The Biblical Way of Worship in Church

How is it done? Can we balance order and freedom? Should we remain passive and just let the professionals worship at church? What about a choir? What about dancing, for example?

Here are four major biblical points and some subpoints that should guide the church’s worship, in the coming (or present) revival.

I.. Worship in the church is Trinitarian.

Christianity, by explaining all of Scripture, offers the fullest revelation of who God really is. Worship leaders and song writers and pastors must take this into account.

Deut. 6:4 offers the famous shema: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one.” The Hebrew word for God is Elohim, and the –im ending indicates masculine plural. So it works out like this: Elohim (plurality) is one (unity). Jesus repeats this phrase in Mark 12:29: “The Lord our God is one,” and Paul does the same in Gal. 3:20: “God is one.” Christians worship one God, but within this one God are three persons. Plurality in unity is a perfect, boiled-down, beginning statement of the Triunity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit contained within one God. Forgive the inadequate analogy, but picture three pearls within one cup.

Rev. 4:8 shows the figures in heaven worshipping the Lord God Almighty, and in Rev. 5:13 the Lamb of God is worshipped, who was also sitting on the throne. Is. 41:4; 44:6; 4812 say that God is the First and the Last. Rev. 1:8, 17; 21:6; 22:13 repeat the total primacy of Christ by calling him the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. Therefore Christ is part of the Godhead. He is the beginning—he is before all things and began it all. He is the end, after him nothing can exist. He is the eternal Being. He embraces and encompasses the whole universe. When the Son is worshipped, it is not any other being than God who is worshipped.

The three persons of God are worshipped. Jesus said that true worshippers worship the Father in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Wise men fell down and worshipped Jesus (Matt. 2:11), and those in the boat worshipped him, after he calmed the storm (Matt. 14:33). The women at the tomb took hold of his feet and worshipped him (Matt. 28:9). So the Father and Son are worshipped.

Now what about the Spirit? There seems to be no direct evidence that the Spirit is worshipped. He mission is to testify to Jesus (John 14:26; 15:26) and to lead Jesus’s followers to glorify him (John 16:14). But other verses show that the Spirit is fully God, so on that basis it is permitted to include him in our praise and worship songs and prayers: “Come, Holy Spirit!”

See the post about thirty reasons why he is both God and man: 7. Two Natures in One Person: Review and Conclusion.

Being filled with the Spirit continually is a part of worship, and we sing in the Spirit and give thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph. 5:18-20). We thank God in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit. So here the Trinity is involved in the believers’ lives and worship activity. The Spirit enables and inspires them to praise God.

Singers and song writers and pastors do not have to mention the formal doctrine of the Trinity at every turn, but they must honor the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their lyrics and prayers, at various times, without getting legalistic. That is, no lyricist should feel pressure to always name all three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in every single song. Sometimes the song is Christocentric, other times it is theocentric, and some songs can call on the Spirit to come and fill the place of worship and people’s hearts: pneumatocentric (or Spirit-centered, if you will).

II.. Worship in the Church balances freedom and order.

Many free-flowing Renewalists believe that the more freedom prevails in a church service, then the Spirit can move and operate. Traditional Renewalists believe in stronger order because the Spirit can work through liturgy. Both sides need to understand this tension more fully.

Freedom

Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 3:17 that “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” or freedom. When God’s people get together, they should exhibit a spontaneity in worship. Paul says we should speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). Apparently the Ephesian church (and other churches that also received this circulating letter) sang (or “spoke”) these songs to each other, which indicates a liberty of soul and heart. “Spiritual songs” may indicate those musical messages instantaneously inspired by the Spirit. Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 14:15, which contrasts singing in his spirit in an unknown language or with his mind in a known language. But caution must be shown in singing in the Spirit in the local assembly because people won’t understand it, and it is useless to them (1 Cor. 14:13-19. However, if the singer singing in a prayer language is confident that an interpretation will be forthcoming, then he should step out in faith. Sometimes the entire congregation sings in the Spirit, but it is not clear how this follows the guidelines in 1 Cor. 14:13-19, though I have enjoyed hearing it because I am not a newcomer or unbeliever (1 Cor. 14:22-23).

In New Covenant worship, newness should arise. Yes, the old hymns are wonderful, but what is wrong with new songs? Ps. 98:1 says, “O sing to the Lord a new song.” Mary sang a new song to the Lord, after baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. If we were to repeat some of it over and over, it would no longer be a new song. The leaders in Rev. 5:9 sang a new song. Why not down here on earth? If someone has a new song, let her submit it to the worship team by her singing it, so they can test it. Or sometimes she may just sing it out, like a prophecy, and the others should judge it. Expect to receive new songs, church of God.

