Worship is Theology

college-paperWhen I had to write papers in school, I always found the toughest part to be writing the first sentence.  Staring at a blank page was so daunting because there were so many options.  But once I got that first sentence done, the rest of the paper generally flowed naturally from it.

I’m feeling a little bit like that with this blog and my first substantive post.  There are so many topics on worship that I want to write about, and hopefully I will get to all of them at some point.  But the first post should be one that allows the others to flow freely and naturally.  So after much fickleness on my part, I’ve decided to start with a revelation about worship I had about 5 years ago:

Worship is theology.

Now this might seem obvious to most of you, but bear with me for a moment so we can define some terms.  When I use the word “worship” I’m talking about giving one’s whole self to God as a sacrifice of praise (Romans 12:1).  This giving then manifests itself in a unique way as Christians gather together each week for “corporate worship” (yes there’s a difference there) to glorify God and edify each other.  So for the sake of this and all future articles worship is absolutely more than singing at a church service, but it is certainly not less.

Second when I use the word theology, I’m really just talking about understanding God.  Sometimes this word gets thrown around in a way to seem more intellectual than others or to impress people, but it really is a simple straightforward word.  It’s all about knowing God.

Ok, definitions aside, what was so revolutionary to me about the above statement 5 years ago?  Isn’t it pretty obvious?  Well yes and no.  Most people when they talk about “worship” and “theology” have a tendency to add qualifying verbs to their relationship.  They talk about “worship expressing theology” or “worship communicating theology” or “worship containing theological truth”.  These are all true statements but they don’t go far enough.  Worship is theology.

By that I mean that when we worship (especially corporately) we are actually doing theology together.  We are engaging with God and he is engaging with us, and we are knowing the reality of him more through that relationship.  That is “doing theology”.  And oftentimes our worship precedes any formal doctrines or systematic statements we end up using to describe it.

christ-catacombs-375

One of the earliest known images of Jesus

For example, historians of early Christianity have discovered a very interesting phenomenon about the early church.  From very shortly after Pentecost, the Jewish Christians worshiped Jesus in the same way they worshiped YHWH.  And yet, in spite of that they still considered themselves monotheistic (worshiping one God).  What’s so interesting about this is that it would take another 200-300 years for the doctrine of the Trinity to be expressed as we now know it.  The expression of that doctrine flowed out of the worship the people were giving to YHWH and Jesus who they somehow knew were actually one God.

So what difference does this make?  I think there are a lot of implications here, (and hopefully I’ll get to some of those more in the future) but the one I want to focus on has to do with our priorities in our church services.  Often times corporate worship gets short shrift compared to things like the sermon.  Worship songs are seen essentially as the warm-up to the real heart of the service, which is the weekly message.  However, the truth is, while the sermon is incredibly important, there is something uniquely significant about what happens when the people of God get together and give him praise.  We are actually doing theology.  We are engaged with him in the relationship we were made for. It’s not the warm-up or the prelude or the feel-good moment, it’s the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  And without it, all of our doctrines and sermonizing don’t make much difference.

So of all the potential launching points, this is where I want to start, because I believe that understanding that worship is theology is essential for every other post I will ever write from album reviews, to guitar techniques, to theological musings.  This is the fountainhead of all that will come next.  Hopefully it’s not bad for a first line.

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About Stephen Wilburn

I am a worship director at a suburban Philadelphia church and currently a doctoral student at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA
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