A Life of Worship

Some months ago i proposed the positioning line “A Life of Worship” for the newly-conjoined ZOE Group | New Wineskins Web site before the advisory committee, believing that it encapsulated the objective mutually sought by both the online magazine and the inspirational worship ministry.

“Worship” and “serve” are two words that occur together frequently in scripture. I think there’s a reason for that.

I think that serving God – letting Him work through us – gives us a glimpse of His work first-hand, and it inspires the praise He alone deserves.

I think that worshiping God – giving Him due credit for what He has done, whether through us or not – inspires the kind of selflessness and humility that are a prerequisite for God working powerfully through us.

They go hand-in-hand.

They are not segregated by time or space. We do not just worship between 8:30 a.m. and noon on Sundays, and serve only the remaining waking hours of our week. (“Enter to worship; depart to serve” is a charming sentiment, but it is certainly not scriptural.)

We serve by worshiping. We worship by serving.

A life of worship is a 24/7 lifestyle. Christ is not an article of formal wear we put on in order to look nice at church. In baptism, we put on Christ, never again for Him to be shrugged off and hung up because of the inconvenience He might cause in our lives.

We live like Him out of respect, gratitude, indebtedness, willing servitude.

Paul puts it this way to the flock he has not yet met in Rome:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” ~ Romans 12:1

We offer our bodies because He offered His.

And if we deem His example too exalted to imitate, may I suggest an humble, human one: a aged woman; the Theresa of Calcutta of century one:

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. ~ Luke 2:36-38

What a tribute in three concisely-worded verses! I count these choices of hers worthy of enumerating separately:

  1. She never left the temple.
  2. She worshiped night and day.
  3. She fasted and prayed.
  4. She gave thanks to God.
  5. She told about Jesus to all who would listen.

Anna lived a life of worship.

Her example may seem extreme, but I truly believe that if you and I just chose one of those avenues of service, and prayed for guidance in it and focused solely on it until it had mastered us … then another … and another … if we only were mastered by two or three of them, we would still be well on our way to a life of worship.

And God would be very, very praised.

Let’s Go Minimalist!

(written with tongue pressed against the inside of check as it is being bitten to cause sufficient mild pain that will keep me from bursting out in laughter)

Hey, Christians!

Let’s go minimalist!

It’s the only safe way to worship.

And that, of course, is the only way to please God.

So let’s gather in synagogues and homes and rented halls, because that’s what the early church did, and that’s the pattern.

Let’s have two or three speak instead of one preacher, because that’s what the early church did, and that’s the pattern.

Let’s drink the fruit of the vine from one cup because that’s what the Lord did and that must be what the early church did, and that’s the pattern – even if there are a thousand souls at worship and the cup holds gallons and it takes two hours. And while we’re at it, let’s partake of one loaf. For the same reason.

Because that’s the pattern.

Let’s pay our elders instead of our preacher and require him to work part-time, preferably making tents, because that’s what the early church did and that’s the pattern.

Let’s forbid women to speak or sing once inside the place we meet, lest they be tempted to teach or exercise authority over men through the public reading of scripture together or the singing of songs – because that’s what the early church did, and that’s the pattern.

Let’s require them to wear veils of authority on their heads because of the angels, and because that’s what the early church did, and that’s the pattern.

Let’s do the absolute least we can do in worship so that we do not offend the tastes and consciences of anyone at all, no matter how weak their faith, and do nothing to spur them on to maturity in the faith and trust in God and belief in the power of Christ’s blood and His love to cover all sin lest we fail to keep such beliefs in disputable matters to ourselves, because that is what the early church did, and that’s the pattern.

And following the pattern explicitly, word for word, is what pleases God and is therefore His will and commandment and the only thing that will allay His terrifying wrath that will be poured out on us because of our intentional departure from the pattern or even our ignorant misunderstanding of His silence when decreeing His unspoken commandments.

Because doing all the right things all the time in worship one or two hours a week together is so much more powerful than the blood of Christ or sharing that Story by living it out sacrificially and generously and boldly in our lives the remaining 166 hours of the week.

