What is more important to a believer than worshiping the god who bestows all kinds of blessings (and curses) upon a believer’s life? Almost all religions have some type of worship ritual and it seems that all kinds of gods require, or rather demand, such behavior among their devotees. It is no different in Christianity. Worship plays a core part in any Christian’s life. Surely, there should be little controversy over such an important aspect of belief, especially when the Christian god demands it:

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. (1 Chronicles 16:29 )

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (Psalm 99:5)

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (Luke 4:8)

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. (John 4:23 )

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24 )

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 )

However, if you are looking for Christian unity in worship, you would be gravely mistaken. This is another area where there are strong divisions and radically different theologies of worship. Broadly, as I have pointed out elsewhere Why I am an Atheist Part 8: Worship, there are two major ways of looking at worship:

  1. Worship is for god. As such, god and only god dictates the terms of worship (what pleases and displeases him) and going against those terms is, essentially, treason and results in god’s displeasure.
  2. Worship is for man. As such, man decides how to worship god by deciding what gives him (man) the most pleasure in his worship of god. Under these terms, god has little say in his worship and really doesn’t care how worship is conducted or cares only in the broadest sense, such as you must have a pure heart. God doesn’t get involved with the details of worship.

The difference between these two views is not just a matter of cosmetics, but of radically different views on what is “acceptable” worship. For example many contemporary worship services feature dance, skits, drama, slide shows and other effects designed to draw the worshiper into the service. Are they acceptable? For one camp, the answer is yes, for the other the answer is no. In fact, the Regulatory Principle group sees these forms of worship as anathema – something so displeasing to god that doing them actually incurs his displeasure. Consider:

The Scripture says of them (Israel), “For they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.” and “And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight” (vs. 12: 20). Oh how fearful a thing it is for the children of God to participate in the idolatrous worship of the world! Dare we think that God is any less displeased with us today than he was with Israel if we engage in false worship? I believe the answer is obvious—He is as displeased over our idolatry as that of ancient Israel. How dare any professing Christian remain in religious Babylon with all its pagan ceremonies, observances, forms and rituals! … Just because we are Baptists do we think we can bring innovations into the meeting house and not suffer the consequences? Do we know better than God what to teach and how to conduct worship? Five Kinds of Worship Displeasing To God

The same principles which are manifested in these Old Testament examples are still applicable today. God has revealed to man the kind of worship which pleases Him and still expects men to worship in that fashion. Actually, the only way that man can know that His worship pleases God is for God to reveal to man what He wants. We cannot know God’s will except as it is revealed to us; however, through revelation, we can have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Apart from God revealing to man the kind of worship which He will accept, man could never know what pleases God. … Watch the papers and look at what is being done in the name of religion. Singing groups with their guitars, cymbals, drums, piano and organ are being used in worship; the audience to which they play is generally entertained by music which appeals to the easy listening or country western style of secular music. Consequently, the music which is presented in these programs has this kind of flavor as well. Or, consider the buildings of many Catholic churches. They display ornate buildings; some churches even have very valuable jewels embedded on the crosses in the buildings. Such things appeal to man’s desire for show. When man is left to worship according to his own desires, he offers as worship to God what pleases the man. For this reason, God found it absolutely necessary to reveal to man the kind of worship which pleases Him. Worship (II): Divinely Revealed Worship

Yet, even with these warnings how do you know what is acceptable? The Bible knows nothing of modern technology, instruments or methods. Are they simply wrong because the Bible is necessarily silent? How could it be used as a guide in this area? An ancient guide is no guide at all when it comes to modern technology. Then again, with a book as flexible in it’s meaning as the Bible, maybe current contemporary worship can find a biblical defense. Consider this:

Early worship utilized the experience of communion much more than many evangelical churches today. On a regular basis they actually passed a piece of bread around the room and each person pinched off a piece and ate it. That is so different from the once a quarter pre-packaged communion wafers that some churches use today. Even baptism was an experience in the early church. … The Psalms was the early hymn book of the church. When we read it we see that a number of instruments were used, not just one person playing the organ. And a number of people were leading the worship, not just one “worship leader.” All those people who were involved were part of the experience, not just observers of someone else doing it. Even the songs themselves were experiential. The early church sang songs TO God not just songs ABOUT God. … The reality was, first century worship was VERY experiential. And if we want our worship services to be biblical then they need to be experiential too. Can Post Modern Worship Be Biblical?

