So far in this series, we've seen that Scripture supports a wide range of physical expressions in the worship of God. But we've also seen that external responses in themselves are no guarantee true worship is taking place.
Many Christians struggle with expressing themselves freely in worship. Certain actions in corporate worship can bring about feelings of discomfort or awkwardness. Christians who would enthusiastically jump to their feet after a touchdown or a brilliantly played violin concerto sometimes have difficulty displaying the same kind of emotion on a Sunday morning. Let's look at some reasons why that might be the case.
First, some Christians are simply unaware of what the Bible teaches about physical responses to God. They don't know that Scripture is filled with examples of exuberant, passionate worship (Ps 150, Neh 8:6, Rev 5:11-14). Perhaps they've grown up in a church environment that elevated certain types of expressions and ignored others. Simply growing in an understanding of what the Bible says will often bring about a greater freedom in corporate worship.
Other times, we restrict our responses to God because we're afraid of what others might think about us. We wonder if we'll tarnish our image as a "respectable" Christian. The Bible calls this the fear of man (Pro 29:25).
In 2 Samuel 6, King David's wife, Michal, struggled with this sin as she watched her husband dance with all his might before the ark of the covenant. God responded to her concern for respectability by making her womb barren. Pastor Mark Buchanan comments, "God is not the safe-keeper of our reputations. God is not some priggish domestic deity, a heavenly Miss Manners intent on prescribing the etiquette that maintains polite society, aghast by any outburst of fervor. And our role on this Earth, be it prophet, king, priest, or homemaker, is not to keep ourselves from embarrassment. We must come before the King, dignified or undignified, robed or disrobed, in the presence of the elite or in the company of slave girls, and worship with all our might" (Christianity Today, Oct. 7, 2002, p. 53-54). Strong words, but worth heeding if we are more concerned about what people think than what God thinks.
Our physical actions to God can also be tempered by theological presuppositions. I have good friends whom I respect deeply and who love God passionately. They know the Bible much better than I do. They are also more reserved in their physical expressiveness. They believe worship is to be characterized by an attitude of reverence and awe (Heb 12:28), soberness and solemnity.
I agree that reverence and awe are essential to biblical worship, but I'd suggest that those attitudes aren't always physically manifested in the same way. Moreover, it's impossible to ignore the multitude of examples and commands in Scripture that emphasize celebration, passion, delight, and exuberance, all reflected through our bodies.
Some maintain that worship is a matter of the heart, not the body. Actually, both are crucial. Romans 12:1 tells us that presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice is our spiritual worship. If I told my wife that I loved her in my heart, but never demonstrated it through physical actions, I doubt that she would believe me. We wouldn't have much of a marriage, either.
No, expressiveness in worship is more than a cultural issue. Kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, dancing, standing, singing, bowing, and more are all appropriate ways to demonstrate our passion for God. But someone may ask how this gets worked out in a local church where people are at different places in their experience, maturity, and understanding. Excellent question. That will be our topic next time.
Bob has one of the featured columns in the current edition of Sovereign Grace magazine. The theme is "In the World, But Not of the World: Music, Media, and Modesty." You can read it online.
These magazine articles are based on an audio series by the same name, which is available through the Sovereign Grace Store.
Other articles in this series: