The Complete Library of Christian Worship


I have been aware of these books for several years now, but I have just recently begun to tackle them in depth. They are a collection of essays edited by Robert E. Webber in seven volumes (eight separate books), which are as follow:

Vol. I: The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship
Vol. II: Twenty Centuries of Christian Worship
Vol. III: The Renewal of Sunday Worship
Vol. IV: Music & the Arts in Worship (Book A and B)
Vol. V: The Services of the Christian Year
Vol. VI: The Sacred Actions of Worship
Vol. VII: The Ministries of Christian Worship

Volume I begins by outlining the Old and New Testament vocabulary regarding worship. This is of course a great way to begin, as it comprehensively covers the language used in the Bible to describe and prescribe worship. An important point gets made early on in comparing the wealth of Old Testament writing regarding worship to the relative absence of such writing in the New Testament. While the Old Testament is full of songs, poems, gatherings, rituals, feasts and festivals, the New Testament has comparatively little that matches the scope of the OT. This is perhaps a result of the context in which the NT was written, where there were few chances for Christians to carry on large-scale public worship gatherings. Instead, the New Testament writers used the worship vocabulary of the OT in their interpretation Christ.

For example, in the New Testament Christ is referred to as the Passover Lamb. In the OT this was not a sin offering, but was originally the meal that the Israelites ate to signify their deliverance from the Angel of Death. The blood of the passover lamb marked the people of God for their protection from the judgment that was coming upon Egypt. In the same way, we as Christians eat the body of Christ, our passover lamb, when we share in the Lord's Supper in communion. And it is His blood that marks us as His people and delivers us from death.

Volume I also notes that in the OT it was not a male lamb that was offered for sin, but usually a ram, bull, or goat. Jesus is never likened to these animals in the New Testament. He is always referred to as the Lamb. When John the Baptists calls Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", what must he have meant, if not as a sin offering? Jesus takes away sin "through his victory over sin, in the utter obedience of His death on the cross... He takes away sin not only by his offering of himself, but by his victory and dominion over evil as the 'great King' who delivers his covenant people from their enemies. He takes away sin through the power of his life, dwelling as God himself in the midst of his people, the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-8)."

I found this clarification refreshing. In fact there is an entire section of the second chapter devoted to atonement theory which handles the topic very generously. I find the emphasis of the atonement to be much more about Jesus' life than about his death. Good Friday is not the most important day in the Christian calendar. Easter is. I think there are certain atonement theories that get this backward. And I think we sometimes get it backward in our worship as well.

Chris Tomlin has a great song out now titled "I Will Rise". I like it because the lyrics give great emphasis to the resurrection. Not only to Christ's resurrection, but to our future resurrection at His return. No thoughts of dying and going to heaven to be found in this one. I wonder if he was inspired by N.T. Wright's book "Surprised By Hope"? Here is a sample of the lyrics:

Jesus has overcome. And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won. He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles' wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise. I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing, "Worthy is the Lamb"
And I hear the cry of every longing heart, "Worthy is the Lamb"

OK, back to the book. The early chapters go on to cover Jesus as the Light and Glory of God, very familiar terms in OT worship, as well as interpretations of Christ through OT worship language of covenant and sabbath. It also discusses the worship of Christ at his birth and during his ministry, Jesus' worship of the Father, prayer, communion, and more. I am really looking forward to finding more inspiration for my worship songwriting. I have been in a rut lately, falling back on the same themes over and over. It's easy to get lazy and "go with what you know". I will post more insights as I get deeper into the collection. Hopefully there will be some new songs to post as well.

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