Worship renewal

Worship renewal in the Seventh-day Adventist Church

What we need is a reformation in worship that will kindle a desire to experience the presence of the transcendent God and accept His purposes.

Eoin Giller, D.Min., is senior pastor of Desert Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church, Tucson, Arizona.

Worship" comes from the old English word "weorthscipe"—honor. Webster defines worship as "the performance of devotional acts in honor of a deity, as a church service; the act of paying divine honors to the Supreme Being or other divine power."1 Honor is important in worship because it sets certain boundaries to the practice of worship.

G. W. Bromiley, after analyzing the biblical words connected with worship, notes: "The roots of biblical worship are to be found, not in human emotions, but in the divinely established relation ship of God to man." 2 Yet human emotions are involved in worship. Awe, gratitude, wonder, and love may all be experienced in the worship service. But "the object of worship, at once its starting point and controlling factor, is not a projection of man [nor his emotions]. It is God." 3 Christian worship is, therefore, a rational-emotive response in specific forms to the God of the Bible, who has taken the initiative in a creating, revealing, and redeeming relationship with humankind, founded in love. This is important not only in establishing a theology of worship, but in the practice of worship.

Scripture gives us the reason that we call our formal worship a "service." In reference to Israel's celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, "Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the Lord. For the seven days they ate their assigned portion and offered fellowship offerings and praised the Lord, the God of their fathers" (2 Chron. 30:22).* Temple fellowship, offerings, and praise are called the service of God. This is worship.

The other side of service is God's. Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:28). Applied in worship this statement was demonstrated by the Lord's ministry to His disciples during the Last Supper. Thus, there is a sense in which we serve God in worship by our response to Him as Saviour and Lord; and there is a sense in which God serves us in worship today through the presence and ministry of His Holy Spirit. Jack Hayford calls this concept a "two-edged truth." "A worship service is convened (1) to serve God with our praise and (2) to serve people's need with His sufficiency." 4

Elements of worship

Paul admonishes the Corinthians that "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (1 Cor. 14:40) in their worship services, thus implying that worship has specific forms. An analysis of biblical models5 reveals a twin pat tern: the confessional declaration of God's grace and mighty acts, followed by praising God for them. Practically, this means reading of Scriptures and preaching on the one hand and praising and praying on the other.

Bromiley recounts eight elements inherent in primitive Christian worship: (1) prayer; (2) praise; (3) confession of sin; (4) confession of faith (baptism); (5) reading of Scripture; (6) preaching; (7) the Lord's Supper; and (8) the collection? 6 Christian worship, in its essence, is the worship of the Father through God the Son, under the administration of the Holy Spirit.

Theology, culture, and worship

Jesus said, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). With this declaration Jesus disconnected worship from a place or a race and opened up its rational-emotive elements. Spirit has to do with attitudeswhich are often bound up in our emotionsand truth has to do with reality and rationality. Our practice of worship is to be founded on a theology of worship. Cultural elements play their part in varying forms of liturgy, but we must ever remember that Christ is the Lord and Transformer of culture. An examination of Scripture demonstrates that the expression and form of worship varied in different ages. The worship of the patriarchs differed from that of the Israelites in the wilderness. The worship in Solomon's Temple differed in form, sacrifice, and content from that of the Jews in Babylonian or Persian captivity. In Jesus' day synagogue worship supplemented the temple worshipand the synagogue worship of the Greeks varied from that of Judeans.

If culture is ''the acquired ability of an individual or a people to recognize and appreciate generally accepted esthetics and intellectual excellence" or "a particular state or stage of a civilization," 7 then we cannot escape the interplay between culture and religion and worship. For the conservative Christian, however, culture will not be determinative in establishing various forms of worship. Special revelation will always take precedence over natural revelation. Therefore, worship forms will be based on theology and not on local custom or prevailing values. At the same time, worship forms will be culturally relevant, so those worshiping may experience the reality of the Lord who both judges and transforms culture.

