Worship is our response when we meet with God. It is what happens in our heart and soul when we enter His presence, in awe of His greatness, conscious of His holiness, and deeply aware of our own sinfulness. When we come to Him in this humility and amazement we cannot help but fall prostrate at His feet and esteem Him in every way our superior. This is worship.
This worship historically was done at a prescribed place in the Old Testament. In the New Testament however it shifts from being done at a certain location i.e. 'I went up to the Temple to worship' to being done at any location. Because of this shift, and because of the clear New Testament teaching that a church service is designed primarily for edification we are forced to conclude that a church service is not supposed to be a worship service. There is no such thing as a worship service in the New Testament.
If you have followed me thus far in this short blog series you cannot help but see I am building a logical approach to worship layer by layer. Having arrived at this point we see that when we understand these truths it impacts how we live. By the same token, when we fail to understand these truths it also impacts the way we live albeit in a negative manner.
Modern American Christianity, even orthodox Christianity, almost entirely fails to understand this. The vast majority of churches and pastors think that the church service is supposed to be a worship service. In so doing they unintentionally cause three potentially grievous problems in their churches. The purpose of today's post is to briefly develop these three problem areas and show you how they are tied to a misunderstood (and thus misapplied) view of worship.
First, when you mistakenly aim your church service at worship you over-emphasize music and de-emphasize preaching. It is no secret that the preaching in American Christianity today is both poorer in quality and lesser in quantity than previous generations. This was driven home to me recently. One of our long time members finally managed to persuade her husband to visit our church. He promptly came back. Then he came back again. Knowing he had his own church I sat down with him and asked him why, at long last, he had decided to join his wife in attending our church. His answer was simple: 'Pastor Brennan, you preach more.'
He was essentially correct. I do preach much more than the average evangelical pastor. I preach four entirely new messages each week of between 30-60 minutes. Contrarily, the average contemporary evangelical church in this city has one sermon per week of 30 minutes and then chases that with a small group discussion later in the week. This man came to Christ in one of these kinds of churches but when he discovered he would be fed a whole lot more at our place he decided to keep showing up here.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not criticizing my pastor brethren in this city who preach Christ. However you cannot help but realize there is a tremendous difference between their approach to a church service and mine. Not only do they de-emphasize preaching they also over-emphasize music. This is because they think – even if they won't say it (and increasingly they will) – that music equals worship. Most American churches equate music with worship.
I could furnish a thousand examples but here is one I just saw last week. In the April 2015 edition of the Baptist Bible Tribune is an article titled 'Top 10 things churches just won't give up.' Number one is 'Worship and music style. Even though God loves all kinds of worship, this isn't so for many congregants, many of whom leave churches solely because of the style of worship during service.' The scriptural illiteracy of that sentence is staggering. It is wrong about the church service. It is wrong about music. It is wrong about God. It is wrong about worship. But you get my point don't you? Clearly, the Baptist Bible Tribune believes that church music is worship.Such churches, desperate to find a way to produce a better worship service, eventually run hither and yon after whatever the most recent trendy, relevance embracing, worship guru tells them will work. To such people a church that has bad corporate singing is bad at worship. Ergo, we must change the music in order to make the worship good.
Again, I could furnish you with thousands of examples but let me give you just one more that came across my desk in the last week. In a blog article entitled 'Three Actual Reasons Why Millennials Are Leaving The IFB Church' by Eric Skwarczynski and dated 4/14/15 we find the following statement:
...here are three ACTUAL reasons why I believe millennials are leaving the IFB church. I. Apathetic Worship. Notice I didn’t say old-fashioned, or out of date, or traditional to describe the style of worship. It’s not the style which really irks me, or most others I’ve talked to. It is an apathetic, dead, careless, unenthusiastic style of “worship” (if it can even be called worship) which is very frustrating. The style of music is much less important to me than the spirit of worship. I have been to über traditional IFB churches where the singing is just saturated with a love for God and a heart of worship. Likewise, I have been to hip, trendy neo-IFB churches where they have a guitar and a set of drums, playing the latest Hillsong track, and the spirit of worship is for all intents and purposes, non-existent.
Eric isn't alone. Obviously thousands of churches and thousands of pastors think that they have to do something to make their music better or else the worship stinks. They completely fail to grasp that music is not worship. So they pull back on the downer confrontation inherent in preaching and ramp up the use of upbeat music.
This failure leads to a second, even worse, problem. When you mistakenly aim your church service at worship you run the risk of teaching people to associate an emotional response to music with actual worship. The Bible teaches that corporate music in the New Testament church is designed for edification not worship. But when I think the purpose is worship and the music is powerful I create in people the idea that because they felt something they worshipped. That is absolute nonsense yet it is the firmly held felt belief of millions of American Christians.
If you want to seriously study music you must begin by defining it. Among the dozens of definitions I have encountered the single best one is this: music is an emotional language. Music is the way feelings sound. By definition then hearing and singing music done well almost always produces an emotional reaction. In a church setting this means that I do not have to actually be close to God in order to feel close to God; I just have to hear or sing about being close to God and – voila – I feel like I am. Worship is my response when I meet with God. Yet millions of Americans think they worshipped Him at church this past Sunday because they felt something during the music when in fact there are entire aspects of their lives that are in open rebellion to Him. This may be an extreme example but I have known adulterers to feel very moved by a church 'worship' service. They felt close to the Lord because the music moved them. The truth is they did not meet with God at all.
It is spiritually disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, biblically illiterate, and developmentally damaging to teach God's people – by statement, experience, example, or implication – that they met with God in worship because the music at church emotionally moved them.
I'm not afraid of emotion. I'm not afraid of emotion in a church service. I'm not afraid of emotion in a church service during corporate singing. It is not unusual at all for me to kneel in my seat and weep while my choir is singing of a Sunday morning. But if my heart is not right with the Lord and my spirit and soul are not humbled before His glory in actuality on a daily basis all the musically induced emotion in the world won't plop me down in God's presence. The average 'worship pastor' in America thinks his job is to usher people into the presence of God. He thinks the way to do that is with mood lighting, a good audio system, and a well-rehearsed band leading the people in a repetitive chorus. He is dead wrong. Such churches, pastors, and people are not worshipping God. They are worshipping their emotions.
Even this, as grievously errant as it is, is not the worst problem. No, the worst problem produced by wrongly aiming your church service at worship is this: you limit worship. In the minds of your congregation they realistically think they have to show up at church to worship God. You may deny this with your words but everything you do and say in relation to the service preaches otherwise. In practice, your church has walked backward into the Old Testament. I go to church to worship God. I know I did because I felt something during the music. I do that once a week.
Beloved, this is where it becomes heartbreaking to me. My God is so great and so lovely and so wonderful that He deserves to be worshipped by us constantly. Yet in practice we have trained our churches to worship Him at church during the music and that's all. Meanwhile, for the other 167 hours of the week God looks down at His people and misses their worship.
Silly people, unreasonable people will take my blog series about worship and interpret it as an attack on worship. They could not possibly be more wrong. If the truth were known you would discover that the majority of my prayer time is nothing more than worship. God and I get alone somewhere – my church auditorium on a Monday morning, a country road on a Friday afternoon, a walk around the block on a Saturday night – and I meet with God. In humility I come to Him esteeming myself to be as nothing in His sight. I yield to Him the pre-eminence. I thank Him for His benevolences to me. I praise Him for His attributes, with His names, about His Word, and through the Scriptures. I see Him high and holy and lifted up. My heart overflows with wonder, joy, awe, delight, and love. He is great. I am insignificant. I meet with Him and I worship.
Let us worship Him, beloved. Oh let us worship Him. According to the Scriptures.