What is Worship?

By James M. Rochford

New Testament (NT) worship is highly contested in the church today. As biblical Christians, we should create our definition of worship from the Bible itself—not our church tradition. We agree with D.A. Carson, who writes, “We should not begin by asking whether or not we enjoy ‘worship,’ but by asking, ‘What is it that God expects of us?’”[1] If we cannot explain from Scripture why we form our view on this subject, then we are no different than any other religious group. Sadly, many believers are confused on the definition of NT worship, because of church tradition. But what does the Bible teach regarding NT worship?

The common definition of worship

In our contemporary Christian culture, worship has become synonymous with large, corporate singing services. However, this definition of worship is not a NT convention, but rather, an OT one. In fact, early on, Christians reverted back to the OT definitions of worship (see 1 Clement 40:1-5; Didache 13:3). As a result of this reversion back into the old covenant view, the church has formed a tradition on its conception of worship. While the Reformers corrected much of Catholic dogma, they failed to correct this understanding as well. Theologian Erwin Bishop writes,

As heirs of the Reformation and Restoration movements, we have made good progress in brushing aside much of this ecclesiastical and ceremonial tradition accumulated over hundreds of years, but our thinking has not yet been swept clean of the dusty concepts which lay beneath this tradition [i.e. worship]. These inherited concepts make it difficult for us to see the clear teaching of the New Testament.[2]

While worship services are popular in the church today, what does the Bible teach on this subject?

Worship Services are NOT Biblical

This might be surprising to read, but there are three lines of evidence for thinking that worship services are not God’s plan for the church: (1) No precept for a worship service in the NT, (2) no example of a worship service in the NT, and (3) a complete reinterpretation of OT worship services.

1. No Precept for a Worship Service in the NT

With such a focus on worship services in Western Christianity, we might expect to find a multitude of passages commanding such a thing. Yet, surprisingly, we do not find even one. Theologian D.A. Carson writes, “There is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship.”[3]

Worship services are replete throughout the psalms in the old covenant. However, the book of Hebrews claims that the old covenant has been replaced by the finished work of Christ. Therefore, it is obsolete. If we try to pull worship services from the OT, then we will also have to pull everything else as well (e.g. priests, sanctuaries, animal sacrifices, etc.) Carson writes, “We do not have a ‘temple’ in the Old Testament sense. On what grounds do we transfer Old Testament choirs to the New Testament and not an Old Testament temple or priests?”[4]

The book of Revelation has several scenes of worship services, where believers sing to the Lord together (Rev. 5:9; 14:3). However, these passages describe the church’s function in heaven—not on Earth. In heaven, there will be no ministry left to do. There will be no one to witness to or counsel. We will have no sin to deal with. Perhaps, in that setting, we will have time and freedom to sing and praise the Lord unhindered. Now, however, there are many things that God has prioritized for us to do—this side of eternity. Moreover, most of the passages about “worship services” in heaven are spoken—not sang (Rev. 5:11-12; 6:1, 10; 7:10). If we believe that worship services can be taken from the book of Revelation, why do we not also have meetings where believers chant praise to God in unison?

NT passages on singing

Singing is certainly a NT imperative, and we see many examples of this throughout the NT. For instance, Paul writes that believers should “[admonish] one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).

And yet, this does not describe a worship service. This is surely an imperative to sing, but not necessarily to one another. If this is a “one another” passage, then we would need to admonish one another through singing—like in a musical! This is a strained and nonsensical interpretation. Moreover, this passage states that we are to sing “in [our] hearts.” It doesn’t say where or when or how. Thus this could refer to singing in the car before work, after reading the Bible, or even with a few friends and a guitar. It certainly isn’t prescriptive of a worship service. How could we go from a command to sing—to a public worship service? Furthermore, how could this suddenly become the focus of our time in fellowship together?

Likewise, Ephesians 5:19 (“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”) doesn’t prescribe a worship service either. Here Paul prescribes “speaking to one another”—not singing (Greek lalountes). The “one another” is not in the Greek. This is only inferred from the reflexive mood. So, it could either mean sing to each other or sing to yourself. Moreover, even if this does teach that we should sing to one another, this doesn’t mean that this should be done in a worship service. For example, the Bible says “encourage one another.” But, this doesn’t mean that this should be done corporately. We don’t have services with hundreds of people encouraging one another—even though encouragement is mentioned far more often than singing.

Other passages touch on the subject of singing:

NT Passages on Singing

(Mt. 26:30) After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus did sing with his disciples at the last supper. However, Jesus ministered under the old covenant—not the new covenant (Gal. 4:4). This, like much of what Jesus did in his historical and religious context, should not be mandatory for new covenant Christians (e.g. celebrating the Passover, visiting the Temple, etc.).

 

(Acts 16:25) But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

This is the only passage on singing in the entire book of Acts. For a book describing the events of the early church, a lack of a corporate worship service is telling. Moreover, this is not mandatory for worship services. If it was, then we would only be allowed to have two people singing, and we would need to sing in prison! 
(Rom. 15:9) For the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.”

This passage is simply quoting the OT. It isn’t a command for us to sing.

 

(1 Cor. 14:15) What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.

This is singular—not corporate—singing (“I will sing…”). Moreover, this isn’t even an imperative. It is simply what Paul himself did. Of course, we believe that we should imitate Paul’s example for us (1 Cor. 11:1).
(1 Cor. 14:26) What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

This is probably in the context of the homechurch meeting (How else could everyone participate?). Thus this wouldn’t serve as a good example of a corporate worship service. Moreover, notice that Paul isn’t prescribing this. He is merely describing what they were doing.

(Heb. 2:12) I will proclaim Your name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.

This is a citation of Psalm 22:22—not a mandatory imperative for the new covenant believer.
(Jas. 5:13) Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.

James says that cheerful believers should sing. Again, this is individual—not corporate.

 

Again, we should not be against singing as believers. This is repeated throughout the NT, and it is given as a means of connecting with God and praising him. This is, no doubt, for our own benefit in connecting with God. However, the point is this: None of these passages support a worship service.

2. No Example of a Worship Meeting

Consider the large meetings described throughout the book of Acts. There is not one reference to a public worship service in the entirety of the book. How could worship services be such an emphasis for us, if we do not find one example of this in the book of Acts? Carson confirms, “We have no detailed first-century evidence of an entire Christian service. Doubtless there are things to learn from the patristic sources, but they should not be read back into the canonical sources.”[5] Instead, the first century church contains innumerable passages on the Word, prayer, praise, and fellowship. When believers pray before and after Bible studies, we should consider this “praise” (Heb. 13:15-16).

3. Reinterpretation of the OT Language of Worship

Worship is never associated with corporate singing and worship services (like in the OT). But in addition, we also find that this entire system of thought is reinterpreted for us. That is, old covenant worship is supposed to be a foreshadowing of giving our entire lives to God.

1. Leitourgia “Liturgy”

The Greek term leitourgia (pronounced light-or-GAY-ah) is normally translated as “liturgy” in the OT (LXX). In fact, it normally refers to “priestly service” or priestly “ministry” as in Luke 1:23, Hebrews 8:2, 6, 9:21, and 10:11. BDAG defines it as “one engaged in administrative or cultic service.” However, the NT authors reinterpret this word to refer to evangelism, financial giving, or our overall lifestyle.

Romans 15:16 Paul writes, “To be a minister [leitourgos] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:16). Here Paul replaces the concept of the OT priesthood with NT ministry—namely, evangelism.

Philippians 2:17 Paul writes, “I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service [Greek leitourgia] of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Phil. 2:17). In the OT, the “drink offering” was a thanks offering—not a sin offering. The context of Paul’s service here is verse 15, which refers to evangelism (“you appear as lights in the world”). That is, Paul’s ministry to non-Christians is his way of worshipping God.

2 Corinthians 9:12 Paul writes, “The ministry of this service [Greek leitourgia] is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor. 9:12). Here the context refers to financial giving.

Though he doesn’t use the same Greek term, Peter reinterprets old covenant sacrifices to refer to evangelism. He writes, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Pet. 2:5). Of course, he holds that this refers to evangelism in verse 9 (“so that you can proclaim the excellencies of Him”).

2. Eusebeia “Godliness”

The Greek term eusebia (pronounced you-SEEB-bee-uh) is rarely used in the Bible—either OT or NT. The Greeks used this word to describe worshipping the gods in cultic acts. For instance, Paul uses the word to describe the “worship” of the Pagan Athenians (Acts 17:23).

However, the NT authors redefine this word to refer to a life lived for Christ. For instance, Paul refers to believers living “in all godliness [eusebeia]” (1 Tim. 2:2; cf. 2:10; 4:7-8; 6:3-6; 2 Pet. 1:3).

3. Threskeia “Religion”

The Greek term threskeia (pronounced thray-SKY-uh) refers to “external ceremonies of religious worship” (K.L. Schmidt, TDNT, vol III, p 157), “the worship of God, especially as it expresses itself in religious service or cult” (Arndt & Gingrich) and “denotes more specifically the ceremonial worship of religion” (Trench: Synonyms of the NT). It is used in this sense of “worshipping… angels” in Colossians 2:18. However, the NT redefines this sense of “religion” or “worship” to refer to a lifestyle of loving God and people. James writes, “Pure and undefiled religion [Greek thrēskeia] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27).

4. Proskuneo “Worship”

The Greek term proskuneo (pronounced pross-coo-NAY-oh) is the usual term for worship in the LXX. It is also the word most often translated “worship” in the English NT—usually in the gospels (see Mt. 2:2; 4:9-10; 9:18; 14:33; 18:26; 20:20; 28:9, 17; Acts 10:25; 24:11; throughout the book of Revelation). It usually refers to prostrating oneself before a deity. It “demands visible majesty before which the worshiper bows” (H. Greeven, TDNT, vol. VI, p 765). Proskuneo is only used once in the Epistles (1 Cor. 14:25), and in only two OT citations in Hebrews (Heb. 1:6; 11:21). A key use of proskuneo is in Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well in John 4:20-24:

Our fathers worshiped [Greek proskyneō] in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus repeatedly uses the term proskuneo in this passage. But what does he mean by it? At the very least, we know that it is different than the old system. According to this passage, something very substantive has changed about worship, since Jesus’ arrival. Since the Temple was replaced with Jesus’ body (Jn. 2:21; 2 Cor. 6:16), the concept of old covenant worship services are necessarily replaced with something new.

“In spirit” could mean in the spiritual realm (Rom. 1:9; 2:29; Phil. 3:3), in contrast to the physical confines of the Temple. It could also mean in the power of the spirit—rather than the flesh (Phil. 3:3).

“In truth” could either mean “in reality” or “in sincerity.” For instance, people recognized Jesus as “truthful” and “[teaching] the way of God in truth” (Mt. 22:16). John writes that we should “not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).

5. Latreuo, Latreia “Worship” or “Serve.”

The Greek term latreuo (pronounced lot-TRUE-oh) can be translated “to worship cultical­ly… [in reference] to the sacrificial cultus.” In the NT, its meaning is elevated “to a total view accord­ing to which the whole life of the Christian is fundamentally brought under the concept” of worship (H. Strathmann, TDNT, vol IV, p 64).

This is often translated as “service” or “serve” throughout the NT (Mt. 4:10; Lk. 1:74; 2:37; Acts 24:14; 26:7; Rom. 1:9; 1:25; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 10:2). Philippians 3:3 and Hebrews 9:9 both translate this as “worship.” The author of Hebrews uses this to refer to Christian service: “Let us show gratitude, by which we may offer [Greek latreuō] to God an acceptable service [Greek latreuō] with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28; cf. 9:14). Hebrews 13 unpacks what this verse means with practical suggestions—all of which refer to loving people or God.

Finally, the premier passage on worshipping God is Romans 12. Here, Paul states that the entire life of the believer is our means of worshipping God. He writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship [Greek latreuō]” (Rom. 12:1). Robert Banks writes, “Worship involves the whole of one’s life, every word and action, and knows no special place or time.”[6]

Conclusion

Based on these three lines of evidence, we see no reason to promote worship services in the NT. There is (1) no precept for a worship service in the NT, (2) no example of a worship service in the NT, and (3) a complete reinterpretation of OT worship services. As Ervin Bishop aptly summarizes,

Jewish, pagan and even traditional Christian ideas of worship contrast sharply with the concept of worship in the New Testament. An examination of Jesus’ teaching on this subject revealed that worship in the new age is not to be limited to special acts performed at any particular place or time. Instead, New Covenant worship consists of the ‘true worshiper’s’ total relationship and service to God. This new and revolutionary concept of worship is taught consistently throughout the New Testament… These (New Testament) writers borrowed words for ‘worship’ from Jewish and pagan contexts of formal, ceremonial, Temple worship. However, whenever these words were applied to Christians, they referred not to a ‘worship service’ but rather to a life of service.[7]

Likewise, David Peterson writes,

Worship in the New Testament is a comprehensive category describing the Christian’s total existence… Consequently, ‘our traditional understanding of worship as restricted to the cultic gathering of the congregation at a designated time and place for rite and proclamation will no longer do. This is not what the New Testament means by worship.[8]

In other words, these old covenant rituals were predictive in nature. They were types (i.e. foreshadowings or pictures) of what we would do as new covenant believers. To revert back to the types would be in contradiction to their very nature. God gave liturgical worship as a foreshadowing of our future work for him.

Are worship services beneficial for reaching lost people?

Many evangelicals have argued that “worship evangelism” reaches non-Christians. Worship evangelism is the notion that non-Christians will see us worshipping God, be spiritually impacted, and they’ll want that for themselves. For instance, Sally Morgenthaler writes,

Unbelievers (including those who are in churches and unchurched) will draw lasting conclusions about the veracity and uniqueness of our God based on what they see or do not see happening in our weekly church services. Do they detect something supernatural and life-changing going on? Can they sense God’s presence and work among us? Are they experiencing something in our midst they have never seen before?[9]

However, this concept of “worship evangelism” hasn’t been effective in reaching lost people. Of course, this shouldn’t surprise us. Our culture is not a singing culture. Do people in our culture usually sing songs together? They might sing while drunk in a bar or maybe at a rock concert, but not otherwise. It doesn’t seem wise to encourage non-Christians to sing songs that they don’t know, to a God they don’t believe in, in the hopes that they will become Christians in the process.

In fact, studies show that worship services are better at reaching Christians—not non-Christians. Ken Sidey writes, “More than 80 percent of all the growth taking place in growing churches comes through transfer, not conversion.”[10] In fact, even Sally Morgenthaler (author of Worship Evangelism) writes, “In 2001 a worship-driven congregation in my area finally did a survey as to who they were really reaching, and they were shocked. They’d thought their congregation was at least 50 percent unchurched. The real number was 3 percent.[11]

We do not doubt that some people have come to Christ through worship services. However, people come to Christ in a multitude of ways, because God is gracious. This doesn’t mean that we should place our focus on worship services as a means of fulfilling our mission of reaching lost people.

Worship is a Lifestyle of Dedication to Christ

We do not want to be completely negative in our view of worship. People have visited our church and asked, “So… you guys don’t worship?” We very quickly retort, “We certainly do worship the Lord!” But our worship of God does not consist of singing in a worship service. Instead, NT worship is far more exhilarating and robust. NT worship includes a number of key factors:

1. Dedicating our entire life to God

(Rom. 12:1) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

2. Giving God our praise and thanksgiving

(Heb. 13:15) Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.

The author says that this should be “continually” throughout the week—not just once a week in a meeting. Moreover, the “fruit of lips” could mean prayer—not singing. Public prayer could fulfill what the author has in mind here.

3. Being a spiritual influence on others

(Eph. 5:2) Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

(Rom. 15:15-16) But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

(Phil. 2:17) But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.

(1 Cor. 9:13-14) Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

4. Giving financially to the cause of Christ

(Rom. 15:27) Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.

(Heb. 13:16) And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

(Phil. 4:18) But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent [i.e. money], a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

(2 Cor. 8:5-7) This, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well. 7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

Are we really going to disagree with the traditional church on the subject of worship?

Many believers feel uncomfortable disagreeing with the mainstream of Christian teaching on the subject of worship. However, we should make a number of observations: First, the theologians in Jesus’ day were wrong about God’s plans and purposes. In fact, they were really wrong. Even “uneducated and untrained men” like Peter and John had more understanding than the Pharisees (Acts 4:13). Second, by this same logic, we should be listen to papal decrees. Tradition is very powerful in our thinking and convictions, but we need to be committed to the Word of God (Mk. 7). Third, practically speaking, the traditional church isn’t doing well in reaching lost people in our culture. Thus we shouldn’t glorify the traditional church as the paradigm which we should follow.

Conclusion

Many believers might think that NT worship is not the same with having worship services. But, so what? What is the big deal with having worship services in the church today? Many people have been raised on this, and they like connecting with God in this way. While worship services aren’t taught in Scripture, they also aren’t precluded by it.

However, we feel that having worship services lowers the Bible’s robust definition of what it means to worship God. We agree with Peterson, who writes,

Contemporary Christians obscure the breadth and depth of the Bible’s teaching on this subject when they persist in using the word ‘worship’ in the usual, limited fashion, applying it mainly to what goes on in Sunday services… People who emphasize that they are ‘going to church to worship God’ tend to disregard what the New Testament says about the purpose of the Christian assembly. If Christians are meant to worship God in every sphere of life, it cannot be worship as such that brings them to church.[12]

Moreover, if we allow non-biblical worship services, what else will we allow? While this subject seems innocuous at first glance, it is really a microcosm of a larger issue: Accepting God’s imperatives as authoritative.

The main mission of the church

What is the central mission of the church? Without a biblically clear vision, believers will slide into various different directions. Frequently, pastors and theologians argue that our central mission is worship. For instance, theologian Wayne Grudem writes,

Worship in the church is not merely a preparation for something else: it is in itself fulfilling the major purpose of the church with reference to its Lord. That is why Paul can follow an exhortation that we are to be “making the most of the time” with a command to be filled with the Spirit and then to be “singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph. 5:16–19).[13]

The primary reason that God called us into the assembly of the church is that as a corporate assembly we might worship him.[14]

Because worship glorifies God and fulfills the purpose for which God created us, it is an activity of eternal significance and great value.[15]

John Stott writes,

It is often said that the church’s priority task is evangelism. But this is really not so. Worship takes precedence over evangelism, partly because love for God is the first commandment and love for neighbour the second, partly because, long after the church’s evangelistic task has been completed, God’s people will continue to worship him eternally, and partly because evangelism is itself an aspect of worship, a ‘priestly service’ in which converts ‘become an offering acceptable to God’.[16]

Likewise, Edmund Clowney writes, “Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God… Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly.”[17]

Should corporate worship services be the main mission of the church? We do not hold to this conviction based on various passages in Scripture.

1. Jesus was sent for the purpose of reaching the lost.

(Lk. 19:10) For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

(Jn. 3:17) For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

(Mk. 10:45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

2. Jesus sends his followers for this same mission.

(Jn. 20:21) So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Jesus calls attention to the nature of his own mission as a way of understanding the mission of the church. To be specific, we could look at Jesus’ description of his intent in various places where he declared his own purpose.

(Mt. 28:18-20) “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

In Jesus’ “great commission” to the church, evangelism and discipleship are the key focus. Nothing about worship is even mentioned.

(2 Cor. 5:18-20) All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Paul draws the parallel between the mission of Christ and that of the church. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself…” and “he has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The church is to take up the work of reaching those alienated from God (which is the cornerstone of reconciliation). However, our work doesn’t stop there. We are to press the work of reconciliation forward in the area of bringing members close to God through enhancing their walk with him, teaching them how to worship him and how to gain victory over their own personal problems. Seen this way, reconciliation is both an event and a process.

(Col. 2:19) “[Beware of those who come up with their own religion instead of] holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

The main goal of the church is to grow both qualitatively and quantitatively. Jesus is the head of the body of Christ. Our mission is to hold fast to him, receiving our directions and nourishment from him, often through the agency of other members (the “joints and ligaments”).

(Eph. 4:11-16) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

In this passage, we again see Paul’s vision of the proper functioning of the body of Christ. Under the headship of Christ, not only are there leaders who equip other members (the saints) but the saints themselves do the “work of service.” This work of service is the responsibility and opportunity of “every joint” and of “each individual part.”

The vision here is of a community where everyone has a role in being built up spiritually and building up others. This mentions both qualitative growth (“we are no longer to be children tossed here and there”) and quantitative growth (“the growth of the body”).

Further Reading

Peterson, David. Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992).

Carson, D. A. Worship by the Book (Zondervan, 2002).

Ervin Bishop “THE ASSEMBLY,” Restoration Quarterly, 18 (1975).

 

[1] Carson, D. A. Worship by the Book (Zondervan, 2002) 29.

[2] Ervin Bishop “THE ASSEMBLY,” Restoration Quarterly, 18 (1975) 219-228.

[3] Carson, D. A. Worship by the Book (Zondervan, 2002) 55.

[4] Carson, D. A. Worship by the Book (Zondervan, 2002) 17.

[5] Carson, D. A. Worship by the Book (Zondervan, 2002) 21.

[6] Banks, Robert. Paul’s Idea of Community (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998, pp. 88-89).

[7] Ervin Bishop “THE ASSEMBLY,” Restoration Quarterly, 18 (1975). 218.

[8] Peterson, David. Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 18-19.

[9] Morgenthaler, Sally. Worship Evangelism: Inviting Unbelievers into the Presence of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995. 9.

[10] Sidey, Ken. “Church Growth Fine Tunes its Formulas” Christianity Today, (June 24, 1991) 46.

[11] Sally Morgenthaler “Worship as Evangelism” Rev! May/June 2007. 48.

[12] Peterson, David. Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 18, 218.

[13] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1994. 867.

[14] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1994. 1003.

[15] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1994. 1009.

[16] Stott, John. Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. 59.

[17] Edmund Clowney, “The Biblical Theology of the Church” in The Church in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson, 22. Cited in Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House. 1994. 1004.