Saturday, September 20, 2008

WORSHIP WARS false perceptions of biblical worship

A few years ago I was ministering in concert at a prominent Midwest Christian college. During the concert of about 2,500 people attending, a young man stood up in the middle of the auditorium and shouted to me, "Brother Steve, I have a word from the Lord for you." Taken a bit back by his rudeness, but impressed with his courage, I asked him politely, "OK, what Bible verse did you want to share with me?" He said, "Oh no, this is a word directly from God for you personally." I said back to him, "I know every verse is penned by the Lord--it is all directly from Him to us... So what Bible verse did you want to share with me?" Becoming more and more frustrated at his inability to 'woo' me to his words of "divine revelation," I finally agreed to let him speak with one condition (and believe me, I was being generous in letting it go this far); I told him, "Everything you say must agree perfectly with God's final revelation in His Word. If anything you say, no matter how trivial, disagrees with Scripture, then I will have to rebuke you in front of all these people and then we will all have to take you outside and stone you to death!" With those ground rules stated, he thought for a moment and then said these profound words, "Maybe it was a feeling I had?" I said, "Good answer man--now sit down."

I share that story with you to poignantly illustrate the confusion there is today about divine revelation, biblical truth, and ultimately, what constitutes genuine, authentic biblical worship. Worship cannot be about my feelings or personal moorings based on what I think God is mystically communicating to me in a supernatural way. Worship must be based on truth and our response to truth; His truth--solely upon the truth of God's Word. I agree with Martin Luther when he said, "the highest form of worship is hearing God's Word with an obedient life and then living in submission to its truth."

Worship is absolutely vital to the life and health of the local church and the daily walk of every believer in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul places a high premium on worship when he says in these very familiar, important and defining words, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service [of worship]" (Romans 12:1).

So then what is biblical worship? In response to Paul's words, Worship is ascribing worth to the One-Triune God, according to how God has ascribed worth to Himself, in response to the standard and veracity of His Word, out of an obedient life. In short, the worship driven life is living daily in the presence of His glory! As my pastor said this past week, "worship is not simply going to a place of worship; but worshipping in the place where God has called us to live everyday." Contrary to what our culture mandates and what sadly has defined the emphasis of worship in many local churches:

1. The Basis of Faith is the Scriptures - not experience;
2. The Object of Faith is the Lord Jesus Christ - not self
and, 3. The Goal of Faith is Holiness - not happiness

The 'Oprahfication' of Worship
The graduates of the Oprah Winfrey school of theology are preaching salvation by baptism in the grey waters of self enlightenment, sensual appetite, and the new age paradigmn of existential truth of an impersonal universal force that dwells in the sub-consciencial caverns of my inner child with the hope of producing cosmic planetary oneness.

I don't even know what I just said or what that even means... they don't either! According to our post-modern culture, if you simply disengage from the neck up you're in. They don't want you to think about anything, but to feel about everything. Sadly, elements of this kind of new age reasoning dominates the evangelical landscape; an entire generation of people today are learning how to feel their God and not know their God; and one of the contributing factors is how we view worship in the church and in our personal lives as well.

A few questions to consider as we learn about biblical worship: What has caused these worship wars? What are they? What does biblical worship look like and what doesn't it look like? How are we to practically implement it in our daily lives? And more importantly, what do the Scriptures teach about worship especially in light of the contemporary movement of worship and praise music and literature that is abounding today? In other words, what does it mean to live in the presence of His glory everyday?

In order to fully understand what biblical worship is, let's begin by taking a brief look at seven things that biblical worship is not though they might seem to define how many of us truly function in worship today.

1. Biblical Worship is not Emotional Exuberance
Firstly, biblical "worthship," as the early church was initially prone to call it, is not emotional exuberance. People often mistake goose bumps with God and try to work themselves into an emotional froth or ecstatic frenzy which they hope brings them closer to the Lord. In saying that, I am not advocating emotionless worship. Worship does involve our emotions; and emotionless worship maybe reveals a hard calloused heart before the Lord. But using our emotions or focusing on an emotional response to try and achieve worship is something else altogether. Worship is primarily cognitive--it begins with knowing and understanding the Lord.

