It is hard to overestimate the damage that the topic of worship has done to the church, particularly in recent times. The fact that this topic is often referred to as “war”—as in “worship wars,” is not entirely hyperbole. Churches have been split, and pastors have found themselves on the unemployment line for daring to tackle the topic of worship. People from both sides of the aisle have launched a seemingly endless volley of names and charges at those who disagree with them. Charges run the gamut from “You do not really love God” to “You are narrow-minded and blind.”
The reason behind this problem cannot be the lack of a clarion call from Scripture to worship. One can hardly read the Bible without sensing on virtually every page this call of God to worship and a pastor cannot pretend to preach the whole counsel of God without addressing the topic of worship. So why is this subject so controversial? It almost certainly stems from confusion about what worship really is coupled with a refusal to submit to the commands of God about biblical worship.
A survey about worship will undoubtedly find people’s idea of worship closely connected with feelings or emotions. A service is considered worshipful when a certain mood has been created, a mood that is often evaluated by the cultural or social baggage that one brings to his religious experience. The buzz, the feeling, the emotional movement—a state of excitement, or reflection, or both, are the bases on which someone evaluates worship service. In pursuit of this, some churches have set out to create the perfect worship atmosphere, perhaps with low lights, great bands, or candles. Others use quiet meditation, organ accompaniment, and robes for the pastor. In some cases, one can walk away from the service feeling like it was a “great worship service” while being unable to recall even basic information about the message brought from Scripture. On the other end, the mood is evaluated by similar standards with a different outcome. These assert that “if my flesh likes it, it cannot be true worship.”
In the midst of this confusion, many have lost sight (if they ever had it) of the fact that true biblical worship has primarily to do with a glad and necessary response of life to the truth about God communicated in his Word through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let us examine this definition in more detail by examining it in order of priority, and then propose a paradigm for corporate worship.
For worship to be biblical, therefore, it must be a glad and necessary response of life to the truth about God communicated in his Word through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Biblical worship is not about how people feel when they leave the building, nor is it about whether or not emotions were stirred, though genuine worship should result in changed feelings and emotions. Biblical worship is first and foremost about the truth of God, in his person and work through Jesus Christ, communicated to the hearer, drawing forth the response of the spirit to that truth. Simply put, biblical worship is a conversation between man and God, where God speaks and man responds.