An analysis of the various forms of worship in the Old Testament bears out the above thesis. Because of a change in culture, synagogue worship arose among the Jews of the Diaspora. Synagogue worship differed from temple worship in both form and content, but it kept Israel's faith alive through various ages and cultures.

Thus, cultural adaptation may be beneficial. But it may also be damaging to genuine worship, as in the rise of the papacy with the Mass as the central focus of worship.

With this caution in mind it still must be acknowledged that Christian worship has changed through the centuries. Messianic synagogues merged into house churches. Byzantine churches grew into medieval cathedrals and village parishes. Protestants raised up the "House of God" as dominant buildings protesting theologically and culturally against the extravagant abuses of the medieval church. Other groups worshiped in chapels and dedicated white-framed churches.

Further, worship in liturgy, form, and focus has undergone change in each age and culture. Medieval worship featured at its center the crucifix, altar, and the massa synchrony of religious and cultural practices. In revolt, the Reformation fathers placed the Lord's table at the center of the church and worship. Later, the pulpit with an open Bible became both central and primary in worship. The sermon became the great event. Mass printing and literate worshipers played their part in transforming the content, liturgy, and style of worship.

Our denomination has worshiped mainly in the tradition of the sermon as the "great event," with other elements in worship considered "preliminaries." This emphasis in worship should never be denigrated. It has served several denominations for several generations with a simple, warm, and genuine vehicle for worship and religious communication. The writer is presently pastoring a small country church as well as a larger city congregation. The typical pattern of three hymns from the hymnbook with a pastoral prayer and sermon suits admirably the smaller congregation, and we would not seek to change the liturgy unless the congregation sought new forms of worship.

On the other hand, the larger congregation's needs and perceptions are different. We are living in an age when an intellectually astute and advanced, yet relationally disintegrating and spiritually thirsty, society is challenging the relevance of the church. 8 Our culture has developed defense mechanisms for screening out information. Mass music and television entertainment have jaded it. A "take it or leave it" attitude prevails even among those who attend church.

To face this challenge, we need a new reformation. A reformation in worship that allows pressured people to experience in the divine service the presence of the transcendent God. A worship service that will open their hearts to the preaching of the Word in a new and vibrant manner. "An awakening to the power of worship to reinstate God's divine intent for man can answer con temporary questions as to human purpose." 9 To this reformation the Adventist Church is called.

In an increasingly secularized age in which mere information about God makes little impact we need to lead men and women into an experience with God through the grace of Christ by the Holy Spirit. This experience should acknowledge the transcendence as well as the immanence of the Divine. Thus a balance will be maintained in a congregation's worship that will allow fervor, yet inhibit fanaticism. People need not only to know about God, but to experience His presence in their lives. We can best introduce them to Him in our Wednesday evening and Sabbath morning worship services. With skillful and prayerful preparation, worship leaders can open the door for those who come to worship God. They will find Him present in their assembly.

We will now turn our attention to a renewal in worship that opens up a new dimension and focus, one that makes use of innovative yet biblical liturgy forms.

Worship in renewal

The word "celebrate" is listed more than 80 times in the NIV Bible concordance. Adventists have fond memories of the King James Bible's "from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath" (Lev. 23:32). We still celebrate weddings which are supposed to be festive occasions. Our denomination publishes a magazine called Celebration! to help congregational leaders in ministry. The word itself means "to perform with appropriate rites and ceremonies; solemnize; to commemorate an event with ceremonies or festivities; to sound the praises of; extol; to make known publicly; proclaim." 10 Celebration is a grand word. God forbid we should impart to it a meaning quite apart from accepted usage.

Celebration worship differs from more traditional church services in that it includes more congregational praise and participation. The elements and forms of worship vary from church to church. Some are very expressive and contemporary. Others lean to an almost high-church format, with responsive readings and prayers. When we recognize that celebration has more to do with remembering, praising, and extolling than with frivolity or confusion, we place it in its correct perspective.