(for some reason my grin has faded and sunken to a grimace at this point and I flail about for a way to close what began as a light-hearted jibe)

God help us all.

Jesus and Instrumental Praise

I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Well, this ought to be a short post!”

You may well be right.

Bear with me, though. Let’s take a walk together back to 2 Chronicles 30. Yes, yes; I know. That was before Jesus was born. But not before He was pre-existent with the Father, right? First chapter of John?


This chapter describes a time of great joy; the rediscovery of the Passover meal after a long period of Israel’s have forgotten to all about it and what it meant. King Hezekiah sent invitations to far-flung and nearly-estranged tribes to join in this celebration of God’s deliverance. Let’s take up the story in verse 18:

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of his fathers—even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

You read that right. God let people get by with doing something that was not in accord with “the rules of the sanctuary.” (Does that kinda remind you of what Jesus said about David and the consecrated bread?) Not only that, He healed them.

Let’s keep going to the next verse, verse 21:

The Israelites who were present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests sang to the LORD every day, accompanied by the LORD’s instruments of praise.

Whoa! Whoa! Back up!

Whose instruments of praise? That’s got to be a mistake, right? Let’s check out the KJV.

“Loud instruments unto the Lord”? That can’t be right. Well, Young’s Literal Translation doesn’t always make grammatical sense, but we non-Biblical-language-majors have got to get to the bottom of this:

And the sons of Israel, those found in Jerusalem, make the feast of unleavened things seven days with great joy; and giving praise to Jehovah day by day are the Levites and the priests, with instruments of praise before Jehovah.

All right; those were different times. God surely commanded all those instruments back when the tabernacle was prescribed, right?

Well, uh, no. Not that I could find. Maybe you can. (Though it’s possible God commanded them at the time of David or before, I get the sense that2 Chronicles 29:25 is telling us He commanded them through His prophets then, at the time of Hezekiah. I could be wrong. However, to me …)

It all seems to have been an innovation of David, back when he rejoiced with instrumental music (and dancing!) at the return of the covenantal ark to Jerusalem – then he added those instruments to the cache of things to be used when the temple would be built (beginning in I Chronicles 6, and continuing throughout the work). Four thousand instruments, as I recall.

A few of those instruments may have been among those who returned with Nehemiah and Ezra from Babylonian captivity.

And continued for the next several hundred years, through at least two more major versions of the temple. Now we’re up to the time of Jesus, and the temple where He worshiped … and the synagogues where He also taught … and the upper room where He sang a hymn with His closest friends before going out to the Mount of Olives.

Did He sing with instruments, according to the traditions of David the temple architect, and Solomon the temple builder, and Hezekiah the re-celebrant of Passover, and Nehemiah and Ezra the temple restorers?

Or did He stand there while others did so, frowning, silent, teeth grinding, arms folded in disgust, wondering if He should make a whip of cords and drive the whole lot of them out?

Or is there absolute evidence that no Jew celebrated in song with instruments at temple or synagogue worship in century one?

Bear with me a few more moments, while I pursue three metaphors.

  1. If you read my blog, would it occur to you to e-mail me: “I found this great Star Trek thing really cheap on eBay, and I wanted to get it for you, but I know you hate Star Trek now, so I didn’t.”? Because my response would be, “What? What gave you the idea that I hate Star Trek?” Would you respond, “Well, you’ve haven’t blogged anything about it since May, 2006 and you said you used to watch too much of it, so I know you must hate it now.”?
  2. If you were putting together a kit and among the instructions was a stapled slip of paper over step 3 that said: “This design has been changed and improved. In step 3, you should attach part A to part B, rather than part C as previously stated,” would you immediately think, “Oh! Well, then steps 1 and 2 are completely irrelevant now, and part C is completely extraneous and even dangerous to the structural integrity. I’ll just start with step 3 and leave out part C.”?
  3. If you were an attorney presenting a case about suffrage before the Supreme Court, would you argue: “Since the 21st amendment to the Constitution repealed Prohibition, all previously-enacted clauses are invalid. Women are absolutely not permitted to vote in open elections in the United States.”?

