Worship in the Church Today
Worship in the Church Today
“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all sings unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (Eph. 5:18-20)
Many deep changes took place in the last 40 years in Protestant churches (including Pentecostal ones) as far as Church services and particularly worship are concerned. Most of those changes were the result of a conscious effort to get rid of ritualism and liturgy and instead to depend on the Holy Spirit alone to manifest God’s presence in Protestant services and to inspire the believers to worship the Lord. But the overall results were far from satisfactory as it will be detailed throughout this article.
1. The Charismatic movement.
Since the emergence of the Charismatic movement among protestant groups in the United States in the 60s, the understanding of the purpose of a church service (to exalt the Lord), the style of service (which used to be with reverence and thankfulness) and in particular the worship style (which used to be concentrated in pleasing the Lord) in Protestant (Traditional and Pentecostal) churches has been changing at a fast speed. The origins of those changes can be in part traced back to conversions that took place during the “Jesus Movement”.
In the 60s, many young people who lived a hippie lifestyle came to the faith. However, instead of having their whole life changed by the Spirit, they largely kept certain parts of their old behavior, and their highly informal communication and dressing habits, which had an effect on the form they adopted to worship the Lord.
They also brought worldly styles of music they were used to, and above all the “show-like” style of performing. They – and not the Holy Spirit – were responsible for the extreme informality conducive to lack of reverence in dressing and behavior in the services and particularly in the style of worshiping adopted in the last decades by the majority of Charismatic churches. This style of worship has already reached Pentecostal and even Evangelical churches, which use them in an attempt to attract young people. They should have been helped by pastors with discernment, but in many cases this did not happen.
2. Individualistic approach to worship.
There was, among them, an individualistic approach to service and, in particular, to worship. There was an emphasis to freedom in the way people desired to worship, which meant, in practice, liberty to the flesh. They would mistake freedom for the Spirit to perform what He wanted with liberty for them to express their feelings in the way they found suitable. They tended to think, for example, that any sudden desire to clap hands, jump, dance or fall to the ground “to adore the Lord” was necessarily a result of an impulse from the Holy Spirit.
Thereafter, jumping, dancing and clapping hands started to be used as means of moving the “worshippers” into a blessed mood. Instead of being visited by the Spirit and, as a consequence, to manifest these ways of worshipping, they started to practice those physical movements to induce the Holy Spirit to visit them – the opposite of the original intention.
They also understood that criticizing their way of worshiping would amount to criticism of the Holy Spirit. This understanding contributed to prevent any kind of judgment about any novel way of worshipping. One interpretation of an isolated verse of the Old Testament was enough to justify a new practice, a new way of worshipping.
Things evolved and even if there was no biblical way to justify the new practice, they would still adopt it. In the end, they started to change the 1950 years of theology of the Church in order to justify their new ways: the general attitude was that one should not look for a biblical basis for new practices, because the Bible gives us just “general guidelines”.
So experience started to be favored at the expense of the clear teachings of the Word of God. As a result, a pattern of tolerance concerning new worship practices and behavior in church services started to be established in the Charismatic churches.
3. Lack of reverence and order.
Later, all sorts of attitudes to express reverence and order in church services started to be considered ritualistic and empty. Instead, there should be complete freedom for each believer to behave as he/she “felt led by the Holy Spirit”, as if they were all Spirit-filled and were able to hear from the Lord and discern His voice; as if they were mature enough to check what kind of behavior was acceptable and pleasant to the Lord.
As a consequence, a climate of informal behavior, an excessive familiarity with the Lord and His Holy Spirit started to replace the necessary reverence, the fear and trembling before the Lord, which are clear teachings from the Old and the New Testaments.
In some Churches, the desirable fear and reverence before the Lord tend to be replaced by a complete casualty even in referring to the Lord and in worshiping Him. In many Charismatic circles the fear was replaced by a lack of reverence and a shocking intimacy with the Lord. Jesus started to be treated by the worshipers as their equal, as a pal. Others started to address the Holy Spirit with an excessive familiarity.
4. Unprepared and insecure pastors.
At that time there were no pastors duly prepared to shepherd the flocks with the weapons of the Holy Spirit, with discernment and wisdom. Those pastors had been trained in seminaries where there were no teachings on how to manage the spiritual gifts in a local church with order nor on how to distinguish a manifestation of the Spirit from an expression of human emotions (human thoughts and feelings).
Most of those pastors did not even have a Pentecostal background; they had come from traditional, historical Protestant churches. Their professors at the seminaries did not belong to churches where there were regular manifestations of spiritual gifts. Besides, they were not even used in spiritual gifts, which made them fully unable to teach about this subject with authority. Those Professors had no knowledge about how to judge prophecies or how to test if they came from the Holy Spirit or from man.
