The Heart of Worship (3): Attitude
In the first part of our discussion on Worship we were concerned to make the distinction between what would generally be called the body of worship and the heart of worship. We used another illustration of hardware and software to press that distinction. We have thus far identified two key issues which make for the heart of worship. The first is authority, and here we saw from the evidence of scripture that God insists on being approached and worshiped when he authorizes it, in the manner he authorizes it and with the elements or things he authorizes. We saw that failure in here has fatal consequences that go beyond the rejection of the worship but also judgment, even death of the worshipers (Leviticus 10:1-4). In the second place we examined the all important question of content. Worship has to have logical, reasonable and coherent content; it cannot be empty rhetoric or inordinate repetition of some line or chorus in worship music. We saw from passages such as Ephesians 5:19, and Colossians 3:16, that in Christian worship, especially public worship, it is expected that in our music and melody we actually speak to one another. This element of mutual edification and therefore the need for sobriety, order and deliberateness, cannot be gain-said in the matter of the public expression of worship.
In this third installment in our series, we wish to examine that aspect which makes for the heart of worship – the matter of proper attitudes.
Are we on the same page?
When I was taking my theology course at the Pastor’s Theological College in Nairobi, my lecturer advised us that when we engage on any issue, it is essential for the purpose of clarity that we define what we mean by the terms we employ. This is to ensure all involved are having the same conversation and not talking at cross-purposes. In this context the big word is attitude. I am suggesting that at the heart of worship sits a proper and acceptable attitude. A clear understanding of what we mean by attitude therefore becomes essential.
I am anxious to press this point because the word attitude in today’s parlance brings with it new and contemporary nuances. In Pentecostal and charismatic worship services (which I was in for more than 17 years), it is not uncommon to hear ‘worship leaders’ exhort congregations to dance with a certain ‘attitude’ before the Lord. They are urged to show that they are enjoying what they are doing, that they don’t care about the opinion of the person standing or sitting next to them. ‘Sing with an attitude like a child of the king, let no one hinder your freedom in the Lord,’ is not an uncommon exhortation in these circles. This is not what I mean by attitude.
So what do I mean by the word ‘attitude’?
The Cambridge English dictionary defines attitude as ‘a feeling or opinion about something or someone, or a behavior that is caused by this.’
The Oxford dictionary has more on what attitude means: ‘settled way of thinking or feeling about something.’ This online dictionary goes further to give the word attitude the following synonyms: ‘point of view, view, viewpoint, vantage point, frame of mind, way of thinking, way of looking at things, school of thought, outlook, angle, slant, perspective, reaction, stance, standpoint, position, inclination, orientation, approach.’
From the above definitions, you immediately see that attitude is not what, in today’s popular culture and, slang may be called ‘swag’, a rebellious or proud sort of disposition. It is rather my settled view of something or someone which then causes me to behave in a certain way towards that someone or that something. In the context of our discussion, that ‘something’ or someone is the Almighty God. It is about Him we have certain settled views, opinions and feelings and these views and feelings then inevitably cause us to behave in a certain way before Him, in His worship.
Thus in discussing the place of proper attitude in worship, I propose to divide that discussion in two broad aspects. Firstly: our views, opinions and way of thinking about God. Secondly: how those views, opinions and way of thinking about God informs our behavior and comportment in worship.
The God of Our Worship
One is saddened by the predominant attitude within much of evangelicalism, which appears to have a very low, even casual view of God. This low view of God finds expression in worship services and particularly music. Indecent dressing, language that borders on profanity or blasphemy, calling God ‘the man upstairs,’ or ‘sir God,‘ is considered ‘cool’ or simply being ‘real’. This is how men like Mark Driscoll, formerly of Mars Hill Church, would get away with lewd remarks in church and attract more following while at it. Many feel they have the liberty to innovate styles and fashions in worship. With this liberty, the world has been brought into the church, and the worship of God turned into something not much different to a disco scene and reveling spot. The more sedate and ‘spiritual,’ who would not be that drastic in their expression, nevertheless have turned the worship service into a therapeutic experience in which they ‘let go and let God.’ They pour out all their hurt and feelings. It is all very self-centered.
I wonder, would Paul, Peter, John and the rest recognize worship in say the Hillsong set up? In the shout, dance, comedy, indecency, ecstasy and gyration, could you picture James there in the middle of such a service?
