4 Misconceptions about Worship
- Bob Kauflin Pastor, Director of Sovereign Grace Music
- 2015 24 Sep
[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from True Worshipers by Bob Kauflin, ©2015, pp. 41-46. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.]
Clearing Up Some Common Misconceptions
But some Christians have difficulty connecting the worship of God with the Word of God. They wonder, Isn’t worship more about emotions than about words? Don’t people just argue about the Bible? Isn’t worship more about the Spirit? Why is the Bible so hard to understand?
Each of these questions reveals a misconception about how God’s Word is a gift from God that enables us to worship him. Left unanswered, they’ll keep us from receiving the riches of grace God invites us to enjoy through his Word. Let’s consider them one at a time.
Misconception 1: Worship is more about emotions than about words.
I once met a husband and wife whose relationship had a unique start. He spoke English; she spoke Russian. Once they realized they were attracted to one another, they knew that looks, emotions, and gestures were an inadequate foundation for a potential marriage partner. So one of them learned to speak the other’s language. Meaningful relationships require words.
So it is that when God invites us into a relationship with himself, he uses words. They’re found in the Bible. Scripture isn’t made up of isolated verses that have some magical quality in and of themselves. Taken together and empowered by God’s Spirit, they are his communicating with us, telling us what he’s like. But the Bible doesn’t just tell us about God; God is actually speaking to us (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is the primary way God begins and deepens our relationship with him, and is essential for true worship.
Worship certainly involves more than words, and there will be times we worship God without words. But even then, “our only access to a real relationship with the living God in which words sometimes fall away is precisely in and through words which God speaks to us.”7
Many Christians think of preaching as a “mind thing” and worship as a “heart thing.” They’d be happy if the sermon was cut back so more time could be given to “worship,” meaning the singing. The same attitude can be reflected in a dislike for songs that are “wordy,” or a mind-set that says reading Scripture “interrupts” worship.
Now it might be that the preaching in your church is subpar while the music is outstanding. But God’s Word—reading it, studying it, preaching it, hearing it, praying it, and singing it—is indispensable to the true worshipers God seeks. Knowing our Bibles well doesn’t deaden our worship of God but rather informs and enflames it. God will always be much better than anything we could imagine him to be on our own.
If we want to grow as true worshipers of God, we won’t simply listen to more music—we’ll seek to encounter him in our Bibles.
Misconception 2: People just argue about the Bible.
Years ago a leader at a conference asked us to shout out the names of our denominations. An indistinguishable roar erupted. Then he had us shout out the name of the head of the church. “Jesus!” we all proclaimed in unison. “See?” he said. “Doctrine divides us. Jesus unites us.”
While I appreciated the leader’s intent to honor Jesus, his conclusion actually dishonored him and was seriously misguided. Doctrine is a word meaning “something that is taught.” It refers to everything the Bible teaches on a particular topic, such as worship, holiness, or the end times. Everyone has doctrine. Your doctrine is good if it affirms and lines up with what the Bible actually teaches. Your doctrine is bad if it doesn’t.
Christians have disagreed over doctrinal issues of secondary importance for centuries. That’s no surprise, given our sinful hearts and Satan’s desire to separate us. But the New Testament warned that false teachers would infiltrate the church’s ranks (Acts 20:29–30; 2 Cor. 11:13). Many of the most precious truths we live by today were more clearly defined as a response to heresy. The truths of the Christian faith have often been tested and confirmed in the fires of controversy and conflict.
People argue about the Bible because what’s in it is a matter of life and death. To begin with, God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons existing in one God. He has revealed himself most fully to us in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, who existed before time with the Father and Holy Spirit. Everything was created through him. He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life of obedience to God, and endured God’s wrath against the sins of all those who would trust in him. He was raised physically from the dead and ascended to his Father’s right hand. He has poured out the Holy Spirit on those who trust in him, and he will one day return triumphantly to live with his bride, the church, forever.
