Talking about worship is dangerous. Indeed, the first murder in human history took place between two brothers in a disagreement over worship! Though they did not know it, Cain and Abel’s quarrel sparked a question that would be asked down through the ages, “What is proper worship?” For two millennia, the church has defined and defended the orthodoxy of its doctrine and worship practices at great costs. Councils have convened, heretics have been warned and even executed, and countless denominations have arisen: all for the purpose of seeking and maintaining the purity of worship. Today, the debate continues in the so-called “worship wars.” Sadly, however, the debate is seldom over biblical doctrine, but over personal preference. Too many churches have split and many more experience unresolved conflict over whether the worship service ought to be “traditional” or “contemporary.” True worship is currently being defined by whether or not a church uses hymns or praise and worship songs, hymnals or PowerPoint, whether the service is “blended” or offers a variety of “worship” styles.(1) That “worship” has become an adjective further speaks of the decline from a biblical understanding. What emerges is a confused, individualistic, and experiential understanding of the meaning and function of the corporate worship of the church.
In his book, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, David Peterson prescribes the necessary remedy: “Vitality and meaning will not be restored to Christian gatherings until those who lead and those who participate can recover a biblical perspective on their meetings, seeing them in relation to God’s total plan and purpose for his people.”(2) The goal of this study is to put Peterson’s suggestion into practice by exploring why and how the Christian church ought to gather for corporate worship in view of God’s plan and purpose for his people as understood within the drama of redemptive history. Why the Christian church gathers for corporate worship will be answered by exploring the biblical-theological foundation for the community worship. How the Christian church gathers for corporate worship will be answered by offering pastoral considerations for such corporate worship in view of biblical-theology and historic precedents.
1. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church offers 5 additional “worship venues” in addition to their main service and Spanish service because “not everyone has the same taste in worship styles.” These venues include Praise (gospel choir), OverDrive (Rock’n Roll), Ohana (Island style), Elevation (for singles) and Passion (intimate and younger). Saddleback Church, “Worship.” n.p. [cited April 12, 2005]. Online: http://www.saddleback.com/flash/venues.html.
2. David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 21. No other book has shaped my understanding of biblical theology in general (and my biblical theology of worship in specific) than this. In many ways, this study is a summary of my reflections on his work, and I am completely indebted to him