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A Biblical Theology of Worship

An Essay Submitted to

Dr. Pete Sanchez

School of Divinity




 Michael A. Spindler


Rio Rancho, NM

August 8, 2008




        I.      INTRODUCTION





If Christian maturity was at the forefront of urgency then worship would become the reigning topic for the Church today.  Not merely the discussion of how to worship, when to worship, and personal preference in worship, but the discourse starting and ending with what is God’s heart when He considers worship.  This essay will meet the requirement to discuss the Old Testament and New Testament understanding of worship, and it will then discuss what this study has meant to the author and implications to the contemporary Church.

To believe that as a first semester student I could read a few books and within a few months truly understand the depth of God’s heart in worship enough to make a theological analysis would be foolish.  This content will be a lifelong pursuit and I hope that in one or two years to be able to write on this same topic with much more clarity of understanding.


The Old Testament creates the foundation and fabric for God’s creation to understand who He is, His character, His chosen relationship with His creation, and His expected responses from creation.

“The necessity of structural form in worship stems from two related biblical truths.  The first is the absolute transcendence and holiness of Almighty God.  Since he is totally “other” as Creator, we as his creatures may not approach and address him in a cavalier manner.  Human beings must approach and address God in ways that acknowledge his glory and holiness (Lev. 10:3.)  As finite and fallen creatures we are incapable of grasping the infinite magnificence of God’s person and character and unfit by virtue of our sin to enter his presence.  Consequently, God defines the way of approach in worship.

Second, because we are human and finite, our thoughts, values, emotions, attitudes, imagination, and beliefs require conventional and tangible modes of expression.”[1]

Had God chosen to enter relationship with man directly from His sacrifice of the new covenant it is unlikely that we would ever comprehend Him completely. Understanding the depth of God’s love; the strength of His patience and forgiveness; and the implications of His holiness in the Old Testament are what provides us with understanding how magnanimous God is with us under the new covenant.

                        The thread of worship started before creation.  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … When the morning stars sang together.  And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4a, 7 NASB)  Man was created “in the image and likeness of God.” (Gen. 5:1)  That distinction makes us unique among all creation.    God placed Adam and Eve in the garden to cultivate and keep it.  The Hebrew word עָבַד (ʿā∙ḇǎḏ)[2]   is a verb that was used to describe their purpose in the garden – to serve; to work; to cultivate; and to worship.  Worship has always been the desire of God, even before man.

The Old Testament demonstrates that God was willing to interact and move on His people’s behalf.  “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.  (2 Chron 16:9 NASB)  Man’s worship started in Genesis with Cain & Abel and moved right into the Patriarch’s.  Genesis 4:4b-5a states “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.”  Abram built an altar to the Lord (Gen12:8.)  Noah walked with God (Gen 6:9.)  Abraham spoke with God, and obeyed Him (Gen 12:1-7.)  Isaac and Jacob followed.  In the context of God revealing Himself in the Old Testament it could be said that a key element of Old Testament worship was that it was initiated by God, not man.  God set the rules.  God set the place.  And it is God that begins a consistent pattern of blessing those that honor and bless Him with their entire life and span of influence.  In nearly all cases, as the King/Priest honored or dishonored, trusted God or pagan gods – thus the people were blessed –or- cursed.

The exodus showed another key element of God’s character – while He was not adverse to His people suffering for their idolatry… He is faithful to deliver.  After the Patriarchs, worship has always included acknowledging God’s faithfulness.  From the exodus until contemporary times the Israelites were the most reverent and earnest when recalling God’s faithfulness to deliver them.

Another key element is illuminated when looking at God’s dealing with Moses through the exodus.  ‘And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain’” (Exodus 3:12 NASB.)  God’s promise to be with Moses and instructions to worship are both indicative that God is planning for Israel’s return to shared worship with Him.  “The movement from Egypt to Sinai is thus a movement towards the worship of the true God.”[3]

The Old Testament continues after the exodus with judges, kings, and priests of God’s people making personal decisions to serve God and Him alone –or- choosing idolatry, which usually took the form of pagan or personal worship.  But despite generational idolatry Exodus 19:4-6 spelled it out very clearly for God’s people His passion.

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.  ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”  (NASB)


Worship for Israel included rules that governed all areas of life – food, clothing, time, and the exclusion of all pagan practices.  God had established that being in His presence and walking in His blessings meant a total life looking to Him for life itself and all practices.  Another key element of learning who God was – was to understand a fundamental principle that there existed holy and unholy in the world, or clean and unclean.