In other words, it’s misinformed to think that if we just worship God, everything else is unimportant or will work itself out. Unless we read our Bibles well, we won’t know the God we’re worshiping. When we fail to be specific about who God is and what he’s done, we’re really saying we want our own God. But true worship isn’t based on our personal opinions, ideas, experiences, best guesses, or some lowest common denominator.
As author Michael Horton reminds us, “Vagueness about the object of our praise inevitably leads to making our own praise the object. Praise therefore becomes an end in itself, and we are caught up in our own ‘worship experience’ rather than in the God whose character and acts are the only proper focus.”8
Worship given to a God we aren’t willing to define ends up being a product of our own imagination, not a gift from God.
Misconception 3: Worship is more about the Spirit than about the Word.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that Christians are those who “worship by the Spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3). He’s affirming what we’ve been discussing in this chapter—that we’ve been brought into God’s family through the working of God’s Spirit, not through our own efforts or merit.
But for years I thought Paul was saying (and I’m not alone on this) that worship “in the Spirit” meant spontaneous singing, heightened emotions, and the pursuit of experiences. Perhaps you’ve thought something similar. I’ve been to meetings, and even led them, where the goal of the evening was to sing songs and allow the Holy Spirit to move among his people and do whatever he wanted. Sometimes they’re referred to as “Holy Spirit nights.” During such times we tend to minimize or mistrust Scripture, planning, and order.
There’s no dichotomy between God’s Spirit and God’s Word. The Spirit is the one who gave us the Scripture in the first place: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The phrase “breathed out” is a clear reference to the Spirit’s work in authoring the words of the Bible through human instruments.
That means our “Spirit-filled worship” is to be evaluated by and submitted to what God has revealed in the Bible. The Spirit is integrally and inseparably connected to his Word.
Every church or individual Christian who claims to be Spirit-led must be Word-fed. If we want to know more of the Spirit’s power in our lives, we would be wise to fill ourselves with the riches of his Word.
Misconception 4: The Bible is too hard to understand.
Sometimes we think we should be able to understand God like a cake recipe or a sixth-grade textbook. But if we could grasp God easily or completely, he would no longer be worthy of our worship. He would no longer be God. When Scripture uses words like unsearchable, inscrutable, and immeasurable to describe God (as in Ps. 145:3; Rom. 11:33; Eph. 1:19), we should anticipate that our minds will be stretched to their limits as we seek to know him.
Studying God in his Word can seem laborious, difficult. It can seem nonspiritual, overly intellectual. Some passages will require repeated reading and careful thought. But the Holy Spirit, who first inspired the words in Scripture, now illumines our hearts to receive and understand them. He’s eager to open our eyes to see wonderful things in God’s Word (Ps. 119:18).
But we don’t have to do this alone. The Spirit has gifted the church with individuals who can help us understand Scripture better, beginning with your pastor. We can also take advantage of commentaries, study Bibles, and books.9 The best ones explain what a passage says in its literary, historical, and redemptive context and lead us to value Scripture more highly. The worst offer opinions or sow doubts. In commenting on the wisdom and necessity of reading other books, Charles Spurgeon succinctly said, “He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”10
When we take time to read and reflect upon God as the object of our worship, we’re expending energy toward having a real knowledge of the most glorious and valuable being in the universe. That knowledge is a gift from God that enables us to love him more passionately, obey him more consistently, serve him more joyfully, and trust him more confidently. It’s what enables us to be numbered among the worshipers of God.
Bob Kauflin is a pastor, songwriter, worship leader, and author with over thirty-five years experience. After pastoring for 12 years, he became director of Sovereign Grace Music in 1997. He oversees the production of their albums and teaches on congregational worship through WorshipGod conferences, seminars, and his blog, worshipmatters.com. He is currently an elder at Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Julie, have six children and an ever-growing number of grandchildren. You can find out more information about his book, True Worshipers, by visiting Crossway.
Publication date: September 24, 2015