It’s amazing how a book considered by many to be god’s word to mankind, can be used to support radically different opinions. There is no clarity here, which, of course, results in deep divisions within the body that calls itself Christian. Even within the two broad worship camps, there is controversy as to what exactly is appropriate for worship. This is primarily because, as important as worship appears to be to the Christian god, in the New Testament he did not dictate how he wanted to be worshipped as he did in the Old Testament. If god cares about how he is to be worshipped, as the first camp believes, this is a grave oversight for an omniscient god.

To drive home this point, let’s look at 3 specific areas: the day of worship, music and images.

Day of Worship

Should worship be conducted on Sunday or Saturday — choices, choices. It may seem like a simple thing but the debate can get heated, after all if god does have a specific day he wants his people to worship, you would think they could get it right. Of course, like all things in the Bible, it would have been a simple thing for an omniscient god to simply inspire one of the writers to clearly tell his followers what the appropriate day was, but it’s much more fun to watch them fight about it.

Sunday

This is the traditional day of worship for Christians and is the day the majority of Christians worship. Consider what these authors have to say:

The Truth: The universal record of history, from the Resurrection of Christ, Christians have always worshipped on the first day of the week (Sunday) and never on the Sabbath (7th day). Sunday is not a Christian Sabbath or a day of rest, or a holy day to be kept. All churches teach one of four positions on the day that Christians worship.

Why, then, does the Lord’s church worship on the first day of the week? The answer is simple: because the Scriptures authorize it. The first day of the week, therefore, is the day of worship of the New Testament church. On that day, worship according to the divine pattern must be offered. Do you observe the Lord’s day? Worship (III): The Day of Worship: The Lord’s Day

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. Westminster Confession of Faith. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day

Saturday

However, for some groups, the majority is just plain wrong. Worship needs to be on the true Sabbath – Saturday.

In reviewing the few passages that supposedly support Sunday worship, a web site by the United Church of God states:

Scripture contains no other passages that mention anything remotely resembling weekly religious services on the first day of the week. The New Testament was written over a span of more than 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and nowhere does it even hint at the day of rest being changed to Sunday. Was Sunday the New Testament Day of Worship?

And again:

This blessing from God, enshrined in one of the Ten Commandments, did not change. The seventh day of the week—observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset—has continued as God’s commanded holy day for rest and worship. Even though misguided people later initiated a change to worshipping on Sunday, God’s command was never rescinded, nor was there biblical authorization for a change to the first day of the week. God’s Days of Worship

In addition, things get get a bit nasty when you are fighting over the “clear” word of god:

There is nothing wrong with worshipping God every day of the week, but substituting Sunday for the Sabbath day as the main day to do it, is totally contrary to the word of God, and is evil. Note 2: You may ask, “What should I do if I have been involved in regular church attendance on Sunday, instead of the Sabbath day?” Forsake it, and start to keep the Sabbath! We Can Worship God Any Day Of The Week

Everyone needs to realize that God COMMANDS us HOW to WORSHIP Him!! He tells us that we MUST worship Him “in Spirit and in truth!” (John 4:24) Jesus, as The Word God, also tells us that He HATES it when we worship Him the WRONG way!!… It is the same with “keeping one day ‘holy’ ” when GOD TELLS YOU upon which Days to worship Him!! When a person tries to worship the True God on Sunday when He has COMMANDED them to worship Him on the Sabbath Day, He HATES THAT ABOMINATION because SUNDAY was set aside by the pagans to WORSHIP THE SUN, a creation by Jesus Christ (when He was The Word God)!! We Can Worship God On Just ANY Day? Give Me a Break!

Maybe it doesn’t matter

Then again, maybe it just doesn’t matter as these Christians think:

Its not the WHEN we worship, but the WHO we worship! If one wants to congregate to worship on Saturday or Sunday, or even Monday they have the freedom under the new covenant to do so. Please don’t insult our intelligence or distort the Bible’s instructions to perpetuate the myth that Sunday is the Mark of the Beast, a replacement of Saturday. It is not. Worship is a way of life not a particular day of assembly over another day. What Day Are We Allowed To Worship On

Drawing from these verses, I view this question of the Sabbath similar to the tithe. As followers of Christ, we are no longer under legalistic obligation, for the requirements of the law were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Everything we have, and every day we live, belongs to the Lord. … not out of any forced obligation, but joyfully, willingly, we set aside one day each week to honor God, because every day truly belongs to him! Finally, as Romans 14 instructs, we should be “fully convinced” that whichever day we choose is the right day for us to set aside as a day of worship. And as Colossians 2 warns, we should not judge or allow anyone to judge us regarding our choice. Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?

