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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Marcus Green weighs in on "Defining Worship"

My friend, Marcus Green, Vicar of St. Catherine's in Pontypridd, England, and author of the brilliant book on worship, Salvation's Song,  sent me a thoughtful email this week in response to the recent "Defining Worship" blogpost.  With his permission, I print his reply below in an attempt to further stir and shape the conversation.  Let us know what you think.  



"Definition determines design. It certainly does. And that we work without much definition is why we are often fuzzy at the edges.

I have read the thoughts and comments and correctives, and you know – it all
seems a bit New Testament to me, which I think is a problem. I mean, I
stuggle to have a theology of anything which I don’t think Jesus would
have had, and I don’t think Jesus would have walked around with some of
these very NT definitions of worship I am reading.

Wouldn’t his have been rather more Jewish? Rather more shaped by the
Temple? And before we dismiss that stuff as not applying to us, I think
that the defining act of worship in the universe is the cross, and if
Jesus’ understanding of his own worship there is shaped by the Law, the
Prophets and (you better believe it) by the Temple, then I wonder if our
definitions of worship could do with five minutes of his thinking?

If it is reasonable to place the concept of sacrifice at the heart of
Temple worship, I’m not finding this concept in very many of the writings
I am reading on your blog. This is for me the main omission. There are so
many understandings of what was going on in Temple sacrifices, so let’s
start with a taking of the best of creation and lifting it up to the
Creator as a free offering being a reversal of the sin of the world (where
people simply take anything from creation and worship that). Let’s add the
cost question: you give God the most precious thing you own, and when we
say “give”, we mean give completely – kill, give its life. You cannot have
it back. Yet amazingly the sacrifice is usually cause for celebration and
results in restored relationship between God and his people, not in loss
and grief.

To make a sacrifice is an honour and a joy, not a burden; to abuse the
honour is to curse God and defile his people.

Forgive my poor attempt to get where I am going – but clearly I am going
two places.

The cross as the fulfilment of temple sacrifice is something I think both
Romans and Hebrews argue for. It’s a familiar story. My point is that in
Jesus’ world, Temple sacrifice is the pinnacle of public worship. So
Jesus’ definition of public worship is shaped by Temple sacrifice to the
point where he fulfils it. And if he does that, then our worship ought to
go there, point there, never leave there, always make us remember. And do
so in language that isn’t just cosy “Jesus is our friend” but using
something that Jesus would recognise: sacrifice. It cost. It hurt. It was
precious. That’s a cause for celebration not grief, joy not lament –
unless you are abusing it, taking it for granted, using it for your own
ends.

And then, of course the second place is this: of course, Jesus’ sacrifice
for the sins of the world was a one-off. But we are called to follow him.
To do what he did. To live as he lived. Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 12,
“the only worship that makes any sense is to offer yourselves as living
sacrifices to God”. (My paraphrase.)

So I get the questions about Trinity and so forth that are going around;
goodness knows I think they are good and hard – and that actually being a
practical Trinitarian (worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit often and
in those words) somehow deals with many of those issues. But deeper: where
is the sacrifice? The cost? And the awareness that with it comes great,
great joy?

My definition? The only soundbite one I offer is this, and then only given
that its entire context be taken into account: “Not my will, but yours be
done.”
posted by John David Walt | at 6/10/2008 02:54:00 PM

 

8 Comments:

Blogger JohnDeere said...

OK Marcus. I like the way you are thinking. I appreciate the way you are pointing up the Jewishness or Hebraic-ness of Jesus. you have given me what my friend, Billy Abraham, likes to call a "pain on the brain."

My question-- isn't it somewhat warranted to draw significantly from the New Testament in order to understand the meaning of Christian worship? Sure, we can get the picture from Jesus. We can see what it looks like as patterned in his life. But apart from the person of the Holy Spirit, isn't it like watching television; like looking at the bread instead of eating it. I can know a ton about bread, but until I take a bite I will not know bread. Right?

We can see precisely what it looks like when the Holy Spirit has complete dominion in a human being's life when we behold the Son of God. At this point we can make a good case for what Jesus would do. But until the Holy Spirit has entered our own human personhood and made us a priestly people together, we cannot do what Jesus will do.

What does it mean to be intimately related to Jesus and inhabited by the Holy Spirit and what implications does this have for our worship. We need the New Testament to instruct and help norm for us what it looks like when the person of the Spirit forms us together into the Body of Christ and cries out in our hearts, "Abba! Father!

Indeed, I appreciate your summation in "Not my will, but yours be done." But again, this is a prayer we cannot meaningfully utter apart from the Spirit. What does this mean for our work together in the assembly (i.e. liturgy) and what does it mean for our work together as we scatter?

Don't we need a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit in order to grow up into the "fullness of Him who fills everything in every way?" This seems to imply both a looking backward through the Hebraic shape of Jesus along with a looking forward into the age of the Spirit.

dive in friends.

7:46 AM EDT  
Blogger Marcus G said...

JD - many thanks for putting my wandering thoughts "out there".

You know, I think that in part we are gently in danger of debating whether it is the choice of ingredients or the experience of eating the chocolate cake which is most important. I guess in fact we are enjoying the same cake.

