Worship Theology - Article 1
Article By Professor Courtney Rose
To worship is at the core of what it means to be a creature.
Of all the examples of worship in the Scripture, one of the most important is that of the Creation of the Cosmos in the beginning of Genesis. It is here that human’s find their purpose.
Genesis 1 paints a picture of creation that is orderly, organized, structured and balanced. Biblical Scholars have long suggested the authors of this section were priests or associated with the priesthood. Such a connection is easy to make if we think about other sections of the Old Testament that pertain specifically to the priesthood. Sections from the book of Leviticus might come flooding back to you as you think about how the law presented here is also obsessively concerned with ordering the world and creating balance within the Israelite community. Many have observed that the organized structure of the text looks like a liturgy that would be used in religious settings to aid in worshipping God.
For those of us who come from traditionally non-liturgical settings, this idea might be confusing or uncomfortable. The word “liturgical” can connote restriction or over planning for a congregational worship setting. However, we should remember that millions of Christians throughout time have found worshipping in a liturgical worship context helpful to their faith. The structure and prescription of the services provides safety, order, and legacy to their worship experience. In fact, those of us unfamiliar with worshiping in this way fail to see the liturgy of our own contexts. Our services can be just as prescriptive and ordered. If you disagree, I dare you to change the order of your service this week and see how people respond!
Liturgy at its core simply means, “work of the people.” When a congregation comes together to worship in a liturgical context, it means that they come together to do the important work of worship.
The structure of a written liturgy is brought to life by the involvement of the faithful partnering with the Holy Spirit in worship. Liturgies that are hundreds, or even thousands of years old, can still have power and allow for us to connect to the universal and time transcending aspect of church. Liturgies allow for us to participate in something bigger than we are in our present moment.
Samuel E. Balentine in his book, The Torah’s Vision of Worship, describes the purpose of these early Genesis passages as depicting creation as ordered rather than descriptive of our origins. Within this ordered account, we see symmetry and perfection, specifically as the first six days of the week. On the first 3 days God separates and divides the created order into spaces, while days 4-6 fill the spaces with animals and vegetation. The final act of space filling creation is that of humans specially made in the image of God.
Bearing God’s image in the world requires special responsibility on the part of humanity. They are charged with the task of “imaging” God in the created order and to act like God (v. 26). They are charged with “creaturely creativity”- a collaborative relationship between God and creation. Humans are to bear the image of God into the created spaces. They are to partner with God in their “creaturely creativity” by maintaining “dominion” over the earth’s resources (vv. 26, 28). This language of dominion granted to humans is also widely accepted as “kingship” language. As kings, they hold power yet are also supposed to be sensitive to the needs of those they hold power over. They are
supposed to be gentle, compassionate, just, and fair in their dominion
over the earth. Human beings are given the command “to till” or
“to serve” (abad) the ground and “to keep,” “guard,” or “protect”
(samar) it. Genesis 2:15 juxtaposes the kingship and dominion given in
1:26-28 with the commissioning of servitude in 2:15.
Of course, we know that the nature of the cosmos and humanity drastically
change once sin enters into the world. Our relationship with God is
ruptured as sin estranges us from our creator and from unadulterated
However, the creation accounts of Genesis still show how humans are
designed to worship and what we should strive for our worship to look like.
First, we see that humans worship when they create. We’re incapable of
creating something out of nothing, but we are able to use what is available
to us. As we create, we participate in God’s intention for humans, but also
partner with God’s ongoing creative activity in the world. For all humans,
to create is to worship.
So often, Christians are so fearful of trying new things, yet we must remember that God gave humans autonomy in creative activity. God entrusted man to name the animals in the garden and even choose a partner of his liking. God trusts and respects human creativity. Such a truth should be empowering and encouraging to those of us in the Church. So often, we find ourselves fearful of trying new things, taking risks, and stepping away from that which is comfortable. Reclaiming “creaturely creativity” means that we acknowledge that God is honored by our creative choices.
Second, worship for humans looks like stewardship of the created order. As humans were to “work” the ground, their working and keeping was also an act of worship. Many of us are very removed from working the ground. It can also be very easy to feel that environmental problems are too overwhelming to address. It’s easier to simply ignore the crisis around us. While there are no easy fixes, it is clear that we miss out on our identity as humans and miss out on a vital aspect of worship when we don’t engage the physical realm around us. We are created from the ground, will return to the ground, and in between are meant to protect and worship God through our work of the ground.
As worshippers and worship leaders, these Genesis accounts lay the foundation for how we should be living and how we should inspire those around us to seek after God. Perhaps above all, these passages encourage humans to simply be who they are created to be: humans. So often, humans spend their efforts trying to be something that we’re not: God.
Human worship requires that we recognize that we are creatures and not the creator. However, there is no true power to be found for humans in seeking to be gods. We see in Genesis that power has already been granted to us, but we must function in a collaborative way with the creator and giver of power. We must submit ourselves to the order that is established in the creation of the world, because it is there that we find true perfection and goodness.
For those of us in ministry, the questions become how can I help those around me to live into their humanity as God intended? How can I foster creativity in myself and in others? How do I encourage bold and creative choices that can change our worship and the world? How do I encourage my fellow humans and fellow God worshippers to go back to the root of our commissioning to participate in caring for the earth? These are not necessarily easy questions or tasks, but I think as we begin to participate in these activities more deeply we will find that they are perhaps above all, very natural ways of living and very fulfilling forms of liturgical work.