“The concept of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ in these early books of the Old Testament is primarily ritual in nature. That is, ceremonial uncleanness is in mind, which is a state or condition that has an impact on one’s relationship with God.  A person who was ceremonially unclean could not take part in the worship ceremonies of Israel.  Later the prophets pick up the concept of uncleanness and apply it to Israel’s moral condition (Neh. 7:64; Isa. 59:3; 63:3; Lam. 4:14; Dan. 1:8; Zeph. 3:1; Mal. 1:7, 12). Sin, not ritual, is the thing which ultimately separates human beings from God.  Why was this ritual aspect of cleanness and uncleanness built into the worship of Israel? In part as a teaching aid, to indicate that no one can approach God presumptuously. And in part as another element in a system of laws that was designed to make Israel different from all other nations. Only a people who are separated to God from every competing influence can live out the commitment that covenant life requires.”[4]

God’s covenant was complete coverage for His people.  But it required complete honor and obedience to Him.  “Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, bear now the punishment of your lewdness and your harlotries.’ ” (Ezekiel 23:35 NASB)

In the new land God provided Judges.  Whenever the Lord raised up a judge, Israel would prosper and be saved from their enemies.  Whenever the judges were gone the people of Israel would turn to pagan gods and practices.  Israel was continually shallow and short-sighted in her almost magnetic willingness to follow their pagan neighbors, taking their woman, and sell out their heritage any time there was a leadership void.  God’s wrath, or allowance for defeat, would pull them back to sanity; and then as time passed – they would entropy back into idolatry.

The people requested of God to have a “real” king that they could see.  God complied – thus ending the theocracy and direct rule by God.  Worship became dependent on this king.  If the king pursued excellence in his relationship and honor of God, then the people lived in peace and prospered.  But if the king was idolatrous – the people suffered.  This cycle was repeated over and over.  The psalms contain a record of King David, that led the Israelites righteously and thus enjoyed complete worship with Him.  Worship for David, a flawed man, kept him and thus Israel in the center of God’s love for His people.

Worship for the kings was in and out of legitimate or illegitimate worship depending on the king’s personal life.  The fate of the entire nation of Israel rested on the king.  It was still the personal worship of God by the king that affected the outcome.

The psalms are fairly unique in offering the major key element of worship – passion for God.

“Knowledge of God’s greatness should both humble us and move us to worship. The Lord’s Prayer was meant to teach us, not just to ask for things, but also to worship God for all that he is, and thus to hallow his name in our own hearts. Angels and saints in glory worship God as Father (Ephesians 3:14 ff.), and so on earth must we. … Think of Solomon’s question, “Will God dwell indeed with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee …” (2 Chronicles 6:18). But then think of what is in effect God’s reply to Solomon: “Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit … ’” (Isaiah 57:15.)[5]

The last key element, or perhaps the first, of the Old Testament - is the Law.  The law was given to explain God’s morality and desire for His people in life which as has been pointed out is where worship must begin.  The definition of worship in Harper’s Bible Dictionary includes a tight synopsis of this relationship.

“Although Israelite worship shared many of these external forms, even to calling sacrifices ‘the food of God’ (e.g., Lev. 21:6), its essence was quite different. As the prophets pointed out, God could not be worshiped only externally. To truly honor God, it was necessary to obey his laws, the moral and ethical ones as well as ritual laws. To appear before God with sacrifices while flouting his demands for justice was to insult him (cf. Isa. 1:11-17; Amos 5:21-22). God certainly did not need the sacrifices for food (Ps. 50:12-13); rather sacrifice and other forms of worship were offered to honor God as king.” [6]

Old Testament worship expected the nation in covenant with God to obey his laws.  Privately and publicly they worshipped Him through sacrifice, self-denial, in the midst of great persecution, and yet knew very little of the grace of God.  And still the old covenant relationship was a vague representation of the complete full view of the living God.  “… for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.” (2 Cor 3:14b)


Preaching will be obsolete when we come into perfect knowledge. But worshipers will be fully employed forever, praising God.” [7]

            God dealt with Israel over the course of many generations and was consistent in His love, patience, and passion for them.  But as loving as He was – He is holy.  So worship was constantly clouded by a people enthralled, entrapped, and in love with sin and idolatry.  The people had methods of sacrifice, places for acceptable worship, and events where they met God.  That paradigm is gone.

            The Old Covenant respectfully exists only in history.  In contemporary vernacular the New Covenant is God’s “Plan A” and His “end game.”  The veil was ripped – it simply does not exist for anyone that accepts Christ’s sacrifice.  That has created for God the ability to fellowship with any believer, and for any believer - the ability to worship God that needs no flesh sacrifice; no special places; no special vocation or birthright.

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.”  (John 17:11 NASB)

            Worship now involves each believer in relationship with only one mediator acceptable to God – Christ.  We are in a shared mission to worship God as an entire kingdom under the loving lordship of Jesus Christ.