Then why – whether we view the Old Testament as 1.) God’s expressed preference for us, 2.) His instruction for our benefit, or 3.) His law for the satisfaction of His own righteousness – would we do essentially the same thing with regard to instrumental praise?

Especially if His Son and His Son’s followers in century one (saying nothing about the matter in scripture) in all likelihood participated in instrumental worship with joyous singing, heartfelt thanksgiving, deepest respect, and highest praise?

The Problem with Tongues

Do you know what I think was happening in Corinth when Paul had to write to the church there?

A lot of selfishness.

A lot of puffery and pride, and maybe even some fakery.

Don’t go quoting this as scripture, because I’m reading between the lines here. But everything Paul addresses that needed remedying there boils down to selfishness and arrogance: from choosing up sides and smelling armpits to incestual adultery to lawsuits among them to refusing commitment to their betrothed ones to hogging the fellowship meal to – dare I say it? – faking gifts of the Spirit.

Yeah. That’s what I think was going on there, back then. Some folks who wanted to be important, more important than Paul, felt compelled to display the same spiritual gifts he had displayed – or better. They couldn’t fake miraculous healing; they couldn’t fake casting out demons, but they could babble incomprehensibly and claim to be speaking in tongues – in different human languages – just the way Paul had and the apostles in Jerusalem had at Pentecost. He wasn’t in Corinth anymore. He couldn’t confirm or deny it.

So Paul’s inspired remedy was to limit the sharing of those gifts to the benefit of all. Don’t speak in tongues unless someone interprets; otherwise you’re talking to yourself and God and wasting everybody else’s time.

And if fakery was involved, getting it back into their worship times would require collusion. Conspiracy, with someone else who would “interpret.” And in century one, that could be a deadly thing. Stories like what happened to Ananias and Sapphira would make the rounds.

The best part is that out of the Corinthian fakery (which I’m weaving from whole cloth and holes in logic), one of the most genuine chapters of Christian instruction is written: good ol’ number 13.

If we’re not here for each other, then we’re not here for God, either.

Of course, we never fake it in church nowadays … do we?

There have been a few times when that chapter has kept me from faking it in church; a few times when I didn’t feel like being there but I had some duty to do or responsibility to perform. And, unfortunately, a couple of times when I didn’t think of it and didn’t want to and went right ahead with being as disingenuous as any babbling would-be spirit-speaker.

And I probably didn’t make any more sense than one.

HeartWorship: Like Little Children

It’s as much a gentle instruction as it is a chilling warning:

“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ ” (Matthew 18:3)

The same Jesus who dandled children upon His knee, who would not let His followers turn them away, who refused to silence them when they shouted “Hosanna!” to Him in the temple courts … wants us to become just like them:

Innocent by His blood. Drawn to Him by His love. Exuberant in our praise to Him.

If that’s a key to entering His kingdom, then it must be important.

Singing in Church

I sing in church. I used to sing softly because I do not have a lovely voice and I was shy. I can carry a tune in a bucket, if the bucket has a 1-1/2-octave lid and the tempo doesn’t swing it too fast. I can sort of read music, about the way that I read French after taking a couple of semesters of it thirty years ago. So I used to sing quietly, mostly to myself, in church because I didn’t want to spoil the experience for others.

Now I sing lustily and loudly, much to the embarrassment of my teenage son next to me.

But I think I sound better than I used to.

My voice has not improved because of some miracle drug purchased from China through an exclusive e-mail offer, nor from surgical intervention through the skill of competent physicians, nor from the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. In fact, I don’t imagine it has improved at all.

However, my attitude about singing has changed.

Truth is, I don’t really give a flip what people around me (including my son) think about my voice; not even when I’m singing a song of encouragement to them.

