Often when people encounter the term theology, they begin to conjure up visions of dry and protracted lectures heavy laden with many syllable words such as eschatology, soteriology, hamartiology, etc. Many folks tend to keep their distance from such discussions because they either have a distaste for the inevitable conflicts and debates, or they simply do not see theology as something practical for daily living. All too often I have heard the statement, “I don’t care about theology, I just love Jesus.”
Wherever one may land in the fray, it is an undeniable fact that every individual has a theology. He or she may simply not be able to articulate it clearly or effectively. It is also important to understand that theology is not just an academic pursuit intended only for scholars and pastors. While it is certainly true that it is not necessary for every believer to be able to fathom every nuance of doctrinal truth, it is vital that every follower of Christ be able to articulate what he does know with clarity. Even more importantly, it can not be overstated that the study of theology is very much a practical process. At every level it is the study and apprehension of God, his character and purposes, and his relationship with man and the world he created.
Every activity we engage in is rooted in a theology, and no activity is more informed by theology than worship. It would appear there are as many different views on Christian worship as there are people, but often those views are skewed by the prevailing culture and driven by marketing paradigms and personal enjoyment. Many people would be surprised to find that God has a great deal to say about worship in his word, and he actually offers some strong recommendations as to how it should be done.
Before an extensive look at biblical worship can be commenced, a very basic foundation needs to be laid, because it is that foundation that will drive every stone that is subsequently added. So the first question that requires an answer is what is worship? In the biblical text there are at least three Hebrew words and possibly seven Greek words that are translated worship. Concentrating on just the New Testament, there are two terms in the Greek that are the most common, proskuneō and latreuō. Proskuneō can be most literally translated to bow down or lie prostrate. Latreuō in its broadest sense means to serve.
In contrast to much contemporary American evangelical worship, which often insists that Sunday morning worship is about attending church to receive from God and celebrate in some fashion, (which has its place), the terms employed in God’s word are utterly focused on God himself. Honoring him, serving him, bowing down before him and rendering to him every veneration. Worship therefore must first be God-centered. A good way to see this is to grapple with the gospel tension expressed as, for us it is all about God and for him it is all about us. We will delve into this marvelous truth in the next installment.
by Allen Sipe
Instructor of Bible and Theology
Worship Arts Conservatory