I think it is official now: The Worship Wars are Over! Hallelujah! The wars started back in the 1970’s with those long haired “Jesus People”. They wanted free expression in worship instead of just formal and traditional hymns. When I went to school I remember we had a guest speaker come one day and teach us that drums were of the Devil and specifically the rhythm of two half notes and a quarter note would induce a demonic trance. Fortunately it doesn’t; I tried countless times!
This last week I was in the Philippines teaching worship to more than 300 indigenous pastors on Mindanao island in the Philippines. The pastors come from more than twenty different tribal groups. My father was a singer, but I am not. My father played trumpet, but I quit. My father could peck out anything on the piano, but I got frustrated and gave up after ten agonizing years of piano lessons. So, why was I leading a worship seminar?
There are two reasons: First of all I find that most churches will send anyone on mission trips. . . except their worship teams and musicians! They want them to be in the services every Sunday, so they don’t have time for mission trips. They don’t mind if the pastor skips out to go on a mission trips once in a while, but they will never (and I do mean never) send one of their worship leaders. So that is why a non-worship-leading and non-musical person like me has to teach and lead worship for 300 pastors. No pressure! What I teach them is going to be re-taught and replicated in more than 1,600 churches in Mindanao in the next month!
The second reason that I am teaching is that if only musicians can worship then we are all in serious trouble! Worship is intended for everyone, not just musicians. So a non-musical person like myself should be able to teach worship and lead others in worship. For my blog today I want to give you a quick summary of what I taught them.
Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) Worship is all about the heart of the believer expressing our love back to God. When Jesus said these words, he was talking to religious people in the heart of Israel. Yet, he said God was “seeking” those who truly worshipped him. This means, that even though the people of Israel were “worshipping” God in the temple, their worship was not being received. Jesus highlighted the importance of worship from our heart as the only acceptable worship.
When talking to the religious leaders of the day (who were responsible to lead the people of Israel in worship). Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)
Look at all the ways worship and praise of God is done in the Bible:
Praise and Worship can be expressed verbally:
“My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” (Psalms 145:21)
“Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalms 147:1)
“For the director of music. A song. A psalm. Shout with joy to God, all the earth!” (Psalms 66:1)
You know, shouting is not speaking loudly. It is like what you do at a basketball game when your favorite team is winning! It is loud and it might cause you to lose your voice afterword!
Praise and Worship can be expressed though sounds:
“For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm. Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalms 47:1)
“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.” (Psalms 150:3-5)
Praise and Worship can be expressed physically:
“Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.” (Psalms 149:3)
Different instruments mentioned in the Bible include many percussion, rhythmic and harped instruments. There were no organs, piano’s, violins, guitars or keyboards mentioned in the Bible in case you thought some instruments are more “holy” than others. All instruments are made by men, not God, and it is how you use them which gives them value and purpose.
“For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods.” (Psalms 95:3)
If fact the Greek word for worship is “proskunew” which literally means “to humble and kiss the hand” which is where we get the English word “prostrate”. Kneeling and prostrating before the Lord isn’t just a Catholic symbol of worship, it is Biblical. What a relief!
Lifting up or raising the hands
“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD.” (Psalms 134:2) Another verse also says, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalms 63:3-4)
Long before we had Pentecostals and Charismatics (about 100 years), we have had “lifting up hands” before the Lord. In fact, since this Psalm was written it has been about 3,000 years! So, expressive worship really does go far beyond modern styles.
Worship is expressed culturally:
Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” This verse is speaking of the last days when all the faithful believers will be gathered around the Throne of Christ in heaven. It specifically says that each nation will be present, every language group, every tribal group and they will be worshipping the Lord. So do you think they are all going to worship in the same way? No. Germans will worship like Germans. American’s will worship like Americans and Australians will worship like Australians, but even more than that. Aboriginals will worship God in their own expressive ways. Khmers of Cambodia will express their worship to the Savior in their own expressive way and all the tribes of Mindanao will express their worship in their own way.
I get frustrated when I worship in different churches around the world and hear the same songs translated into different languages. Nowadays, you will either hear Wesley’s hymn’s in some churches or you will hear Hillsongs in the other ones, but rarely will you hear any fresh, creative, or culturally relevant worship in churches.
At this point I called for any tribal pastor to bring any “indigenous instrument” they had. We found some gongs and a mouth harp. The leaders started beating out a tribal tune and humming away. Everyone else did what they wanted to do to worship God. Some sang in rhythm to the gongs. Some started dancing in their traditional way. Some fell to their knees crying before the Lord. The spontaneous expression of worship went on for some time. Most of the three hundred leaders were crying. Many said it was the first time they had heard their own indigenous music used to worship the Lord. They were proud to be tribal. They were proud of their culture and they were honored that they could offer their worship and praise to God in their own cultural expression. They offered worship to God from their heart. What God was seeking, those who worship in spirit and truth, he found that day in Mindanao among more than twenty different tribes worshipping him with all their hearts.
Expressing our worship and praise to God freely through speech, song, instruments, dance and any other way is not Pentecostal. It is not Charismatic. It is not even Baptist. It is Biblical! Thank God the worship wars are over.
Note: I know that there are some who will not agree that the worship wars are truly over. Certainly there will be a small remnant who still want to put tradition over free worship from the heart, but just like the American Civil War of 150 years ago, there will always be a few who want to keep reenacting the war and keep the confederate “alive”. One day they too will realize. . . the war is over.