis from what God does for us to what we do for God is symptomatic of a wider shift in terminology over the last 150 years. The most common biblical adjective to describe us as Christians is (I believe) a ‘called’ Christian. But over the last 150 years we have gradually changed to calling ourselves a ‘saved’ Christian, a ‘born-again’ Christian, a ‘converted’ Christian, and these days a ‘committed’ Christian. None of these descriptions are unbiblical in themselves, but our use of them has shifted the balance away from biblical proportions.

          The same sort of shift in emphasis can be clearly seen in the language we use to describe our meetings. Where the Book of Common Prayer opened the meeting (after one or more bible verses) with “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness” the Alternative Service Book replaced this with “We have come together as the family of God in our Father’s presence to offer him praise and thanksgiving” – the emphasis on whose initiative this meeting is taking place has shifted from God to us.

          Similarly, I suggest that our current use of the word ‘worship’ and its related terms has completely reversed the New Testaments balance: in the New Testament, worship-language is used in far far greater proportion to describe (and prescribe) what happens outside the assembly of the Church rather than during the assembly, hence my earlier quip (not original to me) that ‘to a large extent we leave church in order to worship.’ But the way most of us talk gives an impression of at best a 50-50 balance of within-the-assembly and outside-the-assembly among Evangelical Christians, and to the outside world it gives an entirely skewed understanding of what our worship should be and where / when / how it should mainly take place – see the cartoon on page 36 of this week’s Private Eye magazine, issue 1464.

  16. 1.Many thanks for this, Ian. It filled part of a great hole in my knowledge of CoE litury. It helped me to delight in God, with a wonderful, expansive, biblical, big picture, biblical theological context. (Worship, anyone?)

    2 Hebrew Davidic dance, is great to see, even if it’s not in the style that caused King David’s wife Michal to be so disgusted, offended at David’s joy in the symbolic return of God’s presence. It is a reminder that Jesus, the God we worship, is not white, middle class, middle aged and middle minded.
    3 As it happens, I came across this, from another blog, in a slightly different context/topic.
    It’s copied and pasted to give rightful credit to someone unknown:
    gene515 February 24, 2018 at 6:49 pm
    Worship is always a response. Every time.
    You will not find one example of worship in scripture that is not in response to someone or some thing.
    Every time you read of a man or woman in ‘worship’, it will on every occasion be the response of the worshipper.
    Therefore, worship never begins with man(kind). It always begins with God. Or the god/idol we worship.
    This truth should bring relief, encouragement and clarity. Worship is simply the response, but the focus is not us, nor our worship, but the object of our worship. God himself.

    The nature of worship is the natural response to that which is held in honour, esteem, and worth in our hearts, minds and spirits. And the first command to have no other gods before him, is in recognition of the fact, we will all worship something, or someone. The issue is, what do we worship? God himself? Or an idol of our own making?

  17. Jonny, gotta respect ur tenacity

    so, help me – what is happening when you play your guitar, presumably with other instrumentalists, to make music, to lead the gathered assembly in song – do you, they, your ordained minister/pastor believe this to be an act of ‘worship ? Who is it for and why? who is it directed to? Is it singing to oneanother?

    • Hi Simon,

      “what is happening when you play your guitar, presumably with other instrumentalists, to make music, to lead the gathered assembly in song – do you, they, your ordained minister/pastor believe this to be an act of ‘worship ? Who is it for and why? who is it directed to? Is it singing to one another?”

      Short answers –
      do you, they, your ordained minister/pastor believe this to be an act of ‘worship ? – yes
      Who is it for? – The congregation members (mainly).
      why? – “Let all things be done for edification” 1 Corinthians 14:26
      who is it directed to? – Each other and God, in that order of importance.
      Is it singing to one another? – Yes

      Longer, more general answer –
      Three directions occur in church – from God to us, from us to God, and from us to each other. The us-ward destinations outnumber the God-ward two-to-one, and the us-ward destination is certainly the more important of the two in 1 Corinthians 12-14. That’s why 1 Corinthians 13 on love is between chapter 12 on assemblies and chapter 14 on assemblies – its main application is to assemblies, the application to couples getting married is secondary only. So to paraphrase, if I play the electric guitar in church better than guitar has ever been played, but have not love, my playing is only that of a wheezy set of bagpipes or an overblown primary-school recorder. So as I e.g. pray to God or sing to God in the assembly, the main question I should be asking myself is ‘am I edifying my fellow-assemblers?’
      So when Paul talks about speaking in tongues (definitely God-ward rather than us-ward, I think we can agree), he says don’t do it much in church, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God” (1 Corinthians 14:2) … and if any tongues are spoken they must be interpreted “so that the church may be edified” (1 Corinthians 14:6)

      So when I play electric guitar (and sometimes lead the singing, and sometimes direct the music group) in church, I am NOT doing the job suggested by the title of Grove Booklet “R 18 Leading Others into the Presence of God: A Worship Leader’s Guide” !!

      To lighten the tone a little, but still in all seriousness, there is one biblical application of temple-worship that hasn’t been mentioned yet in this discussion – sex! The use of temple-language in Song Of Songs teaches us that we worship (or profane) God when we have sex – I wish my wife could say that I’m a worship-leader in that area of my ministry! 😉

      My aim in this discussion has not been that we should all worship God less in church, but that we should all worship God more in the whole of our lives! 🙂 This challenge I feel for myself deeply.

      Peace and love,
      Jonny Kingsman

      • Hi Jonny,
        You wrote this to Simon, but I will chip in in response to your comment near the end of your post: ‘My aim in this discussion has not been that we should all worship God less in church but that we should all worship God more in the whole of our lives!’ I think most already worship God in the whole of our lives, and I think that, in this respect, you are preaching to the converted. Ian’s focus in this article is on corporate worship, which usually, though not always, takes place in a house of worship – church, chapel etc.

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