Worship centers on relationships, not rules, scholar insists

“Walking with God is the way you worship," says New Testament scholar Gerald Borchert.

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ARLINGTON—Authentic worship focuses on relationships—with God and within the faith community, New Testament scholar Gerald Borchert told doctoral students at the B H. Carroll Theological Institute.

gerald borchert130“Worship is the way you walk with God,” said Borchert, senior professor at Carson-Newman College and emeritus thesis director at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies, addressing the institute’s fall colloquy.

Genuine worship involves meeting God and relating to him, not just engaging in a transaction. Borchert critiqued the tendency to “thingify” grace and faith as an approach common to evangelicals.

“Faith and grace are not things given in exchange. They are part and parcel of relationship,” he said. “We don’t give God this thing called ‘faith.’ We give him ourselves. God does not give us a thing called ‘grace.’ God gives us of himself.”

Selected verses in the New Testament book of Romans sometimes called the “Roman Road” focus on the vitally important first stage of salvation—justification, Borchert said. “We are still sinners, but we are accepted by God,” he explained.

Borchert urged Christians not to stop there but to walk the entire Roman road. He insisted much of the book of Romans deals with the second aspect of salvation—sanctification, or the gradual process of being made holy—and points toward the final stage of salvation—glorification, which does not occur fully on earth. Preachers should challenge their churches in the day-to-day process of walking with God, he said.

Authentic worship is not about us. It’s about Jesus.

“Walking with God is the way you worship. It is an active process,” he said.

The dynamic, growing process of walking with God moves beyond rule-based observance, he emphasized.

“Worship involves all of life. … It is not a set of rules and procedures,” he said. “Worship is our response to God.”

Contrary to American emphasis on individualism, the Bible emphasizes community, he added.

“We need one another, and we need to be supporting one another,” he said.

Discussions about styles of worship miss the point, Borchert insisted.

“Authentic worship is not about us. It’s about Jesus,” Borchert said.

Using the Gospels of Mark and John as his texts, he illustrated how drastically different presentations offer powerful narratives that deliver more than theological formulas can contain.

“Stories communicate far more than formulas,” Borchert said.

Christians should recognize the Gospels present portraits of Jesus, not photographs of his life, he said.

“Photographs give an exact picture of what you see. Portraits have gone into the mind of the painter and come out on the canvas,” he said. The Gospel writers presented authentic testimonies about Jesus, not “mere historic statements” about him, he explained.

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