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Worship Roots

adam_and_eve_in_the_garden_of_eden_by_wenzel_peter_pinacoteca_vaticanaCreation is the very basis of and foundation for worship. The central principle of biblical worship is the fact that it is God-initiated and based upon his self-revelation. There would be no worship had he not created humankind and revealed himself to them. Indeed, this is the very purpose for which man and woman were created (Rom 1:20-21; Ps 19:1).

God himself expressed this purpose in Genesis 2:15 when he put Adam in the garden to “dress and keep” it. Often we interpret these terms to meant that Adam’s purpose was to be a gardener, but remember that this was before the Fall, and thus there was no need to till the ground or pick the weeds. Rather, most Old Testament scholars note that the Hebrew terms translated “dress and keep” are most often used by Moses later in the Pentateuch to describe the work of the Levitical priests in the Temple. Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden—the perfect sanctuary of God—to literally “worship and obey.” This purpose for humankind is expressed elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Isaiah 43:7. God created Adam and Even in order that they might serve as priests in his Holy Sanctuary.

What did this worship entail? Several clues give us early indication of what worship is all about. First is the nature of the relationship between God and his image-bearers in the Garden. Each day God “walked” with them in the cool of the garden. His desire was to fellowship with them, to commune with them, not as equals, but as the Creator with his creation. This idea of communion with God in his sanctuary as revealed by him distills the essence of worship as it is developed through the entirety of Scripture.

But other elements appear in the early chapters of Genesis that help to fill out our understanding of biblical worship. For example, this communion with God was on his terms. He set specific boundaries and limits to what that communion would entail, and disobedience of his instructions would result in death—separation from this communion in his very presence.

And, of course, Adam and Eve disobeyed. Their sin broke the perfect communion they had enjoyed with him in his holy sanctuary, and thus God expelled them from his presence. Before he did, however, God himself provided the solution to that broken communion. By slaying an innocent animal and covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness with the animal’s skin, God was already picturing the means by which he would restore the broken communion. He made a promise to Adam and Even in the form of a protoevangelium—a “pre-gospel” in Genesis 3:15. In this way, two key elements of worship that would be developed later appear in the Creation/Fall narrative, namely, atonement and covenant.

Thus all the elements that later describe biblical worship are already available to us in these early pages of Scripture: worship entails drawing near to communion with God himself in his holy sanctuary. This communion is on his terms and it is initiated by his revelation to his people. Sin breaks this communion, however, and erects barriers that prevent people from drawing near to God’s presence. God responds to this terrible situation by establishing a unilateral covenant with his people and providing atonement by which they can draw near to (for now) imperfect fellowship with him.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.