As my little book is only available in the UK, you are one of the few people who use this blog who ought to know that though I question what I call the NT bias of the definitions offered here, my work seeing the cross as the fulfillment of the Temple & the ultimate place and act of worship (and therefore a pretty good starting place for us in this debate) is almost entirely based in Romans, Hebrews and Matthew so I am pretty NT based myself! -Guilty as charged, just in a different way :-)

However: to go back to your food metaphor, I take your point about the difference between knowing about bread and eating it, but the Spirit's role is surely to make sure it is the True Bread we are eating?

You see, I was writing about the Trinity after all. Same cake.

So my question is in no way meant as a negation on the earlier thinking on defining worship that has gone on here; last time we met up in London we spoke on how important I felt it was that being practical Trinitarians infected more of our liturgical worship! Rather, in that process I slightly wondered if we were in danger of being a little Second-Person-Light, so I thought I'd simply add something.

As we say here at firework time - Light blue touch paper. Stand well back.

9:51 AM EDT  
Blogger JAy. said...

I started to leave a comment here, and then got long winded.

Summary: I think that the OT role of sacrifice was replaced by the New Convenant - Jesus. But we are to instead sacrifice ourselves by acceptance of the Holy Spirit.

I think this may be where you were headed, Marcus.

See my whole thought process:

C-C-R Blog

God Bless,
JAy.

11:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Rob Mehner said...

I like where Marcus went, but I think it violated the premise you set forth somewhere (perhaps an entirely different post or subject) that said something along the lines of "I'm not talking about 'life as worship' kind of worship, but what goes on Sunday mornings." Worship, as in our bodies being a spiritual act of worship is captured well by Marcus. But I'm not sure it is the epicenter of Christian liturgical worship. He's describing a LIFE of worship, not a worship service or celebration or...why do I think I'm going to get hammered for any name I use?!?!?!?

4:02 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all you cake lovers. Do you think you can have an "experience" of the Holy Spirit and not know that is what happened? I think embracing the mystery of Trinity in worship should be like tasting cake with a blindfold on. You really don't know what kind of cake it is, you just know it is good. It seems to me if we do this then when we "know" we are "intimately related to Jesus" then we will also be at the very same moment inhabited by the Holy Spirit and God. That is Trinitarian.

4:19 PM EDT  
Blogger Kendra said...

Who ever is serving the chocolate cake, I'm in. Send a piece to Texas. =-)

I'm slow to get this up, but been thinking about it a lot with my new job. Here's my definition of worship:

To worship is to serve in the holy presence of God, service being what I was created to do through divine relationship, not that which God needs. Worship is an active result of who I am in God through Christ my Savior. The Holy Spirit aids me to worship as a new creation according to God’s revealed purpose, which I find in the Bible. And through that ministry I seek to know God with reverent fear and love of the Holy. Because I am a sinner, I must receive from His means. Therefore, I situate myself to serve Him, and I do so according to the context that He established, namely the community of persons who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Components I thought about were the language of worship in both the OT and NT - service, cultivating and keeping, and extended into the Temple. I see the definition of worship bridging both testaments, as most would, extending out of the church doors. I am a sorority house mom and worship spills out in that place...and this week as I thought on worship God opened a door for me to babysit special needs kids and their siblings. Worship extends even there - my definition HAS to go there, too. So, it is basic but so much went into it so it would fit the convictions I have and am learning.

I love the conversations, and chocolate cake. Doing lots of listening and thinking on its application.

9:22 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

kendra-- a very thoughtful proposal. i like your thinking. thanks. jd

1:37 PM EDT  
Blogger Marcus G said...

One of the privileges of being part of any commuity like this (even at such a distance, and only being part of it virtually) is hearing the thoughts and responses of folk as they work stuff through. So may I offer a couple of thoughts back, in gratitude to those expressed already?

Jay - thanks for the thoughts. I'm not sure we are entirely as one, but I'm glad that you too are seeing the connections between Old and New Covenants. I guess I am wary of language that uses words like "replace" and would rather see words like "fulfil" there; I think Jesus is careful on that front, and I really do feel that the distinction matters.

Here's a contentious example why: Romans 3. Is the word "redemption" there primarily a legal word (slave market?) with Passover connotations, or vice versa? If the New Covenant replaces the Old, we go with legal, or we don't care. If the New Covenant fulfils the Old, though the layers of meaning and reference are undoubtedly manifold, the Passover meaning has to hold precedence - and it keeps all of St Paul's references to the cross in Romans to Jewish worship festivals, which rather alters our perception of things.
Contentious, granted, but important.

Rob - great point. And I was purposefully vague on this, though JD picked it up a couple of posts later... I was kind of hoping someone would see that the principle of sacrifice and the meal Jesus gave his disciples the night before as the way of celebrating that sacrifice is supposed to have practical "worship service" connotations, not just "worship living" ones. There is a reason why for most of The Church's history, Communion has been the central act of worship.

How you define worship affects how you design worship.

But in our modern, song-driven culture (& I'm a part of this) we don't get why Communion matters because we have lost sight of why sacrifice is at the heart of our gatherings.

The cross is the fundamental act of worship in the universe - I wonder if that should affect both lives and worship gatherings (whatever we call them!)
more than is often the case.

I could keep writing - Kendra that was truly lovely, and I appreciate your perspective enormously. And JD - thanks for letting me express a few thoughts here, it has been good to drop by! I always enjoy reading your site, and it has been a privilege to say a few words.

10:46 AM EDT  

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