In a nutshell, when one surveys modern worship and makes casual comparison between that and the expression we see in both Testaments, one sees the difference between day and night, light and darkness. Naturally the question comes to mind: What has changed? Something drastic must have changed, shifted or been moved to explain such a difference. Has the change been in musical instruments? I do not think so. Evidence is indisputable that musical instruments have always been in abundance, even in Biblical days. It could be a legitimate argument to set forth, that perhaps the prevailing culture in the Biblical period had more musical instruments (numerically speaking) compared to modern times. Could the change have been that new instructions are revealed in the New Testament to give warrant for this massive shift of expressions in public worship? Again we must answer this in the negative. A casual perusal of the New Testament would quickly dismiss this suggestion. The tenor and texture of worship in the New Testament, as we suggested in our discussion in the first two parts, moves away from physicality to spirituality. From the Old through to the New Testament you see worship that is very restrained and reverent, quite unlike what is common among the Pentecostal and charismatic scenes. So what has really changed?
I submit that our view, opinion and way of thinking about God has changed. God remains immutable, His standards never lowered, but we have changed our view of Him.
The Marcionite Dichotomy
A heretic by the name of Marcion emerged towards the middle of the second century who championed an error which became known as Marcionism. He basically imagined a dichotomy between the God of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. In Marcion’s view, the God of the Old Testament was an angry capricious despot compared to the One we see in the New Testament. . This false mindset represents a rebellion against those attributes of God which do not settle well with our fallen human nature. One professor disparaged the God of the Old Testament as an old grandfather desperately in need of anger management classes. Professing Christians would of course vehemently object to this sort of characterization, but in practice they prove their unwitting agreement with it. Subtly, the misguided idea of grace and love in the New Testament has inferred a change of God, or at least a change in His modus operandi. In this view God no longer operates in the New Testament as He did in the Old. There has been a changing of His own standards, is the unspoken consensus. You have in the minds of many professing Christians a mellowed God, whose rough edges have been smoothed by the coming of Christ, and the ushering in of the era of grace. The God of the Old Testament is strict and has too many rules. In today’s language He would be called ‘uptight’, ‘nitpicky’, ‘grumpy’ and a ‘kill joy’ .We have been subliminally persuaded that He has changed in the New Testament. He is more accommodating, more liberal, loves fun and generally easy going. Men like T.D Jakes would call God, ‘my buddy, my Homey.’ Another would be heard using the American colloquial, ‘God and I are tight’.These are expressions which would be anathema in both the Old and New Testaments and in a good part of the subsequent history of the church.
The God of Our Worship Has Not Changed
This is why our views, opinions and the way we think of Him (which would influence our behavior in His worship) must never change. The God we have described in modern worship expressions is a plastic sort of God. He is synthetic, he is not the God of Scripture. He is a creature of our own conception. Because he is a creature of our own making, we devise how we worship him and He will have no choice but to accept that which we bring to Him; He really answers to us, and not us to him.
Paul Washer tells a story of a pastor who asked him to come to his church and speak on the attributes of God. Mr. Washer objected, much to the surprise of the inviting pastor. When he asked Washer why he would not come and speak on the attributes of God, Washer said (and I paraphrase), ‘If I preached faithfully in your church about the true attributes of the God of the Bible, no one in your church would remain; they would all go away saying “we do not want a God like that.”‘ The same can be said about popular worship today. It is aimed at the wrong God, or at the very least motivated by false or defective views of the God of Scripture.
So Who is the God of Our Worship?
