There’s a divide in the Church. Well, there are plenty of divides in the Church. But one of the most concerning, I think, centers around the idea of worship: It’s a divide between those who understand what it means to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) and those who don’t.
This division of the Church results in apathetic congregations, and congregations suspected of “charismaticism.”
We’ve all heard claims that “worship isn’t just singing.” But let’s be honest: these words resound with less and less truth when the other aspects of our lives don’t reflect any measure of worship at all.
I strongly believe that worship is one of the most important aspects of our Christian life, if not the most important. As a result, Satan has targeted it directly, profusely, and without ceasing. And because of this, it’s vital to understand what it really means to worship—and why, yes, worship is far more than just singing in church.
If there is a divide in the church that can be addressed, then it must be addressed. The Bible is clear: The only way to address, challenge and correct issues within the Church, whether they be cultural or religious in nature, is through looking at what the Bible says.
In writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul exhorts his young student in the value of God’s Word: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The natural extension of this is the need for Christians to be taught. We’re not just going to understand the realities of true worship simply by walking into a sanctuary. Infants learn their native language by hearing words spoken over and over again. However, they don’t understand what these words mean until they are taught to understand which word belongs to which object or action.
Words must be given meaning so as to be properly used, and the same is true for actions and ideas.
The one who claims that “worship isn’t just singing” is correct—we should be very clear on that. Similarly, not everyone will worship God in exactly the same way: For some, raising hands or dancing in the aisles may legitimately seem wrong to them, whereas for another to not raise their hands and dance in song is wrong—one cannot rebuke the other, for we cannot know what is in another’s heart.
But we must ask the question: Why don’t you raise your hands, dance for joy and shout to the Lord? For these are not modern ideas, introduced from a secular society into God’s church—as many have long-suggested. Rather, we see repeatedly throughout the Old Testament God’s chosen people responding to God’s presence with unrefined and unconstrained joy.
The Ark of the Covenant
For over 400 years, the Ark of the Covenant had traveled with God’s people, symbolizing God’s presence with them. In 2 Samuel, David begins the long process of moving the Ark of Covenant to Jerusalem, and “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of fir wood instruments, lyres, harps, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals” (2 Samuel 6:5).
Later, when the Ark of the Covenant finally arrived in Jerusalem, “David was dancing with all his might before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:14). David danced so wildly, it is said, that “Saul’s daughter Michal looked down from the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.” (6:16) Later, when David returned to her presence, she mocks him for his display:
“How the king of Israel honored himself today!” she said. “He exposed himself today in the sight of the slave girls of his subjects like a vulgar person would expose himself” (6:20).
David’s reply should be all of our replies when we are seen to be worshipping God:
“I was dancing before the Lord who chose me over your father and his whole family to appoint me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel. I will celebrate before the Lord, and I will humble myself even more and humiliate myself” (6:21-22).
The Psalmists were similarly effusive in their desire to praise God with all that they had: “Praise the Lord with the lyre; make music to Him with a ten-stringed harp” (33:2); “Sing a new song to the Lord … Shout to the Lord, all the earth; be jubilant, shout for joy, and sing” (98:1,4).
Worship in Our Churches
The New Testament describes worshipping God a little differently, as is to be expected in a series of books based around Jesus’ purpose to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17) in a way that reinterpreted it for everyone. No longer would worship take the form it had become—a ritualistic series of mechanical devotions centered around the temple in Jerusalem.
Rather, Jesus told the Samarian woman that “an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem … an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:221, 23)
This begins to take more form when we read Paul, writing to the Romans:
“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
That “therefore” we read links this instruction to the entire teaching of Romans up until that point—in other words, the many instructions on how to live a Godly life represent how we should be worshipping God. Everett F. Harrison and Donald A. Hagner say that Paul’s idea of worship here, “captures not merely the idea of the adoration of God but covers the entire range of the Christian’s life and activity.”
Whether we are in church singing, praying or serving; or we are living our life at work, at home or in play, worshipping God should be a natural extension of everything we do. Further, worshipping God should look the same in our heart whether or not we are working or signing, praying or playing.