Finding Balance in Worship

Are our Sunday worship services more pagan than Christian? That was the claim of a recent article.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / grace1221
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / grace1221

Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the godly ones. Let Israel be glad[1] in his Maker; let the sons of Zion rejoice[2] in their King. Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation. Let the godly ones exult[3] in glory; let them sing for joy[4] on their beds. (Psalm 149:1-5)

I have been thinking about an article I read recently: Is Your Church Worship More Pagan Than Christian? by Todd Pruitt. He questions the popular Christian music and worship culture on the basis that it exalts music to a sacramental position and musicians to priestly status without biblical foundation for the emphasis. He claims it promotes feelings over doctrinal soundness and experience over preaching the Word of God. These are valid concerns.

I agree with Todd Pruitt on nearly every point, yet the article and the one that followed, (Is Your Worship Christian or Pagan? (7 Tests)), leave me scratching my head a bit. Let me explain.

I have recently been thinking about the balance we see in Scripture. The tension between free will and predestination is an example. Jesus said both to shine your light before men and not to practice your righteousness before men in the same Sermon on the Mount. There are many, many examples of tension or balance, if you will, throughout Scripture.

Paul speaks of being all things to all people, becoming a Jew to the Jews, becoming a Gentile to the Gentiles and becoming weak to the weak. (1 Cor. 9:19-22) He became all things to all people so that he might win some to the Gospel.

Paul did not sacrifice biblical integrity to do this, but he was flexible. He was true to God, true to Christ, and true to the Gospel, but he knew what was of key importance and what wasn’t.

We live in a culture that is permeated with music. That makes music a compelling avenue for reaching people. Music is also a primary means by which we express our love for God. David, the man after God’s own heart, is famous for the music he played, both to worship and exalt God, and to soothe Saul when Saul’s heart plunged into a dark place.

If we would follow David’s example in worship, we would “be glad” in our Maker and rejoice with singing, playing music and praise.  We would well up with a sense of triumph, celebration, and rejoicing in the glory of God. We would be outwardly joyous and exuberant. We might even dance in the congregation in celebration and worship of God.

We are told that God takes pleasure in us and will beautify us as we take pleasure in Him. He exalts us as we exalt Him.

“Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy….”

There is nothing wrong with this. God takes pleasure in our rejoicing when we are rejoicing in Him. The Psalms are filled with outwardly expressive and jubilant examples of praise and worship with an emphasis on music.

I do not think that we come anywhere near the kind of joyous jubilation that the Psalms encourage in the vast majority of our churches, especially in the United States. We are far too staid, far too self-conscious and concerned about what others think. In fact, abandoning ourselves to this kind of outward expression is probably just what we need to further the submission of ourselves to God in the modern, rationalistic, materialistic western culture in which we live.

The key is balance. The key is the inward expression of our hearts. We can fall off to the left or to the right, and often we do.

We can err in worshiping worship. God will not be in that. We can also err in our dogmatic clinging to what we have always done, in failing to abandon ourselves inwardly and outwardly to God.

Intellectual understanding of the Word of God without understanding God in the Word is error. The Pharisees knew Scripture intimately, but they missed the very Christ to which Scripture pointed. We need the Holy Spirit to instruct us and open up the word of God to us so that we understand it.

Yes, we can worship the worship, but we should not dogmatically shrink back from worshiping with gladness and rejoicing for fear of error. We are instructed to be jubilant in our outward expression, which is impossible without feeling and emotion. We are to love God not only with our minds, but with our hearts.

Naturally, we must submit our emotional expressions to the Lordship of Christ, just as we are to submit our minds and our intellect to the Lordship of Christ. That does not mean refusing to exercise our emotions or our intellect, but to exercise them both to the glory of God

I do not think there is as much of likelihood that we are erring on the side of being too exuberant in our worship of God, but rather the opposite. If anything in the modern western world, we fail to love God with our hearts.

We do tend to gravitate toward one side or the other of the narrow road. We tend to want to emphasize one thing to the diminution of another thing (like free will to the diminution of God’s sovereignty).

Sometimes, we fall off the path to the left or the right because of our propensity to takes positions to resolve the tensions that we see, forgetting the balance that God’s Word provides. While I agree with many of things Todd Pruitt says in the articles linked above, I cannot help but feel that we have failed to emphasize the type of worship God encourages; and for fear of falling off the road in error on the side of emotion, we are in danger of falling off to the other side.

It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:18)


[1] 8055/śāma – literally, flourish within with inner triumph supplied by the Lord – a mood-oriented term based on inner awareness of the Lord’s victory… inwardly celebrative “as the Holy Spirit rejoices within” (Dr. Gleason Archer). Its Ugaritic cognate means “to succeed, and to gloat in that victory” (S. Mercer, ed. The Tell El Amarna Tablets, 1939). Its Assyrian and Arabic cognates likewise mean “flourish rising up” (“grow high”).

[2] 1523/gîl – literally, to circle around – the root of the popular Jewish song Hāva nāgîlâ (“Come, let’s dance in a circle”); (figuratively) so excited by good news one breaks out in dance – expressing joy with jubilant, vigorous movement; rejoicing, outwardly demonstrated – great gladness which makes one whirl about.

[3] 5937/ʽālaz – literally, to exult in spirited celebrating (jubilant), showing enthusiasm based on truth.

[4] 7442/rānan – literally, make a shrill, ringing cry (an onomatopoetic term) – reverberating like when exuberantly crying out like a plaintiff making supplication.


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2 thoughts on “Finding Balance in Worship

  1. I dare say that even emphasizing the Word of God without understanding God in the Word is error. The Pharisees knew the Scripture intimately, but they missed the very Christ to which the Scripture pointed.

    Good point. God has revealed who He is and what He has done in the Scriptures, and as Paul says in Hebrews, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We have a relationship with the Living God and that should give us great joy and praise in our worship of Him. Thank you for sharing this.

    I do know that there is some problem with Contemporary Christian Music because it is very ecumenical and is used as to a tool to unite believers with church going unbelievers. This is very problematic and a deceptive tool of the enemy to lead many astray. Here is an article about the outcome of that deception. Praise God for His mercy to us Amen!


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