It is impossible to answer this question in a million pages of writing beyond the statement, ‘He is the Almighty God.’ Think of the One who by a mere word of His mouth spoke the great and expansive galaxies in place (Genesis 1)! What terror must we attach to the One who effortlessly caused the earth to be buried in watery graves in the days of Noah (Genesis 6)? The eternal Lord who lives in unapproachable light is our great God (1 Timothy 6.16). The One who fills the heavens and says the earth is His mere foot stool is the One we purport to worship (Isaiah 66.1). He who kills and gives life is the God before whom we appear in worship (1 Samuel 2.6). The God who rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah is One to be greatly feared (Genesis 19). The God who gave us fearful snapshots of His terrible deeds in the night of blood and death across Egypt is the One we approach (Exodus 12). The God of our worship is the One who killed Nadab and Abihu at the altar (Leviticus 10). He is the One who rushed upon Uzzah and killed the man in the presence of the assembly (2 Samuel 6.1-7). Friends, that is the same God who struck Herod dead when he caused worms to eat him alive (Acts 12.23). He enacted that terrible episode again, earlier in the New Testament, to a man and his wife who dishonored His presence by telling lies (Acts 5.1-11). Has that God changed? Should we be afraid of the presence of such a God? He is the one in whose presence we are cautioned to be careful because ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ (Hebrews 12.29)
Now this, dear friends, is the Biblical view of the God we come to worship. These are the views which must shape how we really think, our responses, and our expressions in worship. You see then how the terrain has completely changed? How casualness looks and sounds incongruous, disorder, assumption and presumptions are rendered dangerous?
You see that as soon as you lose sight of this God, your worship and its expression degenerates instantaneously to something of a glib, blithe, flippant, and trite exercise.
So What Response Should Be Evoked in Us at Worship?
Humility and an awareness of our own unworthiness: This frame of mind is essential to worship. We do not bring gifts for which God is desperate. Our music must never be viewed as entertaining God though this has been the unspoken (sometimes even spoken) attitude. It views our worship as some kind of life-line for God. It is not uncommon to hear within charismatic worship services the outlandish claim that God created man to fill His own need to be worshiped and I have heard not a few times preachers and ‘worship leaders’ present, as a ground for worship, the idea that God was lonely being all by Himself in eternity with no one to worship Him and with whom to fellowship. What this blasphemous reasoning creates is a threefold cumulative attitude. Firstly, that there is a need in God; secondly that to fill or fulfill that need God needs man; and thirdly that worship being thus man’s response to God’s need therefore makes man very important (others would say necessary) to God.
We are in the era of ‘sought after worship leaders.’ I have time again read or heard world famous ‘worship leaders’ described in this grand terms. Ron Kenoly enjoyed this sort of description until he fell from the limelight (as they all must at some point). Don Moen continues to be described as such and attracts thousands in His ‘worship concerts.’ Don Moen (perhaps the greatest in this respect) was in Kenya a few days ago. People from all walks of life thronged that concert, both believers and unbelievers and our political class, notorious for lewd, immoral, and sometimes even illegal behavior, were there. We saw these people gathered in the concert hall with hands lifted up, eyes tightly shut and obviously carried away in Don Moen’s ecstatic music. I make this reference because even our TV stations, without regard to what authentic religion should be, still noted the hypocrisy. The joke in town was, ‘Don Moen should do that music in our House of Parliament’ but the point is that unbelievers, immoral people of all sorts, were quite pleased with Don Moen’s ‘worship experience’.
In truth it was not really a worship experience; it was a music concert by a world renowned superstar a ‘sought after worship leader’. Never mind the aesthetics and emotions of it. This was a coming to pay homage to a ‘Christian superstar’. It is symptomatic of a growing importance of the worshiper and most significantly the ‘worship leader.’ This symptom is not limited to those few at the top. Churches in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, among other major cities which follow western trends, now scramble for the gifted and sought after ‘worship leaders’, poaching from each other. The assumption is that these ladies and gentlemen are gifted worshipers; they have something valuable to bring to worship. Some would say ‘anointed to worship.’ No doubt this category of ‘Christians’ attract big bucks and have well mastered the art of spicing worship with techniques and soothing voices. All these have the effect of elevating men in worship, to create categories of worshipers which scripture knows nothing about. Pride is never too far from the music arena, it is just the nature of the situation. This is true not just in church music, but also in what is called secular music scene and the dominant pop culture.
We come to God as puny, sinful, unworthy little worms, who are before God accounted as nothing (Daniel 4:34-35), but who have been highly favored with an appearance before an Almighty God. This terrible reality grips Isaiah when he is given a glimpse of proceedings of worship in the very precincts of heaven itself in Isaiah 6:1-3. There the prophet is witness to holy, sinless angels engaged in heavenly worship. These perfect angels hide their faces as they worship God, an expression both of the pristine holiness of God and their own unworthiness in the engagement they undertake. If this be the attitude of holy, sinless angels, how much more we who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Should we be haughty and presumptive? Should we be so ‘confident’ in what we offer to God? Must it not be borne in our minds that the access we have before God is a mediated one (Ephesians 2:18)? Away from Christ we are personae non gratae before God, and our worship ‘an abomination to the Lord’ (Proverbs 15:8).This mindset enforces a humble deportment, and regulates what would be presumptive liberties.
Fear is a legitimate and necessary response in worship: One of the things we see as descriptive of Christians in scripture is the phrase, ‘those who fear God’, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The root of the majority of the aberrations, presumptions, innovations and liberties taken in worship can be blamed on the absence of the fear of the Lord.
As we have presented throughout this series, Biblical worship is a highly regulated activity. With that regulation comes sanctions, and with sanctions punitive penalties. When we see how fearful God is, and that He has not left worship to the whims of our styles and innovations, we are immediately gripped with a sense of fear. This is not a bad thing. Familiarity breeds contempt and this was perhaps the undoing of Cain. His attitude before the Lord was well captured in the irreverent question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ He did not show his fear of the Lord, and the curse which came upon him was to his own regret ‘too heavy for me to bear’ (Genesis 4). Nadab and Abihu paid with their own lives for presumptive irreverence before God (Leviticus 10:1-4).The people of Israel insisted on appearing before the Lord, and when their petulance was granted, it was an experience they regretted. God descended upon the mountain of meeting with such fearful signals that the people pleaded with Moses never to have that experience again. We read in the New Testament that when the church walked in the fear of the Lord, and Ananias and his wife Sapphira presumed before the Lord, leading to their death and burial on same day, that ‘fear came upon all men’ and none dared to join them (Acts 5:11). Returning to Isaiah’s experience, we read that when the prophet saw God’s fearful holiness for what it really was, his reaction was not trite celebration in music. That tremendous visage struck fear in his heart and we hear him cry, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…’ (Isaiah 6:5).
Joy is an inevitable motivation as well as a product of true worship: All that we have said this far might make one to think Christian worship, if properly practiced, will be a boring and dreary experience to be endured rather to be enjoyed. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing sweeter and more fulfilling than to engage in the worship of the Most High God. We read from David: ‘I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord’ (Psalm 122:1). We also read: ‘I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart, is will enter His courts with praise…’ (Psalm 100:4). ‘As a deer pants for the after brooks so does my soul pant for thee, Oh Lord’ (Psalm 42:1). ‘One thing have I desired and that will I look for, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever’ (Psalm 27:4). We read in this wonderful song and worship book in the Bible, ‘In the presence of the Lord is fullness of joy and in His right hand are pleasures forever more’ (Psalm 16:11).There is not the slightest doubt whatsoever that Christian worship is a joyful and satisfying experience. It is the sort of experience of joy and gratitude which cannot be hindered by the fetters of prison, as was the experience of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25).
But how can we square this obvious truth with the heavily regulated, even restrictive portrait we have this far painted of Biblical worship? The answer can be supplied by considering the following points;
i) Christian joy is not levity: Matthew 5:12 has our Lord exhort his people to rejoice and be exceeding glad when they go through trials and persecutions. No one thinks for a moment that this rejoicing is a stoic pretense in laughter and music while in pain. The Lord is saying despite external pressures the Christian may look to his eternal blessedness and have an inner joy. This is the kind of joy scripture refers to as ‘unspeakable and full of glory’ (I Peter 1:8). It is unspeakable in the sense that it is not natural, it defies human comprehension. Nehemiah tells us, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (8:10). This is a statement made in the midst of dire straits, of battles within and without. They say still waters run deep; that worship may not be highly gesticulating, frenzied and light-hearted does not at all take away from its joy. Indeed sometimes, noise and too much activity can take away from the joy of an activity. Sample David in the house of God, seated and speaking alone with God and almost in holy whispers (2 Samuel 7:18-29), and what you see is a portrait of a man who is so thankful, and so joyful he can do no better than sit and express his innermost feelings before the Lord. I invite the reader to take note of the content of David’s worship while he sits before the Lord. It is loaded, hearty and meaningful, not casual and trite. Sample the same worshiping King in Psalm 63:1-11. The man lays on his bed, tears rolling down his cheeks as he contemplates the goodness of God and expresses his inner longings. What a picture of real, unfeigned joyful worship!