You see, my voice is a gift from God – just like Amy Grant’s, or Stephen Curtis Chapman’s, or Enrico Caruso’s, or that sweet little old lady in the middle right section of the worship center who has never let being off-key interfere with her devotion to God or her expression of it with great volume. (Lord, I love hearing her sing! He must love it, too.)

God doesn’t expect my voice to sound any better than the voice He gave me.

He wants me to sing because it’s good for me. Increases the oxygenation in my lungs. Lifts my spirits, sometimes. Convicts me, at other times. It gives me a chance to participate in worshiping Him, and to do it with others who love Him.

I love singing. I always have. I can’t believe I cheated myself out of the full blessing of it for so many years.

Oh, sure, there are times when I don’t sing. There are times when I need to listen and be spoken to by the song; times when I am not qualified to sing it as an encouragement to others because I have not been faithful to its message. There are even rare moments when I don’t fully agree, in my ticky-picky word-loving writer way, with the way a certain concept is phrased – or even the concept itself.

Most of the time I sing anyway. Because I don’t want my reluctance to sing to become chronic. That would be an indication of something wrong – not with my voicebox, nor my lungs – but with my heart. And it might be serious.

Serious enough that only the great Physician could heal it.

And how would I know if He was just waiting for me to ask for that healing in song?

Or that the singing itself was the therapy He was prescribing?

Doughnuts and Coffee and Harps at the Lord’s Table

(Freed-Hardeman Bible Professor Ralph) Gilmore agreed that the Bible requires Christian unity. But he said, “There can be no genuine unity without truth.”

The issue boils down to how one understands God when he’s silent about something, Gilmore said. Ephesians 5:19 calls for “singing and making melody in one’s heart to the Lord.”

That verse “tells you where you’re supposed to pluck the string – in your heart,” Gilmore said. “It’s a purely vocal reference.”
The same logic that allows a piano in worship could lead to doughnuts and coffee in the Lord’s Supper, he said.

~ Unity Discussion Takes Center Stage at Freed-Hardeman, Christian Chronicle

Or, more accurately, roast lamb and bitter herbs, I might add.

– Which is probably what was served at the paschal meal that Jesus celebrated with His friends on the night He was betrayed.

In fact, doesn’t that same logic demand that we add them to the Lord’s Supper, since they are implied by the word “Passover”?

As well as fermented wine? In one cup?

Come to think of it, isn’t every Lord’s Supper unscriptural if not observed in an upper room?

Preceded by a foot-washing?

Followed immediately by the singing of a hymn and a walk in a garden?

If we’re going to exclude everything that isn’t mentioned in scripture, shouldn’t we include everything that is? Am I going outside of “the truth” here, as Professor Gilmore sees it?

By the way, should we have plates when we celebrate the Supper? They’re not mentioned in scripture.

And aren’t pitch pipes and tuning forks also musical instruments?

Should we check our iPods and mp3 players at the door of the church as we enter?

For that matter, Is a building dedicated only to worship ever commanded or authorized for Christianity to sing and commune in? Or should we just meet in synagogues and homes and rented lecture halls belonging to Tyrannus?

Shouldn’t we handle snakes and drink poison and speak in tongues?

Shouldn’t our women wear veils and our men avoid praying while wearing their hats at all costs?

Shouldn’t we have slaves so that they can be obedient to their masters?

The fact remains that scripture never says anything negative about instrumental music. Harps and trumpets appear to be part of what takes place in the heaven pictured in Revelation. All sorts of musical instruments are mentioned in the Old Testament, and the playing of them is pretty much assumed to be part of the culture of the worshiper.

Pretty much like fasting is assumed to be part of the culture of the follower of Christ.

I’ve just enjoyed an especially uplifting and meaningful hour or so of worship that centered on the Lord’s Table. We were encouraged, like the travelers to Emmaus, to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Our worship was accompanied by a cappella music and ordinary wafers and the blood of the grape.

No doughnuts. No coffee.

No lamb; no bitter herbs.

No psalteries, sackbuts, dulcimers or timbrels. No harps, flutes or tambourines. No trumpets, ram’s horns, lyres or cymbals.

They’re all biblical instruments, depending on your translation.

But to conclude that they are forbidden by God in worship because of their absence in a couple of verses – notwithstanding their presence in many, many others – requires the kind of logic that produces doctrines like salvation by faith only (or confession only or baptism only, etc.), or infant baptism to allay original sin, or any of a few dozen others I could name.

I don’t know that my church needed anything more than what we had at hand this morning in order to see Christ and give God glory. I loved it. It was pure and expressive. It was my tradition.

But not everyone is a minimalist. Not everyone is a reductionist.

Not everyone cheats himself out of opportunities and avenues for drawing closer to God through worship because he’s afraid of things he sees in scripture that aren’t there.

Those “silence-of-scripture” interpretations are unholy ghosts that claim to be “the truth;” that insist on their own way (“Why don’t you just give up fill-in-the-blank for the sake of unity?”); that lead to self-righteousness; that imply salvation by one’s own bootstraps.

They are not included in Peter’s response to the question “What must I do?”

They are not listed in the prophet Micah’s response to the question “What does the Lord require of you?”

They are not expressed in what Jesus said was His commandment. Or what He considered weightier matters.

They do not even comprise what James calls pure and faultless religion before God.

I leave it to you to determine whether they glorify God; whether they draw people closer to Him and to each other in the unity His Son prayed for – or drive them further apart.

Worship, Gifts and Women

It’s okay if you disagree with me, but I think there may be something seriously wrong with the way my fellowship underutilizes the gifts of women, especially in public worship.

I’m not keen on using the term “women’s role” as I find it pretty much extra-scriptural.

“Gifts,” however, is a perfectly scriptural term and I’m quite comfortable using it.

Many writers with far keener scholarship than I can point out to you that in the New Testament, women served as prophets, fellow workers, deaconesses (female servant-ministers), instructors, encouragers, and hosts of church assemblies in their homes. You can look them up in your own Bible, and I won’t bother to proof-text the citations for you.

All that evidence notwithstanding, we find ourselves setting all the precedent for our fellowship policy by a couple of New Testament scriptures. One is a single verse in the first of two personal letters from the fatherly mentor Paul to his young protege Timothy:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 

Well, it says what it says, doesn’t it?

(Except maybe the “silent” part. Surely it’s okay for women to sing, isn’t it?)

Yes, it does say what it says. But to say that it applies universally in all situations, in all churches, in all eras, with all women and men, requires what I like to call “skinchwise logic.”

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with advising women to learn in quietness and full submission. Men should, too. Women may be the recipients of this advice from Paul to Ephesus through Timothy (and Corinth by letter) because they were disrupting the assemblies, possibly with questions they should have waited to ask later. (Just as men, a few verses earlier in I Timothy, were the target of Paul’s wish that they lift holy hands in prayer without arguments and disagreements … evidently because they were praying while holding grudges, possibly even “praying against” each other.)

Think about what has happened in both of these cities.

Corinth, a center of pagan worship that involved many female priestesses engaging in (maybe riotous) sexual activity with male “worshipers,” and Ephesus – where Artemis/Diana was the primary goddess of choice – were cities where Christians were being converted from among such belief systems.

Both men and women of these Gentile milieus were being drawn into the very gender-stratified and conservative surround of a synagogue-like church. The earliest Christian churches comprised mostly Jewish men and some women who were not perhaps even used to sitting with men in the same room while worship and teaching was going on, though probably on a different side of the room or in the back. (In Corinth, the church originally met in a synagogue – until evicted, when it moved next door to the home of Titius Justus. In Ephesus, Paul originally taught in a synagogue – until he was evicted and moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus.)

So it’s rowdy Gentile meets contemplative Jew in these houses of worship.

We have something of a clash of cultures.

The pagans have absolutely no background in scripture, and scripture reading is almost certainly an important part of the assembly. (The Bereans, remember, were checking the prophecies daily to see if what was being taught among them about Jesus was true.)

So questions will arise.