Those pastors were also afraid of displeasing their congregations. This was in part the result of the democratic way of choosing pastors: by democratic election and not by a choice of the Holy Spirit. These pastors had to satisfy their congregations – even at the expense of the Lord’s will – in order to keep their jobs.
On the other hand, they did not duly lead their churches because of a wrong conception about the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit: the anointing given to a pastor was considered to be the same anointing the Lord gave to other Christians to perform other functions in the church. They could not understand that they had received authority to rule over the Church and more discernment and wisdom than regular members of the congregation as part of the anointing. Pastors became, therefore, insecure about functioning as shepherds of the flock.
5. Lack of discernment.
At that time, a great concern prevailed in those churches: not to get in the way of what the Holy Spirit was doing. As pastors did not have discernment about what was promoting the edification of the churches, and could not distinguish between a genuine work of the Spirit and human emotional reactions to the work of the Spirit: everything became admissible. No limits or principles to establish order and decency (I Cor. 14.40) in church service or worship were taught. In practice, those who were being converted became “sheep without shepherds”.
In the 80s a pastor from Indiana sent a group of elders to another city to examine a certain spiritual movement and to bring a report about the spiritual manifestations that took place. The report was the following: “there are manifestations that are from the Spirit and others that are not.” But they did not dare say which ones were from the Spirit and which ones were not. The reason was that they had no discernment and were, therefore, afraid to make a mistake and so to displease the Lord.
6. Dressing habits.
As the Lord started to save many young people from the hippie movement, pastors were so happy to have them saved that they became afraid of somehow displeasing them by teaching them how to dress and behave properly in a Church service. For this reason, and for lack of discernment, they opted for not instructing those new converts by teaching them about the transformation of the whole lives of those who accept Jesus as the Lord and Savior, about Jesus’ desire to reveal himself to the world through us or about the need for us to live for the Lord’s glory.
Hippies converted in California beaches – and not in the Holy Spirit – were responsible for the use of Bermuda shorts, t-shirts and beach sandals to Church, the practice of drinking refreshments and eating fries or popcorns during the services (during worship time or preaching) which spread among many Charismatic churches. They went from one extreme to the other: instead of traditional dress codes, they opted for informality without reasonable limits and without discernment. Of course they were never reminded that all things are permissible, but not everything is convenient because many things do not promote edification of the Church.
7. Freedom. Show-like worship.
In the area of worship there was not only complete freedom for any believer to adore the Lord as he or she pleased, but also there was freedom to change the service into a kind of show-like meeting. The traditional choir gave way to a group of praise that unnecessarily was placed in front of the congregation in a stand, singing and acting as popular music stars on the stage, as if they were presenting themselves before the congregation. Later in some congregations groups that danced and stirred flags during the service were placed at the stage. As their activity has the purpose of praising the Lord, it became difficult to justify the fact that they sing, dance and play instruments facing the congregation.
The churches started to react to them exactly as an audience reacts after shows of popular music artists: they applauded them. Even more: they started to thank them for performing, as if they were on stage to entertain the congregations and therefore expected an acknowledgement from the audience. They forgot that, at least in theory, they were singing together with the congregation in order to worship the Lord and to please Him, expecting for recognition from the Lord Himself.
8. Influencing other countries.
American Charismatic missionaries and evangelists from the United States that went to work abroad started to spread this kind of “emotional praise” and “praise on the stage” in other countries. The new churches they started adopted this kind of worship as if it were the one that “gave freedom to the Spirit” and as if it had been revealed by the Lord to the Church of today.
This influence went even beyond the new churches started by these missionaries and evangelists, to reach Pentecostal churches that were formed in the nineties and even traditional Pentecostal congregations in different parts of the world, including in Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
1. Worship along History.
True worshipers in Church services did not appear in Church History with the Charismatic movement. If one states that, one would be denying that there has always been a faithful Church throughout history, which has always been able to please the Lord. One would also be denying that the Lord has always been victorious, always counting on a faithful Church.
One cannot discard the way the Lord was worshipped by the faithful Church at least in the Pentecostal movement in their best moments, even before the Charismatic movement started. An obvious evidence of this reality is the hymns with profound lyrics that edify the church and exalt the Lord in a way that hymns that appeared in the last 30 years very rarely achieve.
Of course there has always been a spiritually empty church which lacked grace and which replaced the operation of the Holy Spirit by empty liturgy. Yet there has always been a faithful church that worshiped the Lord in the way that pleased Him especially in times of revivals of the faith and particularly since the Lord started to pour out His Spirit on all flesh in the second half of the XIX century (the Pentecostal movement).