At the resurrection, when the women discovered the absence of their Lord’s body, and angelic emissary explains the glad tidings of the risen Lord, we read the following excellent words: ‘So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples’ (Matthew 28:8, ESV). Notice how fear and great joy are felt together. This is true Christian joy; it is not an unruly, irreverent joy; it is, if you like, a responsible joy.
ii) A question of a new nature and new tastes: All we have presented with respect to what Christian joy looks like may still not settle well with people who are accustomed to other forms of worship expressions and the kick they derive from them. So I enter what I consider to be a very pivotal point in the whole matter of worship and the attendant attitudes and expressions. It is on this point all else turns in worship. Human beings are not just creatures of nurture but also of nature. It is a granted fact that we are by and large influenced by the dominant culture and attitudes of our day. We are in this respect children of our day. However a more central and far more influential fact to our worship is the nature we carry with us. I submit that unless we are made true worshipers by a radical change of nature, our appetites will pander to things other than those that make for true worship.
It was strange that the children of Israel, after they were taken out of Egypt, struggled with appetites and tastes. We read of them desiring the onions and garlic of slavery. When God provides heavenly food for them in the form of manna, we read of them complaining that it tasted like coriander seed. The people had no taste whatsoever for the things of God. Lot’s wife is a monument of leaving Sodom yet Sodom not leaving your heart. Let me state it a little more bluntly; you cannot expect an alcohol addict to enjoy a cup of tea as he would a bottle of vodka. The drunkard does not have any more joy than the tea drinker merely because he is rowdier and more expressive. Children of Zion will love the things, music and mannerisms of Zion, to them nothing holds an appeal in adopting the fleeting pleasures, musical styles of the world, and indeed such expressions grieve their hearts exceedingly. It is different with the friends of the world, the systems, styles, expressions and innovations attract them.
At the end of the day it is a question of nature, do we have a new nature, new appetites or do we retain the appetites of the world? Are we seeking fun or the worship of the Lord? Do we want to be like the other nations or do we want to ‘come out from among them and be separate’ (2 Corinthians 6:17). We have been warned ‘Do not love the world, or the things of the world’ (I John 2:15). We are urged to present our bodies a living sacrifice which is our reasonable act of worship, and while doing so, ‘do not be conformed to the standards of this world’ (Romans 12:1-2).
It is my considered view that what is ruling contemporary worship in Pentecostal and charismatic churches is really the spirit of the age. It relies upon fun and feeling, the object of worship is not God but the worshipers. We too often measure the success of worship by how it felt to us, its appeal to the congregation and how well the diverse gifts and departments of the worship team collaborated to present flawless choir.
In the age of the seeker friendly movement, the worship service is all designed for the people and not for God. In this respect the purpose of worship has been turned on its head. I submit that at the end of the day when all has been said and done, it is a more fundamental question that goes beyond the expression of worship, to the very eligibility of the supposed worshiper. Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, ‘a time is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the spirit and in truth…for such worshipers the father seeks’ (John 4:23-24). There may be worship everywhere really, but there are such people as true and false worshipers. We must examine whether we may be included in that blessed category of true worshipers because, in the words of our Lord Jesus, ‘for such worshipers the Father seeks.’
It seems to me that those who would be true worshipers must be those who have been first sought and found by the Lord. True worshipers are not developed in music schools or church apprenticeship programs, true worshipers are born of God, they are spiritually made. A friend recently told me these series are restricted in their scope of worship (of course he is right, but I restricted this treatment to expression of worship in song and physical expressions). The point which the friend was making is that worship is the whole and all of life, the attitudes, responses, relationships, and duties, the church and work place and all of that. That whole gamut can only be enabled to engage in true and acceptable worship if and when God changes the person by the miracle of the new birth. One must have a new nature with new appetites – the appetites and tastes of Zion.
May we be helped to look further and deeply into this matter and may the Lord seek out, and find more true worshipers, for the glory of His most wonderful name. Amen.
Elly Achok serves alongside other elders at Gospel Missions Agency church, Kenya. He is also the Principal of Wisdom Training Centre Schools of Theology and Ministry. Elly has a passion for biblical truth and the recovery of the authentic gospel in Kenya and Africa. He also hosts Reformed content at the following sites:
Youtube | Facebook