What Does Scripture Say Worship Should Look And Sound Like?
Rev. Kenneth D. Willis
I posted two photos on facebook: one of a rock concert and one of contemporary Christian worship. I captioned the post with the following: “If you, a Christian, can’t tell which one is a rock concert and which one is a church service, just remember…the lost probably can’t either.” Public and private comments immediately came. Some were genuinely curious and some heated. If there is any topic in Christianity that draws more immediate fire than that of worship style or music, I would love to know what it is. Why such passion over a subject? We could talk for hours and days on many technical issues until we died of nausea, but the simple answer is: people like what people like. Any attempt to shed light on this sensitive topic will inherently encounter quick and fierce resistance from one side or another, or both.
This article will seek to avoid getting into passionate rhetoric and dive straight into what the Scriptures–the supreme and final authority for the lives of believers–says concerning what Biblical worship looks and sounds like. I will remind the reader that I cannot do anything to change anyone’s mind. I cannot change anyone’s heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do those things. And only someone who is sincerely seeking the truth can be changed by it. The Scriptures are filled with folks that had the truth clearly presented to them and yet they utterly rejected it.
We will examine several core Scriptures on this topic, many other passages that shed light on it and three main questions that arise while examining this topic. They are:
- Does it matter what style in which we worship God?
- Does our worship music matter to God?
- Does our dress in worship matter to God?
In addition to these questions, we will also consider key facts concerning the issue and prominent arguments opponents of conservative style, music and dress bring up.
CORE SCRIPTURE #1: GENESIS 4:2-8
Early In History God Established That Not All Worship Is Acceptable
“And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” – Genesis 4:2-8
Too many times people feel that how we worship is a matter of the heart only and that God accepts all kinds of worship with no regard for what manner in which it comes. This is a grave and elementary error. As early as Genesis chapter four, we see plainly that God does not accept all forms of worship. He does set parameters on worship. Some may argue that these parameters only applied to nation Israel and those living under the Mosaic Law, yet here see clearly the parameters of Godly worship in full force before there ever was an Israel or the written Law. The LORD expected that worship follow His pattern set forth after Adam’s sin in Eden—a lamb, a living sacrifice. He also expected it to be the very best. Abel worshiped within these parameters and God respected Abel’s worship. Cain however, violated both parameters and God did not respect or accept Cain’s worship. Another testament to the reality of God’s rejection of his worship was Cain’s bitterness over that rejection. It led to the first homicide in history. The first murder was over divinely rejected worship.
Some folks say that The God of the Old Testament is harsh and exclusionary but the God in the New Testament is loving and inclusive. This is another grave fallacy. God is God; He is the same forever. Nothing has changed, except for people and their poor theology; that seems to spiral downward as Paul said it would.
Facts To Consider
God has always placed parameters on worship.
God does not accept all worship.
God demands and deserves our best worship.
God has not changed.
CORE SCRIPTURES #2 & #3: ISAIAH 6:1-5 & REVELATION 1:10-18
God’s Holiness Demands Reverence
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” – Isaiah 6:1-5
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” – Revelation 1:10-18
In both these passages we see the terrifying glory of God Almighty. Both the Father and the Son’s glory and holiness cause mortal men to fall to their knees and become overwhelmed by the holiness of God in whose presence they found themselves. Isaiah immediately repented of his unworthiness to be in God’s holy presence. God is the only truly holy thing in the universe. Nothing is as holy as He. He is distinct and separate from all things. No one can stand before His awe inspiring holiness without being overcome by it. Even Moses had to turn his back when God’s glory passed by him. God’s presence and holiness demands reverence. Today in most churches, I dare say there is an extreme lack of reverence for the same God witnessed by Isaiah and John.
