A biblical theology of worship should be founded on what is revealed by Scripture. As the biblical doctrine of salvation is derived on the Bible’s overall teaching concerning salvation, our theology of worship is supported by the Bible’s systematic teachings on worship and the adoration of God. Not everything many people in the church today call “worship” is found in biblical teaching; a lesson evident in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel and later with the sons of Aaron in Leviticus 10. Why did God not accept their worship? Because of their deficient theology of worship, they brought an unacceptable sacrifice to the Lord. They then demanded and assumed that God would be pleased. The problem lies not in the gift offered, but the motivation of the heart in offering the gift. Individually and as a church body, our hearts must be justly motivated.
A church that does not truly understand biblical worship is at risk of failing to give all the glory to God; thus, failing to offer worship that satisfies His will.
Worship is an exceedingly misunderstood doctrine within the church and will continue to be if not grounded in biblical truth. Worship does not begin and end with the musical portion of our church services, but permeates the entire service. Worship is the purpose of the whole service.
Worship is determined and was created by God alone, not by human emotion or musical expression which is seen clearly throughout scripture. One example we see is in Hebrews 12:28 which proclaims that we must “offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe…” The literal Greek word used is latreuōmen, which translates to “we might serve with offerings” and appears 21 times in the New Testament in the context of service and worship. There are tons of different words and meanings for worship in Greek and Hebrew. Some of the words translate literally to “I go down on my knees to worship”, “to prostrate”, “to serve”, “I worship in awe of” and even “properly, personally esteem”. Others words would describe vain and hypocritical worship of God which should reveal to us that at times what we believe to be an appropriate form of worship, may actually be in vain if not in accordance to His instructions given to us in His word. The common theme we see when studying the original Greek is that true biblical worship must be reverent. We must understand who we are worshiping. God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, perfect and just; He is transcendent. God is merciful, gracious, loving, protective, and jealous; He is immanent. He is God, we are His creation. We were created to glorify Him. There is no place for pride in adoration of God (Luke 18:9–14, Hebrews 12:28, 1 Corinthians 14:25, Romans 1:25, Acts 16:14, Matthew 15:9, 2 Samuel 22:4, Exodus 15:11, etc.)
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) We must be intentional and selective with the songs that we sing; this is worshiping in truth. The lyrics we sing directly reflects the truth of who we are worshiping and should be completely focused on glorifying God. This kind of worship edifies the church body (1 Corinthians 14:26, Colossians 3:16). Unless we have accurate knowledge of the God we worship, there is no worshiping in truth. Those who wish to worship biblically must worship God as He is revealed to us in Scripture. As Christians, we must exhibit the love of God through mercifully encouraging the doubting and exhorting the disobedient to relinquish destructive and unbiblical views of worship (Jude 1:21-22). A biblical theology of worship recognizes that worship involves more than externals. God examines the heart; this is worshiping in spirit. “These people come… honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13). Worship is not about religious ritual or artistry; although ritual and art can be valid expressions of worship. Worship cannot be about expressing ourselves. Worship cannot be about music, although music is often utilized by many worshipers. True worship is fixed on God. We reverence and honor and adore Him, not simply because of what He has done for us but because He alone is God.
The heart of worship for the Christian should be authentic preaching of God’s word.
Paul knew the importance of relevance in the church when he wrote, “…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (I Cor. 9:2) We don’t want to be responsible for causing others to stumble by blindly insisting on man’s traditions as in Mark 7:7-9, “They worship me in vain…You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Therefore, our worship should reflect old and new styles, while glorifying neither (Isaiah 29:13). Psalm 33:3, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy,” reminds us that our worship is to be fresh. We cannot fall into unjustifiable habit, letting our worship become sterile. Therefore, it is important to introduce both new music and sing songs that have been sung for centuries.
A strong biblical theology of worship will result in worship that produces fruit. It is the difference between a believer who glorifies God and lives for Him in all things versus someone who does not worship God as a lifestyle and shows no evidence of faith and fruit in their lives. A biblical theology of worship produces an even greater desire to love and obey the Lord. Worship and service go hand in hand; worship of God should propel us into greater obedience and commitment. Jesus said those who love Him will keep His commandments (John 14:15). If we say we love and worship God, but do not care to obey Him, our worship is vanity. A biblical theology of worship leads to the conviction that worship is a lifestyle and not merely specified, momentary occurrences over time (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our lives are to be dedicated to the worship and service of God. They are to be much more than a temporary, experience-oriented pragmatism after which we revert to our “normal” life the rest of the week. True worship is constant inner praise to the God of Scripture, genuinely expressed in prayer, in song, in service, in growing, giving, going, and glorifying God. Soli Deo Gloria.