What’s Wrong With Worship?


Worship is BIG business these days. There’s a LOT of money to be made in the Christian music industry with the release of a new worship CD. And the older an artist gets, the more worship music CD’s he releases. It’s a cynical view, that’s for sure. It’s hard not to be cynical, though, when money is involved. Not that making money is a bad thing, mind you. However, can worship occur while in pursuit of a dollar? Is worship all about the right music and lyrics?  For that matter, can you worship God without a worship leader, without raising your hands, and without a tingle running from head to toe?

There is a lot of misunderstanding regarding this part of the Christian life. Some people think you can teach people how to worship. Conferences are held to teach you how to be a “worship leader.” Books overflow Christian bookstore shelves detailing the ABC’s of worship. Todd Pruitt writes about a flyer he read advertising a worship convention:

Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.

As Pruitt rightly observes, there’s something very wrong with that paragraph. It’s fraught with grievous theological errors. But at the same time it feeds a genuine need man has. Christians want to get to close to God and in our modern thinking, music is seen a means to that end. What Christians aren’t aware of is that’s a completely pagan thought – using means that appeal to the flesh to reach heaven. As Christians, of course we’d never use LSD or alcohol, but we think nothing of using music to help us touch the Divine.

There’s no way to avoid this verse, though:

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…(1 Timothy 2:5 NKJV)

That’s right. There is only one way to get through to God, and that’s not using music or any other thing that appeals to the flesh. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. There is no Scriptural merit for the idea that music lifts us to Heaven.

The worship problem

Despite the complete lack of a Scriptural mandate, worship has become THE major part of a typical Sunday service. In fact, we even call it “the morning worship service.” There are problems with that way of thinking, though. Here they are, as noted by Vaughn Roberts:

God’s Word is shortchanged. Worship services have become the main – or only – reason for a child of God to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. They’re long and loud and leave very little time for the preaching of the Word. If you look at the average evangelical church these days, you probably won’t see a pulpit. It’s vanished. The platform area probably resembles a stage, with amps and keyboards and all manner of music and sound equipment scattered around. The worship leader has replaced the Scripture reader and the worship band has replaced the preacher. And sermons have gotten shorter and shorter and in an effort to become more relevant, they have in fact become more irrelevant than ever.

Our faith is shaken. As the emphasis on worship on has gotten greater and greater, God’s presence has become associated with a certain style of music and a certain feeling that music evokes. But what if you don’t “feel” what you think you should feel? Is the indicator of God’s presence really as shallow as a feeling you may feel, brought on by an arrangement of chords and keys? Think about the modern Christian, looking for a church to call home. One of the primary concerns (after a good children’s program, but that’s a whole other problem) is that a church have a hip worship style, worship band, and things like that. It’s like they have no way to worship God without music.

Musicians become like priests. When music is elevated to heights not warranted in Scripture, worship leaders are given an almost priestly status. Why? It’s because they are seen as the ones who bring the people closer to God. Without them, worship can’t take place.  A good worship leader these days becomes an almost mystical figure.

Divisions are created. Worship should draw believers together, not drive them apart. But that’s exactly what’s happening in churches today. Larger churches have “modern” worship services and “traditional” worship services. That’s an artificial division that’s not healthy in a congregation. It’s selfish and self-centered, which is probably why this “split worship” has become so popular in our narcissistic society.

True worship

That’s what’s wrong with worship. In the Gospel of John, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman about where public worship should take place. The Samaritans thought God should be worshipped on Mount Gerizim, where their ancestors worshipped. The Jews believed God ought to be worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem. When asked about this issue, Jesus’ answer is thought-provoking and very revealing:

Jesus replied, “The time is coming, ma’am, when we will no longer be concerned about whether to worship the Father here or in Jerusalem. For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship—is our worship spiritual and real? Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help? For God is Spirit, and we must have his help to worship as we should. The Father wants this kind of worship from us. But you Samaritans know so little about him, worshiping blindly, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes to the world through the Jews.” (John 4:21 – 24 TLB)

Let’s back up for a second and look at why this woman and her people wouldn’t even consider the Jew’s position on where to worship:

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. But say, tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (John 4:19, 20 TLB)

There was no spiritual reason for worshipping up on Mount Gerizim. It was just a tradition; nothing more. There was no reason for them to worship God from that location. In fact, it may well be that the Samaritans were hoping to recapture an event – a feeling – from the past. Mount Gerizim was where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac and where he met Melchizedek.  Significant things happened on Gerizim, so that’s why they worshiped God up there.

