Toward a Philosophy of Worship
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2008 Apr 26
All of Life is Worship
According to the New Testament, all of life is worship. The impetus and goal of all that we do is worship. In other words, the more we worship God, the more we are compelled to glorify Him, advance the gospel, and serve others. Then, as we seek to advance the gospel, the goal is that persons come to know Christ and glorify God for His mercy (Rom. 15:9).
Further, if we cannot glorify God in anything we do, we may not do it. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).” Christ must be central in our lives and not merely one of the dynamics on the periphery. We must think of our lives as a bicycle wheel with spokes emanating from the hub in all directions. Those spokes represent all of the things we have in our lives including work, school, sports, family, entertainment, sleep, vacation, community service, church, and so much more. The Lord Jesus can never be one of the spokes. He is the hub. All things flow from Him and for His glory. It is this truth that gives life meaning.
Eating Chocolate as Worship
We need a theology to play ball or to eat a Hershey’s Bar for example. If we cannot do either of those things for God’s glory then we cannot do them. But we can do both for God’s glory. We give Him thanks for the ability to play ball or for the awesome taste of chocolate. We compete not for our own sense of pride but to put God’s glory on display as He has given us the ability. We enjoy that Hershey Bar with God in mind and contemplate the multi-faceted gifts He has given us as well the multi-dimensional beauty or satisfaction we find in so many things. It’s all about Him! “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves (Ps. 100:3).” As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
A Need for Private Worship
At the same time, Christians must engage in times of private worship. There is no better example for us than Christ Himself: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed (Mk. 1:35).”
A Few Words about God-Centered Corporate Worship
Corporate worship is when the body of Christ gathers together for the express purpose of worshipping God. We were created and the church is being recreated in Christ that God might be glorified: that we might worship Him.
Placed upon us is the responsibility to be careful when God’s people gather to worship Him. Scripture is replete with condemnation of false worship. After all, we are talking about Holy God. We should never do anything that is man-centered and not God-centered. Nor should we motivate people toward being entertained as opposed to giving worship to God. We must never persuade by, or cause people to focus on worldly wisdom or technique, but rather lead them to rest in the Lord. Paul warned about this dynamic in 1 Cor. 2:1-5.
Style in Corporate Worship
At the same time, there is no Scriptural prohibition for different worship styles. While we should do nothing in worship other than that which is prescribed by Scripture as the elements of New Testament worship are clearly laid out, there is liberty in Christ and style. In other words, we must sing in worship as Paul prescribes such. But, we must not engage in what is termed interpretive dance. The New Testament knows no such form of worship. Yet, the New Testament gives no direction in terms of music style. Thus, style is largely a matter of cultural preference.
This point was elucidated well for me when I was talking with our missionary to several years ago about worship style in his country. I was lamenting the fact that in some of the worship services in some of the church plants there, most of the people seemed to be doing little more than going through the motions of worship, particularly in the area of singing. These churches were planted by American missionaries and had adopted American worship styles. The Trinidadian people are much different in their musical preferences. The expression of worship is much more heart felt when persons are able to express their worship in terms of their own redeemed cultural context.
That is not to say that worship is mere feeling or merely culturally driven. Redemption transforms feelings and cultural acclamation. But, American worship style is not superior to Trinidadian worship style. God does indeed save people out of the cultures of the world. From these brief considerations of the New Testament and the diversity of culture God has placed in this world, we deduce that worship style from one congregation to the next, even in , is largely a matter of preference based upon culture and/or subculture.
The Real Question for Corporate Worship
Here’s the real question for believers however: What would we do if we did not have our auditoriums, power point presentations, and praise bands? Would we worship? No doubt many would feel as if we could not. It is that feeling that speaks volumes as to what people believe the nature of worship is, even in so-called spirit-filled churches.
What We Must Understand About Worship
We must maintain the simple understanding that the church exists to glorify God in the world through gospel advance. Biblically, we gather to worship, that is, get filled with the word to motivate us for works of service, fellowship with the saints to get encouragement for works of service, partake of the Lord’s Supper to remember what it’s all about in our works of service, and pray for empowerment that we might perform those works of service. We then go out and do those works of service.
At the same time, as Christians, we above all people should strive for excellence in all that we do, including corporate worship, because all that we do must be for the glory of God. He is excellent above all things. We send the wrong message to the world if we are slipshod in what we do.
The suggestion, or rather the question, or perhaps the challenge, is to think clearly about the nature of New Testament worship and engage in that dynamic in the context in which God has placed us. Again, what would we do if our buildings were destroyed by a Hurricane for example? I hope we would continue “steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).” We might even sing a few songs together simply for joy, whether we had instruments or choirs or not.
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