Theology of Worship
Worship is a natural & devotional response to Jesus. It is the overflow of a lifestyle that is in alignment with God’s desire and God’s story. With our heart, mind, soul, and strength we present ourselves to God with a broken spirit and contrite heart because He made us, is shaping us, and befriends us. In the same way, our voices sung together in unison, amplify the words of a song; our lives in alignment with Christ, together in the community, reverberate God’s love for us to the ends of the earth.
We worship in spirit and truth, because God is spirit and is the true God. The union of our spirit and His when baptized allows us to worship within the triune community offering up our blessings and praises to God in spirit. Our hearts of faithfulness and fidelity unites with Jesus, being truth, allows our participation in worship to be pure and acceptable to God. The beautiful picture is this: that God, not by our doing but to Him be the glory, has ransomed sinners from the bondage of death and our natural response to salvation is jubilee!
What it means to worship in spirit and truth.
Spirit: “This kind of worship is the most meaningful and transforming experience we can engage in as Christians precisely because it turns our heart, our human spirit, toward God.” (Bateman, 2002) A closer look at John 4 and the woman at Jacob’s Well will bring a biblical perspective to what it means to worship in spirit and truth.
“It is the spring of water that wells up “in Him” to eternal life that interests us here.”(Bateman, 2002) While the woman believes Jesus is talking about the water in the well, Jesus is talking about the life giving well within Himself. When Jesus says worship will be in spirit and truth, spirit is referring to the worship that wells up from within us because we have a spring of living water there, which is the Holy Spirit.
The truth here is that which is founded on the truth of the whole world, which is Jesus Himself. Jesus draws contrast between what the Samaritans believed and what the Jews believed. While salvation was to come through the Jews, Jesus is referring to the truth about Himself as the Word of God, the truth incarnate.
The spirit has a few meanings: One, it refers to the very nature of God the Father as spirit, not the Holy Spirit. Two, it refers to the Holy Spirit inside of us, which works in our human spirit so that we might be born again and continue to mature to perfection. “The connection between God is, in fact, the most direct point of divine human contact available to us today.”(Bateman, 2002) The importance of worshiping in spirit is that it emphasizes a true worshipers spirit being fully engaged in worship. “We truly know God only when the Holy Spirit of God, who knows God deeply, is “received” into the very realm of our human spirit, which, in turn knows us deeply.”(Bateman, 2002) Again, God is spirit, and therefore we must worship him in spirit. The Holy Spirit fills our spirit with His presence. Thus, stimulating us to worship God in spirit, since God is spirit. The connection and function between the divine Spirit and the human spirit is of the utmost importance in worship. It is here that we participate in the blissful joy of the Triune community because of our commitment to Jesus.
Worshiping in spirit is like pin pointing where the wind blows. It’s not something we can lay our hands on. That’s why we practice God’s presence. We need to take our human nature and experience seriously by being fully engaged and immersed in the word and Christian community. Our human spirit, our heart, is important because this is where we define ourselves. It is where our heart, mind, soul, and strength lay the foundation for our identity. It is where the Holy Spirit draws us to worship in intimacy while watering and pruning the “vine” of our relationship with God.
“None of us can make change happen in the heart/spirit of another person. Only the Holy Spirit can change a heart. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to sanctify us as individuals and communities of believers. Worship, authentic worship is about God and about desiring him above all else.” (Bateman, 2002)
Truth: The truth Jesus is talking about here is the truth about himself as the word of God, the truth incarnate. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 1). Worshiping in truth starts with accepting Jesus as the Messiah. “The trinity is fully occupied with truth, and the only kind of worship that is acceptable to the Trinitarian God is the kind where truth wells up within our human spirit.”(Bateman, 2002)
Truth has a few synonyms that will help define it for us. It means truly or surely, honestly. It means faithfulness, steadfastness, fidelity. It also means true and genuine. “It is about acting faithfully in relationship toward God and man. Living this way can only happen if the truth of God is woven into the warp and woof of one’s life.”(Bateman, 2002) People who worship the Father must believe He is the truth, but also live according the standards of the truth manifest in him. The spirit in worship requires the welling up of the Holy Spirit in the human spirit. Truth in an authentic worship requires both the acceptance of Jesus as the truth and weaving Him and the truth he proclaims into ones life. Authentic worship allows truth to permeate in every aspect of life purifying our identity and constantly allowing it to be shaped by the Holy Spirit.
“Worshiping Him[God] in spirit naturally leads us to worship with true faithful actions and with words that speak the truth about God, the world, and our experience of both in real life. So authentic worship is made up of truth in spirit, truth in action, and truth in word. Worshiping in truth is about a genuine pursuit of God.”(Bateman, 2002)
Worship Does God’s Story
God and the Garden of Eden. “God’s story starts with God himself.”(Webber, 2008) The emphasis here falls on community. God is a triune God. God desires to create and to share in his community. The description of the garden of Eden in Genesis is an image of how God desires His world to be and how God and humanity relate to one another. In this picture humanity finds it’s purpose in doing God’s will and the earth is the theater of His praise, waiting to be uncovered.
God and the desert. The desert is a representation of the work of evil. It is a human refusal to carry out God’s purpose. It’s a rejection of God. By eating the forbidden fruit death enters the world and turns God’s garden into a desert. Death is the archetypal symbol of the world hostile to God. However in this desert we find hope, a blossom of life and newness. A promise through Abraham’s family that will bring redemption and rescue the whole world from the shackles of death. Moses is a symbol of Jesus. He is a leader sent by God to deliver his people from their bondage in the desert. “The mighty hand of God in the Exodus event by whose power Israel is delivered from their bondage is a type of the Christ Event – the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.” (Webber, 2008) The forming of Israel is a symbol of the church. The tabernacle is a sign that foreshadows all the work of Jesus.
God and the Garden of Gethsemane. It is the garden of reversal. The resurrection is a second act of creation. “The incarnation is connected to creation and the fall and on its intrinsic relationship to the cross, the empty tomb, the ascension, the eternal intercession of Christ, and his second coming to restore the garden in the new heavens and new earth.” (Webber, 2008) Essentially the story is that God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The incarnation brings creation and redemption into unity again like it was in the Garden of Eden. It is said to recapitulate: that is to say it is to bring all things in heaven and earth together in order to bring it to perfection/maturity in the everlasting garden.
God’s Eternal Garden. This chapter of the story starts with the Pentecost. It is about proclaiming God’s redeeming presence in Jesus and to proclaim the hope of restoration. In this eternal garden all creatures redeemed will share an eternal communion with the Triune God. Our new birth baptizes us into Jesus and we now have a new identity, the church.
“Worship proclaims, enacts, and sings God’s story.”(Webber, 2008) “Worship is a narrative – God’s narrative of the world from its beginning to end.”(Webber 2008) Our job as worship leaders is to make this story known every week, in our public worship and in our lives.
Transformed by Remembrance and Anticipation
“Traditional worship often feels dead, intellectual, and dry, whereas contemporary worship seems loud, oriented toward the self, and not very uplifting.”(Webber, 2008)
The Crisis of Worship: Content, Structure, and Style.
The content of worship gatherings in the world today is under attack. Robert Webber writes “Remembrance of God’s mighty deeds is often referred to in the lyrics of traditional and contemporary songs.” The Problem is that people aren’t getting the whole picture of God’s story. Our songs aren’t going far enough. “It does not span all of history and reach into the believer’s anticipation of not only his or her salvation but of the salvation of the whole world.”(Webber, 2008) Culture has influenced the content of our worship and we are either ending up with a narcissistic self centered or a nostalgic atmosphere sedating the great story of God. Ending up in the intimate presence of God seems to be influenced more by chance than any effort of our own.
Structure equals word and table. The order is deeply rooted in God’s narrative. There is a biblical order of worship. It’s God initiates and then humans respond. “The word remembers and the Eucharist anticipates.”(Webber, 2008) Telling the story gives a broad generalization that stimulates provocative thought. Programing a worship gathering is not necessarily the “greatest error” because you want to tell the story and have it be effective. However you’ll also want there to be a healthy balance of letting the Holy Spirit interrupt any programming.
“Worship nourishes the spiritual life, because it discloses Christ as the one who does for me what I can’t do for myself and compels me to doxology on my lips and to live in the pattern of death and resurrection.”(Webber, 2008) Worship style is a discipleship model. If worship is to do God’s story, then God needs to be the subject. In this model there is no preliminary time building up the energy for the sermon. The sermon is not the main attraction, but the whole gathering enacts and proclaims God’s story.
Worship does truth, also stated: the rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Or show me how you worship and I’ll show you what you believe. God’s story is the greatest story in the world, but we try to make a name for ourselves in the midst of it. This distorts the truth and leads people to look for the answers in life inside themselves. You can program and theme God’s narrative using creativity without taking away from or pointing it towards ourselves, but it takes a leadership team devoted to putting the right kind of leaders up front. “The story is remembered through scripture reading and preaching; the story is anticipated through the table. The story is also the very substance of our singing, praying, and testimonies.”(Webber, 2008) God is the subject and acting among us, we remember His story, not as an audience, but as participants. Maintaining a revelation and response style in the service helps program all the creative ways to tell this story so it doesn’t become dull and boring. We are humans and for some reason we forget God’s story. Our society runs on stimulating our senses and so the church has to be creative in presenting and retelling the story of God for people to hear it in hopes they start to respond and anticipate the hope that is found in Jesus.
Authentic worship is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. It is motivated by grace. We want to worship in true sincerity, expressing our thankfulness. Practicing the presence of God allows a seed to grow that we can revisit everyday whenever we want and be reminded that we are a part of Gods story. Authentic worship in spirit and truth leads to action in life and this action becomes our worship. It is the overflow of a heart, mind, soul, strength in alignment with God’s. Even when there is nothing to celebrate in life, our authentic response of lament keeps our worship pure and honest before God. Bateman puts it nicely when he says, “Authentic worship is a place of purity, a place of praise and a place of passion in the very presence of God. A place where the human spirit can soar with the God of heaven.”(Bateman, 2002)
Bateman, Herbert w. (2002) Authentic Worship, Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids, MI
Webber, Robert (2008) Ancient-Future Worship, Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI