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Worship: Biblically Hebraic Restoration

by John D. Garr, Ph.D.

 

The following article is from Restore! Magazine Volume 6 Issue 1. From the time that man was created in the image of the Eternal God, it has been both his privilege and responsibility to worship his Creator. The spark of divinity imbued into man by the breath of the Almighty has sought release in expressions of praise and devotion to the Creator. At the beginning, worship took the form of simple evening conversations as Adam walked and talked with God in the cool of the day. Since that time, God has always searched for men and women who would worship him with the concentrated intensity and consuming passion of the Holy Spirit and with the divine order of truth communicated through His Word.

In biblical history, God progressively communicated to mankind his Word and will, including the system of praise, worship, and service that he found pleasing. This system was designed to be a vehicle through which God’s people could commune with their Maker. It included prescribed appointments, symbols, and rituals that would ever summon men from the routine of the mundane into intimacy with the Divine.

Repeatedly, however, men have drifted away from God’s design that his people commune with him in an intensely intimate, personal way. History records man’s wavering between truth and apostasy, between intense worship and apathy toward God. Even the vehicles which God has designed to bring his people into intimacy with him have been perverted into lifeless rituals of vain repetition, allowing men the security of doing religious things when their hearts were far from God.

Judaism, the system which God himself designed, approved, and gave to his people, met with his indictments, "I hate your feasts," and "By your traditions you void the Word of God," when men had perverted it into a lifeless ritual. Christianity, too, experienced apostasy, degenerating into such an abysmal state in the Dark Ages that it warranted the prophetic denunciation of being "the cage of every evil and foul bird." Both Judaism and Christianity have been victimized by Satanic attacks that seek to limit or divert the worship of God from its designed intent either through a loss of passion and fervency or through the introduction of heretical, non-biblical traditions.

Recovering Spiritual Truth
Before the light of truth has been entirely extinguished, however, the ever-searching God has always identified men and women whom he could call to renewal and restoration. Such is the case in the world today. After centuries Hellenization and Latinization that replaced the gold and jewels of divine truth on which the church was founded with the baubles and costume jewelry of human, even pagan tradition, Christians by the millions are demanding the restoration of the Hebraic foundations of faith, practice, and discipline through which Jesus and the apostles expressed their devotion to God.

A profound movement of renewal is restoring to God’s people a passion for his Spirit and his truth. An over-Hellenized, over-Latinized Christianity is experiencing a re-Judaizing process that is reattaching Christian faith to its Jewish roots.

This is particularly true in the area of worship. Believers are being renewed in the Holy Spirit to a passion for intimacy that transcends merely knowing about God in traditional Greco-Roman rationalism and reaches the realm of knowing God in the richest traditions of Judaic thought and experience. This passion reflects a recovery for Christians of the Jewish concept of kavanah, the intense concentration on the Divine that transcends understanding and thrusts one in the realm of revering God. The past century witnessed the greatest, most far-reaching renewal of the Holy Spirit in all of human history.

At the same time, this revival has produced an attendant passion for truth, fulfilling the job description that Jesus gave for the Holy Spirit: leading "into all truth." No longer content to follow blindly in the traditions of blind leaders of the past and consequently finding themselves in ditches of despair and confusion, believers are searching the Scriptures for themselves like the noble Berean Jews. God is revealing his Word in a clarity not witnessed since the first century as Christians are recovering the faith of Jesus and learning to be true worshippers by revering the Father in spirit and in truth, or in spiritual truth (as the hendiadys of John 4:24 can be translated).

Etymology and Meaning
Worship is commonly defined as "the act or feeling of adoration or homage; the paying of religious reverence as in prayer, praise, and so forth." It is derived from the Old English worthship, the act of ascribing worth to someone or to some thing. When we analyze the Hebrew and Greek words for worship, however, we gain a somewhat deeper meaning for the act of worship. The Hebrew word for worship, dg"s] (segad), means to bow oneself down, to fall down flat, to reverence, or to do obeisance, and it has the connotation of total submission to a superior (e.g., the king). The Greek translation of this word, proskunevw (proskunéo), means to prostrate oneself in homage or more graphically, to "kiss as a dog would lick its master’s hand."

When we consider the absolute holiness of God and his complete transcendent otherness, we can but prostrate ourselves in awe in the presence of the Almighty who chooses to be immanent and to seek communion with man. Like the angels of heaven, we can but underscore his holiness by crying, "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh," or "Holy, Holy, Holy," utterly holy, or wholly other, set apart beyond all human understanding.

The first and foremost element of worship, then, is the bowed head. "And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped" (Exodus 4:31). When God’s people are gathered together for worship, whether it be in a home, in a sanctuary, or in the market place, the attitude of reverence should be the initiating point of worship.

Reverence and HonorNot Entertainment
Worship of God is not entertainment for men. Far too often contemporary worship services (if they can be called such) have been designed around what is entertaining to those who are in attendance. While entertainment and things which please men are important in their own setting, they must never be confused with worship. Those meetings which are designed to appeal only to the excitement of the human spirit by doing things that are entertaining to men are failures as worship services.

The important thing about worship is to discover the elements that please God and to employ them to their fullest in our worship. Worship is not simply what makes individuals or a congregation feel good, but what makes glad the heart of God. And, in order to accomplish this quest, we must learn from the Word of God what honors and pleases him.

Preparing for Worship
It is the responsibility of the individual who is entrusted with responsibility for corporate worship to develop a coordinated, cohesive liturgical order which will lead the worshippers progressively from the carnal, natural surroundings from which they have come, through the medium of thanksgiving, into the various media of praise and prayer, into personal communion with God in a higher dimension of worship, and finally into hearing the ingrafted Word of God and altering their actions to conform to that Word.

Liturgies can be as diverse as the gifted individuals who follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Liturgy does not eliminate spontaneous, extemporaneous praise and worship. Rightly employed, it becomes a vehicle for such personal and individualized worship. Early synagogal Judaism was a prime example of this truth. The Jewish people were successful in holding the liturgical and the spontaneous in dynamic tension, with both being employed equally to the praise of God and the edification of the worshippers.

Any liturgy which does not provide for the spontaneous is deficient; however, worship that is so extemporaneous that it is devoid of structure tends to become subjective and self serving and is often confusing and unproductive in bringing about life-changing experiences.

Communion With God
The third element essential to worship is fervency. Worship can have reverence and structure and still be ineffectual if it is not carried out with depth of commitment. The dimension of depth is necessary for experiential reality. We may observe and understand something that is real when it is represented in the dimensions of length and width; however, we can never experience reality unless the dimension of depth is also present.

A fervent commitment to depth is also necessary to bring reality to our worship of God. Without this dimension, we deal only in the realm of superficiality, and we do not succeed in the real purpose for worship, which is communication and communion with God. The sages of Israel recognized this truth and discussed it as kavanah (the attitude of prayer and worship), which they said was more important than the practice itself. They declared that if any practice is carried out by rote without kavanah, it is worthless.

Quoting from Isaiah 29:13, Jesus described such ritualism, saying, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9). If one desires to ensure that his worship is not vain, he must do two things: teach the Word of God (not the doctrines of men) and come before God with full concentration and devotion to the worship that he is extending to the Creator. In effect, he is worshipping "in spirit" (kavanah) and "in truth" (the Word rightly divided).

Rediscovering Biblical Worship
Millions of Christians are exclaiming, "Enough!" They have had it with worship traditions inherited from Medieval Christianity with little, if any, reformation. They are no longer satisfied with performance/audience-based religion that is little different from the theatrical performances in ancient temples. They will no longer tolerate holy days and festivals that are little more than pagan celebrations with a thin veneer of biblical language and expression. And by the millions they are leaving traditional structured Christianity.

Increasingly, believers are reaching out for the God of the Bible. They are reclaiming their coinheritance with the People of the Book by restoring the Hebrew foundations of their faith. No longer satisfied with jejune ritual of Christianity past, now in the tradition of the Jewish forebears of their faith, they are hungry for more intimacy with God, more emotive expression of their love and passion for him. They want to do God’s thing God’s way. They want to worship him in words and forms which he has approved in his Word. They are discovering that this God of the Bible is a jealous God who seeks obedience more than sacrifice, who says, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

Worship, then, is a matter of lifestyle, of absolute submission to the Word and will of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. It transcends the evanescent moment of religiosity in an all-too-short Sunday "worship service." It is an exercise that is practiced in the home, in the marketplace, in a library.

In the tradition of the Hebrews, study is worship, perhaps its highest form, for it is an act that prostrates the human mind and will before the Word of the Almighty with a view toward doing it. When one engages in the process of learning, he is being transformed by renewing his mind in what is merely a reasonable service of worship.

As one is reconnected with the Jewish roots of Christian faith, he comes to understand that work is a service of worship. (The Hebrew word abodah means both work and worship.) This truth underscores the biblical demands for ethics and morality in the workplace and for justice in the city square. It gives a sense of importance and fulfillment in simply being the priest and teacher in one’s home, helping establish the fundamental unit of community, the family.

In true Jewish fashion, Christians are recognizing that the family, not the church, is the locus for spiritual development. They are assuming the responsibility of training their own children in the Word and ways of God, leading them in prayer, praise, study, and social interaction. No longer content to be emasculated, abdicating their God-given role of leadership and responsibility for training their children to a "church staff," fathers are taking their places alongside Abraham who God knew would teach his children his truth.

Restoration and Renewal
Believers are demanding their rights, the entitlements of their status as fellow-citizens in the commonwealth of Israel. Israel’s festivals, not Latin and Teutonic holidays, are their worship appointments, fused with profound meaning by the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and parousia of Jesus, the Messiah. Israel’s expressions of worship are increasingly becoming theirs. They now sing the Psalms and other biblical songs. They now dance Israeli dance, fulfilling God’s instruction to praise him with the dance. They now celebrate Yahweh Nissi, the God of the banner, with visual stimuli toward worship. They are now restoring to the Christian worship experience the arts which have been so polluted by Satan but which have always been celebrated by the Jewish people.

Like Israel of old, they have heard the command to awaken and "put on beautiful garments," the liturgical vestments that celebrate God and bring beauty and honor to the worship experience. The Sabbath is becoming more than a day on which one works hard at resting. It is a delight, a weekly sanctuary in time for celebrating God and one’s family.

While biblical means of worship are being restored, interestingly enough, the Hebraic concept of diversity in application is also being manifest. There are general outlines and concepts for worship that are scriptural; however, God makes room for every culture on the planet to add its own flavor and interpretation to the mix. It has never been God’s intention to force all the peoples of the earth to become culturally Jewish, or British, or Indian, for that matter. It has been his will for all men to incorporate the eternal principles which govern the high praise of God into forms with which they have been familiar and comfortable. This is in keeping with the Judaic principle of unity in diversity which requires cohesion not uniformity.

For those who have embraced Christianity’s Jewish connection, traditional Christian worship patterns are taking on new meaning. The liturgy of the Word is far more meaningful to these restorers of ancient paths, for the Bible is interpreted in the light of its original language and its historico-cultural context. The liturgy of the Eucharist has become more intensely meaningful. No strange, exotic, mystical exercise, this communion! Instead, it is a continuation of the long-standing Jewish tradition that can be traced at least to Abraham’s priest Melchizedek, a tradition of lifting the Kiddush cup in blessing to God and of breaking the bread that God brings forth from the earth.

It is further the sharing of this same cup as the cup of redemption from Passover, recognizing in it the shed blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is a celebration of the Bread from heaven that was enfleshed in an earthen vessel to bring eternal life to all.

The Search Is On
As the Hebrew foundations of Christian faith continue to be restored, increasing numbers will embrace the truth until the knowledge of God’s glory covers the earth. In that day, all nations will come forth to worship the King, the Lord of hosts. May that day come speedily and in our lifetime!


 

Dr. John D. Garr, founder and president of Restoration Foundation, has pioneered research, writing, and teaching on the Hebrew foundations of Christian faith for more than thirty years. His international ministry has enlightened believers of numerous communions, teaching them the historical and theological emergence of Christianity from the matrix of biblical Judaism. John, his wife Pat, and their sons, John, Timothy, and Stephen, are working to promote Restoration Foundation. Dr. Garr's web site is: www.restorationfoundation.org.

 

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