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.
Bearing God’s image in the world requires special responsibility on the part of humanity.
Worship Theology - Article 2
Article By Professor Courtney Rose
How exhausted are you?
There’s so much about merely existing as a person engaged in contemporary western culture that is exhausting. Our attention is pulled in many directions. The blue light from our screens hinders sleep. There is a celebration of busyness. There are new television series dropped each week. Even attempting to live a “slow” or “simple” life is exhausting because it means you first have to purge your closet or constantly live with deep intentionality and consideration of the environment. Where are your clothes made? Free range beef and cage free eggs!
For the average person, there is no real way to escape the stress. The internet tells us to participate in “self-care” or taking “me-time.” Even those things can lead to more consumerism or assume the privilege of extra time and resources.
Yet in the design of the universe, God offers a solution to this problem. As God spoke the cosmos into being, each day was intentionally created. Sky, land, and seas were created and then lovingly filled with creatures and resources with concern to humanity. All was harmoniously structured and then capped off with the most wonderous creation: the time of Sabbath.
Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, The Sabbath, gives a brief theological treatise of the concept. For Heschel, Sabbath is the “climax” of the human experience because it is an entrance into holy time. Humans are inclined to the physical and the spatial. It’s what we’re comfortable with, but it’s also what has been most distorted by entrance of sin into the world. Thus, humans tend toward “thing-worship” (idols). We worship the earth, image, people, and objects.
Humans are designed to work and that work is worship (abad, the word for “work” in Hebrew is also translated as “worship”). However, there is something special about the worship that takes place in Sabbath time. In the structure of creation given to us in Genesis 1, humans exist in the spatial and civilized for six days and then enter the holiness and peaceful wildness of time on day seven.
The Sabbath connects us to the eternal. To enter into Sabbath time is to enter into eternity. To enter into eternity is to enter into worship with the Divine. In our creation, God put the image of God within us so that we would be able to maintain a unique relationship and unity with the creator. The seventh day was the conduit of entering into eternity.
Jewish tradition refers to time as being eternal and one before the creation of the world. Once space was created it became divided into the different days except for the Sabbath day which stood alone in its fullness of time. Yet God never intended for time to remain alone in creation, so God created the Community of Israel as a companion for the eternal time of Sabbath. The covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai centers the Sabbath (Commandment 4) into the law (torah), life, and heart of the Israelite people. God has sanctified this day and the Israelites are also to sanctify and remember the Sabbath in a relationship as deep as a groom betrothed to a bride.
The Jewish practice of remembering the Sabbath requires rigorous devotion and practice. The Scriptures give clear directions as to how this time is supposed to be respected. No work, no excess, no activities that lend to the “remaking or reshaping the things of space” (Heschel). Yet for Christians very little direction is given.
The way that Jesus speaks about the Sabbath corrects the relationship the Israelite Community held to holy time. Jesus claims that he is “Lord of the Sabbath” by eschewing the traditional approaches of adherence to holy time. He rearticulates how the conduit of holy time should be hallowed and honored by stating that he is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:1-11). Then, Jesus demonstrates his power through the healing of a man with a shriveled hand. Jesus is not only Lord because he is powerful, he is Lord because he fully exemplifies the spirit of the Sabbath through bringing the healing power of shalom to someone with the greatest need for the presence of eternity in the present time.
But what does it mean that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath? What is the difference between the Jewish hallowing of the Sabbath and Jesus’s redefinition?
The answer lies in the person of Jesus Christ.
When Christ came into the world, he redeemed the physical space distorted by the fall. The physical incarnation of Christ, the putting on of flesh, brought the eternal God into the created order. In doing so, the carnal could once again be holy. Due to humanity’s propensity toward worshiping the physical, God condescended to become that which was physical and visible for humans so that they might have easier access to the divine. Jesus Christ became the Lord of the Sabbath, thus personifying the Sabbath. Jesus became the channel to eternity and holy time, he became the presence of God in the world, the rest, peace, power, healing, restoration, and salvation that the earth needed.
How then are we supposed to worship together on Sunday? Should we abandon setting aside time each week in devotion to God? Probably not. Humans are hardwired from creation for following ritual, rhythm, and tradition. We still need the demarcation of time to help us function and worship.
Choosing to set aside Sundays is an important practice for participating in the universal church. Abstaining from the normal rigors of life so that we might focus our lives more intently on worship and
community is imperative. It’s necessary for humans to rest physically, emotionally, and mentally.
