Some Thoughts on Worship
Revelation 4:8-11 – 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
I’m not sure that there is a more subjectively debated issue in all of Christendom than the issue of the practice of worship. If you’ve been in modern American Christianity for any time, you have probably heard of the “worship wars,” or you have experienced them. You have seen people go to the mat battling over musical styles in worship, over dressing up or dressing down, over bright lighting or theatre settings, over drums or no drums, over volume levels, over hymns or modern music, and over so much more. However, I wonder how much of this discussion includes biblical argumentation. How much of what we think about worship is informed by Scripture rather than by experience?
Consider, as one aspect of worship, the passage above. There we see a vision of worship happening in the throne room of God. God’s holiness is magnified by angelic beings. The human response is to bow down before the Lord and to declare him worthy. No person can argue that this is not worship.
What does the above contain that we might want to consider as we consider our own understanding of worship? First, let’s talk about holiness. How well do we do in remembering that our task is centered around the holiness of God? If you know me, you will know that I am not a slave to rigid formality and severity of mood—I enjoy, well, enjoying myself. I certainly do not think God is opposed to an attitude of celebration. However, worship at its clearest and deepest point is about the holiness of God. Thus, our actions of worship ought to reflect that holiness. There is a seriousness to what we should sing, say, and do as acts of formal worship of our Lord. Those actions should reflect the worth and value of the Holy One.
Then, look at the human response to God’s revelation of his holiness. The elders around the throne of God fell down and declared the truth of God’s worth. There was a humility about the people. The people responded to the truth of who God is. They responded to the accurate proclamation of God’s character and attributes. They did not respond to the emotional content of the art but to the rock solid truth of the words of truth. Perhaps we should consider this when we think about worship. Perhaps it would be better that we see to it that more truth is proclaimed and that this outweighs any emotional strings that are pulled by musical style, dramatic content, or nifty lighting.
I recall once being told by a pastor that he could tell whether the people were worshipping God by the looks on their faces. I suppose that would be true if worship was about mere emotional engagement. However, if worship is about truth of proclamation and submissive response, the looks on our faces are not the final measure of worship. Are we treating God as holy? Are we declaring truth about him? Are we yielding our lives to him? Those are far more proper measures of worship than any others.
Christians, may we stop the worship wars by returning to Scripture. Can a modern song focus us on the truth of the character of God and his holiness? If so, sing it. Can an ancient song focus us on the biblically presented perfections of God, than sing it. Does an old song focus us on shallow, emotional half-truths, then do not sing it no matter what hymnal it appears in. Does a modern song grab our emotions while ignoring the central focus on the Lord, then get rid of it.
What about more than music? The service of formal worship is about the declaration of the truth of God in Scripture. Yes, this should connect with our emotions because the truth of God grabs at our souls. However, we do not need to artificially shape things to bring about a response that is more a response to art than to truth. When art bows to truth, the two can blend in a wonderful moment. However, the focus of worship is and has always been the truth of God as expressed in the word of God.
This all only scratches the surface of the truth of what we must consider as we consider worship. However, it is important that we think about this topic and let it be directed by Scripture. Even the above paragraphs only scratch the surface of the passage above. Yet, they point us in the direction of the holiness of God and a proper human response of reverent awe and submission.