Premises for Diverse Expressions of Worship

As a worship leader married to a dancer in a church that is mostly made up of non-demonstrative people, the discussion of certain expressions of worship comes up repeatedly for me — in particular, the question of whether dancing, raising hands, speaking in tongues, kneeling, and the use of certain modern instruments such as drums are acceptable expressions of Christian worship.

It’s not the leaders that have the difficulty. It’s folks in the congregation from a variety of backgrounds that may be familiar with social prohibitions against some of these practices.

So I jotted down a few thoughts on the subject.

This is by no means a comprehensive study — just a few thoughts.

A. The Evangelical Covenant Church is committed to following the Bible’s teachings, and to diversity within the boundaries of Scripture.

“The Bible is the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.” (Affirmations Brochure, http://www.covchurch.org/affirmations/)

“United in Christ, we offer freedom to one another to differ on issues of belief or practice where the biblical and historical record seems to allow for a variety of interpretations of the will and purposes of God. We in the Covenant Church seek to focus on what unites us as followers of Christ, rather than on what divides us.” (Affirmations Brochure, http://www.covchurch.org/affirmations/)

B. The Bible clearly demonstrates a wide variety of worship expressions.

1. Worship should not be merely internal.

Worship is primarily an internal attitude towards God. We express love, adoration, gratefulness, and more towards the Holy Creator of the universe. Although our worship is primarily initiated from an internal attitude, it ought never to be divorced from the body. In fact, we are repeatedly commanded to engage our bodies in worship of God.

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. Romans 12:1

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The Bible gives example of multiple physical expressions of worship, and the very words we translate as “worship” clearly infer physical expression.

Many of the words that we translate as “worship” in both Greek and Hebrew contain the idea of bodily movement. The two most prominent words … histahawah in the Old Testament, and proskynein in the Greek … connote the idea of bending over at the waist or bowing down as an expression of homage. In addition, physical expression is both commanded and spontaneously modeled in Scripture as a way of giving God glory. (Ex. 12:27; Job 1:20; Ps. 47:1; Ps. 95:6). Those expressions include clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, playing instruments, dancing, and standing in awe (Ps. 47:1; Eph. 5:19; Ps. 95:6; Ps. 134:2; Ps. 33:1; Rev. 15:2; Ps. 149:3; Ps. 22:23). (Kauflin, Bob. Q&A Fridays – How Do We Grow in Physical Expressiveness? Pt. 1. http://www.worshipmatters.com/2006/05/qa-fridays-how/)

2. Controversies

Expressions of worship have been the source of controversy for a long time. From time to time throughout history, Christians have condemned new music, the use of musical instruments, speaking in tongues, dancing and more.

New Music:

“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous. The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style. Because there are so many new songs, you can’t learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It’s a money making scam and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.” A pastor attacking Isaac Watts, writer of ‘When I survey the wondrous cross,’ in 1723

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.” (Erasmus, Commentary on I Cor. 14:19)

Use of Musical instruments:

“David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument.” (Chrysostom, 347-407, Exposition of Psalms 41, (381-398 A.D.) Source Readings in Music History, ed. O. Strunk, W. W. Norton and Co.: New York, 1950, pg. 70.)

Dancing

“Where dancing is there is the devil. For God did not give us our feet for this end that we might demean ourselves indecently; but that we might walk decently, not prance like camels; but that we may exult with the angels. If even the body is disgraced, which perpetrates this indecency, much more the soul. . . Dancing is the devil’s invention.” (Chrysotom, 347-407)

All of these controversies miss the point; that sin is an internal condition.

3. Sin is an internal condition

I remember as a small child dancing joyfully to some music or other, and being told by a very angry Christian that dancing was “what sinners do”. I learned immediately that dancing was “wrong”.

Jesus, when confronted by the Pharisees about eating food that was ceremonially unclean, made a very bold and radical statement regarding sin. In Mark 7, we read the story of the Pharisees catching Jesus’ disciples eating without washing their hands first. Jewish law required the ceremonial washing of hands before eating, so in the Pharisees’ minds, Jesus’ disciples were breaking God’s law — sin.

Jesus publicly berated them and said, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:15).

Later, he elaborated to his disciples: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” (Mark 7:20-23)

The Pharisees were talking about food, and Jesus’ statement provided the foundation for Christians’ freedom from the Levitical laws regarding food. Praise God for bacon and lobster! But Jesus was talking about much more than whether it’s sinful to eat pork and shellfish or not. What makes someone ‘unclean’ before God is what comes out of his heart.

Which heart condition is more likely to be pleasing to God: one that causes someone to bow in humble adoration, to kneel before God, to raise his hands to heaven in love and surrender, or to dance joyfully before a Holy God that has forgiven our sins; or one that condemns those behaviours, focusses on others’ expressions of worship instead of focussing on God, and seeks to “quench the Spirit” in those who are expressing worship in Biblically-sanctioned ways?

“Everything is right when it springs from the fear of the Lord. Let’s dance as David did. Let’s not be ashamed to show adoration of God… Dance bound up with faith is a testimony to the living grace of God. He who dances as David danced, dances in grace.” (Ambrose, AD 390)

2 thoughts on “Premises for Diverse Expressions of Worship”

  1. I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately. The thing that drives me nuts about church worship time is when it is contrived…a concert rather than worship. As long as worship is HONEST and heartfelt, I don’t care what form it takes. This is NOT a show…it’s a time to let God know how we feel about what He’s done for us.

  2. I tend to agree. I think there is (or may be) room for the “theatrical” in the public setting. When I read through the Old Testament ceremonies, with their robes and jewels and all, I suspect there’s an aspect of our humanity that craves the pageantry of formal, “high-church” worship. Sometimes external actions can lead to internal change.

    But it’s a very fine line, and very hard to determine, when that separation between the external and the internal is temporary and changing, or chronic.

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