The manner of worshipping that will now be considered is not only biblical but is nowadays being lived by Churches that have learned to adore the Lord in Spirit and in truth. The Lord manifests His satisfaction with the praise of these Churches and edifies them in return.
2. Purpose: to adore the Lord.
The main goal for the existence of Church and of each member in particular is to adore the Lord by proclaiming his virtues and graces and by manifesting their thankfulness for His mercies and gifts. This is also the objective of each service in a true Christian Church.
As the Church meets in a service, their purpose is not to have a blessed time, to seek spiritual pleasure such as the joy of the Lord, or even to receive specific blessings but instead their objective is to adore the Lord for His majesty and Lordship, and to manifest thankfulness for His blessings.
3. Inspiration: to please the Lord.
The Church does not worship to please themselves (to please the flesh), or because it is pleasant to them to be visited by the Holy Spirit. The Church worships to please the Lord, who is the center of the service. The main concern of the Church in a service is, therefore, to please Him.
Nowhere does the Bible say that believers should worship Him as they please. All biblical teachings tell us to worship Him as He pleases. “God seeks worshipers that will worship in Spirit and in truth”. True worship must be led by the Holy Spirit, which exalts only God the Father and the Lord Jesus.
Despite these teachings, in some Christian movements today there is an understanding that the worship time must be pleasing to the Church, they should have a good time, a pleasant time, feel well. That’s why there is an incentive in many Churches for the believers to do “as they please” during the worship time.
However, the sense of God’s presence, the joy and love filling their hearts is supposed to be just a by-product of true worship, and not the end in itself. We should rejoice because the Lord is being exalted and because His grace is being announced, not because we like to feel good.
4. Attitude: reverence and fear of the Lord.
The Bible tells us that we are supposed to have an attitude of reverence as we enter the Lord’s presence. Let’s just remember Moses’ experience when God told him to take off his sandals because he was on holy land. In the book of Hebrews we learn that by the blood of Jesus we have boldness to enter His presence. But the same book teaches us that we must have fear in his presence, because God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).
An attitude of reverence before the Lord that reflected the fear of the Lord (the beginning of wisdom, Pv. 1:7), which is compatible with love and confidence in His mercy, is therefore required by the Word of God from all believers. God did not change according to modern times (Mal. 3:6).
Reverence is to be manifest in a compatible attitude, in behavior and even in the way one dresses. Reverence will require a special attitude as we approach the throne of the living God (Ex. 3:5). Even though in a sense we live in God’s presence and Jesus lives in us through the Holy Spirit, as we arrive at a service to adore the Lord together with the Church, this is a special event for the believers and for the Lord. We have an appointment with the Lord. He manifests himself in a special way in each and every service (Mat. 18:20). The outward appearance should reflect the reality of the inner reverence.
Our Heavenly Father may accept the worship of new believers which were not yet duly taught about fear and reverence. But in order to offer a praise which the Lord is really worthy of, the believer must learn to adore with these feelings in his heart.
5. Moved by thankfulness and love.
The Church is also supposed to worship with love and out of thankfulness (I Ts. 5:18). If these elements are not present, the believer cannot worship the Lord.
In some circles people believe that Christians should manifest in a service to the Lord the same kind of emotions that people manifest in rock concerts or football matches when they applaud their idols or their accomplishments. This is not correct because those manifestations are adequate to express unholy emotions; they are required by feelings of the flesh.
Feelings brought about by the Holy Spirit must be expressed by the heart: the Lord does not look at the outward appearance of a person, but at his heart (I Sam. 16:7). Therefore, those holy feelings should be expressed with prayers, psalms and spiritual hymns with all our hearts and all our souls (Eph. 5:19-20). In the New Testament these are the only requirements for the believer.
6. Results: visitation of the Holy Spirit and joy of the Lord.
As we arrive at the Lord’s presence, we may not be in the right mood to worship as a result of preoccupations with daily life, etc. That’s why we should start every service with a moment of contrition, confessing our sins to the Lord, asking for forgiveness, and asking the Holy Spirit to create in us the right mood to worship, placing true thankfulness in our hearts. In answer to prayers of the Church, the Holy Spirit visits the believers granting them spiritual conditions to worship the Lord, by placing reverence, fear, love and thankfulness in the hearts of the believers.
Then, the Church is able to start to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, because the Lord inhabits the praises of Israel (Sal. 22:3). As the Church continues to worship, the joy of the Lord manifests more and more in their midst and there is even more willingness to worship Him.