The first characteristic of biblical celebration is to commemorate with proclamation and respond with praise. We are called to proclaim the great acts of God in creation, redemption, and providence. Praise is not an optional alternative in biblical worship. Psalmsthe songbook of the Bibleeither enjoins or announces praise more than 150 times. "The high praises of God" (Ps. 49:6, KJV) are set in a solemn back drop. New songs are used in the assembly of the saints to worship God (Ps. 149:1). Rejoicing and delighting in God are a part of praise. And the New Testament exhorts us to praise God through Jesus Christ. "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Heb. 13:15).

Although Ellen White clearly says that a spirit of sorrow for sin should characterize repentant believers, she also speaks of praise, happiness, and joy. "God desires His obedient children ... to come before Him with praise and thanksgiving. ... He has done for His chosen people that which should inspire every heart with thanksgiving, and it grieves Him that so little praise is offered. He desires to have a stronger expression from His people, showing that they . . . have reason for joy and gladness." 11

So both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy stress the necessity of praisea worshipful response God's children offer because of His great acts. Adoration, glory, and thanksgiving are integral to praise that ascribes honor and worth (worth-ship) to God and His name or character. A. H. Leitch observes that ' 'praise is often spoken of in the Bible as a duty." 12

Praise, then, is central to renewal in worship. The history of revivals and religious awakenings is marked with outbursts of new music, often scandalous in their own age, but adopted and revered by later generations. 13 Our own pioneers composed songs of joy and exhortation expressing their hope in the return of Christ, 14 and our movement matured when the popular form of song was either a testimony of one's religious experience or an exhortation to fellow believerseven in the process of praising God. Songs of proclamation were also popular. Our present hymnbook has collected for us the great hymns of Christian faith that we should ever teach our children. 15 To these hymns and songs we may add appropriate hymns and songs of praise from the contemporary Scripture in song movement. These praise songs and hymns, written during the past 30 years, appeal to contemporary peopleespecially new Christians.

Leitch makes a forceful observation on the role of praise in worship: "If a man is not inspired to praise God in the normal inspiration of the hour, he is nevertheless commanded to praise God. Failure to do so is to withhold from God what rightfully belongs to His glory. There is nevertheless a sound psycho logical principle. The very act of praising God in obedience to the requirement to praise may create the emotion that befits true praise. This is akin to the command of Scripture to love. It is in the act of loving that a person 'feels' more loving. A 'dryness' in desire to praise God may call for the obedience to the command to praise." 16

The second element that is prominent in worship renewal is the use of orchestral instruments in addition to an organ or piano. This again speaks to the aspect of participation and praise. Members of the congregation (including young people) who play in the orchestra are enabled to "own" the worship hour in a unique manner. More than one parent has commented to the writer that they regard their siblings' involvement in the music of the church a vital factor in bonding them to the church through the teen years.

Another characteristic of worship in renewal is that the service is actively led from the rostrum rather than "just happening" from the order printed in the bulletin. Skillful worship leaders may lead a congregation into a spirit of reverence and praise, of prayer and worship, of confession and repentance, of thanksgiving and glory, that can seldom be experienced in traditional pat terns of worship. Psalm 22:3 (KJV) declares, "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." And there is a sense in which the presence of God is felt during periods of worship and praise that should not be confused with magic or a formula of songs.

Participation by everyone in the congregation is an important part of celebration worship. This element reaches back to the Reformation and the rediscovery of the New Testament truth of the priesthood of all believers. When the congregation becomes the true instrument of praise, when it is involved in every element of the service, then the release that God's people experienced from the high towers of tradition in the sixteenth century will become a new reality in the twenty-first century. Renewed worship brings renewed faith (and vice versa). God's people are liberated to speak of Him through the week and will return to church next Sabbath with friends to share their new experience of Christ.

Variations are common in celebration worship. Intercessory prayer, some times called garden of prayer, is one such. During this time people may gather quietly and without display at the front of the church, or in small groupings around the sanctuary, and offer personal prayers of intercession and thanksgiving, often to the accompaniment of a prayer song. The pastoral prayer becomes part of the intercessory experience.

