Does God Care How We Worship?

The past twenty-five years has seen the corporate worship of the evangelical church radically transformed.  Throughout the years, the  liturgy of the early church and the liturgy of the modern church had been very similar.  But that all changed with the arrival of the seeker-sensitive movement that the church has largely embraced.  The modern seeker-sensitive church meeting bares very little resemblance to the historical church…

Today we have very talented “rock band” style worship teams, impressive light shows, great visuals, fog machines and spinning lights.  Change the lyrics and you could be at a Brad Paisley concert.  Did I mention it has to be loud, really loud?  If a person is under 30, or has been a Christian for 15 years or less, you would think this is the way is was meant to be.  The reason being, you would have known nothing else.  “Of course this is how church should be, that’s all I have ever known.”

But this begs the question:  “Does God Care How We Worship?”

To give perspective on this, I have solicited the help of J. Ligon Duncan III.  The following quotation is from his chapter of the same name, in a very excellent book called “Give Praise To God, A Vision for Reforming Worship”

“God makes it amply clear throughout the Bible that he does indeed care very much about how we worship.  The bible’s answer to this query “Does God care about the how of worship?” – is an emphatic yes, not only in the Old Testament but also in the new Testament….
God’s worship is to be carefully ordered according to his instructions.  God’s initiative is prime in the design of the tabernacle.  God demanded that the tabernacle  and all its furnishings be made “after the pattern…shown to you on the mountain.”  Exodus 25:40
God’s plan,  not the people’s creativity, nor even that of the artisans who would build it, was to be determinative in the making  of the place where his people would meet him  (and indeed, in all the actions of the priests who would serve in this worship).  This is in essence, what the Reformers saw as a fundamental principle for Christian worship (an approach known as the regulative principle).  This principle, in short, states that worship in its content, motivation, and aim is to be determined by God alone.  He teaches us how to think about him and how to approach him.  The further we get away, then,  from his directions the less we actually worship.”  pp 26-27

A few questions to spark discussion:  Do you agree with Duncan’s argument that God determines how we are to worship him or do you believe we can worship him in our own way?  Do you think the church in on the right course or the wrong track when it comes to the corporate worship meeting? UPDATE:  There are now several comments.  Make sure you read what others have said before you comment.

Those are my thoughts.  Leave a comment and join the discussion.  You may also find this article When Did Worship Become the Singing of a Song?”

Check out the result of 4 different polls and the challenging conclusions arrived at in our post It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for 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 27, 2010, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model, Worship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. This is something I have been struggling to understand for several years now. As a “layman” I amy not appreciate the intricacies of the theology, but it seems that this quote, although held many people with incredible credentials, harkens back to the Old Testament rituals and does not appear in the New Testament.

    Either the disciples “didn’t get it” or they were taught differently. Their gatherings did not seem to be the highly “regulated” forms of the temple, but seemed to be like the casual, more free synagogue.

    One thing the “regulation” thinkers do have is the awesome power of the OT, but little of the “one another” of the NT. It is priest/leader centered in its style and little community.


  2. I agree with you on the Temple/synagogue comparison.

    The point that strikes me is that God obviously cared a lot about how people worshipped him. He spelled it out in great detail. It seems today that we don’t take that into consideration when we approach him. My hunch is that we tend to approach him in the way we find most comfortable. Our starting point appears to be what we like, what moves us, what we find acceptable, rather than asking “What does God want?”

    I have been leading worship for years, and people seem to approach it like this. What have you found?


  3. “Does God Care How We Worship?” Yes, He does. If one will read the letters wrote to churches he will find the answer to this question. 1 and 2 Cors. give more information then the other church books. The New Testament is a church book.


  4. I think the Lord cares less about our music selection and style and more about the heart of why we worship. If you are completely unplugged more charismatic and it is self glorifying, then he cares. If you are quiet and reverenced, but you really have no relationship with him, or vice versa; then he cares. If you love him with all of your heart, and you give him all that you have, in the manner in which you are comfortable, then how, in my opinion, really doesn’t matter.


    • I agree with Lisa. I believe that there are many ways to worship God. It is not only about the music. It is about the heart and our relationship with God. David worshipped God in a completely different way than was acceptable in his day. He was criticized for it but he loved God with all his heart and wanted to show God and others the love he had in his heart. I believe that your relationship with God is the best form of worship.


      • Hi Anonymous, I am glad you joined the discussion.

        “It is not only about the music…” I would say that music has absolutely nothing to do with worship, if by music we are talking about the band and all that goes along with it. The reason I say that, is because there is very little mention of instrumental music being worship in the Bible. I don’t think that means we can’t have instruments, far from it. They were used. However, we have over emphasized the use of music because WE love it so much. Our own likes in this matter has allowed us to turn music into “worship”. My question is “Are we allowed to do that without even considering what God thinks, just because we like it?

        Do you think Duncan’s comment “worship in its content, motivation, and aim is to be determined by God alone. He teaches us how to think about him and how to approach him. The further we get away, then, from his directions the less we actually worship.” is correct or is he off base?


  5. Lisa, Thanks for stopping by and joining the discussion. I agree with your comment:

    “I think the Lord cares less about our music selection and style and more about the heart of why we worship”

    Yet, he did care if the Israelites approached him in the wrong way. For example, if they brought a blemished lamb, it was unacceptable to him, regardless if the worshipper thought it was acceptable or if their heart was in the “right place”.

    I guess what I am trying to work out here is this: Shouldn’t we be looking to God’s word on the matter as the authority for our faith and practice rather than relying on our own opinions?


  6. Hi Pastor James, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I liked your blog entry today!



  7. Yes indeed He does, in Spirit and Truth


  8. The how of worship is a matter of the heart. From a heart that truly loves God, worship flows. So worship then becomes a right response to the revelation of God’s love for us. To me, that’s living life with a grateful heart, for a God whose love will never fail and whose mercy is new every morning. If there’s music to go along with that, that’s cool – but not necessary.

    On the other side of the coin is what happens when performers perform songs and people sing along. The only way to measure what happens worship-wise is to fully know and understand the heart condition of all those who gather. I’m of the opinion that only God knows that. So I’m not inclined to judge whether worship happens or not in that context.

    We am called to judge (discern) actions that come from pride and vainglory. But that’s a matter of leadership and patience. I’ve known many a proud performer (myself included) that have laid down their false sense of significance and eventually became the men or women who worshipped from their instrument without seeking the approval of man. I would say, Paul’s admonition to avoid appointing novices (spiritually immature) could help, but are we willing to work with the immature and mentor them into spiritual disciplines carried out in a healthy community of faith? Could they not become men and women of humility who prophecy from their instrument, declaring the great works of God? I think so. But it is a messy business. If we’re willing to put up with the mess until if becomes a true ministry, then I think the rest will take care of itself.


  9. There is a great article by Glen Pakiam in the latest edition of Worship Leader magazine.

    I agree that Scripture is our final authority for faith and practice. However, That doesn’t mean that if it isn’t specifically outlined in scripture that it is out of bounds. It must be kept within the guidelines of Scripture (Fruit of the Spirit, Spirit and Truth, Love God with all and love our neighbors as ourselves, etc.). We are creative because we are made in the image of our Creator. So as He inspires us, we want to create to express our worship. The hard part is not allowing our preferences to become our idols. We are told to offer our bodies, our whole selves, as worship to God because of His mercy poured out to us in Christ Jesus. So certainly it goes beyond music, but it certainly would include it.

    I totally agree that we have often made it about what we receive instead of coming to give in worship.

    Thanks for the post!


    • I have had so many conversations with other believers on this topic. It seems that worship as a song is seen by most believers as THE expression of worship rather than the subordinate place it actually should have. On top of that, there seems to be a lack of concern to allow the scriptures to form our opinions. Hence this post. Does God Care How We Worship Him?

      You are a worship leader as well I. What do you think? Could it be that we agree in theory that He cares but in practice, we approach God the way we want to?

