What Is Worship?

(originally posted by me in September of 2013 as a summary of a few sermons I preached at my former church.)

One of my favorite passages on worship is the example of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people

-Isa 6:1-9

This text shows me that worship is a conversation, it is a back-and-forth.

Isaiah encounters God and he realizes that he is broken and in need of forgiveness. God responds with atonement. Isaiah listens to God, and God is looking for people to send. Isaiah responds again. It is encountering God, responding, and encountering Him again and again. It is like spiritual shampoo “lather, rinse, repeat as needed”

To begin a discussion (not a debate) about worship, I think it’s important to set the stage. Worship is an act of focusing on God, of lifting up his name, and is, by definition, not about the worshiper!

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service.

-Billy Graham

Sadly, most churches do have at least a bit of “worship wars” going on. This is where people disagree about the STYLE of music that is played on Sundays. This is the wrong argument!

Let all that y’all do be done in love.

-1Cor 16:14

Everything that the church undertakes has to be an “unselfish” endeavor. We must think about people in stead of personal preferences.

In addition to having an outward focus, any question that the church seeks to answer must come first from the Bible. This is a Baptist distinctivethat marks who we are “Biblical Authority.” we cannot elevate our feelings, logic, or our own experiences above what the Bible has to say. When the Bible says “this is the only way” (as in, Jesus is the only way to God) we need to hold that tightly! BUT, when the Bible does not give specific revelation, we CANNOT say so.

Listen to Psalm 150, the final chapter in the first Hymnal:

Praise Yahweh! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise Yahweh! Praise Yahweh!

We are commanded to PRAISE THE LORD, and we are told to do it with various instruments and with our voices, so be sure that we do it!

QUESTION: What does it mean to worship in Spirit and truth.

This phrase comes from John 4 when Jesus interacted with the woman at the well.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but y’all say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will y’all worship the Father. Y’all worship what y’all do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

-John 4:19-24

The first thing that jumps out at me is that God is seeking, not the “right” worship, but the right worshipers. This is not a question of style. Her question was about worship, and it was one discussing the “where” of proper worship. She wanted to know if people should worship in Jerusalem, like the Jews, or at Mt. Gerizim, like the Samaritans did. Jesus’ response indicates that there is no “place” of worship, only a people. The temporary Old Testament provision of a physical temple is superseded by the temple not made with hands, namely, Jesus Christ!

The term “spirit” has a little “s,” in most Bibles, and I think it should. This is not talking about the Holy Spirit, but about the passion and emotion of a person. This is similar to Deut 6:4 where we are told to love God with “heart, soul, and might.” When referring to this command, Jesus (in Mark 12:30) adds “mind, and strength.” This means “the whole person.” Your “spirit” connotes an emotive response that goes beyond cold logic or information. However, we are also to worship in “truth.” That is, or worship is not simply unbridled passion, the Canaanites knew all about that. No, our worship is to be governed by truth, ultimately (as John 17 and Psalm 119:60) God’s word is truth (THE truth). So our worship is an emotional experience set is reality, but about a people, not a specific place or time.

QUESTION: How does having announcements in the middle of the service affect our liturgy?

Well, we’ve moved our announcements from the end of the service to the middle (just before the message). I’ll admit, it is a bit disjointed. We don’t want the last thing people to hear to be the “announcements” we want it to be the message, the charge, the opportunity to respond.

Every aspect of the service is “worship,” even the announcements, but this is hard. We are going to try to be more selective about what we announce and keep it to things that are about our community coming together, and not just “nuts-n-bolts,” but still, we may move them to the start of the service. The problem with that is, there are only about 1/2 our folks present at the start of the service 🙁

It’s also true that most people don’t read the bulletin either. I had two people suggest we put our office hours in the bulletin to let people know when they can come by. They have been printed in the bulletin for at least 9 months. 🙁

Another related aspect of our worship is giving. We take the offering just before the message. It is part of worship, that’s why it’s called an “offering,” and I’ve gotten some good feedback about that.

QUESTION: Doesn’t a good sermon take us from hope to assurance?

Yes! I try to always end each message with the gospel. “Christ in you” is the “hope of glory!” (Col 1:27) and is THE message we want to give every week!

QUESTION: Can angels sing?

The Bible never says that they do. The first time I heard that, I wanted to prove my professor wrong and I spent about 2 hours looking through the Bible and realized that they only “speak” or “proclaim.” This could be singing, but the only group of people who sing in the Bible are the redeemed! Isn’t that amazing? WE are the ones with a song in our hearts. Before the song is on your lips, it has to be in your heart. I thought of the heavenly vision in John’s Apocalypse

and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. -Rev 14:3

QUESTION: What “style” of music is sacred?

There is no sacred style of music. Psalms 96 & 149 command God’s people to “sing to the Lord a new song

I believe the Apostle Paul gives us a good picture of the first church’s worship services when he gives them the prescription of singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19). Psalms are ancient songs that come from the scriptures, hymns are songs that are tested by time and have remained in the tradition of God’s people (in the hymn book), and spiritual songs are those that evoke emotional responses in the people.

So, we should seek to blend the ancient and the modern. We should not seek only one specific “style” of music, we are seeking the savior! We need to mix-in songs that come directly from the Bible, as well as songs from the hymnal, and new songs that move us to respond to God.

There is not a “right” style, but there is a wrong one. The wrong style is the same one over and over.

What instruments are holy? None of them, and all of them. In Psalm 150 (above, see also Ps 92:3) all kinds of musical instruments are mentioned that we should use to worship God. Interestingly, the lute is to be used for praising the Lord. The lute is the instrument off of which the modern guitar was based in Spain in the 1200’s On the other hand, the piano was invented in the 18th century and most serious musicians (like J. S. Bach) were less than impressed. 😉

With every question, we need to seek to be biblical. At our church, Pastor Chris tries to blend song selection between ancient and modern. In the last 8-weeks (that is how long Chris has been our Worship Pastor) right at 50% of the songs we sing are in the Baptist Hymnal. But we do not seek any specific style of music, we simply do the best we can with the resources (people) we have.

Let me give you an example. Hymn #270 in the Baptist Hymnal is “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” This song is a part of my past. This hymn was one of my boyhood pastor’s favorites. It’s wrapped around my brainstem and has a warm place in my heart. But let me ask you. Which is more sacred, singing “Al-le-lu-ia” or the part of a song where the instruments drop-out and the congregation shouts at the top of their lungs “Praise the Lord!!!”

Think about this, Psalm 98:4-6 commands us to “Shout to the Lord.” On the other hand, 1Cor 14:27-28 tells us it is better to remain silent than to speak in a language that is not understood. How many people (inside or outside of your church) know that Hallelujah is a Hebrew word meaning “Praise the Lord”?

Music IS a language. You must ask the question, when preaching God’s word, “what language do these people speak.” Any missionary will tell you that. Worship music is the same. We must ask “what kind of music do people like?” If we want to resonate with people, we need to speak their language, literally, and musically. Take, for example, Corpus Christi. We have a Symphony who do put on shows 9-10x a year in the performance hall on the campus of Texas A&M. So, 1,500 people can enjoy symphonic orchestra. But, ZZ Top or Carrie Underwood shows up and 10,000 go to see them at the American Bank Center. We cannot cut off people based on their preferences.

The question that matters is not “what style should we do” but “does this song edify the believers and bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ?”!

With the resources we have, we need to do the BEST kind of music that we can. Excellence is more important. We should bring God our best. Do people play the violin? Do they play the harmonica? Do they play the accordion? Let them worship God with their talents. I’m serious!

I am also convinced of this, the “right music” will not attract people. You cannot “reach people” with your music style, that’s just silly. No lost person wakes up on Sunday and says “gosh, I really want to hear some great symphonic music, I wonder which church has a great orchestra?” or “golly, I really want to go to an awesome rock concert, I wonder what church is really rockin’ today”

So, I don’t believe that music can attract or keep lost people, I do believe that the “wrong music” can drive people away. By the “wrong music” I mean the wrong music for your church. This happens when you try to force a specific style of music upon a group of musicians that they are unfamiliar or even particularly gifted at. With every kind of gift, a church has to use what they have. They have to become the unique multi-fascited mosaic of a body that God intends them to be. Music is a beautiful opportunity to be an expression of diversity within the church.

I hope this helps you think biblically about worship. There’s a lot more to discuss, please leave comments below!