As worship leaders, understanding Sabbath can be powerful. Worship leaders are able to collaborate with the Spirit of God to cultivate and curate spaces that allow for Sabbath to work effectively.
Just as Israel was covenantally bound to honoring the Sabbath as a bride, so we too should be reminded that the Church is covenantally bound to Christ. Marriage is about unity and oneness. In the same way, for Sabbath to truly occur, a worship leader should be challenged to work for profound unity within the community of worshippers. Worship among a community of Christian believers is about the united declaration of faith and adoration of the Trinitarian God. Anything that leads to alienation of certain orthodox members of the congregation should be challenged. Work towards unity in the bride and the Sabbath presence of Christ, the groom, will come.
When we truly enter Sabbath time we enter into eternity. Perhaps you’ve experienced holy times where it feels like time has stopped and worship could continue for ages. These are moments when revival feels imminent. These are the precious times when the Spirit comes powerfully and Shalom is exhibited in mysterious ways. Unfortunately, they are often disrupted by rumbling tummies or over scheduled events.
Worship leaders are also tasked in shepherding the body into beautiful moments of holy time. The task of the worship leader is to facilitate and lead others into these moments of otherworldly timelessness and requires sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the guide to worshiping Christ, the Alpha and Omega of all time. Cultivate atmospheres for the movement of the Spirit, learn to tune your heart to the Spirit’s guidance, and Christ’s Sabbath presence will follow.
Finally, the worship leader has the important responsibility of maintaining the focus of worship upon Jesus Christ. Jesus is the reconciler of the physical, the redeemer of space, and the incarnation of God in the world. The challenge to a worship leader is to elevate the physicality of the redemptive power of Christ.
Jesus then is the only one capable of distributing the rest and peace that Sabbath promises. The only way we can truly honor the Sabbath is to honor Christ and to honor the physical redemption of space in the world that his incarnation brings. Salvationists have a tendency towards recognition of the spiritual power of God. We emphasize the symbolic power of God and symbolic sacramentality. Our challenge is to then allow for the visceral and physical to have a place in our worship contexts.
If you’re exhausted by existing in our world the answer isn’t necessarily to have more “me-time.” Instead, it’s to enter into Sabbath time. We need to have eternal restorative moments that come through true worship of the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ.
Worship Theology - Article 3
Article By Professor Courtney Rose
What comes to mind when you think of the word “worship”?
In many of our contexts in the modern church, worship is something only associated with music or perhaps Sunday morning services.
As worship leaders, there can be great temptation to think of yourself within these terms. Yet the Scriptures teach us that worship is a multifaceted thing. There are many ways to worship and to be a person who leads others in worship carries a burden to lead people not just in music, but in worship and partnership with the creator and sustainer of the universe.
The good news is that while this is a heavy responsibility, God gives grace and meets us where we are. We don’t have to lead people through the wilderness to reach a mountain where God’s presence is dwelling in order to be considered worship leaders. Today, we have the great gift of simply gathering together as a body and entering the ever-present Spirit of God. We guide people into recognizing God’s generous presence and adore God for who he is and what he does.
The Scriptures teach us that one of the most important moments of worship in the whole Bible narrative takes place at Mt. Sinai. The events that take place here with God, Moses, and the people of Israel lay the foundation for a theology of worship. When most people get to this portion of Scripture, they understandably get overwhelmed by the text. It can get boring because the text is literally a legal document! Yet hidden within the lists and legal codes is something beautiful: A partnership between God and Humanity.
What a mysterious thing this covenant is. The God of creation pursues a people to remain close to them, provide for them, and fight for them. All God asks in return is faithfulness and obedience to the laws he provides. In initiating covenant with the Israelite people, he is creating a new thing. Just as God is the creator of the universe, here too he begins a new work of creation by partnering with humanity. In the creation accounts of Genesis, God grants responsibility and work to humankind that leads to deeper connection between creator and creation. At Mt. Sinai, God creates a new nation tasked with specific ways of living that will draw them more deeply into relationship with God and humanity.
The new nation established during the covenant at Mt. Sinai is now called “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Samuel E. Balentine in his book, The Torah’s Vision of Worship, calls Israel a nation with a “vocation.” This vocation often functions opposite to rest of the nations and the world. Israel is meant to be, look, and act different than others because they’re calling is different. They are called to be a light to others, and they are called to a deep humility.
