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What does the Bible say about Church Worship?


Answer: The first thing to understand is that this is a very controversial topic within the church and there are extremes on each side. However, I believe the scriptures are vague on how to do worship because God desires liberty. The definition of worship is simply "praising God," which can take on a number of different forms in different parts of the world. In some places the people worship without any emotion while in other areas people clap, raise their hands, and shout to the Lord!

God desires that his people worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), and this simply means that God desires his people to worship him in a way that our inner being has been changed and our focus is on God. To worship in spirit means a heart change (Ezekiel 11:19). To worship in truth means that our worship must be in sync with the scriptures. God desires his people to worship him with songs that have sound doctrine (lacking in many contemporary praise songs) and to worship him in spirit and in truth and with their hearts and minds. Worship of God should occur every day of the week and not just when the instruments play and people sing in church. Worship is not just passive, and it doesn't only happen in Church. For example, I can worship God by staying close to him in my devotions, meditating on his Word, and obeying what the Word teaches. "Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like" (James 1:23-24, NIV).

When it comes to music choices during worship, I believe the Bible gives liberty. The substance of the message in the worship songs is most important, but that can take on a wide variety of forms. Fundamentalist/Separatists are at one extreme and believe that worship can never be done using modern praise songs, only with hymns or gospel songs. And then on another extreme are many contemporary evangelicals and charismatics who think worship is only about emotion. I have been in these churches and have attended worship events, and it saddens me how much the worship at these events resembles a rock concert. When speaking of worship, Paul said, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19, NIV). This calls for a wide variety of worship styles, and Paul is not as concerned about style as he is about substance.

This is not to say that style is not important. For example, imagine an unbeliever walking into a church with a heavy dose of Contemporary songs, a place where the people can dress any way they feel, and the preaching focuses on meeting felt needs, will give the unbeliever the painful belief that the people in this church are no better than those that organized the rock concert he most recently attended. An unbeliever walking into a church for the first time should immediately recognize that this is a holy place and those running and attending the church are serious about God.

Worship must contain spiritual truth and doctrinal clarity, but Fundamentalist/Separatists and others that argue that worship can only be done a certain way are misunderstanding what Paul meant. And on the other extreme, evangelicals that use their liberty to throw out the doctrinal richness of God’s Word in their worship are also completely misunderstanding what Paul meant. Those who raise their hands, fall to the ground and think they have connected with God because of some worship praise song are wrong if there is an absence of good doctrine and heart change in the life of the worshiper.

Sadly, much of modern contemporary worship is directed to arouse the feelings only and not the heart. Modern songwriters must write their songs with doctrinal clarity and with conviction. The goal is to write worship music that leads one to worship God in spirit and in truth. This cannot be done if the songwriter does not understand the scriptures, and sadly, many churches are not teaching the Bible these days. Songwriters are teachers and powerful lessons can be taught with church worship. The worship must not contradict the preaching/teaching ministry of the church.

Checklist for Church Worship
Content cited from the book Fools Gold by John MacArthur, 2005.

1.    Is your Church worship God focused?
2.    Does your Church music promote a high view of God?
3.    Is your church music orderly?
4.    Is the content of your church music biblically sound?
5.    Does your church music promote unity in your church?
6.    Is your church music performed with excellence?
7.    Does your church music prepare your people for the preaching of God’s word?
8.    Does your church music adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ?
9.    Does your church music promote passionate worship?
10.  Is your church’s philosophy of music based on biblical principles?

Recommended Resources
Fools Gold by John MacArthur

Church Worship by Hank Hanegraaf

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