The danger is this, when the emotions fade usually the walk with Christ does too. This spiritual roller coaster ride can only satisfy that emotional craving for so long and then the essence of their commitment to Christ is ultimately revealed. Tragically, when they crash… they crash hard and leave many disillusioned people in the wake of their enthusiastic fancy. In reality, what they posses is a superstitious view of God, where faith is nothing more than doubt looking for proof. David warns about this in Psalm 2:11 and instructs us in the balance of real worship when saying, "Serve the Lord with reverence; rejoice with trembling." Worship begins with reverence-the fear of the Lord; joy and celebration is what follows; and with a note of exhortation, "with trembling." Our celebration (rejoicing) must never lead to carnality (with trembling). We must always have at the core of our worship the fear of the Lord and a sobering reverence for Him. There is no substitution for a consistent, holy, obedient, worthy walk in Christ.

2. Biblical Worship is not Mystical Experience
Secondly, authentic biblical worship is not mystical experience. The quintessential example of this would be what became known as "The Toronto Blessing." This movement was born initally at the Kansas City School of Prophets and given world-wide visibility at a church in Toronto, Canada. I flew to Canada to see first hand what was taking place there. I discovered that "the blessing" was marked by three key things: one, holy roaring. This is where one will bark like a dog, crow like a bird, etc. - or manifest some sort of animal sound or noise. Two, holy laughter. This is where uncontrollable boisterous laughter will occur for sometimes hours on end. And three, the most blasphemous element of this movement, is what they call holy vomiting. They claim if the Spirit of God is truly cleansing an individual's life, it will be manifested by vomiting. What I found most shocking was that when I asked a staff member of that paticular church in Canada where is the biblical proof that these things are sanctioned and caused by the Lord, their reply was simply, "we know that it doesn't exist in Scripture, but that doesn't concern us because you can't deny the fruit of what's happening in people's lives here." Again, personal religious expericence is elavated over the truth of God's Word.

Just to comment briefly, laughter is always used in Scripture in a derisive way and only mentioned one time in all the N.T. (James 4:8). I found that many were confusing laughter with joy. If laughter was a sign of God's grace in ones life, then Jim Carrey has to be the most holy man alive today! Joy, on the other hand, is not fleeting or frivilous; it is the quiet confidence that God is in control of all things for His glory and our good. The theme song for the church ladies and gentlemen is not "Send in the Clowns," but "Holy, Holy, Holy." Listen, beloved, it is never a funny thing to come into the presence of a holy God; but it is a frightening thing (cf. Hebrews 10:31).

Animal noises have never been evident anywhere in all of redemptive history as verification of one's standing before God or the Lord's working in their lives. This is Satanic at its very core.

Lastly, vomitting is not a sign of cleansing spiritually. This again, can be found nowhere in the Bible or practiced in any church in all of redemptive history.

3. Biblical Worship is not Musical Performance
When most people think of worship today they usually think of singing. They seperate the preaching of God's Word as one thing and then "worship" in song as another. Musical performance or frankly, music or songs in and of themselves is not worship. The song is but a tool to express worth to the Lord in accordance with His Word. Even the phrase, "worship leader" or "worship pastor" is misleading, isn't it?

In the Levitical priesthood and temple according to 1 Chron. 23:5, there were "4,000 gatekeepers, and 4,000 shall offer praises to the LORD with the instruments that I have made for praise.”

1 Chron. 15:22,27 says: "Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was {in charge of} the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful [in divine revelation and in the craft of music too]. Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing {with} the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen."

Notice here that the temple worship of the Levites sprung first of all from revelation then to the singing. "Thy statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage." His lawbook our songbook; His Word our music; His theology, our doxology.

Listen to these powerful words that the Lord spoke through the shepherd-prophet Amos, "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:21-24).

Why was God declaring their worship unacceptable? Why was it an offense to Him? Was Israel making bad music? Was their worship to the Lord heretical in lyric? No. But here is the reason: beautiful songs of praise with great biblical lyrics sung out of an impure life are nothing but noise to the ears of a holy God. We ought to be Spirit-filled beloved! The message is so clear: stop the music until the life is right.

4. Biblical Worship is not Religious Ritual
Fourthly, biblical worship is not religious ritual or ceremony. Liturgy, ceremony, confessions and creeds have their place, but in and of themselves, they do not constitute true worship. Religious rites must never take precedence over our obedience to the Lord. Remember the adamant words of the prophet Samuel to King Saul; "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" (I Samuel 15:22).

5. Biblical Worship is not Asceticism
Fifthly, true biblical worship is not self-flagellation or asceticism. The Apostle Paul deals powerfully with this in Colossians 2:20-23, "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations- 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using-according to the command- ments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgences of the flesh." I grew up in Wheaton, Il - the Vatican II; the holy city. I was taught that if I didn't dance, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't play cards and didn't go to movies that I had somehow reached the zenith of spiritual holiness. I learned many years ago that if I didn't dance, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't play cards and didn't go to movies, all that that meant was, was that I didn't dance, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't play cards and didn't go to movies. The absence of those things do not make one holy before the Lord, amen? That is why the thrust of our lives should not be the denial of certain things which may have the appearance of "religion," but to be conformed daily to the image and person of Jesus Christ our Lord.

6. Biblical Worship is not Self-Indulgence
Sixthly, biblical worship is not psychological self-indulgence. Coming to the house of the Lord consumed with our felt need concerns: my pain, my healing, my woundedness, my crippled inner child, anticipating some sort of psychological cathartic healing, devalues the very worship we long to honor Him with. Stephen Charnock expounds on this thought when saying, "To pretend to pay homage to God and intend only the advantage of self is, rather, to mock Him than worship Him. When we believe that we ought to be satisfied than God glorified, we set God below ourselves. Imagine, that He should submit His own honor to our advantage-we make our selves more glorious than God." Worship never begins or ends with man and his needs, but with God and His glory! We must "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him" (Matthew 16:24).

7. Biblical Worship is not Self-Actualization
Lastly, legitimate biblical worship is not self-actualization: realizing ones potentiality or reaching the fullness of ones dreams, aspirations, or goals. Achieving one's expectations - that is the essence of the meaning here. The info-phrase "Be all that you can be…" gives flesh and bone as to "the why" many people approach God. Jesus did not come to give you a better marriage, a more fulfilling career or job, a better education, or a more satisfying existance. People approaching God in worship to achieve those things, in reality, only end up worshipping themselves - the greatest of all idols.

I know that for some of you those things listed above are shocking as to what does not qualify as biblical worship. So much of our church life today is based on our experiences rather than on truth; so much of our time is spent about our happiness, rather than holiness; and our focus sadly in many churches today is all about self, rather than about Jesus Christ our Lord.

this has been an encore presentation


JackW said...

Steve, I just came across your blog and really enjoy it. It reminds me a lot of Bob Kauflin at Sovereign Grace Ministries both in style and substance. I think he was the first I heard say that Worship Leaders should really be called lead worshipers.

Jack Wickwire

Sparks said...


Unchained Slave said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment.
I need to throw in my 2 cents.
In #7 you said, "Jesus did not come to give you a better marriage, a more fulfilling career or job, a better education, or a more satisfying existance."
While that is true, It is also true that by serving, worshiping, and growing closer to the Lord, that these things in many cases do happen.
One's marriage imporves, because one gets a better understanding of the relationship by emulating Christ's relationship with the church.
One is more 'fulfilled' at work, because one is working for the Lord, in everything one does...not just at church
One becomes more educated in the Scripture...the education that really counts - only two things on this earth last forever - people and the Word of God - so knowing the Word is an imperishable education.
Like Paul, one becomes joyful and at rest while diligently serving God, which is by far a more satisfying existence...

In Him,

littlegal_66 said...

Campi wrote: "I was taught that if I didn't dance, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't play cards and didn't go to movies that I had somehow reached the zenith of spiritual holiness." (Great quote!)

Yes, so was I. Fortunately, I wasn't interested in drinking or smoking, but what did it profit me eternally to feel as though I had to sneak out to the movies because my parents didn't want me going to them?

What profit was the threat, "What if the Lord came back and you were sitting in a movie theatre?" (I always wanted to respond, "I guess I'd never know how the movie ended--but, hey, I wouldn't care.") Did this mindset imply that you can only worship the Lord within a church service? As you stated, "There is no substitution for a consistent, holy, obedient, worthy walk in Christ." (Of course, I am by no means insinuating that you should walk into a movie and turn it into a praise and worship time-it's just an extreme example).