Now, as to Jesus’ answer.  The first part is linked to the completion of His mission on earth.  Once His work on the Cross was finished, only then true worship could really take place. That’s what the phrase, “the time is coming” refers to; Christ’s finished work on the cross. The second part of Jesus’ statement has reference to the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem in 70 AD and of the temple on Mount Gerizim a few years later. His point was that location wouldn’t be an issue because His work would do away with those concerns and, practically speaking, events would make the question completely irrelevant.

But what did our Lord mean when He said this?

…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth… (John 4:23b NKJV)

To worship “in spirit” means that we yield our wills to God’s will. It means yielding our thoughts to His; our plans to His. True worship is not at all selfish. It’s not at all what we want – what we want to do or what we want to experience. Stop and think about that. That means that true worship takes place in the spiritual realm and has nothing to do with us in terms of where or when worship takes place or what it looks like.

The phrase “in truth” means that we are not worshipping an “image” of God that we create in our minds. This is a tricky thing that’s easier to say than to do. And herein lies the problem with modern worship: our music (old hymns and modern songs) is full of images of God. That doesn’t mean the hymn writers or song writers are trying to get you to commit idolatry. But it’s a normal result of the thinking process. A song puts an image of God into our minds and whether we are conscious of it or not, we worship that image.

The key word in that sentence, though, is “Father.” It is the Father we are to be worshipping. He must be the object of our worship and He must always be the One we are seeking. Which makes complete sense since He is seeking us!  God the Father is the Father of all believers, everywhere. That being the case, it makes absolutely no difference where worship takes place. This was Jesus’ point to the Samaritan woman, and the answer to her question. It wouldn’t make any difference where worship takes place because Jesus eliminated all those barriers of age, culture, location, etc. when He died and rose again.

His work literally unshackled the spirits of all believers and set them free to worship without any strings attached.

General remarks

Given what Jesus told the Samaritan woman, we can draw some conclusions that apply to our situation today. We Christians aren’t too far removed from the Samaritans of Jesus’ day. They weren’t Jews but they incorporated elements of the Jewish faith in their faith and worship practices. Unfortunately the other elements of their religion were purely pagan. No wonder the Jews hated them. Our worship today is all-too often a mixture of worldliness and genuine spirituality.

From what Jesus said, consider:

It doesn’t matter where we worship. Our worship doesn’t have to take place in church on a Sunday morning. There’s nothing wrong with corporate worship on the first day of the week; it is Biblical and the writer to the Hebrews admonishes his readers to participate in it. But we shouldn’t limit our worship of God to that one day, in that one place. Christianity is not Judaism. Christianity is a faith for the whole world. Wherever a believer finds himself is hallowed ground.

Public worship should be conducted according to the Word of God. It is not what man may think is important or impressive, but it is what is found in the Word of God. The Bible gives us clear direction and clear precedents in terms of our corporate, public worship. Here’s an example we should follow:

And those who believed Peter were baptized—about three thousand in all! They joined with the other believers in regular attendance at the apostles’ teaching sessions and at the Communion services and prayer meetings. (Acts 2:41, 42 TLB)

That’s what public worship looks like. It also looks like 1 Corinthians 13 and 14. When a congregation has mutual love and compassion for each other and as they allow the Holy Spirit to work through them, worship takes place.

Public worship is the duty and privilege of all believers. Public worship is a testimony to God’s grace in the world. Without it, the world wouldn’t know what grace looks like. Without worship that glorifies God, there would be no visible church and no witness in the world. That’s the duty bit. It’s a privilege in that proper worship is God’s gift to His children, for it glorifies Him and edifies them.

Public worship should be constant and regular. It should be constant in that our worship should be a way of life, and in the corporate sense it should take place whenever we get together. We shouldn’t be fair-weather worshipers.  Worship ought to be regular in the sense that we make an effort to show up at the “worship” service, on time, ready to worship.

Public worship requires preparation and right feelings. No child of God should show up unprepared. The opposite is usually true, though. We show up at church harried and full of thoughts and feelings that have nothing to do with God. We owe God time spent in prayer and preparation before we get to church. We should be ready to worship before we even set foot in the sanctuary.

Worship shouldn’t be big business. It’s serious business and it needs to be taken seriously. As frail human beings, we are totally unworthy to be in God’s presence and, honestly, God has no need for your songs and hymns. But He desires us to recognize His greatness in the face of our great need. Because of what Jesus did on the Cross, He has made a way for us to live continually in His presence and to testify to His greatness in the community. True worship is not about our feelings, but our subordinating our feelings to Him and allowing God the Father to minister to us as we minister to Him.


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