By Topher Haddox, Crosswalk.com
At an annual 3- day G3 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia (themed Worship) faithful expositors and preachers shared their convictions with over 5,000 attendees regarding how the modern evangelical church worships King Jesus. Key points (included in this article) were made during the sessions, to stir our collective conscience and encourage us to evaluate the way we worship.
There’s immense wisdom found when as the church, we ask ourselves: Are we truly worshipping Biblically?
Let’s begin with a foundation of terms. There are basically two major principles of thought on the matter of worship: the normative principle and the regulative principle. The normative principle essentially says that the church is free to worship God using any imaginative method she may choose, so long as the Scriptures do not forbid it.
The regulative principle, on the other hand, says that the only methods of worship acceptable to God are those that are found in the Holy Scriptures. This principle maintains that the church’s worship is restricted, or regulated to those methods.
Is the Church Worshipping Emotion?
In the American evangelical church, worship has taken on a subculture of sorts. I’ve often heard Christians make statements about a certain church or service like “Worship wasn’t that great this morning,” or “The sermon was ok, but the worship was so good!” Statements like these always make me wonder who is actually being worshipped—God or the church attendees themselves?
Early in my faith, I always judged how “good” a worship song was by the way it made me feel, or the emotions that it produced. This is often the case in our culture today. An emotional high equates to ‘good worship.’
The idea behind this is, if the energy of the music doesn’t produce some sort of an emotional response, there is something wrong with the music, band, or worship leader; therfore the worship is bad.
How does this compare to how Christians from earlier generations viewed corporate worship?
Consider this quote from pastor Josh Buice: “Theology Matters. Worship is not about how the song makes us feel. It is about what the church is communicating.” For the puritans, worship was centered around the Word that was preached from the pulpit. It was the pastor’s responsibility to guard the congregation with the truth.
This produced doxology in the congregation. They literally sang their theology.
There is nothing wrong with emotion being an aspect of worship. True reverence and reflection of the Gospel will often lead to tears of joy. After all, we’re human. The problem arises when we seek for our own emotional high as the goal—instead of glorifying God. We assert ourselves as the receiver and accepter of our own worship. In doing this, we count our own deceitful desires far more worthy of our worship than the Father. We become glory-thieves.
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Can We Worship Any Way We Want?
God created humans to worship. In the Garden, Adam and Eve were able to worship their Creator face to face. In their rebellion, humans were cut off from the face of God. The Cherubim were set in place throughout history to guard the worship of God. First in the entrance to Eden (Genesis 3:24), then set on both ends of the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25). Eventually, they were set to guard the Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 3).
Though all of mankind was cursed through the sin of Adam (Romans 5:12), the Lord was gracious in letting His people worship Him from afar. God was specific in His commandments to His people regarding how sinners were to worship him (Deuteronomy 12:32), and the punishment for veering from that command proved to be severe. Consider Nadab and Abihu:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace. – Leviticus 10:1-3
In short, the two priests were flippant and disobedient (Exodus 30:9) with the worship they offered to God, and they died because of it. Granted, this is not the normative penalty for this sin, but because God’s character never changes (Numbers 23), the truth remains—God cares how He is worshipped.
You might say that this is simply an Old Testament narrative that doesn’t apply to the church today, but that notion would simply deny the immutability of God. We may not worship with burnt offerings under the New Covenant, but does that mean God is now indifferent about the way in which we worship Him?
How Do I Worship in Spirit and Truth?
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:21-24
The Samaritans believed that God’s temple was to be built on the mountain of Gerizim, and not in Jerusalem. What Jesus is saying in the scripture above is that in the New Covenant in Christ, true worshippers will no longer have to travel to man-made temples to worship God, but that the Holy Spirit will indwell within His people and they will be His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Notice what Jesus says about the method in which His people (the church) must worship. The true worshippers of God must worship in spirit and truth.
To worship in spirit means that one must be indwelled with the Holy Spirit, a promise given to those that place their faith in the redemptive work of Christ (Ezekiel 11:19) To worship in spirit has less to do with “worshipping spirited,” and more to do with wholeheartedly laying down our old self, or flesh, and submitting to the Spirit in obedience (Ezekiel 36:27).
In reading the entire narrative in John 4, notice that the Samaritan woman assumed worshipping God was relevant to how God was viewed (John 4:20). A low view or lack of reverence for God will produce cheap, emotion-driven worship.
Without a proper view of Christ, our worship turns to idolatry.
Therefore, the second requirement Jesus gives to true worshippers of God is truth. The mark of a true Christian is believing in the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible is our ultimate and objective standard of Truth. Because we hold to that confession, our right view of the supremacy of Christ comes from His very Word.
To put it concisely, the church is to worship God according to the truth of His Word, empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit indwelling within us.
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Worship Together, Drawing Near to God as His Sons & Daughters
“Worship is so much more than the songs we sing” – Voddie Baucham
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21
Our melody to the Lord is an overflow of thanksgiving. While our audience for such a melody is Christ, notice that we are to sing this theology to one another. If your worship band is loud enough that you are unable to hear the Saints around you singing, you are sincerely missing out on a foretaste of Heaven. There is something fulfilling about hearing your brothers and sisters singing praises around you.
Finally, our basis for gathering corporately, hearing the preaching of the Word, and singing songs to one another is out of reverence for Christ. It is only by His accomplished, salvific work on the cross that His people are enabled to worship.
Being God’s temple, we must no longer worship from afar. We were created by God to worship in the presence of God, and by His love and mercy, God made a way for us to enter into His presence forever.
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Topher Lee Haddox is a grace-addicted husband, daddy, and wretched sinner utterly dependent upon the Cross of Christ. Born and raised in Louisiana, he thoroughly enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with his family. He has a deeply ingrained passion for worship and feeding others the Word of God. His work appears regularly on Crosswalk.com. Be sure to visit his blog at topherhaddox.wordpress.com.