I believe most of the thoughts in your article are summed up quite well in your song, "Not About Us." The lyrics seem to define proper biblical worship in a concise little package. I make it a point of emphasis to listen to the song on the way to worship services on Sunday, to help insure that I am in a frame of mind for participating in a worship service that glorifies the Lord (regardless of what our worship leader has planned for the services that day). Maybe I should add a re-read of this article to my Sunday morning pre-worship routine.

Spot on, as usual. (Should we ever expect to read anything otherwise?)

Jim Bublitz said...

Your opening story about "a word from the Lord" really hits home. I spent nearly 2 decades in a Charismatic line of churches, and often saw people do the "thus saith the Lord" thing. The most devasting was the time that one of our church leaders was dying of cancer, and he declared that he had heard from the Lord "this shall not end in death". After that, all sorts of people came out of the woodwork with similar "I got this from the Lord for you" type things for the dying man. One lady had a "dream from the Lord" that she wrote down and gave to him. All of it supporting this man's claim that he was not going to die. But he did die.

James White's book "Scripture Alone" has an excellent chapter on this. It's a role playing thing, where one guy claims to have heard from the Lord that he should buy a certain new bible. The other guy defends Sola Scriptura, and argues that (the above) is not the normative way that God speaks to us. James goes on to show how the Holy Spirit can use bible passages to guide us, etc.

Jeffrey said...

As I read this I was reminded of an experience a few weeks ago.

I attend a church where emotional outpourings, or manifestations are allowed, within limits.

I was postrate at the front of the church one Sunday and someone commented later on how it blessed them to see Holy Spirit pouring out and blessing me.

Here is what actually happened: I had worked sixteen hours on Saturday, gone to bed at about 4:30 AM, dragged my sorry butt into church and was sustaining myself with something like four double espressos. I had the attention span of a gnat. The least distracting place was as close to the "action" as possible - it was all about sensory deprivation and disciplining myself to choose to worship.

I am glad that the other person felt blessed, but God was not moving on me in any special way. I was simply doing all that I could do to worship.

Thanks for the post

Mickey Sheu said...

Thank you for this post. I have (will) link it.

Bhedr said...

>1. The Basis of Faith is the Scriptures - not experience;
2. The Object of Faith is the Lord Jesus Christ - not self
and, 3. The Goal of Faith is Holiness - not happiness< Amen!

Amen on the Oprah Winfrey/Dr Philgoodism stuff 2.

Carla Rolfe said...

"The graduates of the Oprah Winfrey school of theology are preaching salvation by baptism in the grey waters of self enlightenment..."

From here to the "disengage from the neck up" sentence, I was having a hard time not laughing.

Only because it's so true.

You've nailed it, Campi.

Thanks for this - and for this blog.

Bret Capranica said...

Thansk for the post, Steve. This will be good material to review before leading our congregation in worship tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Steve. If there's anything today's evangelical church needs, it's a slap in the face regarding what is considered "worship". In fact, in many churches, what passes as "worship' is simply a concert intended to stir up emotions and hearty applause for the "worship band". I'm so tired of "clap offerings" and guitar solos during so-called "worship".

Let's get back to the "Audience of One", please.

littlegal_66 said...

bill said: I'm so tired of "clap offerings" and guitar solos during so-called "worship".

Bill, have you been visiting my church? ;-)

Seriously, I REFUSE to applaud ensembles, soloists, musicians, or any other after a song ends during a service, even if the rest of the congregation is applauding them. It's just not right. I am not going to contribute to their receiving the applause of men (or women, in my case).

Tim Wirth said...

Hi Campi: Steve you have got to read this article. I have never read the Purpose Driven church but the quotes from how to do music that are in this article made my neck hairs stand up and my blood boil.
here is the link.
Maybe you should send Rick Muchow a copy of 107 thesis
Hope you and your many children are doing great
Tim Wirth/The Simply Agape Project

Rick Frueh said...

I have a word from God for you, Steve.

"If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God." (I Pet.4:11)

gigantor1231 said...


John 4 always comes to mind when speaking of worship, specifically 'vs. 23 true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.'

In spirit does not mean being emotional, rather having your emotions in check so that you might be considerate and attentive toward the spirit. This does not mean that some emotion will not be generated but it will definitely be, and needs to be, under control.
As for worship in truth, I can see no other way to do this than to have my mind fully engaged, I need to be prepared in season and out of season for this and that means His truth, the Word of God, needs to fully be a part of my life!

