Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hermeneutical Guidelines for a Theology of Worship (Part 2)

It was when I read this quote from a footnote on the first page of Michael Farley's JETS article entitled "What Is 'Biblical' Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship", that I knew I would end up disagreeing with his conclusion:
Liturgy and 'worship' are words with multiple meanings and connotations. In Christian perspective, every act and aspect of life can be considered worship, in the sense that every occasion in life is an opportunity for gratefully receiving God's gracious gifts and responding with whole-hearted devotion. Within the context of one's life as a whole, however, there are specific acts of devotion that embody this relational dynamic between God and his people in a more explicit and focused manner...These particular kinds of worship may be performed by individuals in private, by small gatherings of Christians (e.g. families, small groups) or by a whole congregation. This essay restricts its attention to the last of these particular modes of worship, and thus 'worship and 'liturgy,' even when used without any qualifying adjectives, denote the content and order of the weekly coroporate worsihp of the entire Chrsitian assembly in a specific congregation or parish gathered on the Lord's Day. (Farley, JETS Vol. 51, No. 3: Sep., 2008; 591).
Farley's approach is all too common. Many of the books I have read, teachers I have listened to, and dialogue partners I have discussed this issue with begin by tipping the hat to the reality that, well, really, all of life is worship. But that thought is then left behind, as if we can start talking about the real issues now that we've gotten that bit out of the way.

In my first post in this short series on worship, I argued that any attempt to discuss the specifics of worship without a clear grasp of the guiding theological principles proves fruitless, and in my experience, divisive. The Bible is conspicuously silent on the specifics, and we thus must look elsewhere.

And I do not doubt that Farley and any who sympathize with his final position agree. The trouble is that what he leaves behind in a footnote on the first page of his article, I suggest is the key to thinking about biblical worship.

Let me then be quite clear with my thesis: the key theological principle that ought to guide any biblical theology of worship is that musical worship exists to empower the life of worship that every Christian should live at every moment of every day. Put another way, our application of Rom. 12:1-2 should guide our application of 1 Cor. 12-14. I am convinced it did so for Paul.

A few notes on my choice of terms:

- I use the term "biblical theology" broadly as a shorthand for "theology derived from the Bible," not as that sub-disicipline of theology that seeks to work through Scripture diachronically as opposed to "systematic theology." "Biblical theology" in the narrower sense is actually quite important to defending my thesis and will be treated with some detail, but that is not how I mean it here.

- I have tried in all of life (most certainly including these posts) to stop referring to what goes on when we congregationally sing praises to our Lord as "worship" with no qualifiers. When I want to discuss that event, I will use phrases such as "congregational worship", "corporate worship", and/or "musical worship." My thesis being what it is, this is actually quite important. I am convinced that the use of the term "worship" in an unqualified sense to refer to musical worship has been a major factor contributing to the confusion on this issue.

- For ease of discussion I will refer to the Christian's life of worship as, fittingly, "life-worship," though the reader can assume that an unqualified use of "worship" refers to the same thing hereafter.

Having set out my thesis, let me give an overview of my defense with some good old fashioned proof-texting here and save my more in depth exegetical and biblical-theological (in the narrow sense) work for my next post. But for now, here are my major arguments:

1. As I have already argued at some length, the Bible is generally quiet about the specifics of worship. This is not just because there were no electric guitars to fight about in Paul's day, but more importantly because the specifics are simply not the root issues. 'Nuf said.

2. Old Testament temple rituals are relevant to New Testament worship almost exclusively symbolically, and thus do not address New Testament worship specifics much at all. This may sound flippant, but I am convinced it is the best way to handle the relationship between OT and NT worship. This biblical-theological, salvation-historical movement will be the major burden of my next post, but for those who are immediately off-put let me challenge you with this simple question: where in the NT do you find a direct use of OT temple ritual commended to the church?

3. The New Testament consistently frames discussions about what Christians should do when they gather together in terms of how Christians obey the Lord in the rest of their lives. Again, this will get more detail later, but I refer you here to 1 Cor. 12-14, where edification is the answer to extraordinary but not congregationally beneficial spiritual overflow; to Heb. 10:25, where meeting together has the purpose of stirring one another up to love and good deeds (note especially the discussion in 10:26ff); and to Eph. 5:18-20, where Spirit-filled singing is not just meant to praise God, but is meant to address one another and is what precipitates the discussion of how submission plays out in Christian living. I hope you see my point.

4. All of this is based on one major idea, namely the relocation of the temple from a central place in a city to the person of Jesus Christ. Christian living in the NT is the fulfillment of temple worship in the OT. This is much of the same reason why the only priests you find in the NT are Jesus, the Great High Priest, and the community of priests (i.e. all Christians).

We have immediately failed to understand this issue every time we admit that all of life is worship, but that what we're talking about now is musical worship. The biblical picture suggests that it is impossible to rightly understand the latter outside of the terms and parameters of the former. More defense, exposition, and application to follow!

No comments: