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A Theology of Worship
'Singing' a New Song to the LORD


Verse 1     Out of Tune in Secondary Sanctuary


A Secondary Sanctuary

In Contrast and Conflict

Out of Tune

Tune Up!




Verse 2

Verse 3

Verse 4

Verse 5


printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents


Scripture Index


These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.


Matthew 15:8-9[1] NIV (Mk 7:6-7)



            Might “these people” be us? Surely not. Could it be that our teachings are also but rules of human composition “taught by men”? Of course! It’s called contextualization and everybody does it; what’s the problem with that? Well, it’s critical if the composition is out of tune. Is it possible that our ways of “doing” worship are similar in principle to “the traditions of the elders” that Jesus was critiquing in this passage from Matthew 15 (see also vv.1-7)? Why even ask these questions now? After all, Christian worship in the West, on appearances, seems to be doing just fine.

            So we assume. Just as he did during his life on earth, Jesus today challenges the assumptions that we make about what constitutes worship, and thus assumptions we make about what God desires. These challenges are vital to examine because how we go about worship often is like an ‘old’ out-of-tune song we sing that is dissonant to Jesus. These words from God in the Old Testament may indeed be meant for us: “Take away the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps” (Amos 5:23). We need to start listening better to the tune of our worship or we may just keep repeating the same ‘old’ song—or be lulled by its sound without any further significance, as the Lord told Ezekiel (Eze 33:32).

            Here is the heart of the matter that Jesus consistently illuminated: How we see and relate to God flow directly from how we define our own person, and thus do relationships with all others and do church. Jesus’ words quoted in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels were originally directed to the Israelites (Isa 29:13), but Jesus re-spoke them to challenge some Pharisees and what they were involved in as a substitute for God’s qualitative relational terms. We too are accountable for what Jesus discloses in these words, which necessarily also include his definitive words about the primary worshipers the Father desires and seeks (see Jn 4:23-24).

            In his book Real Presences, George Steiner surprisingly points to our worship problem, though I am sure unintentionally. We Christian worshipers can learn a lot by understanding his opening chapter, “A Secondary City,” which is the inspiration for the following section that serves here as an introduction into this theology of worship.


A Secondary Sanctuary


            The first chapter in Real Presences is “A Secondary City,” Steiner’s biting critique of how modern society has come to engage in music and art at a distance, notably through others such as critics and scholars.[2] This secondary level involvement is academic study, objective analysis and referential explanation of art, music, and poetry. According to Steiner, we are in fact morally “answerable” or accountable to respond to the presence of the composer or artist, the “other,” as we engage ourselves in their creations.[3] Moreover, these forms of human expressions inherently communicate something from beyond themselves—the Other of God’s creative presence. Steiner’s discussion needs much further understanding, but his point is that we in the West have dispossessed artistic expressions of “other” by secondary indirect engagements. That is to say, though Steiner does not say it, we function with relational distance; in other words, as I define in this opening verse, we function in a qualitative gap apart from the primacy of relationship. Steiner’s discussion is relevant to this theology of worship—indeed to church practice and theological/biblical studies in the Christian academy. Steiner is hopeful that we can get back to what is primary by being answerable to the presence of the “other”—poet, musician, artist—those who are communicating something of God, the one who underwrites all human creativity. This study is also a critique of hope for our relational involvement with God in worship.


In Contrast and In Conflict


            Before entering ‘a secondary sanctuary,’ we take a brief excursion to provide the context in contrast to and in conflict with ‘secondary sanctuary’. Imagine going to church for corporate worship. One by one, each of us enters the God’s Most Holy Place “behind the curtain” (katapetasma, Mk 15:38), the curtain that is no longer there! We hug, then cluster together. There are no empty seats between us, no buffer zones, for we sit easy and warm with each other, or stand. We listen to God’s voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7). Here behind the curtain that is no longer there—because it was ripped open from top to bottom by Jesus’ relational action on the cross for our reconciliation—we come together with God Face to face, heart to heart, eye to eye. We receive and enjoy his presence, because, as he says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20). “Here I am!” he says to one and to all. Family time like never before; this is experiential truth. Every one of us—daughters and sons—is engaged with him and each other from the heart without relational barriers, so that no one feels left out (cf. Acts 2:42-47)—as Paul made definitive for the church (Eph 2:14-22).

            We do not ask the Spirit to come, for the Spirit dwells in us, the whole of God makes their family dwelling in us (Jn 14:23)—this is our experiential reality. We might ask the Spirit to illuminate the Word’s proclamation about to be preached, yet, we are not seeking the Spirit’s utility for us to gain knowledge, but intimate involvement with our hearts to take us further and deeper as we first listen, to hear, for example, the Father’s relational messages (Rom 8:15-16).

            Singing, the language of the heart, lifts up from our hearts out through our lips directly to God’s heart in face-to-Face relationship together. We see and listen to Jesus with the eyes and ears of our hearts, hearts that the Spirit brings to the Father—carrying us near to the Father’s heart by God’s relational grace that spans the qualitative and relational gap between us. And we see him looking at us first, as always. Eye to eye, we sing “you, yepa, you!”

            The cross underscores us, never forgotten, yet also not the primary focus for too long because the cross serves the Father. The cross crossed us over from being apart (essentially as relational orphans), to daughterhood and sonship; freed us from enslavement to reductionism, saved us to wholeness and well-being, which is šalôm.

            We learn something important from Moses. In his first encounter at the flaming bush that did not burn, Moses heard his name being called, and Moses answered (Ex 3). Moses knew the ontological difference between this God and himself, yet “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11; cf. Nu 12:6-8). Moses was just Moses, responding with his person—nothing less and no substitutes—no embellishment, no recitation of ancient creeds, nothing indirect. He answered back, talked back too.

            So many ages later, Jesus comes into our neighborhood (the human context) and stands right in front of our face. Here was God Face to face, the Son embodying the God of heart, God’s relational nature, and vulnerable presence—that is, nothing less than and no substitute for God’s person. Some turn their faces away, but others receive him, his whole person. Paul writes from his own experiential truth that the Face-to-face encounter now possible for everyone is even better than what Moses had, because we have the ongoing relational involvement of the Spirit without the veil (2 Cor 3:7-8,17; cf. Ex 34:33-35). Moreover, Paul continues, God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). And “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:16). This relational reality is our experience of what is primary to God, what is primary to the gospel in God’s thematic relational action throughout all history.[4]

            Here in a new sanctuary, we first listen to God, let him speak to us, and receive him in a new way, to receive his new song, as the psalmist sang:

 I waited patiently for the Lord / he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit / out of the miry bog....

He put a new song in my mouth / a song of praise to our God (Ps 40:3).

A new song rises from the death of something old; newness of life in what is primary, from oldness in the secondary. Below, then, is a glimpse of the old that inhibits the new, that is out of tune with the new and remains lulled in a secondary sanctuary.


Out of Tune


            Our Advent/Christmas and Easter observances stand as examples of something old that drowns out the new song from emerging with relational clarity. They are in parallel with the subject of George Steiner’s critique—paying more attention to secondary features of music, poetry or art than the persons (“presences”) communicating through their music, words or paint. By shifting to the secondary, we disembody the ‘presence’ of ‘Other’ and our moral answerability (response-ability) when we function as relationally distant viewers of God’s vulnerably embodied presence. I focus here on Christmas and Easter as representative of the broader landscape of worship, and how our focus in these celebrations and corporate worship also disembodies and misses the person, God, from the inner out.

            The issue is solely a relational issue: whether our worship—individual and private, and corporate and public—has relational significance to God, and to us also. Let’s reflect on our cultural (Christian and secular) Christmas and Easter with their related activities and traditions, and the good feelings we get from participating in them, and later contrast this “good stuff” with God’s priority for relationship together. No doubt many of you will be offended or dismiss me as an iconoclast (or party-pooper). I have thought of God as those very same things, and the irony is not lost on me. Will you reflect, however, on even the possibility that much of what we do to celebrate Jesus’ advent into the world (and too much of our corporate worship) has little or no relational significance to God? Suspend for now, hold in tension, your personal preferences and biases. We now enter Secondary Sanctuary.

            At the onset of the Advent/Christmas season, churches shift into high gear, driven by something from within, patterns that we hold as sacred, conventions that are part of our Christian identity. On an individual level, our hearts may become attuned to a yearning. Before we are able to reflect on any stirring in our hearts to listen to the Spirit, nostalgia butts its way through, accompanied by the accoutrements of traditions we call sacred. We cannot help but find ourselves mastered by something—be it nostalgia, obligation, or comfort in the familiar. It is axiomatic that in the absence of something deeply meaningful and satisfying (the meaning of “blessed,” Gk. makarios,[5] in the Beatitudes, Mt 5:3-12), we settle for substitutes from the secondary, albeit really attractive substitutes. And the substituting works in two directions: substitutes in what we receive and what we give.

            Christmas epitomizes Secondary Sanctuary. “Jesus is the reason for the season” means: Jesus is the greatest gift and expression of God's grace, and so at Christmas we give each other gifts in many forms; it is what we do, and some of us prefer this way. For others, it is stressful, burdensome, and exhausting. Still, we all get something out of it for ourselves (even when we claim we do it for the other person). The inner logic is convincing and keeps the traditions going and growing. Tradition-as-substitution triumphs at Christmas.

            Our Lenten/Easter observances are just like our Christmas traditions, though perhaps more somber at first. The victory of Jesus’ resurrection over sin gives us new life in him. To symbolize this new life in Christ we wear new clothes in a conjoint celebration to springtime.

            What is tradition? Tradition is the matrix of shared customs steeped in history and transmitted through generations of families, tribes, nations—all of which give us a sense of who we are. Although evangelicals historically had not given primacy of place to Christian tradition to the extent that the Roman Catholic Church has, in the last couple of decades, some evangelicals have turned to reconnecting with liturgical “traditions” of the historic catholic church, renovating early church liturgical practices for today. There is some validity in this turn, I believe, in the desire to be comprehensive about our identity as God’s people. However, as we find ourselves at the point where we seem to value Christian tradition more highly than ever, we need to question the rationalization that since certain aspects of Christian tradition have endured they must be God-ordained, or at least approved. (An important perspective on the history of liturgy is discussed later.)

            In this developing context of tradition, let us consider the interaction from Matthew’s Gospel. When some offended Pharisees asked Jesus “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” (Mt 15:2), Jesus countered, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (v.3). Their pious traditions were, in Jesus’ words, “your traditions,” “rules made by humans” (v.9). Jesus cannot be any clearer. Our human traditions are not from God. Human traditions are not necessarily problematic. They are only problematic when they signify doing relationship with God on our terms, for example, when we make the “what to do” of our traditions primary and God’s priority of “how to be involved in relationship” (the definition of agapē) secondary. When things are out of tune, we speak of Christian tradition in terms which have already reduced some practice having had relational significance (the primary) to an activity or event (the secondary). Communion is another pivotal example, discussed later.

            Traditions are conceived, incubate, grow, and establish themselves in shared human experience. Young married couples set out to establish their own family traditions, and to make their own memories in addition to those of their inherited ones. With their repetition, any original meanings, especially relational ones experienced from inner out, tend to become outer in with their transmission, and end up being more about activity or event than relationship, even when relationship is spoken of as primary. Technology certainly enhances the process, through photography, videos, scrapbooking, and preserving childhood mementos. Keeping tradition readily becomes the tail that wags the dog—that is, traditions assert control over our lives. Just as families routinely follow their patterns of traditions, the church’s annual life cycle is patterned according to the liturgical calendar that follows Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and the church’s birth at Pentecost. It is problematic when we devote ourselves more to planning for events and holidays relationally distant from the presence of the Other than being relationally involved with God in his immediate presence in the primacy of relationship together as family.

            We make much of the secondary things in the absence of the primary, but it is the primary that we need, that deeply satisfies the heart—God’s and ours. Yet, as a further substitute for the primary, we compound the problem by skipping major notes in Jesus’ new song and essentially go from the manger to the cross. We pattern church life by events of Jesus’ life—that is, by relating to him situationally, not relationally—and thus fragment and reduce the whole of his incarnation, particularly his relational self-disclosures of the whole of God with us. With the grand event and spectacle of Easter, Secondary Sanctuary gives different meaning to the new-song life that transposes Jesus to an out-of-tune Christology lacking his primacy in the qualitative and the relational.

            My childhood memories of Christmas and its season are sensorily etched in family tradition, infused with scent of fir, cookies, jingles, and twinkling lights. Easter also appealed to the senses in coloring eggs and edible bunnies. As I grew older and listened to the music, however, I grew to long for something deeper. The lovely traditions became routine substitutes for any deeper relational connection with this “God-with-us” and this “Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.” The primary and secondary competed for my heart—the primary called out to me, the immediacy of the secondary dangled delights before me. The alternatives were to either follow the calling-voice, or increase the secondary to recapture or create a feeling. The allure of the secondary pulls very effectively at hearts, especially if the secondary is all there is or all we know. In Secondary Sanctuary, there will always be a relational gap, because God’s presence for relational connection is consigned to background music love songs in our worship, as clearly noted in our Christmas and Easter traditions.[6]

            It is critical to distinguish that the primary is never about me or us primarily, though it is relationally focused on us. The secondary, however, is always revolved around me and us, even when we reference God. It is inevitable that our practice in the secondary becomes about us when our person is defined by what we do and have. We depend on those efforts, resources and experiences to shape our identity and determine our self-worth. Consequently, in our preoccupations with secondary matters, despite any good intentions, we make the secondary matters primary, and thus we make God and his desires, his purposes, and his relational terms secondary. Done this way, our worship—at Christmastime, Easter, or the rest of the year—has no relational significance to God in spite of all the so-called attention given to God. Some Christian traditions, I imagine, started out in the primacy of relationship, but have devolved to become more about us, about doing things in the ‘right’ way, orthodoxy, orthopraxy. The secondary seeps in.

            Secondary Sanctuary is epitomized in mediation for our worship of God, privately and corporately, just as music critics mediate our appreciation of music when we let them. Christmas is just not Christmas without the look, the feel, the sounds, tastes and smells, and Easter is inseparable from new “looks,” happy feelings, the sounds of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and its own tastes and smells; all of these mediate meaning. Liturgically speaking, whereas the former mediators in OT times were the high priests, the new “de facto priests” are the worship leaders who mediate worship between the congregation and God.[7] In truth, new mediators who take front and center stage in a worship service can also be a group of singers, or the person giving the sermon—anyone that the congregation watches perform in their perception what amounts to the likeness of “a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument” but with no further relational significance (Eze 33:32). The music itself can serve this role, as can the total worship “experience” as it is planned and carried out with flowing prayers, eloquent sermons, and even flowery announcements.

            I am grateful to God for new and deeper ways to celebrate the Lord’s “birthday” and the transformation to new life that began for me during the time I lived in a Christian community. For example, instead of participating in the prevailing interpretation of Christmas mediated with card and gift exchanges, we would spend Christmas day relationally focused on Jesus and create a gift for him. A couple of years we made worship banners, another year we created a nativity scene to set up outdoors during the Advent season. Still other years we designed and created worship spaces, wall murals depicting his creation, and other visuals to speak to others of God. After working on these gifts, we presented them to Jesus in a simple time to worship, followed by a Love Feast, a simple meal together that included Communion.

            Now my husband and I spend Christmas day creating worship songs for God. We no longer think of the baby Jesus, with whom we cannot have much of a relationship; we are instead relationally involved throughout the day with him—embodied Jesus, real Jesus Face to face in the Spirit’s presence and intimate involvement with us, no mere concept or romanticized sweet baby J (even a divine baby). These times are deeply satisfying. The secondary things from the past have fallen away for me, and now I am finally at home in the primacy of relationship together where I belong. I know Jesus is enjoying being together very much, too.

            Another issue prevailing in Secondary Sanctuary is the question of nonnegotiable liturgical parts of corporate worship. Resources for teaching worship leadership (seminary courses, books) raise the need to define what must be included in the order of worship (the ordo). A higher church liturgy defines more features for the ordo than a Free Church liturgy does.[8] In Secondary Sanctuary, the ordo is the primary determinative framework for planning a worship service, for the good intention of teaching and reinforcing theological truths to help the congregation mature. Yet, in God’s primacy of relationship, the integral issue is not how many, or which parts are included (even though based in doctrine), but the significance of persons’ involvement in the primacy of whole relationship together which necessarily is intimate involvement with God and with each other. The latter is the primacy necessary for wholeness in worship by giving relational clarity and relational significance to the liturgical parts of worship, and is the only nonnegotiable. This whole is constituted only by the primacy of relationship together in wholeness, which the aggregate of liturgical parts can at best only ontologically simulate in narrowed-down referential terms with epistemological illusions. The former without the latter becomes only renegotiated parts aggregated in referential terms from outer in which are out of tune with the whole lacking in Secondary Sanctuary.

            The out-of-tune sounds of Secondary Sanctuary may not seem dissonant to our ears from outer in but they are dissonant to our hearts, which becomes clear when we pay attention from inner out. Secondary Sanctuary is filled with secondary concerns that occupy our quantities of time, energy, and use up our personal and material resources. This occupation keeps lots of people busy in a secondary life, providing even jobs in churches and a separate discipline for (pre)occupation in seminaries. It looks beautiful on the outside, but if you scratch its walls, you see that Secondary Sanctuary is shaped and constructed from outer in with shallow substitutes of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion which we present to God and others, appearances that we try to pass off as our whole persons from inner out. In Secondary Sanctuary God cannot find the worshipers he seeks. Let’s get out of here.



Tune Up!


            The purpose of this study is to articulate a theology of wholeness in worship to help the church grow as the worshipers God seeks—that is, to help us move toward ‘singing’ a new song to the Lord. Such a theology must help us understand wholeness (peace as šalôm) because wholeness is essential for God’s family—connecting John 14:27 to Ephesians 2:14-18 for Colossians 3:15-16—to grow as the worshipers who “will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). This theology of worship is written especially for current and future worship thinkers, planners and leaders—along with other church leaders, and for the Christian academy—who have the unique responsibility to guide God’s people into deeper relationship with God individually and corporately, particularly in the context of corporate worship.

            I hope that readers will recognize the interrelated and irreducible wholeness (the significance of biblical peace) of all aspects of life as God’s people—worship, spirituality, discipleship, and theological understandings (e.g. Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology). In order to understand the integrated whole in worship, it is equally necessary to grasp that which diminishes this whole, which is reductionism, the major barrier to growing in our whole person and thus in the primacy of relationship with God. Reductionism’s goal in its counter-relational work is to interfere in this primary relationship. I hope and pray that this study also helps illuminate what is involved to help build up our life with him and with each other in the relationships necessary to be and function whole in likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity.

            The most basic question that we Christians today—particularly church and worship leaders, along with seminaries and divinity schools—are challenged by Jesus to examine is this: How do define the human person, and thus how do we function, notably in relationship with God and each other? The answers will reveal congruity (in tune) or expose incongruity (out of tune) with being made in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God, the whole of God, the Trinity. This critically addresses the integral issue of theological anthropology, about which we can no longer ignore our assumptions. The importance of theological anthropology is integral to all of our life and practice—for our whole ontology as Christians in particular and for our whole function as members of the human community in general.

            At the heart of our life as God’s people in the innermost and that which brings coherence to all aspects of this life from inner out is the primacy of the relationship of the Trinity (the whole of God) as embodied and self-disclosed in Jesus in the incarnation. This primacy of relationship is now extended to include us, as Jesus prayed for us in his formative family prayer: “so that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one [relational wholenessE "wholeness" ] so that the world may know that you have sent me” (Jn 17:22-23). Therefore, the primacy of relationship becomes the integral focus of this theology of whole worship, which we engage in with the Spirit. Jesus’ relational language in this prayer is ‘singing’ the new song that is our integrating theme in this study. These are the relational words which I pray will compose our new song also so that we can confidently and freely sing with the psalmist, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Ps 40:3).

            Throughout this study I make many references to other theological/functional studies available on our website, and encourage readers to study them for deeper understanding for personal and church growth. It will quickly become apparent that this study is not intended to give a historical survey of church liturgy, nor deal with specific contemporary concerns and trends for how to “do” worship (e.g. emergent, new monasticism, Liturgical Movement, multicultural worship, music differences). It is a great deal more pressing to uncover the underlying assumptions we have, and to keep listening to Jesus, with the Spirit’s involvement with us, in order that the issues we face can be addressed substantively rather than in the shallow way that stays at the level of symptoms and the secondary matter. We sorely need God’s integral perspective from beyond our limited understanding, notably helping us distinguish secondary referential terms from primary relational terms.

            This theological study is therefore rooted above all in Jesus’ self-disclosures in the incarnation of the whole of God, his vulnerable self-disclosures which were only for the purpose of going further and deeper in relationship together with the whole of God, the Trinity. Interwoven with theological interpretation of Scripture are some insights from the fields of neuroscience, linguistics, and other human sciences. What emerges from this study is a whole perspective that brings to the fore the primacy of relationship with God on God’s relational terms, to help transform us. It is unavoidable to begin with our theological anthropology, that is, with how we define our ‘person’, which necessarily includes transforming our perceptual-interpretive framework from outer in to inner out. We discuss how this is necessary to transform us into the worshipers the Father seeks, beyond the worshipers described in the opening Scripture above signifying a secondary sanctuary.

            An in-depth discussion about the worshipers God seeks cannot take place at a relational distance and has no significance to God apart from ongoing involvement of our whole person. God is addressing us, so we need to respond. God presents to us the Other not as a mere Object to observe but as distinguished Subject with whom to be relationally involved. And we are accountable for the compatible relational response necessary to receive God, his communicative acts through Scripture, no longer at a distance, but increasingly entering “behind the curtain” and “without the veil” for Face-to-face relational involvement. Christian worshipers, particularly here in the West but not limited to us, have much accounting to do.[9]

            In the Old Testament times, God frequently rejected the Israelites’ worship as unacceptable to him, and Jesus’ later use of these critiques implicated the Pharisees for the same reason: God’s people were engaged in worship that was not according to God’s relational terms but was on their own terms which essentially shaped and constructed a secondary sanctuary. They did not come near to God with their hearts, for their hearts were distant. “Hardened hearts” is Scripture’s designation for this relational condition (e.g. Ps 95:8; Heb 3:8; cf. Zec 7:11-12). What they did instead, as a substitute for their hearts (the heart is the qualitative function of the whole person from inner out), was to give God something less from their own construction—“rules taught by men” (Isaiah’s version, NIV), and “the tradition of the elders” (Matthew and Mark’s version). Because they defined themselves by what they did or had, and tried to relate to God on that basis, which is to function from the outer in, this countered God’s relational terms from inner out—the counter-relational work of reductionism. Jesus then made doubly definitive what the deeper relational issue was: “You abandon the [relational terms] of God and hold to human tradition. You have a fine way of rejecting the [relational terms] of God in order to keep your tradition!” (Mark 7:8-9).

            Jesus’ deeper critique is that by substituting something from their own construction in place of responding to God’s nonnegotiable terms, they were trying to determine the terms of relationship with God. In other words, they functioned from autonomous efforts of self-determination, if not also of self-justification. Jesus rejects our attempts at determining the terms of relationship with him. He also knows from experience the temptation to do so.[10] Ever since the Fall, all human persons have been susceptible to self-determination—that is, pressing for our terms for relationship with God—and consequently to reductionism of our whole person with ontological simulations in epistemological illusions.

            Reductionism fragments a person and defines the person by the parts of what one does and has, then on this fragmented basis engages in relationships with others (including God) who are perceived accordingly. By self-determination, we have redefined who and what we are, which determines how we function. If, for example, I define my person by my musical talent or speaking skills, what I present to God in worship becomes about “my music,” “my prayer” or “my sermon.” Where God seeks and accepts nothing less than and no substitutes for our whole person signified by the heart (from inner out), the ability of “my music,” “my prayer” or “my sermon” (what I do or have from outer in) constitute something less and some substitute for my whole person to God and others. Reductionism is this process from self-determination that constitutes the human condition and sin, and the consequence of reduced persons takes place primarily as distant or broken relationships. Furthermore, we even try to reduce God by redefining him by only what he does (e.g. miracles) or has (static attributes, didactic resources), and construct our own referential categories to explain him (e.g. philosophical approaches, systematic theologies).[11] Worship, which is only a relational interaction on relational terms, becomes disconnected from inner out by fragmenting the whole ontology and function of both God and ourselves. Little wonder so much of our corporate worship seems routinized or ritualized, while missing a deeper significance that we desire, long for, and perhaps have become resigned to not experiencing in this lifetime.

            Even as serious Christians with good intentions and sincere desires to faithfully serve God, we inadequately address our propensity to self-determination that interferes with the most integral area of our lives in Christ—worship. We may not even be aware of this particular barrier because we have focused on secondary matters concerning worship, a preoccupation making secondary matter primary. Specifically, if we do not address how we define our person, and the consequent way we engage in relationship, in all likelihood we will continue to have an experiential gap (not a theological gap) of God’s relational response of grace and ongoing relational connection with God. A subconscious awareness of the experiential gap in our practice makes us try to do more quantitatively to fill a void. One consequence is to live situationally, going from Christmas to Easter as events, and from Sunday to Sunday to experience a “fill-up” in Secondary Sanctuary, when what we deeply need is a tune-up in the relational presence of God. Additionally, any apparent “successes” resulting from our secondary efforts and/or from the activities in a secondary sanctuary—for example, larger attendance, louder singing, greater applause, and the like—only generate epistemological illusions of how well we are doing, which are based on and continue to create ontological simulations.

