The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections, by Ralph P. Martin, was assigned reading by Dr. David P. Nelson, to partially fulfill the requirements for PMN-6540 Ministry of Worship in the Master of Divinity program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The following is a book review submitted by Brett W. Marlowe during the Spring Term, 2008.
A survey of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation reveals that all of creation has been given the mandate to worship God. What does it mean to worship God? This question must find its answer in Scripture alone. If worship is not understood biblically then “everyone is left to his or her own best ideas and emotions, resulting in a veritable kaleidoscope of patterns and forms of worship throughout Christendom,” (Martin, 2). This critical review will discuss Ralph P. Martin’s The Worship of God, which examines the theology of worship pastorally and practically.
Martin’s Purpose in Writing
“Christian worship is the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life,” (Martin, 1). This quote from Karl Barth sets the tone for Martin’s book. Martin seeks to create an understanding of the importance and centrality of Christian worship. While this is happening in remnants throughout the Church of the Lord Jesus, there is a need for a “Renewal of Worship” to take place. Believers must understand biblical worship and how the church facilitates worship through hymn singing, prayer, offerings, preaching, and the sacraments of Lord’s Supper and baptism. Most importantly, Believers must understand worship as theocentric (God-centered); “The theocentric character of worship is that worship is all about the adoration of God for His own sake, since He alone is worshipful and the ‘end’ of all worship,” (Martin, 172).
Worship is not an activity geared toward satisfying human needs, making people feel better, or catering to one’s social well-being; these motives have largely yielded the corruption of the modern understanding of worship, (Martin, 171). “The chief aim of worship is God Himself,” (Martin, 5). This language is affirmed in the Westminster Catechism; “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Martin writes with the purpose of examining worship as God has prescribed it in His Word.
Summary of the Literature
Martin begins by exploring the various aspects of worship in order to provide a clear, succinct definition of worship. Following a survey of various writers and theologians he presents the following:
“Worship is the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his ‘worthiness’ becomes the norm and inspiration of human living,” (Martin, 4).
Martin rivets the definition of worship to the importance of worship in the life of the church; “While worship is directed primarily to God, it fits and equips God’s church to be the agent by which his will is done on earth and through which the church’s prayers for the world are largely answered,” (Martin, 14).
Martin discusses at length the idea of praises to God. Praises offered to God flow from a clear picture of His majesty and holiness. One who has an obscure view of God offers up empty praise, (Martin, 17). This theme is prominent throughout Scripture. Connected to praises is the singing of hymns and sacred songs. Martin points out that Christian hymnody originated in both Greek and Roman tradition which found its roots in the Jewish community, (Martin, 47). Hymn singing has been present throughout the history of the church including; the early and medieval period, the Puritan movement, Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement, and new hymnody of the twentieth-century, (Martin, 56-57).
Prayer is a vital component of worship. Martin devotes an entire chapter addressing the idea of Believers praying together. “The activity that draws together a conviction of the living, loving God on the one hand, and the human condition of national, family, and personal existence in the world on the other is prayer,” (Martin, 30). There is distinction between nursery praying and “esoteric style of praying that leaves people confused and threatened,” (Martin, 31). Martin also discusses free praying, set prayers, and the need for silence in times of prayer. Prayer is a thoughtful activity not to “use God” but to “enjoy Him,” (Martin, 40-41).
Offering and sacrifice in worship is often neglected. Yet, the Levitical sacrifices of atonement and expressing thanksgiving to God in the Old Testament and the center of gravity of New Testament teaching regarding the offering so-called collection for the saints” reveal to us that sacrifice is very much a part of worship, (Martin, 65, 68). Christian worship involves cooperating with God through generosity, (Martin, 79).
Martin discusses the idea of creedal confessions and expressing faith in worship. Creeds can be helpful in teaching theological truths, but there is a danger of them becoming rote and meaningless. Martin discusses the role of the sermon and pulpit ministry in the public worship setting. He surveys the style of preaching including: expositional, doctrinal, apologetic, and topical.
In the next few chapters, Martin examines the sacraments of the church; baptism and Lord’s Supper. He addresses the theological significance of both and then moves to discussing practical concerns. For example, practical concerns for baptism include: “infant baptism, sponsors or godparents, the mode of application, whether by much water or little water,” (Martin, 125). Remembrance is a key term in the teaching of baptism and Lord’s Supper; “To remind you of what I, the Lord, have done…and it will remind you,” (Martin, 154).
