Christian worship seems to be one of the most disregarded, and yet divisive, subjects within the church. In the past, debates were held between differing groups as to the authority of certain practices within the assembly. Sadly, we don’t see these discussions as often; not because everyone is in agreement, but simply because no one seems to care.
Yet, from the beginning of scripture God governs the manner and spirit in which humanity worships Him. He accepted Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s (Gen. 4:3-5); Nadab and Abihu were consumed for an unauthorized act of worship (Lev. 10:1-3); and Saul was rejected as king for a presumptuous sacrifice (1 Sam. 13:9-ff). When we come to the New Testament we see Jesus teaching that man “must worship God in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). When Paul wrote the Corinthian epistle he addressed a variety of issues within their worship assembly and commanded that “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). An honest student of scripture must recognize that God takes His worship—the manner, motivation, and mode—very seriously. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the concern of many in the professing Christian community today.
Because of this, I am so thankful that the church of Christ has placed such an emphasis on the importance of proper Christian worship. I believe following the Biblical pattern has not only pleased God, but also has insulated the church from some of the dangerous, abusive, and irreverent trends of the entertainment culture. Yet, we must be mindful of our own worship as well, examining our hearts and practices to make sure we are “in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).
That being said, what are some principles which should govern modern Christian worship today?
In Spirit and Truth
As mentioned earlier, when addressing the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus not only addressed false worship practices (John 4:22) but gave the pattern for true worship: in spirit and truth (23-24). This interaction teaches us that, not only is God seeking individuals who will humble themselves and worship Him properly, but will do so with proper motivation and spirit. A spirit of humility, joy, and thanksgiving are just as important as proper religious practice; in fact, failing to worship with the correct spirit is considered improper and unacceptable.
Yet, spirit is only one element in this equation: God also demands that humanity worships Him in truth. This means that, not only do we worship the one true God in alignment with what He has revealed about Himself (His character and work), but also that we worship Him in the mode He desires. One example of this is the use of instruments in Christian worship. Although God doesn’t prohibit instruments within daily use/secular music, He has prescribed that when people come to Him in worship they simply sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). While this may seem absurd to the denominational community, they may be surprised to learn that this was most likely the practice of their group for hundreds of years. Congregational, a Capella singing is the pattern we witness in scripture and history, and is the mode God has chosen to glorify His name.
In Order and Decency
In recent years I have noticed Youtube videos surfacing showing supposed Christian worship assemblies displaying behavior which is best described as erratic, confusing, and—for lack of a better term—insane. Individuals yelling out in sporadic, incomprehensible babbling; others running down pews and jumping over others; one video even shows a man jumping in the baptistry fully clothed! I say that these are “supposed” Christian worship assemblies because no true Christian would allow such practices to exist if they fully followed Paul’s command for worship to be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses confusing worship practices by commanding: 1. No one speak in tongues unless someone is able to interpret (26-28). 2. One prophet speaks, while the other listens so as not to confuse the church (29-33). 3. Women remain silent as teachers within the gathered assembly (34-35). All of these commandments aren’t deeply theological from our perspective, but they are obviously important to proper Christian worship. While some may take this principle to the extreme, there is no doubt that Christian worship should possess a sense of decency, orderliness, and clarity.
With Teaching and Encouragement
If we’re honest, our “favorite hymns” are often the ones with melodies we enjoy. While this is a part of Christian worship, this certainly isn’t the most important element. In Colossians 3:16 we learn that one of the main ways in which the word of Christ “dwells in you richly” is through the “teaching and admonishing” that occurs in our singing. Worship is meant to be a means of instruction in sound doctrine. We are learning something, not only when we listen to the sermon, but when we partake of the Lord’s supper, pray, and sing. Lessons are being taught every time we come together; the question is, what are we teaching and are we listening?
Because of this principle, it is important for the church to be aware of the truth they are singing. Is it in alignment with what the Bible teaches about God, humanity, salvation, sin, etc.? Again, while some take this principle to the extreme (sometimes you wonder how some find justification for singing any hymns!), there is no doubt that healthy teaching and encouragement in the word of Christ is a key element to acceptable Christian worship in the modern world.
While come may easily dismiss what we discussed in this article, I pray that most will accept it with humility and obedience. If we don’t take the worship of God seriously, considerate of how and why we approach Him, then what other aspects of Christianity do we easily dismiss? Worship is by far the most intimate and most reverent of Christian practices. Because of this we must do it in spirit and truth, in order and decency, and with teaching and encouragement.