      Of course I am using the term “we” in a very general sense.


      • I too struggle with many of the believers I encounter that when they refer to worship they are only talking about music. I often remind the members of our worship arts department that music, in my opinion, is one of the least forms of worship. I point them to generosity and service to those in need (Luke 10:29 – Love God with all and Love Your Neighbor) as worship.

        As I look through scripture, the general revelation that is given to us certainly includes music as an expression that is important to God and His people. I think the operative word is expression. I believe there are countless valid expressions of wonder, awe, passion, lament, etc. from the people of God. This is what we see in the Psalms. I think we are touching on a “both-and” issue. I believe God delights in the expressions that we bring to Him out of the overflow of our hearts AND that has to be coupled with the living sacrifice of lives surrendered to Him and walking out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Which is what is clearly stated in the New Testament as the things God wants from us.

        An additional statement I would make about music in worship, but truly it applies to a lot of areas in modern Western Christianity, is that we are far to consumer driven and casual in our relationship with God. We forget in all of our comfort and excess that God is calling us to a cross and to die to ourselves. God is wanting to make us holy not happy. Our Pastor recently has been reminding our congregation that worship is about God and giving Him glory not about coming to receive for ourselves.


  10. Sorry, my comment about Glen Pakiam was supposed to say there is a great article in the latest edition of Worship Leader magazine about this issue.

    Thanks again for the post


  11. Someone once told me there’s a fine line between passion and crazy. With that said, please keep in mind that I am of the Charismatic persuasion so I’m not saying passionate P&W music is crazy. In fact I love it! I’m just always mindful of the idea whether or not God loves it. I’ve been leading worship for just over 8 years and have learned – the easy AND the hard way – that music can be worship as we express ourselves to God through it. However, music is only one aspect. Something I say repeatedly to our Worship Team is that our Sunday morning P&W is an expression of our life of worship in accordance with Romans 12:1-2.

    The way to make sure your passionate worship to our Father is genuine (in Spirit and Truth) is to have a life lived that reflects surrender on a daily basis. Otherwise you’re just coming for the “gig” and it begins and ends there. Have I ever led worship when I’ve had a bad, inconsistent week? Sure! I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t. But those are few and I always surrender my heart to the Lord that day and ask for His mercy – so the congregation doesn’t suffer as a result of me.

    But it’s so much more than just the singers and musicians. Ephesians 5:18 says to “speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your hearts to the Lord.” Sometimes I like to be loud and boisterous. Sometimes I like to hear just the congregation sing without the aid of instruments.

    I think Jesus gave freedom to worship in speaking to the woman at the well. I’m still learning and still praying that I don’t get in His way as I lead. I know i’ll make mistakes, but I’d like to hope that my heart is being trained to submit to His leading and authority (through the Pastoral office of my church).

    Again, it’s a fine line.

    Thanks for the post. Gives me a lot to chew on today. God bless!


    • Hi Vicki,

      I agree with your comment about worship in song:

      “I love it! I’m just always mindful of the idea whether or not God loves it.”

      I think THAT is the right attitude to have. No matter what I love to do for the Lord, does He love it just as much? It is a very good question for all worship leaders to ponder. God’s biggest complaint against his people in the OT was that they worshipped him in their own way.


  12. “The way to make sure your passionate worship to our Father is genuine (in Spirit and Truth) is to have a life lived that reflects surrender on a daily basis. Otherwise you’re just coming for the “gig” and it begins and ends there.”

    I love this quote Vicki! I think you are on the money.



  13. It seems that I always have a different view than others about most subjects. So to stay in character let me explain worship from my position.

    I don’t view a church service as worship. Now that is not to say it is not worship at all, but I view real worship as the way I live my life. For me to honor My Father is to obey Him. That demonstrates to the world that He is right and worthy to be honored. My Father didn’t make me perfect, so I do not always honor Him, but I have admitted that in truth and He has agreed to save me because I did.

