New Testament Worship

Posted: September 11, 2008 by joelmartin in Biblical Studies, Worship
Tags: , , ,

 

     Revelation is a battleground book. Many camps divide over interpreting the book 

and in the recent past entire denominations have formed over particular views of the 

last days. I’d like to look at the book through a different lens – that of worship. Many 

folks claim to want to worship like ‘the New Testament church’ worshiped, which 

generally seems to entail reading Acts, I Corinthians, and some other Epistles. But we 

seldom see these folks look to Revelation for any guidance on what ‘New Testament 

Christianity’ looked like. 

     Whether the prophecies in Revelation apply to A.D. 70 or A.D. 7,253 we get to go 

behind the veil in this book and see worship in heaven. This worship is carried on by 

strange spiritual creatures and also by the saints who have passed out of this life. In 

Revelation 4 we are immediately presented with a window on the very throne of God. It 

is a fearsome and holy sight, and one that is saturated with worship. As human beings, 

we are made to worship – it is our destiny. What we see here is otherworldly and 

beautiful. 24 “elders” are seated around the throne. This seems to sum up the 

foundation of God’s one people – 12 sons of Jacob and 12 Apostles, the Old and New 

Covenants united in worship of the Holy Trinity. 

     Also around the throne are the four ‘living creatures’ – fantastic beings who appear 

to be the same as those seen by the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah. Isaiah saw these 

‘Seraphim” [literally, ‘burning ones’, a description, not a title, says Alec Motyer ] crying: 

  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; 

  the whole earth is full of his glory! 

John sees these beings worshiping with: 

  Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, 

  who was and is and is to come! 

These prayers of the Seraphim have been incorporated into the worship of the Church 

from time immemorial. The Anglican Churches say the following prayer when partaking 

of the Lord’s Table: 

  Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of 

  heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, 

  and saying, 

  Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of they glory: 

  Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen. 

     The prayer is often sung, and generally it makes me shiver as I close my eyes and 

contemplate falling at the feet of Jesus in worship with ALL of His Church. Alec Motyer 

says of the Isaiah scene: “The seraphim were calling to one another; are we to picture 

them standing each side of the throne and responding to each other in antiphonal 

song? At any rate, the song is continuous and its theme is the holiness of the Lord and 

his presence in all his glory in every place.” 

     What conclusions about our worship can be drawn from this scene? Several 

suggest themselves:

[1] Worship is repetitive. Worship does not require a ‘new thing’ every week. Neither 

repetition nor newness guarantee lively hearts. Is anyone going to accuse the 

Seraphim of dead worship because they simply repeat phrases to God continually? 

Quite the contrary. Their worship is strange and fearsome, utterly smitten with the 

holiness of God. 

We are creatures of habit, just face it. When you take a shower, you probably wash 

using the same pattern. You probably dress yourself in a certain way, listen to the 

same radio station or music on the way to work, take lunch at the same time, and so 

forth. When you are on vacation you get a little discombobulated due to your routine 

being thrown off. This is right and good. We live life in repetitious cycles, and our 

worship is the same. 

[2] Worship is Trinitarian. Many churches have unconsciously lost the concept that our 

God is three in one. Extemporaneous prayers are generally directed to Jesus or the 

Father. I cannot remember hearing people pray extemporaneously and invoke the 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not done out of some agenda to play down the 

Trinity, it is rather a function of thinking on the fly. Revelation and Isaiah show us the 

thrice holy is continually hymned out to God, indicating His threeness and his oneness. 

If there is no mention of the Trinitarian nature of God in our worship, then something is 

wrong. 

[3] Worship should recognize God’s holiness. I am not a student of Greek and Hebrew, 

so I can’t tell you with authority what “holy” means in those languages. The 

understanding I have is that it has to do with being set apart and different from the 

world. But when I say the word holy, or contemplate it, it conjures up deep and heavy 

feelings of dread, purity, joy and bliss that mingle together and flow towards God. I 

cannot define holiness to you any more than I can define the Trinity, but I have a sense 

of it in my bones, and I think we all share that sense and feel it heavily when God’s 

presence invades our worship in a special way. 

     I look forward to pressing on with a look at worship in the book of Revelation.

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Comments
  1. Jim says:

    Very Good. I heard in some distant sermon that the key to understanding Revelation is that the book is what it says it is–The Revelation of Jesus Christ. It’s not the Apocolypse, it’s not the revelation of the end times per se. In the first chapter John worships Jesus and then Jesus teaches, admonishes, reproofs etc. It contains some of the heaviest ecclesiology in the Bible as well.

  2. joelmartin says:

    Thanks Jim. Is there anything you can point me to for reading that discusses ecclesiology in the book?

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