Why worship?

I read a very interesting post this weekend at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength that challenges the very core of contemporary church life: worship. If you attend a contemporary-style church, chances are you know that it’s all about the worship.  Walk into any of these evangelical churches—many with cool, new-age-sounding names like Daybreak or Morningspring, as well those with more traditional-sounding names, including one or 2 Lutheran churches—and you can expect to spend the first 20-40 minutes singing worship choruses.  This will be followed by announcements, the offering, a coffee break, and then a sermon, usually capped with another worship song or two. The more traditional evangelical focus has always been on the sermon. But, from listening to a number of these sermons in person or on the radio, it’s pretty clear that the focus is not there; it’s on the worship.

So, what if this contemporary understanding of worship is wrong?  I don’t mean off just a little bit, I mean completely and totally wrong. What if worship has nothing to do with creating a mood-altering state through hypnotic rhythms, major 7 chords, and repetitive chanting (hey, I’ve been on a few worship teams and even been a worship leader). The blogger at HMS&S even dares to suggest that God is not even interested in our worship songs:

If you were to search the commands in the books of Moses, you would not find a command where God asks for flattery. In the commands of the books of Moses, God shows remarkably little interest in receiving praise. In the Ten Commandments, the well-known command forbidding idol-worship is not, after all, followed by a command insisting on praising God. The Sabbath command does not contain a command to conduct worship services; it contains a command to rest from work. The kind of “worship” which God asks of his people as they live their daily lives is to be ethical: to be morally good. He requires of his people that they live good lives: not lying, not stealing, not murdering, not taking each others’ wives and husbands. He asks his people to be holy as God himself is holy. He asks us to follow him in his ways.

This is certainly in line with Romans 12:1. The Psalms, however, clearly call for us to praise God with music, and Paul tells us we should sing to each other. I’ve paid very close attention to the lyrics of the “worship” songs being sung in the churches I visit, and as odd as it may seem, there’s actually very little of either going on. Most songs celebrate human emotion, rather than actually talking about God. And most are neither encouraging nor educational (some are downright heretical).

But, this is not to say that singing worship songs—that is, true worship songs, focusing on God’s attributes and what He has done for us—isn’t a good thing.  I loved the songs we sang yesterday in the church I attend, All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name and At The Name Of Jesus (from an old Irish tune I decided to learn on the banjo). And I enjoy more modern songs, too, even outside of church.

So, I’m not sure if the blogger is 100% correct in her viewpoint, but I think it’s worth discussing. What do you think?



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5 Responses to Why worship?

  1. It’s all about the money, I mean music. Glad to see you’re still at it. Great post!

  2. Steve Martin says:

    Great post.

    I guess the focus of the attention ought always be Him and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do…for us.

    I tend to enjoy the older hymns more, but more contemporary can be good too, if the words are in the right direction. (me thinks)

    I hope you are well, Alden.

    And you, as well Howard.

    I don’y know you as I know the fellas, Anne, but I hope you are well, also.

    God’s peace be with all of you.

  3. me says:

    In a post from a few months ago, I raised the traditional Lutheran concept of worship, which is to receive from God. This, of course, sets much of contemporary church life on its ear. A quote contained in that post:

    It has often been taught that we speak to God in worship; that we summon his presence and offer Him praise. This view sees God as the audience of our worship. However, this is a pagan concept of worship.

    I closed that post with this thought: “Here’s a way to judge worship: Who is doing the speaking?
    Any attempts by us to try to please God, whether by singing or service, fall flat. It is truly “a humble and contrite heart,” one that is in a position to receive from God, that discovers the heart of worship.

  4. Hi there

    Thanks for the link.

    I actually agree that worship through song and sermon and Bible study is a good thing. The only question I’m attempting to address there is whether God sees it as the primary thing. That’s the risk of focusing on one point: not focusing on the others.

    If I had to connect the dots there, I’d say something like this: If our worship is lip-service (as Christ referred to it), it doesn’t please God. Or to go back to King David, who wrote so many of the Psalms: the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, and broken and contrite heart God will not despise. *Then* will he be pleased with the rest.

    It’s just so easy to skip to the songs, and leave out the main thing God has asked of us.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

  5. Your reference to older hymns made me ponder – did these older verses derive from a time when the actual ‘weight’ of faith (evidenced, for example, in the nature of services and preaching) was deeper and therefore richer than we now evidence in many current approaches to God? It has been decades since a contemporary church service has ‘touched’ me, but there have been some very significant moments in more liturgical services where I have been struck deeply concerning the nature of God, His mercy or care, and that has evoked an immediate response of profound gratitude, stillness and reflection, or joy in believing. Isn’t that what defines actual worship?

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