And in the Greco-Roman culture, where dialogue is encouraged (see Paul’s address on Mars Hill in Acts), the questions are likely to be asked on the spot. In the new church with the synagogue heritage, scripture was read and explained and everybody listened (pretty much like our churches today; you disagree with the preacher afterward in the foyer).

There were no Roberts’ Rules of Order for the early church, so the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write some.

Second, the pagan religion involved a multiplicity of gods and goddesses. In the Jewish faith, there was and is one-and-only-one God. Storytelling was an intrinsic part of both cultures, but in paganism, embellishment and creativity and outright originality in adding to the richness of the Mount Olympus saga was encouraged. In Jewish belief, storytelling was done with scrupulous regard to accuracy.

Culture clash.

Pagans would have found the Jewish stories a delightful addition to their panoply of pantheist story culture. Fallen angels and their gods and goddesses could easily live in the same story together. And pagans would have begun integrating them right in. Jewish Christians would not have appreciated this, and would have discouraged it.

So the creation of pagan stories would go underground, become secret; become secret knowledge; become gnosis.

Pagan stories, some emphasizing the superiority of feminine gods over masculine ones, would rewrite interesting Jewish stories such as the creation narrative. So goddesses Pistis and Sophia and others would empower Eve over Adam, sometimes even giving life to Adam through Eve. To a pagan used to idolizing (literally) Diana, it made a better story than the rather male-heavy Jewish version.

I’m not making this up. Read a few of the narratives of the Hypostasis of the Archons or On the Origin of the World or The Apocryphon of John or other Gnostic works. I know scholars say these works came later than the time of Timothy or Paul, but there is no proof of that assertion – and the fact is, many writings come a long time after the origin of stories’ verbal traditions, even in the Old Testament.

I’m suggesting that the verbal versions of these stories may well have originated in the time of Paul and Timothy.

And if so, they would definitely help explain the mysterious verses which immediately follow the two cited above from that first letter between them:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women (literally, she) will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 

I think it’s quite possible that Paul was refuting what he calls in the first chapter “endless genealogies” and would later in the letter call and “godless myths,” “chatter” and even “old wives’ tales” – refuting it by retelling the simple truth. If bold converted-pagan Christian women were teaching these stories that they had made up and preferred, their audience needed to be reminded that it didn’t require generations of goddesses to create man; that gods did not immediately ravish an image of Eve created by the goddesses to protect her; that Eve was not superior to Adam in intellect and courage because she craved the secret knowledge of the forbidden fruit and was bold enough to gobble it down – or any of that other goofy pagan stuff.

God made Adam, then Eve.

She was deceived by the serpent, because Adam didn’t speak up to assert the truth.

Eve sinned as surely as Adam.

And anyone who taught otherwise, Paul says, should shut up and sit quietly and listen and learn the truth. You have to learn before you can teach. As nearly as I can tell, in Ephesus, some of those who were teaching before they learned were very likely the mostly younger single/widowed women who were supported by the church to do good works but who had become “gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (later in the letter) – some of whom, “… have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.” That’s a harsh reproof, indicating a serious offense – like false teaching; not just idleness or gossip. So Paul directs the advice quoted above to Timothy about these women specifically.

Paul doesn’t permit them to teach falsehood or to teach in a way that usurps authority over the men, claiming that women are better rather than equal to them. The truth is, God created them male and female; side-by-side (though, yes, one was first). I wouldn’t permit women to teach otherwise, either. Nor would I permit men to teach such tripe.

Neither gender has an edge in God’s sight.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed, God never cursed one over the other. In fact, He didn’t curse either one.

He cursed the ground, to make Adam labor. And since neither of them had chosen to eat of the tree of life, they would have to perpetuate their species through childbirth, and that would be the labor of Eve. It’s not a curse. It’s a consequence.

Just like death itself, about which He forewarned them.

But He put an end to death through the Offspring of heaven and earth, Who has brought the kingdom of heaven down to earth.

That is the gift He gave us all. That should bring gratitude and worship to the lips of each person. That’s good news that everyone should tell.

Even the Samaritan playgirl who has encountered Someone extraordinary at a well.

Even Mary of Magdala at the sight of her beloved, risen Lord.

Even Priscilla, when explaining baptism more fully to Apollos.

Even the head of a household of believers like Lydia.

Even Junia and Euodia and Syntyche and all the others.

Even me.

Even you.

Only One Way to Worship

I’m generally cautious about “only one way” thinking. It tends to discredit alternatives, some of which are perfectly acceptable.

But I have to agree that there is only one way to worship.

In spirit and in truth.


With your whole life; not just part-time.

Accepting others.


With singing.

Speaking to each other, as well as to God.

By the Spirit of God.

By drawing near.

With thanksgiving. Acceptably, with reverence and awe.

With fear and a willingness to give God glory.

Forever. And ever. And ever.


And while I note that there are a lot of things that scripture does not say about what is required or forbidden in worship, what it does say is more than I confess I have been doing.

The Lost Act of Worship

I’m going out on a limb here, but recently I’ve only been able to focus on one “act” of worship in the New Testament … that is, one thing that is physically done in connection with the word worship:

Bowing down.

Yup, that’s right. Worship in spirit and in truth when you worship. Offer your body as a living sacrifice, your spiritual act of worship. Sing when you’re happy. Sing and edify others. Pray without ceasing and in the Spirit. Speak in tongues and interpret and prophesy when you’re gathered. Read a bit of scripture. Commune at the table. Give from the heart as you’ve purposed. Give verbal praise to God, which was done in the temple, in the synagogues, in the streets and in the country – among other contexts in the scriptures. All good things to do. All good things to do in several different contexts, alone and together; in big groups or small; on Sunday or not. (That’s more than 5 acts of worship already, isn’t it? – Though I guess my fellowship isn’t real big on tongues and interpretation, either…)

All things that are good to do together, when gathered and especially on the first day of the week; that makes it handy to do them.

But the one physical thing to do as a part of worship that keeps popping up in scripture is bowing down, kneeling, falling on one’s face, doing obesiance. No matter how it’s phrased, it’s consistently there.

Here’s a short list, just from the New Testament:

That’s a very short list. Search Bible Gateway for “knee” and “kneel” in the New Testament, and you’ll find even more. Because kneeling was a physical way, in almost every instance, for those people to express their humility, brokenness, even shame of themselves; and their respect, need, and/or request of the God they came before, often in the person of Jesus.

It doesn’t seem to be limited to one culture; to Jews only, and not to Gentiles; to earthly creatures, and not to heavenly beings.

It doesn’t seem to be limited by time to one era; to the law and prophets only, and not to anno Domini.

It doesn’t seem to be limited by circumstance to one context: to church only, but not in the street or at home or at work.

I won’t go into it all again; I’ve blogged about it before, not quite a year ago.

What I will do is confess.

I’ve been more conscious of kneeling and faithful to the practice of it, especially when beseeching God in public or private prayer – but I’ve been holding back. I’ve been falling to ONE knee. I’m not a big fan of the “command, example, inference” hermeneutic, but if I were … I’d have to say my approach to God is still not scriptural. The word is almost always plural – “knees,” not “knee” – when used in scripture.

But in a larger hermeneutic – the hermeneutic of the heart – I think my single bent knee is an expression of half-knee’d faith and a half-hearted prayer life. I want it to be double-kneed (smiting against each other as in the case of Belshazzar when necessary!).

I want it to be full-hearted, in spirit and in truth.

I want it to express the faith that if I get down on both knees – even at fifty and after knee surgery on the right one – God will give me the strength to stand again. Even if that strength comes at the hand of a brother or sister nearby … or even a complete stranger.

Because I really believe it does no good to express something that’s not in in your heart … any more than it is to have something in your heart for God that you will not express in a way He’s described so many of His beloved ones doing.

Is that silly? Am I picking nits and swallowing camels here?

Or is this really the lost act of worship?