Some congregations use Christian drama in worship. Set in a contemporary mode, its role is to help prepare for the day's sermon. In about five to eight minutes, the skit presents a dilemma. The sermon then takes up the situation from a biblical perspective. The congregation sees not only a problem, but also the Christian answer.

When a congregation thus enters into worship that places God at the center of the service, people's hearts are prepared for the sermon as a word from the Lord. These sermons should be expository, Christ-centered, and life-related. The great and distinctive doctrines of the church should not be neglected; they should be related to the great issues of life today.

Worship in renewal, then, varies from our traditional services in that the liturgy may vary from Sabbath to Sabbath. Contemporary Christian praise songs as well as traditional hymns from the hymnal are used. Personal as well as corporate prayers find a place in the service. A song leader usually leads from the rostrum, and may or may not be assisted by lead singers and musical instruments in addition to the organ and the piano. Members of the body of Christ take time for fellowship, as they extend greetings to each other in the presence of Christ. The service involves the children through special music, a story, and offerings. (Some churches have a children's bulletin containing questions that relate to the sermon. At the end of the quarter, children who have answered the questions regularly and consistently receive special awards.)

A warm, accepting, and Christ-centered climate pervades the church. Love dominates the atmosphere both before and after the service and is evident in the high "noise" level in the foyer. People look forward to both worship and fellowship at church on Sabbath mornings. They come to church to serve God with their praise, and trust Him to serve them with His sufficiency.

The full purpose of worship

Every pastor and congregation should settle this issue for themselves. It is no longer good enough to say "We've always done it this way." What reasons should we have for congregational worship? Worship serves in three general spheres. First, the vertical aspect, in which the worshiper communicates with the Lord. Rather than "Bless me, Lord," the heart call is "I will bless the Lord!" We forget about ourselves in worshiping the Lord, realizing His presence among His people, and opening up for communication with God.

Second, the horizontal aspect, which (1) enhances the sense of unity within the congregation, (2) gives us the opportunity to minister to one another, (3) teaches and reinforces spiritual truth, and (4) provides believers with an opportunity to profess their faith to others.17

Finally, the inward consequence of that which takes place vertically With God and horizontally between worshipers. Renewal worship services open the way for more expressive worship and provide a vehicle for verbal expressions from the heart. Faith is increased, and the worshipers grow in holiness, being inspired to a deeper commitment to worship God each day of their lives as well as in the congregation of the saints.

1 "Worship," The Living Webster Encyclopedic
Dictionary of the English Language (1971).

2 G. W. Bromiley, "Worship," in The
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp., 1975), vol. 5,
p. 975.

3 Ibid.

4 Jack W. Hayford, Worship His Majesty
(Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), p. 45.

5 For example, the Temple services recorded in
Chronicles, Nehemiah 12, and the early chapters
of Acts.

6 Bromiley, pp. 987-989.

7 "Culture," The Living Webster Encyclopedic
Dictionary.

8 Hayford, p. 23.

9 Ibid.

10 "Celebrate," The Living Webster Encyclopedic
Dictionary.

11 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1948), vol. 6, p. 364.

12 A. H. Leitch, "Praise," in The Zondervan
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p.
834.

13 For example, some of the songs of Martin
Luther and Charles Wesley. When his band music
was criticized, William Booth, founder of the
Salvation Army, is reported to have commented,
"Why let the devil have all the best tunes!"

14 The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown,
Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985)
features many Adventist composers, with F. E.
Belden contributing 16 numbers.

15 Seven of the 38 hymns in the section
"Adoration and Praise" actually address God. The rest
are rather exhortations to address God with praise
or adoration. This reflects the hymnody of an
earlier era. Perhaps it was too early to include
some of the music of the past 30 years--as there
may be little consensus yet about the abiding
qualities of our generation's praise music.

16 Leitch, p. 834.

17 See Bob Sorge, Exploring Worship (Buffalo:
Trinity Media Press, 1987), pp. 107-124.


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Eoin Giller, D.Min., is senior pastor of Desert Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church, Tucson, Arizona.

October 1991

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