    If I obey the two royal laws which are, (Mat 22:37-40 NIV) “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Then, to me I have honored and worshiped my Father and He is proved right because if everyone obeyed the second commandment there would be world peace. No one can truthfully deny this. God is proved right, because no one can deny it. (in truth)

    A Church meeting should be modeled after the example in 1 Cor:14:29-31. There should be two or three prophets that should lead and if anyone has a revelation the one speaking should stop and let the other speak. In other words get the heck out of God’s way and let Him teach. That way God is honored and not some man. Also because it is God that gives the revelation, man’s errors or lack of understanding is not a factor in others understanding.

    As for music in a meeting, (1 Cor14:26 NIV) “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” I am not sure that the word “everyone” is the perfect translation. It seems to me that the word “hekastos” should have been translated “any”: which is a possibility. Because I guarantee that you do not want to hear a hymn sung by me. So, for me, the word everyone does not fit. However if God wanted me to sing a hymn for the strengthening of the Church, then He would give me the talent to do so.


    • “I don’t view a church service as worship. Now that is not to say it is not worship at all, but I view real worship as the way I live my life. For me to honor My Father is to obey Him. That demonstrates to the world that He is right and worthy to be honored. My Father didn’t make me perfect, so I do not always honor Him, but I have admitted that in truth and He has agreed to save me because I did.”

      Very well said! I have often said that worship is not a song, but a song can help me worship if it affects how I live my life. If it doesn’t have any impact on the way I live, then in my humble opinion, it is just a song. Are you a part of a house church?


      • There is definitely a fine line between what is acceptable worship (acceptable to God) and what is preferred by man. The Word says to worship in Spirit and in Truth. That might be one reason there is so much “worship” confusion. Some worship in Truth, some worship in Spirit, and others in variants of the two. If we could get the two (spirit and truth) together, I think true worship might result!
        In my discussions about worship I always try to quote William Temple:
        “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”
        Excellent article, and the topic is worthy of more discussion.
        God bless you.


  14. This time it is me again.

    God does care. He wants to be worshiped in spirit and in truth and many of those that comment understand this.
    (John 4:23&24 NIV) Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

    The way that God wanted to be worshiped in the Old Testament was to symbolize that He would save through Jesus and everything must point to His plan. There is no need for that today, because Jesus has come and God’s plan has been worked. Trying to emulate worship as the Old Testament describes, as I see it, would be returning to the law.

    God does give instructions as to how a meeting of the Saints is to be conducted, but He is not obeyed in most Churches. So I do not believe the Church, as a whole, is on the right course.

    In reading the comments I see Hamapacker use the term “Layman”. Does anyone believe God considers that anyone should be called layman? It is a term that implies someone is less than another.

    My answer for your question, “Are we allowed to do that without even considering what God thinks, just because we like it?” would be, well, yes we are allowed to do anything, but if we are truly worshiping in truth the songs and music would be to God, for God and about God. The trend, it seems to me, is toward to me, for me and about me. And yes we should be looking to God for the answer and not relying on our own (Man’s) opinions.

    Sometimes we make a great error by judging how someone else is worshiping. Like Michal when she saw David dancing before the Lord with all his might. I prefer to be quiet in worship and I go to churches that tend to worship in that manner, but God help me understand that some who worship in spirit and in truth “must” dance to the Lord. For them to do otherwise would not be worshiping in truth.

    No I am not part of a house church. I do not keep a house that I would want to invite someone to and there is no house church (that I know of) in my area. I also travel a lot which would limit my attendance.

    I attend church for two things: Bible study and Communion. I love thinking, speaking and writing about God and one is somewhat free to do so in the church (as long as you are not critical of the preacher; and yet you must be). I find the church to be full of weak Christians, because they look to the minister for enlightenment instead of to Scripture and the Spirit that is within them. I feel that in some small way that I might be able to turn some away from belief in the minister and toward belief in God. That is not to say most ministers are trying to worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, but the opportunity is there and Satan sends his followers where the picking is good.


  15. Bud Stilwell

    We worship in Spirit and Truth and the music worship ushers us into the presence of the Lord.


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