7. God looks at the heart.
In the New Testament there are no specific teachings about the position of the body when the Church worships the Lord. As Jesus speaks about adoration, He mentions that it should be “in Spirit and in truth” (Jo. 4:23-24). Paul says that everything in our services should be done “with decency and order” (I Cor. 14:40).
However, in this area some biblical principles should be applied. One principle that may be forgotten in Christian churches is the fact that the Lord is more concerned about the condition of our hearts than about the external movements of our body as we worship Him. Of course one could say that if the Bible says that the believers should come before the Lord with reverence and fear, the position of their bodies should be in harmony with those feelings.
In the Old Testament, the Lord says to Samuel that He does not look at us as man does. Man looks at the outward appearance while the Lord looks at the heart.
One may transfer the lesson to the area of worship and say: when believers worship Him, He expects to be worshiped with love and thankfulness, reverence and fear, with all their hearts, their souls and their understanding.
If one does not have the leading of the Spirit, one may make the mistake of considering the experiences Israel had in the Old Testament times and establish a worship code for the Church. This would, however, be a misuse of the Old Testament.
8. Only transformed lives are worthy of worshiping Him.
An excessively informal way of dressing in the services and an undue intimacy in referring to the Lord reflects a lack of knowledge about how we should present ourselves before the Lord. It also reveals that the transformation process the Holy Spirit is operating in someone’s life is at an early stage or even that it has been interrupted.
The Church must be taught that as one converts to the Lord one should abandon the old ways of dressing, speaking and behaving taught by the world and that are sometimes even immoral. The pastors must learn to have the courage to teach the new believers about this subject. As one learns the Church history, one learns that the faithful Church has always been concerned about that.
9. The Spiritual Preparation.
The Church has ascribed small importance to the spiritual preparation of the instrumentalists and singers in Church, ascribing more importance to the technical ability. The esthetical beauty which is able to stir emotions started to be considered as sufficient to inspire holy emotions in the congregation during the worship time.
The Lord has revealed to His Church that, in order for instrumentalists and singers of a choir or a group of praise to worship Him, it is necessary that they live in sanctification, giving a good testimony to the Church and to the world. They should also prepare themselves with prayer and fast to be used in worship. The importance of the worship requires such spiritual preparation for them to be used as instrumentalists or singers.
This way, when a worship group – singers and instrumentalists – is used by the Lord, the Holy Spirit visits the congregation, working deliverance and even healings, the same as when David played his harp (I Sam. 16:23). The Church has been learning that the spiritual condition comes first; the ability to play with technique and art comes in the second place (Sal. 33:3).
Worshiping beyond Biblical limits
1. Bible, only Rule of Faith and Practice.
The Bible is to be the only source of doctrine and practice. Biblical teachings prevent us from leaving secure limits established by the Lord for the development of our spiritual lives. However, the tendency of many sectors of the Charismatic movement has been to minimize the importance of the biblical boundaries for lack of knowledge of the safety the Bible provides to each and every believer. Moreover, they tended to base some of their faith and their practice on experience and not only in the Bible
2. Possible Mistakes.
In the area of worshiping, these attitudes towards the Bible have allowed other mistakes to be made:
a) Ignoring the importance of the worship of the faithful Church throughout history. For lack of knowledge of Church history, some believers tend to think that true worship appeared in Church as a result of the Charismatic movement; and
b) Basing the doctrine of worship on “experiences” of people they consider to be (or are indeed) very spiritual.
3. The danger of the strange fire.
The show-like worship (on a stage) together with the performance of songs with a view to stimulate emotions and “spiritual” feelings started to replace the true fire of the Holy Spirit. It is a kind of praise that excites feelings regardless if the Holy Spirit is working or not; it is a form of worship that stirs emotions no matter if it is sung in a true Christian church or in a temple of another religion. It does not matter either if the performers are living in sanctification or in sin.
Yet the Lord is not pleased with emotions through those means. The Lord calls those “strange fire” (Lev. 10:1-3). The Holy Spirit alone is supposed to touch the emotions of the faithful; the Holy Spirit is enough to stimulate feelings of praise and adoration in the hearts of the believers, generating thankfulness and a proper desire to exalt the name of the Lord Jesus.
As a consequence of these mistakes, the Church was unable to offer true worship. Consequently, the Church started to suffer from a few problems. First of all, the lack of spiritual worship within Biblical limits started to take many believers into mysticism. By mysticism we mean allowing experiences in the spiritual realm that are not sanctioned by the Scriptures.
Welcoming those mystical experiences without any Biblical warranty about its holy origin had the undesirable result of allowing deceiving spirits to manifest in their midst. The only assurance against mysticism and this evil consequence is to keep oneself within Biblical limits.