            Under the Old Testament it was noted that the same term was used for service, work, and worship.  The meaning doesn’t change but the approach certainly does.  Noel Due’s work Created for Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You mentioned it this way:  “We serve what we worship, and we worship in our serving.”  It is no longer works to gain access to worship.  But it is our ability to worship openly that now magnifies our service.  It is of little wonder which the Father, with Christ at His right hand, enjoys more.

            Obvious to all but necessary to note in the theology of worship is that Jesus is the Messiah and as such is worthy to be worshipped and praised.  Matthew 21:15-16 notes that even the young children cried out in praise and worship of Jesus.  The Book of Hebrews can be looked at as a defining book on the theology of Christ and worship of Him.  Hebrews 1:6 declares:  “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’” (NASB)

“… Hebrews leaves us in no doubt about the fact that God spoke decisively to Israel through the prophets and that he has fully and finally revealed his character and will by his Son (1–2). The OT revelation came at many times throughout Israel’s history and in various ways such as dreams, visions and angelic messages. But the ultimate revelation has come in these last days of human history, through Jesus Christ. The writer will go on to suggest that the OT was a preparation for, and the foundation of, this ultimate revelation (e.g. 8:5; 10:1). Indeed, God continues to speak through the OT Scriptures to Christians in a whole range of circumstances (e.g. 3:7–11; 12:5–6). However, to emphasize the finality of the revelation through Jesus Christ, the writer points to his surpassing greatness as the Son of God.”[8]

            Worship of Jesus as God is established.  But to be the complete replacement for the old covenant Jesus also completes roles that God ordained for man to stand in relationship and communication with His creation.  Again, Hebrews is important for noting these distinctions about Christ and explaining them.  “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.”  (Heb 7:12 NASB)  The role of Priest from the old to new covenant necessitates a change.  No longer does the priest sacrifice to God, but indeed He, Jesus, became that sacrifice and thus held all authority to approach God on our behalf for the rest of eternity.  Jesus became the Priest.

      Hebrews spells out in 10:23-35 that the new church should continue to meet and worship.  “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  (NASB)  The actual manifestation of this new church is seen in their daily activities as detailed throughout the Book of Acts.  Acts 2 mentions the meeting of the saints/believers daily (vs. 46) and God meeting them there.  How should the believer in this new covenant then behave?  The “nation” is no longer clear since this new paradigm includes Israel, Judah, Greek, anyone who believes.  Has Christ eliminated the rules, the customs, and the order of His people?  “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.  Let love of the brethren continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” (Heb 12:28-13:3 NASB)

The new access to God through Jesus raises questions.  What would it mean to have unlimited complete access to the God of Everything?  Should it not mean a completely changed life – as it did for Moses when he came down with the Commandments… how much less should our full access to God be?

For our part – we cannot add one rung on the ladder to heaven.  But what we can add is simple and attainable by all - passion.

“Passion, of course, is an unstable element to add to worship. You never know where it will take a congregation. But worship without passion is like stacked wood without fire: orderly but cold and lifeless.

So, it is for increasing passion in worship that we have offered this book. Naturally, passion will look different in Congregational, Foursquare, and Evangelical Free churches. But beneath different worship forms—the stacked wood of each tradition—a holy passion can light a fire that reveals to people the God of Mount Horeb and sends them forth in the power of Pentecost.”[9]


I am at the very beginning of my Master of Divinity program – so it was odd that I’d take this course instead of Spiritual Formation or other degree prerequisite.  But it was exactly the perfect step to establish my course. My respect and understanding of the remaining education will be gauged by the substance with which it fits into God’s ultimate purpose for me – to worship Him.    In Psalms (22:3) David says “Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.”  (NASB)

“Remember, O Lord, on David’s behalf,

    All his affliction;

How he swore to the Lord

    And vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,

‘Surely I will not enter my house,

    Nor lie on my bed;

I will not give sleep to my eyes

    Or slumber to my eyelids,

Until I find a place for the Lord,

A dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’”(Ps 132:1-5 NASB)

            The dwelling place that God is looking to be enthroned upon is our praise.  If that is my primary task – then I’ve wasted enough time preparing for it!

The church is shallow in its understanding of worship.  If it were required spiritual formation that each believer understands the theology as outlined in Noel Due’s work Created for Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You we would have a much more potent and fulfilling Church.  But alas – that would be counted as legalism.  Others are more patient than me.

“I’ve found study of the history and theology of worship provides an enormous thrust to most people’s sense of what is occurring—or supposed to occur—when they worship. It deepens their understanding and sharpens their feeling of participation, and hence creates a greater mood of excitement and mystery.”[10]

A clear plan for introducing the “top calling” of each believer to their new vocation is needed.  The following is a reasonable course of action:

“Do Christians automatically know how to worship?

Not necessarily, says John Walden, Sr., pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Binghampton, New York. That is why he’s been taking the first five minutes of the Sunday morning service to teach about various elements of worshiping God. Different weeks have dealt with such themes as:

·        A worship experience is not what you get, but what you give.

·        How to prepare for worship—privately, during the week.

·        The place of congregational singing: why the first hymn, for example, is always a song of adoration rather than testimony.

·        How to worship during the choir’s singing rather than just watch a performance.

·        The importance of Scripture reading in a public service.

·        The reason for a sermon.”[11]

A solid New Testament definition of worship:  “Worship is praising and magnifying God by focusing on his nature and his actions. It is adoring him for who he is and loving him as our wonderful Father. The goal of worship is to bring joy to God. He is worthy of all praise and all glory, from all his creation. Worship involves our total life; what we express in formal ways must be borne out in our daily lives.”[12]   Worship involves all of God’s people learning to live a shared new life in a new way and consistently giving conscious credit to the One that gives this life.

Ah-ha moments from the course “Developing a Biblical View of Worship”:

1.      The Old Covenant was destroyed by the New Covenant – believing anything less is an affront to Christ.

2.      I am not created for evangelism, to live righteous, etc.  I am here to worship God.  The others all follow that lead.

3.      The word fellowship does not approach the meaning of the Greek word koinonia in what horizontal life should be for us.  And, koinonia is probably the biggest addition to worship in the new covenant that the Church as a whole hasn’t figured out.  (Interesting that Skip Heitzig – Pastor of Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque is sharing a stage with Don Moen as I write this essay – teaching on “Worship from Genesis to Revelation” and the church he pastors has a mere 15 small groups for 14,000 “members.”  The message of koinonia to the local church is not yet understood.)

4.      I have no desire to lead worship in the contemporary sense.  But in the old covenant – the music need not be in tune nor was it perhaps even artistically appealing.  But it was no doubt joyful and uninhibited.  In that context, and of meeting God without the veil and koinonia in a local church - I’m there to lead or follow!


Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st Ed., Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1985.

Barker, Steve, Good Things Come in Small Groups : The Dynamics of Good Group Life, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1997.

The Bible.  New American Standard Bible – 1995 Update, 1995.

Carson, D.A., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 3rd Ed., Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Illinois, 1994.

Due, Noel, Created For Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You, Christian Focus Publications, Mentor Imprint, Glasgow, Scotland, 2005.

Hayford, Jack W. and Killinger, John and Stevenson, Howard, Mastering Worship, Christianity Today, Inc., Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon; Carol Stream, Illinois, 1990.

Hill, Andrew E., Enter His Courts with Praise!, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993.

Merrill, Dean and Shelley, Marshall, eds. Fresh Ideas for Preaching, Worship & Evangelism, Christianity Today, Inc,. Word Books, 1984.

Packer, J.I., Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I want to Be a Christian, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill, 1996.

Richards, Larry and Richards, Lawrence O., The Teacher’s Commentary, Victor Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1987

Swanson, James, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. Logos Research Systems, Inc., Oak Harbor, 1997.


[1] Andrew E. Hill, Enter His Courts with Praise! (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 49.

[2]James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 6268, #1.

[3] Noel Due, From Genesis to Revelation to You (Scotland; Christian Focus Publications, 2005)

[4]Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher's Commentary, Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1987), 151.

[5]J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I Want to Be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977.; Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 168.

[6]Paul J. Achtemeier, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper's Bible Dictionary, Includes Index., 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 1143.

[7]Jack W. Hayford, John Killinger and Howard Stevenson, Mastering Worship, Series Statement from Jacket., Mastering ministry (Portland, Or.; Carol Stream, Ill.: Multnomah Press; Christianity Today, Inc., 1990), 34.

OT Old Testament

[8]D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, Rev. Ed. of: The New Bible Commentary. 3rd Ed. / Edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Heb 1:1.

[9]Jack W. Hayford, John Killinger and Howard Stevenson, Mastering Worship, Series Statement from Jacket., Mastering ministry (Portland, Or.; Carol Stream, Ill.: Multnomah Press; Christianity Today, Inc., 1990), 145.

[10]Jack W. Hayford, John Killinger and Howard Stevenson, Mastering Worship, Series Statement from Jacket., Mastering ministry (Portland, Or.; Carol Stream, Ill.: Multnomah Press; Christianity Today, Inc., 1990), 21.

[11]Inc Christianity Today, Fresh Ideas for Preaching, Worship & Evangelism. (Carol Stream, Ill.; Waco, Texas: Christianity Today; Word Books, 1984), 46.

[12]Steve Barker, Good Things Come in Small Groups : The Dynamics of Good Group Life, Includes Index. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997, c1985), 160.

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