I was also involved in the charismatic/pentecostal movement for about 15 years. The church I was involved in was very biblical in it's teaching and in the application of the spiritual gifts. Having said that I would qualify what I experienced with respect to the gifts by saying that there was nothing outside of the scope of the scriptures that was substantive, in other words there was no spiritual benefit gained from it, I suppose the gain was from the fact that I learned how not to do things!
The church that I was going to at the time was deeply impacted by John Wimber and Toronto blessing, all of the leadership went to Toronto and the deviation from the God's Word really began. All of the barking, howling, laughing and puking came to our church and when asked about the validity of it the leadership could only say that 'who were they to say that God could not work this way, as long as the fruit was 'good' they were OK with it!'

12bberean said;

'"sign" gifts have completley ceased was based more on an antipathy to them than on a carefully reasoned Scriptural analysis.'

I have done a considerable amount of Scriptural analysis on this and what I have found with regards to the 'sign gifts' is that they are what they are for the purpose of giving a sign/s! When there is no sign/s needed, neither are the sign gifts!! Today we have the greatest and most powerful sign of all, the Word of God, it fulfills everything and more that the signs could not do. I am not saying that the sign gifts are faded, what I am saying is that unless they are perfectly defined by the Word of God and carried out in the manner that the Word of God prescribes, in perfect order with absolutely no confusion then they are simply invalid. I personally have spoken the babble of tongues, said 'thus says the Lord', I have fell on the floor under the power of suggestion, the list goes on, none of it is glorifying to God and none of it is of spiritual benefit. The sign gifts were never meant to be the focus and that is what they have become in every case that I have seen, and that is what makes them invalid! Mt. 7: 21-23 spells out exactly will happen to those that hold to and make the sign gifts the center of what they do. Not so with those that Love and hold to the pure word of God, you can have the sign gifts, I will gladly live and die by the Word of God.

Only Look said...

Amen again.

Ed Trefzger said...

I really appreciate your comments under point 1. It's important that we don't avoid emotion when avoiding emotionalism. True Biblical worship should affect us deeply, whether it is with awestruck joy or a repentant tear -- or for that matter tears of joy.

Deb_B said...

12bberean: "I don't believe that one can say emphatically that God no longer speaks to his people directly."

I trust you would concur with me that if God speaks directly to His people in an extra-Biblical sense, the person receiving the direct, beyond Scripture, communication from God would then be a prophet, yes?

IF we concur on the aforementioned point, let me ask you a question before I comment further:

How many foundations can and does a building have?

Thank you, brother, and may our gracious Lord bless and keep you and yours.

Deb_B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I recommend Bob Kauflin's videos on this subject:

Psalm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bickley said...

I totally agree with your article, here, Steve. But I don't have a real problem with the title "worship leader." I like it better than "song leader" or "music minister." I have also always had a serious issue with the whole "word from the Lord" thing.

As for the subject of applause in the church, the people at our church clap after almost every song that we sing. They're clapping for God, not the music. It's always been spontaneous, not expected or directed. If the rivers and trees are expected to "clap their hands," there shouldn't be any issue with people doing the same, as long as it's not to give glory to people. We very rarely have a solo sung in our church. I have long rejected the practice of having a "special" sung during the offering at every service.

Anyway, I love your comments on worship. I agree 100%. Good teaching.

Grace and peace,


Susan said...

"True Biblical worship should affect us deeply, whether it is with awestruck joy or a repentant tear -- or for that matter tears of joy."

I'd like to echo that great comment Ed!

Can't worship without emotion!

Steven Long said...

By far, number 2 scares me the most. However, I am reminded much about the South's view of Heaven (I can ream on it because I live here). Most of the time Heaven is portrayed as a huge family reunion: "We all gather at the throne with maw and paw and sister sue and cousin Jack. Ya, the Lord is here but we're with our family now and everything is okay."

I thought the whole idea of Heaven was to WORSHIP THE LAMB? My own culture greatly saddens me.

GUNNY said...

Nice job of not overstating the points, as many are prone to do.

For example,
1. If you're enjoying it, it's not worship.
2. There's nothing mystical about worship.
3. If music is orchestrated well, it's not worship.
4. If there's ritual involved, it's not worship.

etc ...

Brett Royal said...

Postmodern Worship
Disengage From The Neck Up
No Brains, Just Feelings.

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sue said...

Love the blog! Lot of good informative stuff!!!