One of my favorite passages on worship is the example of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people
-Isa 6:1-9
This text shows me that worship is a conversation, it is a back-and-forth. Isaiah encounters God and he realizes that he is broken and in need of forgiveness. God responds with atonement. Isaiah listens to God, and God is looking for people to send. Isaiah responds again. It is encountering God, responding, and encountering Him again and again. It is like spiritual shampoo “lather, rinse, repeat as needed”
To begin a discussion (not a debate) about worship, I think it’s important to set the stage. Worship is an act of focusing on God, of lifting up his name, and is, by definition, not about the worshiper!
The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service.
-Billy Graham
Sadly, most churches do have at least a bit of “worship wars” going on. This is where people disagree about the STYLE of music that is played on Sundays. This is the wrong argument!
Let all that y’all do be done in love.
-1Cor 16:14
Everything that the church undertakes has to be an “unselfish” endeavor. We must think about people in stead of personal preferences.
In addition to having an outward focus, any question that the church seeks to answer must come first from the Bible. This is a Baptist distinctive that marks who we are “Biblical Authority.” we cannot elevate our feelings, logic, or our own experiences above what the Bible has to say. When the Bible says “this is the only way” (as in, Jesus is the only way to God) we need to hold that tightly! BUT, when the Bible does not give specific revelation, we CANNOT say so.
Listen to Psalm 150, the final chapter in the first Hymnal:
Praise Yahweh! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise Yahweh! Praise Yahweh!
We are commanded to PRAISE THE LORD, and we are told to do it with various instruments and with our voices, so be sure that we do it!
QUESTION: What does it mean to worship in Spirit and truth.
This phrase comes from John 4 when Jesus interacted with the woman at the well.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but y’all say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will y’all worship the Father. Y’all worship what y’all do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
-John 4:19-24
The first thing that jumps out at me is that God is seeking, not the “right” worship, but the right worshipers. This is not a question of style. Her question was about worship, and it was one discussing the “where” of proper worship. She wanted to know if people should worship in Jerusalem, like the Jews, or at Mt. Gerizim, like the Samaritans did. Jesus’ response indicates that there is no “place” of worship, only a people. The temporary Old Testament provision of a physical temple is superseded by the temple not made with hands, namely, Jesus Christ!
The term “spirit” has a little “s,” in most Bibles, and I think it should. This is not talking about the Holy Spirit, but about the passion and emotion of a person. This is similar to Deut 6:4 where we are told to love God with “heart, soul, and might.” When referring to this command, Jesus (in Mark 12:30) adds “mind, and strength.” This means “the whole person.” Your “spirit” connotes an emotive response that goes beyond cold logic or information. However, we are also to worship in “truth.” That is, or worship is not simply unbridled passion, the Canaanites knew all about that. No, our worship is to be governed by truth, ultimately (as John 17 and Psalm 119:60) God’s word is truth (THE truth). So our worship is an emotional experience set is reality, but about a people, not a specific place or time.
QUESTION: How does having announcements in the middle of the service affect our liturgy?
Well, we’ve moved our announcements from the end of the service to the middle (just before the message). I’ll admit, it is a bit disjointed. We don’t want the last thing people to hear to be the “announcements” we want it to be the message, the charge, the opportunity to respond.
Every aspect of the service is “worship,” even the announcements, but this is hard. We are going to try to be more selective about what we announce and keep it to things that are about our community coming together, and not just “nuts-n-bolts,” but still, we may move them to the start of the service. The problem with that is, there are only about 1/2 our folks present at the start of the service 🙁
It’s also true that most people don’t read the bulletin either. I had two people suggest we put our office hours in the bulletin to let people know when they can come by. They have been printed in the bulletin for at least 9 months. 🙁
Another related aspect of our worship is giving. We take the offering just before the message. It is part of worship, that’s why it’s called an “offering,” and I’ve gotten some good feedback about that.
QUESTION: Doesn’t a good sermon take us from hope to assurance?
Yes! I try to always end each message with the gospel. “Christ in you” is the “hope of glory!” (Col 1:27) and is THE message we want to give every week!
QUESTION: Can angels sing?