“For freedom Christ has set you free” (Gal. 5:1). Let’s hope the churches will retain liberty and freshness in worship.

Order

However, order should also come into play in church worship. The Corinthian church was very gifted in the charismata, and Paul has to offer them guidelines in how they exercised them (1 Cor. 12 and 14). “Let all things be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40). “God is not of upheaval, but of peace” (v. 33, my translation). The Greek word for “upheaval” can also be translated as “unruliness,” “tumult,” “unsettledness,” or “disturbance.” Liberty in worship should not degenerate into confusion and chaos (Williams, vol. 3, p. 105).

To illustrate why God values order, God in his essence is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so there is order in his being. Each has his role to play in the role of redemption, for example. If God’s very being is this way, so should our worship be.

See my post Trinity and redemption:

The Trinity: What Are His Roles in Creation and Redemption?

The Greek word for order is kosmos, which means “order, regular disposition, ornament, decorum” (Mounce) and is the opposite of chaos. The cosmos, the universe, has an order to it that we can study and even go into space after our study. Indeed, Ps. 148 calls on the cosmos to praise the Lord (see below for a partial excerpt). If God made the universe in that way, then our worship must reflect this.

Liturgy has its place. Even very charismatic churches have an order to them: introduction (welcome!), singing, announcements, offering, prayer for needs, preaching, ministry time for first-time salvation for unbelievers or rededication for believers and personal prayers. Sometimes the order will shift a little, but not much. And charismatic churches don’t need to feel they are compromising freedom in worship, either, when they follow that order. People have order in their minds, and they need it at church too. Some churches print an order of service. The Spirit can work in this order.

Order in freedom and freedom in order!

III.. Worship in the church is in Spirit and truth.

In the famous passage in John 4:1-42, Jesus dialogued with a Samaritan woman, while the disciples went into the local village to buy some food. He revealed to her that she has had five husbands, and the one she has now is not her husband (vv. 17-18). “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet” (v. 19). Then she changed the subject to the dispute between worshipping on Mt. Gerizim or Mt. Zion. Jesus replied that it did not matter and added, “… God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth” (v. 24, NIV).

Spirit

“In Spirit” can mean in one’s spirit or in (the Holy) Spirit. The NIV has it right. All worship must be inspired by God. Therefore worship leaders must seek him and live in the Spirit.

Jesus’s response also reveals that worship is not confined to a central sanctuary or in a church on Sunday morning. People can worship at any time and in any place.

Truth

True worship must be based on the Word of God. So it is important that worship leaders have regular Bible reading time. Their lyrics must reflect God’s character—his greatness, goodness, and love, for example. John Wimber, a leader in the Third Wave, now deceased, once noted that worship songs were shallow, and he asked God about it. God showed him an image of mulch, which is used for fertilizer. So he called the Vineyard worship leaders in the movement to a conference, and explained the themes of Scripture. He mulched them with the Word. (I’m not a worship leader, so I never attended.)

The church should also be concerned with doctrinal truth. If a lyricist at church is a novice or “noninformed” about basic Bible truths, then she should sit quietly and learn. She must go to Bible study. She can, as noted, submit her song to a mature team or the “doctrine expert” (whoever that may be) at her local church. The lyrics nowadays are about a personal journey. “I know that you love me” instead of “you love me.” This seems ego-centric. The point is that God loves you whether you realize it or not.

One day we will hear a biblical warning in a song that says God is a judge and will even judge the Christian’s words and deeds! Even a passing line about this biblical truth and future reality would be a shock! But I won’t hold my breath for it in today’s climate.

IV.. Worship in the church must be total.

Everyone—all people—worship with their entire being. So let’s divine this section into two parts.

Participation from all

Ps. 148:1-3, 11 says:

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD all his angels; praise him all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies … kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. (Ps. 148:1-3, 11, NIV)

Ps. 106:8 says, “Let all the people [of Israel] say ‘Amen!’”

Rev. 19:5 says: “Then a voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small.’”

“Great or small”: Class distinctions don’t matter in heaven. Everyone who has surrendered to God is his servant, and they must praise him. This “must” will actually flow from the heart, out of genuine gratitude for salvation and redemption.

In each of those verses, all peoples are to praise him, and Ps. 148 even calls creation to praise the LORD.

Further, worship in the church service must be done by all. It is not an auditorium where the specialists perform. Yes, soloists can be seen as teachers and edifiers, but the people must also sing. Choirs are biblical in the psalms, where it is estimated that 55 times the word choir appears. It also appears in other verses in later, second-temple Judaism (1 Chron. 15:27; Neh. 12:31, 38, 40, 42). However, people must join in. Even at concerts where bands perform people will even sing with the band. You can’t stop them, for it seems to be embedded in their nature, and that’s good.

Sometimes the congregation will break out in song, and in that case the worship leader in front should follow and join in or stand aside and let it happen. No, this is not disorder, because everyone is on the same page. But it is beautiful to see and hear. Unfortunately, it does not happen nowadays, probably because platform leaders are very intense and dominant. They don’t allow even for a moment of silence. The people would not know what to do with such silence. But in the Charismatic Renewal, spontaneous songs used to happen often.

1 Cor. 14:28 uses the word each: “When you assemble, each one has a hymn, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a prayer language, has an interpretation—let everything happen for building up” (my translation). In smaller meetings, this personal participation can happen more easily, but even in large meeting a prayer language can be given, if the interpretation follows. It may seem odd that a teaching comes from the congregation, and it should not, unless the person is known. But in small home groups, teachings were given all the time in the Charismatic Renewal. In one which I regularly attended, the leader used to ask, “Does anyone have something to share?” And a guy regularly gave a brief “teachette,” as he unzipped his Bible cover with deliberate effect. And then someone else would teach for a moment. Once in a while, someone broke out into a song. It was thrilling when someone sang in the Spirit, with or without an interpretation. We all sang! We did not say he was crazy because we were not novices or newcomers. This was a perfect picture and reenactment of 1 Cor. 14:28.

All of our being

Worship must come from our whole being. Ps. 103:1 says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” That verse is a favorite of many people (including me). We are called to give our whole soul to bless the LORD.

Matt. 22:37 says: “Love the Lord you God with your whole heart and your whole soul and your whole mind” (my translation). These piled on synonyms express the one of idea of worshipping God with our whole and entire being.

Worshipping with our whole being includes the body: bowing and kneeling (2 Chron. 7:1-3), trembling (Pss. 96:6; 99:1; 114:7; Jer. 5:22), prostrating (Rev. 4:10), clapping (Ps. 47:1), lifting hands (Pss. 28:2; 63:4; 1 Tim. 2:8) and lifting heads (Ps. 3:3), and dancing (Pss. 149:3; 150:4). The Psalmist and King David danced with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14). His wife Michal mocked him, and this displeased the LORD (2 Sam. 6:23). When Solomon finished his dedicatory prayer for the newly built temple, he had been kneeling and spreading out his hands towards heaven (1 Kings 8:54). Do we have such an unbridled, uninhibited stance when we worship in front of people?

People really get into sporting events, cheering and yelling and jumping up and down and hugging, when their team scores. Why wouldn’t we do the same to cheer God and his wonderful deeds? Sometimes churches have dancers, usually women, and often the platform leaders jump up and down nowadays. That is a good thing. Everything seems to be done with decorum (see the second point, under “Order”).

How does this post help me grow in Christ?

1 Kings 8:11 says that at the dedication of the temple, the priests were unable to perform their duties. Why not? Here’s why: “And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple.” We can experience that today—or let’s pray we can. Consider this verse, however. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20, NIV). That is in the context of church discipline, but we can apply the promise to church services. Even if we do not see a glory cloud, Scripture promises us his presence when we gather. We can count on Scripture and take his presence by faith.

God wants to bless his children with his presence. He gives it to them when they gather together and pray and worship in his name. God is glad to meet the needs of his children. So he offers his gifts, to penetrate through the natural world and get in touch with God’s domain, his kingdom. For example, if anyone is sick, let him call the elders of the church, who are to pray for him. The prayer of faith will raise him up (Jas. 5:14-15). The gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 are ready for use. If someone is oppressed by the devil, the gifts of discerning of spirits is designed is available to help. The bottom line: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20, NIV). Even if we do not see a glory cloud, Scripture promises us his presence when we gather.

I hope this post presented a balanced view of biblical worship. Order and freedom, Spirit and truth, and body, soul and spirit. You can go to a church where the Spirit leads you. If you are not clear about the Spirit’s leading, then just start with a church where you feel “at home” in your Scripture-trained inner being. Whether it is more liturgical or free-flowing, just be sure it is Bible based, Spirit filled, gift offering and gospel oriented. I don’t recommend a church that bottlenecks or suffocates the Spirit and his gifts (1 Thess. 5:19).

Instead, let God be God in his church.

SOURCES

Works Cited

At that link, look for Williams, vol. 3, pp. 101-09.

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