Monday, August 24, 2009

What is Worship?

The term “worship” is used, abused, and misused in the 21st century church. Many churches have a “worship center,” a “worship leader,” a “worship team,” a “worship time,” and some even have a "worship pastor." Of course, all of this implies that there is a specific time, place, and schedule for “worship.”

All too often, the term “worship” is made synonymous with “music,” which would imply that the scheduled music time in a church service is the time of worship, thereby lessening the importance of the other parts of the service, such as preaching and teaching of the Word. In reality, everything we do as believers, both in and out of the church building, can be worship. We can worship God through our faithful attendance at church, through prayer, through the study of His Word, through making announcements, through giving, through music, through doing our jobs in a Christ-like manner, through how we treat others, etc.

Music can certainly be an important part of worship, but it is not all of worship. This being the case, we really ought to rename the “worship team” and call it the “music team,” and we ought to rename the “worship leader” and call him the “music leader.” This would get rid of the idea that music is the only part of our church services that is actually worship and all the other parts take a back seat.

We should also be aware of the fact that music is the source of more false doctrine than just about anything a church does. Many songs that sound good and feel good may not square with God’s revealed truth in His Word. It would do us well to be careful what music we use, whether traditional or contemporary, to insure that it is doctrinally sound.

Much of the practice of “worship” seems to be defined by a warm fuzzy emotional experience rather than by a biblical definition of what worship really is. However, it is clear from the Scriptures that truth always wins out over experience and that emotional reactions have nothing to do with truth. The best way to avoid false or weak worship is to look to the Scriptures for our definitions and our instructions.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).

This Scripture from Romans says nothing about an experience or emotion as part of our worship, and it likewise says nothing about singing praises. However, it does say something very profound about presenting ourselves to God, being transformed into what He wants us to be, and living a life of obedience to Him, doing His will, thereby fulfilling our “spiritual service of worship.” Based on this and other passages, it is far more accurate to describe worship as “obedience to God’s will” rather than to equate it solely with music.

Sandy Simpson says it very well, as follows: “In many churches around the world the concept of ‘worship’ has been redefined and narrowed to mean the time when Christians come together to sing songs, raise their hands, dance around, and get all excited about the Lord together in church. For most of the younger postmodernist relativistic generation the concept of ‘worship’ has become a thing you do once or twice a week to absolve yourself of guilt. The more you can work yourself into a state of bliss in feeling like you are really achieving a state of ‘worship’ by letting yourself go in the music and rhythm of the ‘worship’ time, the more you can justify what you are doing the rest of the week when you are not ‘worshipping’ God. This ‘worship’ then becomes an excuse and justification process whereby Christians can rid themselves of the guilt of not obeying the Lord in their lives. This is not to say that true worship is not done in the time now called ‘worship.’ It can be a time of worship, but worship without obedience is not worship at all."

The Nelson New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines worship as “reverent devotion and allegiance pledged to God.” Obviously, one of the most important ways to express our praise and love for God is to obey Him. All outward expressions of worship become meaningless without true submission and obedience to the one we call “Lord.” Jesus expressed this very clearly – “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB).

Samuel expressed this in no uncertain terms to King Saul after Saul offered a lame excuse for his disobedience. His excuse for disobeying the Lord was so that he could allegedly worship the Lord by offering sacrifices of the cattle and sheep he took from the Amalekites, even though God had ordered these cattle and sheep to be destroyed.

“Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king’" (I Samuel 15:22-23, NASB).

Saul's disobedience showed that he did not trust God enough to obey Him fully. Saul thought he could do things his own way and impress God with religious acts of worship. Such things do not impress God. Rather, He wants to see our demonstrations of love and trust for Him through obedience. Only then will our outward acts of praise and worship be acceptable to Him.


  1. Outstanding post, Ron!

    "[Scripture] says nothing about singing praises."

    My only thought is that I believe the Psalms do indeed talk about singing praises to the Lord. Ps. 147: "How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!" Just an example of many.

    Singing praises is great, because we should praise the Lord in our very being. But we don't sing "praises" when the songs are all about how good "I" feel!

  2. Glenn:
    I was afraid I did not make that clear. While the Scripture in other places does speak of singing praise to the Lord, I was saying that "THIS Scripture (Romans 12:1-2, NASB) says nothing about an experience or emotion as part of our worship. It says nothing about singing praises." Thanks for noticing... I have reworded it. Hopefully it is now clearer.


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