When Did “Worship” Become the Singing of a Song?

The memory is forever etched in my mind.  It was a typical Sunday, the service was over. There was a line of people who wanted to talk to me. One of them was our sound guy, who said  “Worship was great today pastor!  Your guitar solo was AWESOME!”   I remember this comment for two reasons.  It was the first time in my ministry where I realized that people were equating songs with worship.  What he meant was that he liked the songs we played.  Even then, I knew that worship was much more than singing or listening to a song.  The other troubling part for me was that I did not have any guitar solos, and the guy who thought I did was the soundman!  (He had taken too many drugs as a young man, and apparently heard things that were not there.  Not good if you are a sound guy.  I guess I should be happy he did not imagine a really bad solo, but I digress.)

In the past two years or so, I have become a conessuir of the Evangelical church.  I have attended many congregations, of all different denominational flavors.  The one thing they all have in common is that music is very important.  Many, if not most of these fellowships give close to half of their meeting time to singing “worship” songs.  Clearly, this musical time is important to us if we give so much time to it.

My question is simple:  When did worship of the Almighty creator of the universe and Savior of mankind become reduced to the singing of a song? 

I have been asking myself this question more and more lately.  I am not suggesting that singing songs to the Lord corporately is wrong in any way.  The Psalms are full of exhortations to sing praise to God.  I believe it is good that we do.   I also believe  distilling worship down to simply singing a song dishonors our Savior, cheapens the Gospel and needlessly divides the body of Christ.

Pretty strong charges, I know.  However, understand that I am not a novice when it comes to this subject.  I have been responsible for leading corporate “worship” off and on for over 20 years, and I have studied the topic extensively.

Consider these typical comments about “worship” that you hear after a typical Sunday morning service:  “I really didn’t get a lot out of worship today.”  “Worship was too slow for me.”  “Worship was too loud for me.”  “Worship was SO awesome today, I loved it.”  “I loved that last song!” “The band sounded great today!”  We have all said these things.   I know that I have! 

Don’t you find it a bit odd that those who are offering the “worship” are also the ones who judge its worthiness?  We use our personal preferences to determine if “worship” meets our own standard of acceptance.  It is what we get out of it, and if we do not get anything out of it, then it was no good.  Do we see this concept anywhere in Scripture?

Viewing worship as a song has lead to all manner of “worship wars.”  Congregations are torn apart because hymns are out and Chris Tomlin is in.  Get rid of the organ and bring in the drums.  Move the piano and crank up the guitar! Why?  Because that is how we like it and what we like is, of course, God’s will.   (Yes, this is sarcasm).   I once had a church member argue that we had to have a specific kind of music because that was the kind of music God was using to reach people.  It just so happened that the style he was pushing was HIS style of music.  It is funny how that works.  (Note:  today God uses what He has always used to reach the lost:  The clear, uncompromised proclamation of the Gospel.)

If singing a song is what the Bible defines as worship, then I guess we have to put up with all this.  But is it?  I cannot seem to find anywhere in the Bible where worship is reduced to this.  However, we do have biblical definitions of worship.  A biblical definition is God telling us what worship means to Him.   One of them is in Romans 12:1

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”  NIV

The Greek noun in this verse for worship is λατρείαν  (Latreian.)  It deals mostly with what we do.  It relates to our actions, what one does to worship.  In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), it is related to observing the ceremonial laws, to offering gifts to God or to performing service for Him.  In Romans 12:1, it refers to the offering of ones’ life in wholehearted devotion and dedication to the Lord, to live ones life for Him and to serve His purposes.  In Israel, the whole burnt offering ascended to God and could never be reclaimed.  It belonged to Him.  Therefore, the kind of worship God calls worship, requires one to set apart their lives, to lay down their life in a once for all manner and live a life of obedience to the King.  From this verse, we can clearly see that worship is not a song sung it is a life laid down.

I wish I knew how to bring balance back to the church in this matter.  Music has become such a high priority.  Our own passion for it is like a fog rolling in off the coast.  It clouds our judgment and makes it hard for us to see the road.  What we cannot see is that our Sunday morning worship has slowly morphed into entertainment.  It is the frog in the kettle concept.  What lies beyond our view just may be cataclysmic.

May the wounds of the Savior move us more than the rhythm of any song!

Those are my thoughts.  Leave a comment and join the discussion

You may be interested in the following articles as well:

Whatever Happened to the Message of The Cross  Or this  extremly well written article by R. Scott Clark  “The Scandal of Pagans Leading Worship”  Or this great article Is Music a Gift or our God? by my friends over at the Gripped by the Gospel blog.

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Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the serious issues that exist within the American Evangelical church. It is a place for like-minded people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on November 23, 2010, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, The Christian Life, The Cross, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I suppose that it was probably at about the same time that the church began to teach that God’s sole purpose for existence is to bless us and make our lives as comfortable as possible. What can we do about this?

    Continually remind people that this is not the God that we serve. Confront them with the scriptures and challenge them to make whatever adjustments that they need to make to re-align their lives so as to be in God’s will and not the other way around. A strong message indeed, but God is God and we are not. We are to line ourselves with his will if we are to be in his will.

  2. Well said, “D”. That makes good sense to me.

  3. It is a very intruging concept. I think the reading of the Scriptures is downplayed way too much in the modern English-speaking countries’ (it’s not just an American phenomenon BTW, I’ve seen this personally here in New Zealand) evangelical church scene – in fact I think it’s only a minority of churches that do Bible readings separate from the main sermon at a church service. It should be given back more attention.

    I’m quoting here a 7-part series by Scott Newling from The Briefing, an official publication from the Australia’s Sydney Anglican (Episcopal) church diocese. It is famous for being evangelical and Reformed (Calvinist). I think the articles provide much food for thought:

    http://solapanel.org/article/are_we_devoted_to_the_public_reading_of_scripture_part_1/

    http://solapanel.org/article/are_we_devoted_to_the_public_reading_of_scripture_part_2/

    http://solapanel.org/article/are_we_devoted_to_the_public_reading_of_scripture_part_3/

    http://solapanel.org/article/are_we_devoted_to_the_public_reading_of_scripture_part_4/

    http://solapanel.org/article/are_we_devoted_to_the_public_reading_of_scripture_part_5/

  4. The term, “worship”, can have or actually has a very broad meaning, depending on how one perceives

    it. I see worship as an attitude of reverence and honor paid to our Lord as well as life actions

    that support the attitude.

    The old testament has a pattern; when approaching God, prayers were prefaced with adoration and

    honor before requests were made. I believe that is a pattern to follow.

    John 4:23 “… a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father

    in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit,

    and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

    What does that mean, to worship in spirit and in truth? I believe the Holy Spirit teaches and leads

    us in worship and that a worship leader must be walking in the spirit to effectively know where the

    Spirit is leading; this applies just as must to the worship leader as it does the pastor; after

    all, is there not one spirit and one truth?

    Whether the worship leader is talented or not does have some impact on the service, but not as much

    an impact as one who follows as the Spirit leads. That being said, a worship song sung out of key

    can be a great distraction :P

    I have oft times been told, “… the Spirit was really moving in worship today”, this has occured

    when I was a worship team member and when I was within the congregation as well

    I have attended amazing worship services that were not just songs, but prayer -audible amongst the

    congregation,audibly lead by the worship leader, in small groups and quietly to oneself. So, not

    just music.

    So in answer to your question, and in my humble opinion; worship CAN be the singing of a song, but

    true worship is not nor will it ever be JUST the singing of a song.

    • I know this comment is 2 years late but I disagree with worship being termed as a singing. If you read the Psalms 92:1, 138:2, 146:2, 147:1, and other scripture (when in reference to singing) it exhorts us to sing praises unto the Lord. Praising God is what we do when we sing. Worship is what we do in how we live. When you worship God you are yielding your will to his will through obedience of his word. When you sing you are expressing praises to God for all that he has done and who he is. There is a difference. Singing is in order it is given to us in OT and NT but we must correctly define it as praise and not worship.

      • So then, are you saying that there is no Worship- Music, Service, leader, team?

        I quote myself: “…worship CAN be the singing of a song, but true worship is not nor will it ever be JUST the singing of a song.”

        Psalm 95:6
        Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker…

        Psalm 100:2
        Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.

        Psalm 138:2
        I bow before your holy Temple as I worship. I praise your name…

        Psalm 33
        1 Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord;
        it is fitting for the pure to praise him.
        2 Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre;
        make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.
        3 Sing a new song of praise to him;
        play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

        Worship; it can be both as you say and in praise as well. Don’t be concerned with what you see people do or how they act, rather, be concerned with what the bible says and follow it.

      • Thanks for stopping in!

        I think you may have missed the main point of my post. Of course a person can worship God while singing. What I find problematic, is that our church leaders have decided to define “worship” as the 30 minutes where we sing in chuch on Sunday’s. We cheapen what it means to truly worship (offering our total lives to God), when we promote it, almost entirely, as a song we sing.

        I agree with your quote. And, I believe that the leadership of today’s church, doesn’t.

  5. Thanks for your post. It’s amazing that this was posted 2 years ago and this seems to have become an epidemic. I love the hymns and I actually have a band that I sing with but people need to understand that worshipping God is a way of life not a song we sing. Singing is a way of offering up praises to God. If you watch some of these “worship services” it seems like the people enter into some sort of trance. My question is how can you really offer praises to a God that you don’t even serve? What has come over these people to move them in such a way when the hearts of many are not even pure? The actual gospel that is supposed to be preach only last about 15 to 20 minutes, and all they can remember is the singing.

  6. we worship in a collective sense in a local assemble on the Lord’s day . as individuals we worship in our everyday lives Rom. 12: 1,2.

  7. Thanks Jim, very good/sound theology here. I am grateful for all of you.
    Many didn’t realize that if we don’t fully obey HIS WORD / Doctrine, we worship Him in vain.
    Mat. 15: 3 – 9, – But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.
    ( but people need to understand that worshipping God is a way of life not a song we sing. Singing is a way of offering up praises to God. If you watch some of these “worship services” it seems like the people enter into some sort of trance. My question is how can you really offer praises to a God that you don’t even serve? What has come over these people to move them in such a way when the hearts of many are not even pure? The actual gospel that is supposed to be preach only last about 15 to 20 minutes, and all they can remember is the singing.)
    GOD is FOCUS on doctrines. HE is very serious with Doctrine i.e. wrong, false, error doctrines. To worship in spirit and Truth is also obeying HIS TRUTH, WORD, LAW.
    2 John 1:9
    - Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
    1:10
    - If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed:
    1:11
    - For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

    Peter affirms Paul warning the church in all his letters, wrong/error doctrines will kill us.
    2 Peter 3:15
    - And account [that] the longsuffering of our Lord [is] salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
    3:16
    - As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
    Shalom. Voon

  1. Pingback: Does God Care How We Worship? « Not For Itching Ears

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