A theme throughout the Bible is the Trinitarian view of worship. Martin spends considerable time in the final chapter of his book highlighting the Trinitarian theme of worship as taught in both the Old and New Testament. In essence, God is the Creator, the Son is the Mediator, and the Holy Spirit is the Agent of worship. We worship God through the Holy Spirit and have been given access to the Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Christian instinct associated from the beginning is access to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit with its own liturgical life and experience…this experience of fellowship with God mediated through his incarnate word and made real by the witness of the Holy Spirit,” (Martin, 211). The presence of the Holy Spirit is the Agent that enables the worshiper to worship.
Martin acknowledges that while there is unity in worship there is also diversity. He discusses four models of Christian liturgical practices discovered within the church of New Testament times. First, the Apostle Paul is all for the spontaneous ministry of the Spirit for the sake of sound teaching. Second, Luke seems to reminisce about the ‘good ole days’ when the Spirit came down in a powerful way. The Pastoral Epistles of Paul seems to focus on the preservation of the divine inheritance enjoyed by the Children of God. Fourth, John has very little toleration of any corporate worship experience that minimizes the individual, (Martin, 207). Martin provides commentary with respect to each of these four models stating that they are complementary. All four are prevalent in the church today; it is easy to overemphasize in any of these areas.
Martin concludes with a discussion of the ‘freedom of the Spirit.’ He makes the point that often fixed, rigid, and formal orders of worship give way to dead services and consequently gives liturgical service a bad name. In contrast, there should be a skeletal frame that allows for adaptation and innovation, (Martin, 227). Martin goes on to say that corporate worship should never be considered an “accidental assortment of items that happen to come together,” but that there is an organized flow of activity with which the Spirit conducts His work, (Martin, 227).
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Literature
Martin’s work is well written. A definite strength of the book is the theological survey of Scripture coupled with Martin’s writing style. The subject is complex in nature, but Martin presented it in a simplistic format. Complicated terms are explained where necessary and the references and footnotes are helpful. The systematic approach in discussing the major components of worship is also a strength of the book: praise, prayer, hymns, offering, faith, the sermon, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and the working of the Holy Spirit. While not exhaustive, it was a very thorough, comprehensive treatment of the topic of worship.
In contrast to strengths of the book there are also areas of weakness. One of the most notable areas for this reader is the emphasis on corporate worship versus individualistic worship. While it is understood that the New Testament model of worship is founded on the corporate experience of Believers gathered together, there needs to be more of an emphasis placed on the personal lifestyle of worship. Martin does mention this subject, but it seems like more of a touch-and-go than a solid treatment on the topic. Martin is also negligent in mentioning the explicit use of Scripture in a corporate worship setting. Obviously, the sermon and doctrinally sound hymns arrive to this end, a section devoted to the reading and incorporation of Scripture in times of worship.
Potential Uses and Audience for the Literature
Christian worship begins with scriptural understanding. For God’s people to worship Him in both spirit and in truth as it teaches in the Gospel according to John, then theological implications must be taught. Therefore, Martin’s audience would include anyone who participates (lay or staff) in the public worship of the church. It is especially important that pastors lead their congregation to think theologically about worship. There is purpose and meaning to be found at the foundation of everything done within the church; from administering the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, to prayer, preaching, singing, and collecting the offerings of the congregation, all is part of the worship experience. Worship education begins with leadership.
“[Genuine] believers worship gladly because they have a high view of God. In some circles, God has been abridged, reduced, modified, edited, changed and amended until He is no longer the God whom Isaiah saw, high and lifted up.”
Christian worship operates within the tension of two ages, between the already and the not yet. Those who gather to worship the Lord are sinners justified by faith who look back to the incarnate, atoning, triumphant work of God in Christ already accomplished; and there is a gaze forward to the day of God’s ultimate triumph not yet actualized, (Martin, 214-215). Believers are to worship God in the present while anticipating the coming age when all will be gathered around the throne of God echoing for all eternity, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”
 See Psalm 19:1-14.
 Ralph P. Martin, p. 172.
 Ralph P. Martin, p. 40-41 in reference to a quote by Martin Luther.
 ‘Collection of the Saints’ refers to offerings made to the Temple treasury and almsgiving directed to the poor and needy. See Matthew 5:23, 24; 23:16-22; 6:1-4; Mark 12:41-44.
 Ralph P. Martin, p. 215
 See Exodus 12:14; 13:9.
 See John 4:22-24
 A. W. Tozer. Whatever Happened to Worship? (Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, Inc. 1985) 86.
 See Revelation 4:8
The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections, Ralph P. Martin. Eerdmans Publishing, 1982. 228 pp. This review was submitted by Brett W. Marlowe for the Spring Term, 2008 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.