The Israelites are not a nation of kings, they are a nation of servants. The 10 Commandments given in Exodus 20 are the overarching rules they live by. Further, the decalogue has at its heart the command to “keep the sabbath holy.” In placing this command at the center of the list, God told the Israelites to keep worship at the center of their lives (Exodus 20:8-11). The Israelites in their worship of God and adherence of the Laws have the opportunity to partner with God. Just as God created the Sabbath, so too humans now have the privilege of partnering with God by maintain the holy day. God began a work and we carry on with the task of honoring the Sabbath. Balentine also remarks that in the creation account of Genesis, the creation of the Sabbath marked the end of God’s creative acts and ushered in the time of humanity’s partnering work with the creator. God turns his attention toward humanity to see what they will do with their partnership and all that he has lain before him.
While Sabbath observance is found at the heart of the decalogue, the other 9 commandments are structured in a way that helps the Israelites understand how they are supposed to relate to God and to others. The first four commandments teach the Israelites how to love God and remain a moral nation, the remaining six commandments turn the focus onto the world. The point for the Israelites was that they were to love God first and foremost yet remember that partnership with God meant interacting with the world. For the Israelites, to love God means that you must learn to love your neighbor.
In several parts of the Law, loving your neighbor meant working justice in the world. While many of the ordinances handed down to the Israelites are specifically focused on the priesthood, God also places enormous emphasis on the poor and disenfranchised in Israelite society. The poor, the widow, and the orphan all matter to God and therefore, his covenanted children Israel are to partner with God and to work out their care in the world.
In the design of creation God put his image into humankind. We bear his image for the world to see and react to. To be a human is to image God to the world. In the same way, the Israelites who participated in the covenant were so connected and intertwined with the divine that their actions now imaged God in the world. Particularly, as they obeyed the Law, the Israelites were simultaneously imaging their creator and covenant partner in the world.
To be ethical as prescribed by the law and to live a holy life in worship to God and to show that love by living holiness out in the world through addressing the injustice around you. Ballentine says it this way, “They are to love God exclusively (vv 4-8) and they are to manifest this commitment to ‘god by engaging in acts of compassionate justice for all human beings (vv. 9-18).”
With the resurrected Jesus Christ the covenant has been completely fulfilled. As Christians, we are the New Israel. We are now the priesthood of believers who are holy and living as servants in God’s Kingdom. Yet the same partnership God inaugurated with the Israelites remains today; God desires that we image him in the world and live out holy lives in such a way that it extends to bringing justice to all those who matter to God.
In a world that seems to be ever divided, the Kingdom of God remains paradoxical. To love God means that you devote your heart and obedience to him while also loving your neighbor so much that you work to bring justice to the world. There are some who will try to separate the two. Some will emphasize that we must simply “worship” God, devote ourselves to God, and love God as our primary goal. To those individuals, justice is viewed as a secondary issue. We can get off the hook because justice is work out in the world, whereas true worship is simply setting our eyes upon God. Such understandings of worship are false and are not rooted in the covenantal understanding of worship. To worship God is to love and obey him and partner with him to work justice in the world. The two cannot be separated.
Worship is supposed to be central to our lives as the 10 Commandments model. The reality of life is that we can’t spend every moment of our day in a beautiful Sunday service. We have to go out and live our lives. Yet, we are charged with keeping worship at our core. In the same way, we cannot spend all of our energy working in the world without time to reflect on and adore our covenant partner, God. We need both areas of worship in our lives.
The Salvation Army is in a strange place where both aspects of worship are a part of our identity, yet in many communities and congregations the two forms of worship are almost entirely separate from one another. This also seems to be contrary to God’s intention for worship. As worship leaders, we must be sensitive to try to reflect and lead worship in both areas. The good news is that our gracious God is a great teacher, equipper, and provider. The amazing thing about having God as a covenant partner is that God never fails. God’s intention in creation, covenant, and restoration is that he desires relationship with his creation. God initiated the covenant and partnering in building the Kingdom here on earth, he will not abandon you in your efforts.
Worship Theology - Article 4
Article By Professor Courtney Rose
Humans are meant to live in community, yet we are facing an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. We are ever “connected’ but rarely are we truly seen. A very real antidote the Church can provide the world is participation in a faith community. People can be plugged into something bigger than themselves and can join in healing relationships.
One of the reasons why I am a part of The Salvation Army is because I believe the faith communities I’ve been a part of are sanctifying. I am touched, hugged, squeezed, and smiled at in my community. I share meals with unlikely people. I made to feel a wide range of emotions in my worship community. Often it is joy, other times I am deeply frustrated to the point of anger, and sometimes I feel deep sadness as we collectively mourn. Almost always, I feel like my worship community makes me more human.