Finally, mystical experiences may even, at a first stage, please innocent worshipers that may even feel well about them. But in the long run they will result in oppression to the believer no matter how “sincere” he or she may be.
The Content of the Worship Time
1. Hymns of praise sung by the congregation.
The Church must be alert to sing hymns with a deep message, with a more spiritual content that will edify the believer and also stimulate him to worship; in other words, a hymn through which the Holy Spirit may work this way in the believer’s heart.
The church does not need to repeat many times a hymn as if it would please the Lord more or, in the worst option, as to allow the Holy Spirit to work more in the worshiper’s life so that he/she would feel more joy or other good feelings. This is dangerous because modern religious techniques of mystic religions use this kind of repetition in numberless times because they know how the repetition of a same tune or rhythm tends to create an atmosphere that makes people feel emotions that makes someone believe that supernatural powers are at work.
The Church does not need these techniques to create emotions. As it sings a hymn inspired by the Holy Spirit once (based in the Biblical teachings) in a simple manner, without sophistication, even played by a band with little technical qualifications, the Holy Spirit works and edifies the believers strengthening their faith in the Lord’s presence, making them worship Him with all their hearts and with all their understanding, provided that the Church lives in sanctification and, in particular, the instrumentalists and the singers group have a good testimony, pray and fast for their activity in Church.
2. Accompaniment by instrumentalists in the Spirit.
The Lord showed that, instead, the instrumentalists and the singers should be concerned only about worshiping Him. Therefore, the spiritual condition of the members of a praise group should be the foremost concern. The technical ability should come in second place. The reason is simple: the Lord wants the Holy Spirit to move in the midst of the congregation as a result of the praise from instrumentalists and singers.
3. Prayers of praise by the congregation.
During the worship time, the Lord is pleased in receiving praise through prayers from all sorts of believers in the congregation: children, young people, adults and elder people. The Lord is satisfied not only with prayers from the praise group and the pastor, but also from the believers in general.
4. An attitude compatible with the operation of the Spirit.
As the Church gathers to worship the Lord in a regular service, usually they are not yet spiritually prepared to offer a worship in the Spirit. There must be an initial period of contrition when an opportunity is given for them to confess their sins, seek deliverance from preoccupations with problems they are facing so that they may concentrate in praising the Lord.
For this reason, at the initial period of the service usually the Holy Spirit does not yet manifest God’s presence powerfully in the Church as a whole. Therefore, adoration should be a moderate one, with hymns that invite people to “enter into God’s presence”. So the Church should not be stirred up to worship, at this point of the service, with a great enthusiasm as if the Holy Spirit were already moving powerfully in their midst. This would amount to bringing “strange fire” into the Lord’s presence.
But as soon as the Spirit starts to touch and free the congregation, He will move them to worship in a freer and warmer way that will reflect this visitation. Even then they should be careful to control their behaviour so as not to call attention to themselves, because during the service the Church should concentrate its attention just in the Lord Jesus, preventing a bizarre behaviour that may lead visitors to think that the believers are out of their minds or have lost common sense.
5. The way of worshipping must be compatible with a public service.
If I am at home worshiping the Lord by myself I have freedom to adore Him in a freer way. I may prostate myself with my face on the ground; I may dance out of joy. But if in a public service, I should care about (1) order in the service (I Cor. 14:40), (2) not disturbing others and (3) not scandalizing visitors, who may think the believers are out of their minds (I Cor. 14:23, 29-33).
6. Human emotions do not touch the Lord’s heart.
Let’s consider the example of the Ark in the midst of Israel in the times of Eli and Samuel, when it was taken by the Philistines (I Sam. 4:3-11). The Lord was not moved, did not manifest His graceful presence in the midst of Israel when the Israelites who brought the Ark rejoiced and cried out because they were convinced that God was in their midst. They had “faith” and enthusiasm but the Lord was not among them because they were not living in sanctification, pleasing the Lord.
The Lord accepts the praises of His people just when instrumentalists and singers on the one side and congregation on the other are living in the Spirit, in sanctification and in obedience to the Lord and come to a service with thankfulness in their hearts in order to praise the Lord.
For the believers to start singing praises to the Lord and offer prayers of worship and thanksgiving there must also be reverence, fear of the Lord and love for the Lord in their hearts. They must be in fellowship with one another and must live to serve the Lord.
Finally, as the service starts, the believers should seek a deeper communion with the Lord through the power of the blood of Jesus, which cleanses them from every sin. Only then will the Lord accept their worship and in turn will visit and edify His people.