Consider the account of John on Patmos as he witnessed a vision of the resurrected Christ. John was the closest human being to Jesus–as the Gospels make plain. If anyone could call Jesus his buddy, it was John. Yet when John encountered Christ, he fell as a dead man. Many Christians are in for the wake up call of their lives when they meet Christ. They will discover with terrifying vividness, the paralyzing realization of a sinful, mortal creature who is standing in the terrifying presence of the Holy, Almighty Creator. These poor unfortunate creatures will realize in a moment–while shaking in paralytic dread–that the God they have had so little reverence for is the One for whom they tremble. To dumb down the doctrine of reverence and God’s holiness is a grossly ignorant and terrifying blunder.
Other Scriptures To Consider
“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” – Psalm 103:1
“Wherefore thou art great, O Lord God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.” – II Samuel 7:22
“Let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker.” – Psalm 95:6
“There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” – I Samuel 2:2
Facts To Consider
God is holy, unique, exalted and worthy of pure worship.
Coming into God’s presence requires reverence and causes repentance.
CORE SCRIPTURES #4: EXODUS 32:1-19 & #5: LEVITICUS 10:1-2
God Does Reject Sincere Worship When It Violates His Parameters
“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” – Exodus 32:1-19
Exodus 32 provides the clearest image of contemporary worship in Scripture and is a classic expose of how God feels about His people adopting popular worship methods and applying them to His truths. It may shock you to know that in the incident described above, the Israelites were not offering worship to some foreign or obscure deity. Aaron declared the coming day of worship to be a special feast of worship to the LORD or Jehovah! So do not make the mistake of blaming error on the sin of idolatry. Their sin was using the worship styles they learned from the world around them. Instead of remaining seated and hearing from the LORD, they rose up to play. They wanted everybody to get on their feet and get into the “worship”. Much to the surprise of many who employ this very same strategy in their worship services, God was not amused. He was infuriated. He did not say to Moses, the people are worshiping me in their own way, or style. He said in essence, they have corrupted themselves and I want to annihilate them. They violated God’s parameters for worship by adopting the use of objects and worshiping the objects rather than the Creator. God did not accept their worship, but said they had turned aside from His commandments and had replaced His preferences of worship with their own. I submit that this still goes on in many churches today. Though they may not have a literal golden calf, they worship objects and methods of worship over the very One who deserves their reverent worship. And I also submit that rather than accepting their style of worship, He is revolted and infuriated and if it were not for the grace of God through Christ, He would wipe them out as well. This is a sad thing. God said these people were stiff necked or stubbornly rebellious and disobedient. The churches of our day for the most part are no better than the Israelites in Exodus 32. God wanted to consume them in His righteous wrath. What gall we have today to think the same Holy God in Exodus 32 is not the same God so many have been stiff necked against today? May God forgive and help us.
The LORD in His sovereignty even addressed the issue of worship music in the above passage. Joshua heard the deviant worship and told Moses, “I hear the noise of war in the camp”. It is worth noting that the music of Egypt which they were using was nothing compared to the hard rock beats used in churches today, and yet Joshua recognized it was not music of praise or reverent worship, but that reminiscent of noise on the battlefield. Their song service sounded like a war zone. I dare say Joshua would drop dead if he heard what was passing for worship singing today. What Joshua heard was not sanctified, reverent music uplifting the Holy name of God, but was carnal music that sounded like the music of the lost world and that which incurred the anger and wrath of a holy God.
“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.” – Leviticus 10:1-2
Nadab and Abihu were the sons of Aaron the High Priest. They chose to use a different recipe of incense and burned it in their priestly incense pots. God had given clear instruction of how they were to worship and yet they deviated from His parameters. God did not applaud them for their expressionism of their preferred style; He killed them with His holy fire and later made a public example of them by having their defiled censors melted down and made into a monument of sorts for all Israel to see. Their names and their sin is rehearsed many times in the Old Testament as an example of rebellious, disobedient worship that God not only rejected, but punished with lethal effect.
Facts To Consider
It is possible for sincere worship to be rejected by God and incur His wrath.
Music that sounds like the world’s music does not please God.
Worship that focuses on anything other than God’s holiness is wrong and unaccepted by Him.
PART II COMING ASAP