Obviously, the specific day of worship is not that important. What is important is the clear biblical mandate that worship is for the whole person every day of the week WordTruth Press

So, once again, the “clear” word of god is anything but clear. While it appears, to many Christians, there is unity on the day of worship, this is not the case: Saturday, Sunday or it doesn’t matter. They can’t all be right but they can all be wrong!

Music

Many Christians wouldn’t think that there was a controversy over music in a church service. The general worship style of most evangelical churches is filled with music, instruments and song, mostly what is now thought of as praise music. Yet, there is a long history of conflict in this area. For example, let’s look at the organ, a stable of traditional worship services. When it was first introduced it was seen by many as nothing less than heresy.

Robert L. Dabney, an influential Presbyterian minister said:

There is one fact connected with the introduction of organs into those of our churches which have adopted them, which is exceedingly distressful. It is the reason which we always hear assigned, among other reasons, for their introduction, and which we believe has been in every case the most operative one. It is always urged: “we must have an organ to keep pace with other churches in attracting a congregation, and in retaining the young and thoughtless.” … If we are authorized to add to God’s worship, forms purely of human device, in order to make it more palatable to sinners, to what corruptions shall we not give entrance? … We believe that all such artifices, of human device, to catch popularity, are inconsistent with the genius of the Presbyterian Church, derogatory of her honor, and blasting to her interests Against Musical Instruments in Public Worship

John L. Girardeau a Southern Presbyterian minister in the 1800s also wrote on The Heresy of Instrumental Music in Public Worship

Nevertheless organ music became a mainstay in many churches and now the controversy has moved on to more modern instruments and no instruments at all. Many of those who believe instruments should not be allowed in worship are particularly scathing:

If we could remember that music in Christian worship is not for the purpose of entertaining, but for teaching and for exalting, we would have no trouble seeing why God demanded vocal music and left out instrumental music. Instrumental Music in the New Testament Worship Service

From the above Scriptures, we can now “clearly” answer this question, “Can Christians use musical instruments in worship and still be pleasing to God?” Ten Reasons Why Instrumental Music Is Wrong In Worship.

The answer for this author was a resounding no! After listing the pros and cons of instruments in worship another author concludes:

Instruments are not just an aid to singing, but an additional, different form of praise to God. They violate the New Testament teachings about truth, spirit, and understanding in worship. Those who use them are not following God’s plan but have changed His plan to satisfy their own entertainment and enjoyment. Instrumental Music in Worship: Does God Want Singing or Playing Instruments?

Yet another author, looking at the same biblical passages concludes that:

Many of the Psalms mention “stringed instruments” and in one case, “flutes” at their start, implying (or so it seems to me) that the Psalm was accompanied by instruments (e.g., Psalm 5: “To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David”; Psalm 6: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments . . .”). Therefore, John Calvin’s contention that a Psalm can only be properly sung is not even consistent with what the Psalms themselves teach (see also Psalms 4, 54-55, 61, 67, 76; cf. Hab 3:19)…. We also have the evidence of the extensive musical instrumentation accompanying the ark of the covenant (where God was specially present, in a way somewhat like eucharistic presence at the Mass), as described in 1 Chronicles 15. There is no hint of disapproval in the text, as if this was something frowned upon by God as idolatry… Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, the entire “no instruments at church because they are idols” argument must, therefore, be abandoned. Biblical Evidence for Musical Instruments in Worship

However, it’s not just a matter of instruments but also of the music itself. Some believe that the Psalms only should be used in worship:

The purpose of this booklet is to present the evidence in support of the following proposition; namely, that in the worship of God the inspired book of Psalms should be used to the exclusion of the uninspired compositions of men. The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God

Some believe that the music used in many contemporary churches is sinful:

Such music touches the emotions, often in a profound way: it is meant to. If Praise and Worship did not create fuzzy feelings, it would not be so popular. Perhaps you think, “It’s not that bad. After all, it only sounds like the ‘soft’ stuff.” Is our God the kind of god that is sung to as a woman being seduced by a man? Is God adored in Scripture with soft caresses and tender kisses? Is eroticism acceptable worship? Praise and Worship stirs the emotions– but which emotions; and are those emotions properly worshipful of God? Oh if only our emotions could be touched by James 4:4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” God is not glorified by his enemies. And He is neither praised nor worshiped by the vast majority of Praise and Worship music. Why Praise and Worship Music Isn’t

And others believe that the music used should be more traditional and “meaningful”:

I am frankly astonished that the worship wars rattle on. The army of praise choruses, light shows and worship bands have left the Psalms, the organ, and our father’s hymnal decimated. The war for all practical purposes ended quite some time ago, and I am on the losing side. It is now harder to find a church that hasn’t bought into contemporary worship than it is to find a church has never been through a split. The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors…My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars… The issue isn’t the instruments, but the music…Our worship problems do not flow from drums and guitars. They flow from the sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental. Is there anything wrong with drums and guitars in church?