The Bible never says that they do. The first time I heard that, I wanted to prove my professor wrong and I spent about 2 hours looking through the Bible and realized that they only “speak” or “proclaim.” This could be singing, but the only group of people who sing in the Bible are the redeemed! Isn’t that amazing? WE are the ones with a song in our hearts. Before the song is on your lips, it has to be in your heart. I thought of the heavenly vision in John’s Apocalypse
and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
-Rev 14:3
QUESTION: What “style” of music is sacred?
There is no sacred style of music.
Psalms 96 & 149 command God’s people to “sing to the Lord a new song“
I believe the Apostle Paul gives us a good picture of the first church’s worship services when he gives them the prescription of singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19). Psalms are ancient songs that come from the scriptures, hymns are songs that are tested by time and have remained in the tradition of God’s people (in the hymn book), and spiritual songs are those that evoke emotional responses in the people.
So, we should seek to blend the ancient and the modern. We should not seek only one specific “style” of music, we are seeking the savior! We need to mix-in songs that come directly from the Bible, as well as songs from the hymnal, and new songs that move us to respond to God.
There is not a “right” style, but there is a wrong one. The wrong style is the same one over and over.
What instruments are holy? None of them, and all of them. In Psalm 150 (above, see also Ps 92:3) all kinds of musical instruments are mentioned that we should use to worship God. Interestingly, the lute is to be used for praising the Lord. The lute is the instrument off of which the modern guitar was based in Spain in the 1200’s On the other hand, the piano was invented in the 18th century and most serious musicians (like J. S. Bach) were less than impressed. 😉
With every question, we need to seek to be biblical. At our church, Pastor Chris tries to blend song selection between ancient and modern. In the last 8-weeks (that is how long Chris has been our Worship Pastor) right at 50% of the songs we sing are in the Baptist Hymnal. But we do not seek any specific style of music, we simply do the best we can with the resources (people) we have.
Let me give you an example. Hymn #270 in the Baptist Hymnal is “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” This song is a part of my past. This hymn was one of my boyhood pastor’s favorites. It’s wrapped around my brainstem and has a warm place in my heart. But let me ask you. Which is more sacred, singing “Al-le-lu-ia” or the part of a song where the instruments drop-out and the congregation shouts at the top of their lungs “Praise the Lord!!!”
Think about this, Psalm 98:4-6 commands us to “Shout to the Lord.” On the other hand, 1Cor 14:27-28 tells us it is better to remain silent than to speak in a language that is not understood. How many people (inside or outside of your church) know that Hallelujah is a Hebrew word meaning “Praise the Lord”?
Music IS a language. You must ask the question, when preaching God’s word, “what language do these people speak.” Any missionary will tell you that. Worship music is the same. We must ask “what kind of music do people like?” If we want to resonate with people, we need to speak their language, literally, and musically. Take, for example, Corpus Christi. We have a Symphony who do put on shows 9-10x a year in the performance hall on the campus of Texas A&M. So, 1,500 people can enjoy symphonic orchestra. But, ZZ Top or Carrie Underwood shows up and 10,000 go to see them at the American Bank Center. We cannot cut off people based on their preferences.
The question that matters is not “what style should we do” but “does this song edify the believers and bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ?”!
With the resources we have, we need to do the BEST kind of music that we can. Excellence is more important. We should bring God our best. Do people play the violin? Do they play the harmonica? Do they play the accordion? Let them worship God with their talents. I’m serious!
I am also convinced of this, the “right music” will not attract people. You cannot “reach people” with your music style, that’s just silly. No lost person wakes up on Sunday and says “gosh, I really want to hear some great symphonic music, I wonder which church has a great orchestra?” or “golly, I really want to go to an awesome rock concert, I wonder what church is really rockin’ today”
So, I don’t believe that music can attract or keep lost people, I do believe that the “wrong music” can drive people away. By the “wrong music” I mean the wrong music for your church. This happens when you try to force a specific style of music upon a group of musicians that they are unfamiliar or even particularly gifted at. With every kind of gift, a church has to use what they have. They have to become the unique multi-fascited mosaic of a body that God intends them to be. Music is a beautiful opportunity to be an expression of diversity within the church.
I hope this helps you think biblically about worship. There’s a lot more to discuss, please leave comments below!

About John Harris

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

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