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!
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.
Posted on November 23, 2010, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, The Christian Life, The Cross, Worship and tagged bob Kauflin, C.J. Mahaney, christianity, cross-centered worship, Gospel Centered worship, John Piper, seeker-sensitive, worship. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.