I ask again, if this is such an important aspect of the worship of god, why is Bible so unclear on the subject. Some may object that it is clear and those that don’t see it their way are sinning against god. Yet the fact that there are so many different interpretations of the same passages, show that the Bible is anything but clear on the subject. There is no unity here.

Images

Another area of controversy in worship is the use of images. These can range from simple crosses found in many Protestant churches to elaborate crucifixes and statutes found in Catholic churches. They can even extend to the use of slide shows and stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes. I remember, as a child, reading one of my mothers anthropology textbooks on the Pygmy people and their amazement that the Catholic missionaries worshiped statutes! (I wish I could remember the name of that text.) That same amazement was one of the issues that many Protestants had with the Roman Church during the Reformation and that controversy still exists today.

Of course Catholics and Anglicans don’t see it that way:

The Church absolutely recognizes and condemns the sin of idolatry. What anti-Catholics fail to recognize is the distinction between thinking a piece of stone or plaster is a god and desiring to visually remember Christ and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor. The making and use of religious statues is a thoroughly biblical practice. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know his Bible. Do Catholics Worship Statues?

The concept of using images in worship finds its origins in the Old Testament. The Temple contained numerous visual images, including the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. The Temple Solomon built for the Lord contained many carvings of trees, gourds, flowers, and angels (1 Kings 6). It is clear that God did not forbid images used in the Sanctuary to glorify God.The use of Images, Signs, and Symbols in Anglican Worship

Not so much with many Protestant denominations:

I have argued above that the second commandment prohibits any visual representation of God by the hand of man. This is essential to the definition of idolatry. The visual aids in the OT (notably the Tabernacle and its furnishings) originated from God and they were strictly temporary shadows which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. … The second commandment that prohibited the use of images in worshipping God in the OT remains in force in the NT. God would not have other gods beside Himself. Neither would he give his glory to lifeless images. The Use Of Images In Worship… Is It Biblical?

Not only does the second commandment forbid the use of images in worship; not only does the second commandment forbid the making and representing of any of the three persons of the Godhead by means of images; but the second commandment also forbids the religious making, or using of all man-made actions, gestures, symbols,or ceremonies in God’s worship. God teaches us in the second commandment that when man brings what he has made (whether actions, gestures, symbols, or ceremonies) into worship, he forms an image according to his own authority by which to worship God. God calls that idolatry… Before leaving this text, don’t overlook the sobering warning issued by our jealous God (jealous for worship that is authorized by Himself alone, and not invented by man): “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” Who are those who hate God according to this text? It is not only the atheists and humanists. It is all those who (regardless of their profession) bring to worship anything that is instituted by man rather than by God. Foundation for Reformation: The Regulative Principle of Worship

Some even think that those who associate with believers who have icons (idols) in their churches are unsaved:

The Old Testament condemns idols, even if they are supposedly directly to the true God. The Old Testament condemns even the possession of icons. The truth is that New Testament also condemns idols. And the truth is that God does not want to be represented by things made by man. Furthermore, the truth is that since no one knows what Jesus (or God the Father, either) looks like–all ICONIC REPRESENTATIONS OF GOD ARE NOT SPIRIT and are not true. The early church is warned not to associate with any “Christian” who is involved with idolatry. The New Testament warns that idolaters are considered to be heathen and will be judged as such. What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?

Idolatry is a serious charge in any church and once again we see that the Bible still is not a reliable guide as to what constitutes this charge. Can you have images in church? Apparently the Bible can be bent to mean yes and no.

Summary

We have seen that as important as worship is to the Christian faith, there is considerable disagreement over the elements of worship and how to properly worship god. There is disagreement, sometimes hostile, as to the day of worship, the musical elements in worship and the place of images in a worship service. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are strong disagreements over the use of specific prayers such as the Common Book of Prayer and the place of sacraments (or even if sacraments are scriptural). Not to say anything about the downright nasty fights over the scriptural basis for Charismatic or Pentecostal worship.

As important as worship is to Christians and for as much time as they invest in the endeavor, it is still another area in which there is no unity between many denominations. Isn’t that a gross oversight for a god who demands worship and has made it clear, at least to some, that unacceptable worship will be punished? Then again, maybe he doesn’t care at all because it’s all made up in the first place!

 

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