Perfectionism is a tricky little idol that often creeps into worship. The threat of perfectionism is stronger than it ever has been before and leads to comparison. All it takes is watching a few videos of professionally staged worship team music videos or listening to a couple of podcasts of celebrity preachers to make your Sunday morning worship experience seem “quaint.” There is great temptation to want the glossy worship experiences of bigger churches with more talent and more money.
However, the point of worship is not perfection. Worship is an offering to God. We offer up something to proclaim that God is the creator, savior, and sanctifier. It’s not our job to offer something perfect, it’s our job to offer something true. In our worshipping and acknowledging that God is maker and we are creation, we are made more human and holy.
A secondary component of worship is that the Church gets to participate in being a prophetic witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church becomes a proclaimer of something real for the world to see. In the Old Testament, God called specific people out from the nation of Israel to function more specifically as prophet to the King and to the entire nation. God gave them a word rooted in their present moment to call the nation back into covenantal faithfulness. In times of disobedience, confusion, and unfaithfulness, the prophet spoke difficult words in order to heal the brokenness of their hearts.
When Christ came into the world, he too was given the prophetic mantle to bring people back to God. That is his very nature as incarnate God- he heals the separation between heaven and earth through his being enfleshed and living a human life. While the prophets of Israel worked on a micro scale for the nation, Christ came to work on a cosmic scale. All things were to be brought into unity with their creator. All brokenness was healed. All relationships were reconciled.
As Christ’s Bride and Body, the church takes on the same prophetic mantle of reconciliation. Because of Christ’s reconciling work in us, we are able to show the world that reconciliation has happened, is happening, and will fully take place at the second coming of Christ. The story of Pentecost illustrates this most clearly: Christ’s Spirit was poured out upon the faithful and immediately the church was able to minister reconciliation among the crowds. Gentiles and Jews were unified, the culture of the Kingdom trumped personal culture, and the Spirit reemphasized that because of Christ all people are equal.
Today, the church continues to proclaim the reconciling nature of the Gospel. While we hear of the Gospel’s reconciling nature most explicitly from the pulpit, the reality is that the prophetic witness of the Church occurs most powerfully through our worship. When we truly worship, whether we like it or not, something prophetic is taking place. We bear the prophetic fruit of reconciliation. In our prophetic witness we testify to the truth of the resurrection but recognize that the we still await a day of complete fulfillment. We live in the tension of already, but not yet. As the Church, it is our prophetic witness which allows us to proclaim the reconciliation that took place through Jesus’s death and resurrection and live into it’s promises even if the world around us hasn’t caught up. It is our responsibility to proclaim how God intends freedom and healing for all and then to incarnate that within our own worship settings.
This can be messy, awkward, and hard. It is far from the heavily curated worship experiences we see on Youtube or Instagram. We should be encouraged though that these prophetic witnesses of worship are real and true.
While I love our tradition, sometimes I feel really discouraged. Our numbers in many places are dwindling, finances aren’t what they used to be, and often it feels like our shining reputation doesn’t take us as far as it once did. And without being dismissive of the real difficulties we experience and face in our individual contexts, I wonder if this isn’t a great gift to be radical in prophetic witness.
The truth is the answer isn’t necessarily more worshipers, we need more authentic worship that testifies to the reconciling nature of the Gospel. The answer doesn’t lie in perfect worship sets, it is found in living into the reality of the Kingdom of God. Without the spotlight and pressure we can try new things, involve different people, leave room for messy transitions, and find deeper intimacy.
One of the benefits of reconciliation is that it can look vastly different depending on its context. It is meant to morph and change to meet the specific needs of individuals and communities. How reconciliation manifests in your corps might look different than my corps. Perhaps it means healing broken relationships between family and friends. Maybe it means bridging the generational divide and the racial inequalities present in your church and city. Perhaps it means intentionally having women in the pulpit to testify to the resurrection. The same Holy Spirit who empowered the disciples to speak new languages, engage new peoples, and go to new places encourages your faith community to prophetically testify to Christ’s reconciling work.
We have a world full of people who are lonely and isolated. They are in great need to be made human and to be reconciled back to Christ. There is so much in this world that needs healing and the message that the healing has begun and will come to fulfillment through Jesus Christ. So, let’s forget about the perfect curated worship experience. Let’s stop pretending to be something that we’re not. Let’s drop the glossy idol of celebrity and popularity. Instead, let us focus on worship that bears the fruit of reconciliation. Let us become a prophetic body of worshipers for the world to see.