            God’s relational response of grace distinguishes the qualitative difference of worshiping as whole persons from worshiping as less than whole—fragmented and reduced persons. With a secondary lens, we will be unable to tell the difference simply from outward behaviors, but “the Lord looks on [examines] the heart” (1 Sam 16:7), and knows whose hearts are available to him (cf. Jn 5:42; Acts 1:24, Acts 15:8; Rev 2:23). Peter struggled with being open and vulnerable, but experienced Jesus’ pursuit of his heart (Jn 13:8; 21:15-22; Acts 10:13-15). As we move further into this study, I hope that the interaction of relational grace, wholeness and reductionism will emerge more clearly and urgently for us, particularly for those of us concerned about worship and growing together in relationship with God as his family.

In brokenness of heart we consecrate our lives, singing

Come, come let us return to the Lord....

With the rending of a heart, with the bowing of a knee

Lord, we are returning with a prayer and a fast

With a song in minor key

Lord, we are repenting with all of our hearts[12]

            Addressing the human heart directs us to the question of how we understand human ontology and function—what it means to be a human person created in the image of God and the new identity we have because of the gospel. In order for us to really change, we need to examine the most basic matters of our perceptual-interpretive framework, and our theological anthropology (human ontology and human function), which includes our biases, preconceptions and all our theological assumptions. Jesus consistently addressed persons on these matters, and we can no longer ignore them. Until we address our perceptual-interpretive framework and how we define the person—whether human or divine—our worship has little or no relational significance to God.

            My husband and I know a 20 month-old boy in a Christian family who is slightly developmentally delayed. He does not yet speak in recognizable words, but he sings! What his mother refers to as “his own language” is melodic and joyful, evidenced in his enjoyment as he contentedly endlessly makes his special music, whether or not anyone is listening! His song calls to mind Augustine’s depiction of singing in jubilation:

What does singing in jubilation signify? It is to realize that words cannot communicate the song of the heart....In this way the heart rejoices without words and the boundless expanse of rapture is not circumscribed by syllables. Sing well unto Him in jubilation.[13]

When Jesus says “unless you change and become like children,” I think of this little boy jubilating. What Jesus is addressing is human ontology and function and the wholeness we need to be restored to in order to worship as true worshipers, those who “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). This is the tune-up needed in relational language with relational words to sing the new song to the Lord, which referential language with referential words can only sing out of tune.

            Only hearts that are open and vulnerable can relationally connect with the open and vulnerable heart of God, in the reciprocal relational dynamic of intimacy—intimacy defined as the relational process of hearts opening to each other and coming together. This is the relational dynamic that constitutes worship from inner out. Worship cannot be reduced to what we “do” but finds its significance only in the intimate experience of God’s relational response of grace. Worship in relational terms, therefore, is the unequaled experience “behind the curtain, without the veil;” any worship conducted “in front of the curtain, with the veil” remains out of tune in Secondary Sanctuary. Furthermore, the relational function of grace by its very nature results in human relationships that are equalized because grace counters defining ourselves by what we do or have at every level of life; as the functional basis, grace negates human distinctions to remove relational barriers based on those distinctions.[14] Intimate and equalized relationships are both necessary and normative for persons ‘in Christ’ because the heart involved thus with God can only be open and vulnerable, as it is redeemed, healed and transformed from inner out—that is, made whole. This relational process was clearly initiated when Jesus deconstructed the Temple at Jerusalem and reconstituted it on his relational terms (Mk 11:15-17). This relational outcome is indispensable for persons in God’s family to gather at the Communion table without the veil to be involved in the primacy necessary for relationships together in wholeness.

            We have much relational work to address ourselves to—to leave Secondary Sanctuary and compose a new sanctuary. Beyond a mere metaphor, this major movement is the irreversible shift from worship at the Temple as a secondary place to its primacy in relationship with the whole of God, as Jesus makes definitive (Jn 4:21-24; cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; Rev 21:22). May this study help us ‘sing’ anew in his purpose for us—to be whole worshipers who will worship the whole of God (Trinity) wholly. Anything less and any substitutes keep us out of tune in Secondary Sanctuary.





‘Singing’ a new song to the Lord:     Secondary Sanctuary emerges from the focus we give to secondary matters which substitute for the primacy of relationship with God. By making the secondary primary, worship becomes composed of activities which are defined from outer in by what we do and have as indirect responses to God. Instead of our whole person—signified by the qualitative function of our hearts from inner out that God seeks—we give to God the secondary as substitutes. We present to him from outer in that which gives primacy, for example, to human-shaped traditions (Christian and secular), our performance for God ‘in front of the curtain’, and other activities, therefore reversing his primacy for relationship. This focus reflects a theological anthropology that has redefined our whole person to a fragmented person from reductionism, thus diminishing our ontology and function. We will remain out of tune with God, stuck in Secondary Sanctuary, as long as we live from outer in. Most significantly, worship in Secondary Sanctuary has no relational significance to God, and this relational condition will remain as long as such worship is from our reduced terms for worship. Yet God, in his relational response of grace to us, pursues our hearts to transform our person from inner out, so that we can experience the intimate relational connection with him ‘without the veil’. Without the veil, the ‘nonnegotiable’ of God’s primacy for relationship gives relational clarity and relational significance to any and all dynamics of corporate worship. In worship without the veil, in contrast and conflict with Secondary Sanctuary, we will be able to sing in tune with the whole of God (the Trinity) the new song in relational language to compose the new sanctuary as God’s family, with nothing less and no substitutes!


[1] Unless noted otherwise, the Scripture quoted in this study are taken from the NRSV. Cf. the last phrase with Isa 29:13 from which Jesus is quoting: “and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote....”

[2] George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

[3] George Steiner, 8-11.

[4] God’s thematic relational action is developed in two studies by T. Dave Matsuo, The Person, the Trinity, the Church: The Call to Be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (Wholeness Study, 2006), and Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008). Both online: http://www.4X12.org.

[5] Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[6] Consider also that the origins of when and how Christians celebrating Christmas remain inconclusive. There are only theories as to how and why December 25 came to be the date assigned to Jesus’ birth, celebrated perhaps only as late as 311. Liturgical scholar Paul Bradshaw has pointed out that various early Christian communities focused more either on Jesus’ birth or Jesus’ baptism depending on whose Gospel they had access to (Matthew’s or Mark’s, respectively). Matthew begins with pre-birth, and Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. See Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 187-89. In this book Bradshaw also discusses the inconclusive origins of early Christian Easter celebrations.

[7] Davin Seay, “Rooted in Rock: the Origins of Contemporary Worship Ritual,” Worship Leader, Nov/Dec 2003, vol.12, No.8, 19-20.

[8] For example, this order (ordo) can include: Gathering/Call to Worship, Prayer of Illumination, Proclamation of the Word, Eucharistic Celebration (brief explanation, Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, Sanctus, the Institution, Epicletic Prayer, fraction and invitation, distribution), Prayer of the People, Benediction/Sending.

[9] I acknowledge that even as I write this study, I have been chastened by the Spirit for making secondary matters primary, which in effect distances my person from being relationally involved with the Spirit! And so I pray that God speaks to you who read this study, and will help you listen and receive him.

[10] It is helpful to see how Jesus dealt with Satan’s attempts to get him to change the terms of relationship with the Father. For a deeper discussion of Jesus’ responses to Satan’s counter-relational work, see Sanctified Christology by T. Dave Matsuo. Ch.1, section “Reductionism Made Explicit.” 

[11] This is a cursory explanation of reductionism. For a fuller theological interpretation of Scripture on reductionism and its counter-relational dynamic, please see Matsuo’s two studies: Sanctified Christology, and The Whole of Paul and the Whole in his Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process (Paul Study, 2010). Online: http://4X12.org.

[12] “Come Let Us Return to the Lord.” Matt Redman/© 2003 ThankYou Music/PRS/Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing.

[13] As quoted in Albert L. Blackwell, The Sacred in Music (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999,16: St. Augustine on the Psalms, tr. Dame Scholastica Hebgin and Dame Felicitas Corrigan, 2 vols. (New York: Newman Press, 1961), 2:11-12.

[14] The issue here is about human constructions of distinction-making based on reductionist human ontology that leads to the comparative process, competition, and eventually systems of inequality. This process is given further understanding in T. Dave Matsuo, The Whole of Paul and the Whole in his Theology, ch.3, section “Knowing Christ and ‘in Christ’.”




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