Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
My question is about worship. What elements are appropriate and which are not?
Your question is extremely important. One of the main elements of our mission is to call the world to worship God (Rev. 14:7). In a search for guidelines relevant for us today I will deal with a few of the main elements of biblical worship and its expressions.
1. God Is the Center: Worship is delimited by the personal and collective acknowledgment of believers that God is exclusively worthy of supreme honor. In the Bible God is the only legitimate and exclusive object of worship (Ex. 20:2, 3; Luke 24:53), which is grounded in His creative and redemptive power (Rev. 4:11; 5:12). Worship is the response of the inner being to the awareness of the majesty, mystery, and uniqueness of God revealed in His work of creation and redemption. Confronted by Him, our lives find their place of origin and vibrate with joy, thanksgiving, and the reverent fear that only God can inspire.
Since everything else in the universe belongs to the category of the created, it is reprehensible, even an abomination, to replace God as the center of worship with any other object. This fundamental view of biblical worship should inform the appropriateness of any activity that will be part of it.
2. The Role of Emotion: Worship is more than an attitude; it is also an act. Since we are emotional beings, it is impossible to separate our emotion from the practice of worship. In that holy act we praise and give thanks to God (Ps. 118:28), express our joy and gratitude through offerings (1 Chron. 16:29) and songs (Ps. 147:1). We even cry to Him for deliverance, forgiveness, and guidance (Ps. 139:23, 24; 142) as a response to His presence in our lives. The temptation is to use worship as a sociopsychological avenue to “feel good” about ourselves and accepted by others. When that happens we have imperceptibly shifted the center and focus of worship away from the Creator and Redeemer to ourselves, at the risk of falling into the realm of idolatry. We bring to Him our gratitude, needs, fears, and concems in order to praise Him for what He has done and will do for us.
3. The Role of the Body: We cannot separate the expression of our emotion from our physicality. In worship we come before the Lord as emotional and bodily creatures. The act of worship involves our bodies as vehicles through which our emotions express themselves. In the Bible worshipers lifted up their hands to offer the Lord their petitions (Ps. 141:2; 1 Tim. 2:8); they stood up (Mark 11:25), knelt down (1 Kings 8:54), or bowed down with their faces to the ground to worship (Neh. 8:6). They used their tongues and lips to sing to the Lord (Col. 3:16) and their ears to capture the beauty of musical instruments (Ps. 150:3-5) and the reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13). Worshipers joined processions that went to the temple praising the Lord (Ps. 68:24, 25), and at times joy was expressed through ritual dancing (Ps. 30:11).
The extent that the body is used to express emotion varies from culture to culture. What is appropriate in one culture may be offensive in another. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of worship is not to stimulate our emotions and their bodily expression (as is sometimes done through loud music) in order to create a feeling of well-being in the worshiper. That would again dislodge God from the exclusive center of adoration, placing there the satisfaction of our psychological needs. The moderate involvement of our emotions and body in corporate adoration should not distract us or others from what is probably more important, listening to the Word of the Lord and its proclamation.
We go to church to worship God, to praise, adore, and thank Him for all His blessings, to be instructed through His Word, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to be equipped to proclaim the gospel, and for fellowship with other believers. Worship is not a form of entertainment that needs to be adjusted to the taste of the individuals using marketing practices. The music we bring, the songs we sing, the prayers we offer, are our feeble attempts to praise the Lord and express our love and thankfulness to the one who has done so much for us through Christ.