(We continue our short blog series on Worship in Spirit and in Truth based on John 4:24)
Third, true worship is truthful.
Then we have the word “truth”. “Truth” here is referring to the centeredness of the worship. Meaning, that God desires our worship to be God centred and not man centred in our minds and in our practice. Why is this important for us to know?
Let us first ask, what is truth? Truth, is absolute, exclusive, pure, divisive and authoritative. Truth is not accepted by others saying that it is true. Truth is what it is, it is what it is. It does not need anyone’s approval but God’s, who is truth. Truth does not associate with evil and what is evil cannot be called true. The foundation to which truth stands upon is God. God is the one who reveals to us truth, because He himself is truth. God knows what reality is better than we do. We may interpret truth in the way that we interpret reality and define how we find it best to worship God. But God’s truth is based on God’s knowledge which is far greater than ours. His wisdom is greater and His righteousness is incomparable. God’s definition of truth, is, reality. So it would be wisest to go to God first and learn what He instructs for us on how we ought to worship Him.
If I would ask you to go and open your Bible and start reading the Psalms, you will find the wonderful, indescribable and overflowing pleasure of the glory of God in the Psalms. Because they are truth. They are God centred and sufficient for your edification in holiness (John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Unlike irrational worship, worshipping God in truth means that the way the worship is conducted, is rational. Truth in the worship service also means that the words that are in the song ought to be pure and true for edification.
Thus, rational worship is spiritual worship. When the people of God are singing the truths of God’s word, they are understandable to them. We sing because we think. We abode deep desires of our love for God because of the truths that we embraced with our minds. The opposite of rational worship is irrational worship, which can also be known as ecstatic worship.
Ecstatic worship focuses on stirring up our emotions to a higher level. It aims to reach a level where the individual will feel nice and fuzzy inside and call it what you may ‘a touch from God‘ ‚ ‘an angel‘ ‚‘the Holy Spirit‘. It’s really knowing God through our exalted emotions only. Truth for ecstatic worship is what we feel who God is. We go as far to say, that our emotions can reach to the highest level in communion with God. In other words, through the irrational music, people believe that they have been ‘touched ‘by God, or God has been so close to them. Thus we hear often people from the charismatic movement coming out of their worship services saying that ‘the presence of God was strong today‘. But is this genuine worship? Are their emotions truly touched by the truths of God’s word alone? Or is it manipulated by the effects of music and the shallow lyrics?
That maybe the only reason why the organisers of CCW (Contemporary Christian Worship) focus so much on the dominating power of music in the worship services. To create the right atmosphere for the people in order to ‘encounter God‘. That is why there is so much low emphasis on the doctrinal truths in the words.
Is worshipping God so carnal and fleshly and earthly minded like the followers of ecstatic worship produce?
Peter Master’s in his book ‘Worship in the Melting Pot’ said “The latter does not try to manipulate the feelings by earthly techniques, but derives its joy from sincere spiritual appreciation of the Lord, of His words, and of the great doctrines of the faith”. Music does play its part in worship, that is, to guide us on how to sing the song, but music is not to be used to arouse our emotions. Music itself cannot move the soul. It only exalts our feelings. But true worship is spiritual. That is, it is spiritual and truthful because our feelings become genuine when we have tasted with our minds and have come to appreciate the truths about God. Master’s continues “It is only as we are moved primarily by intelligent thoughts providing a view of the Lord and His work, that we have genuine and legitimate spiritual feelings‘(P. Masters, Worship in the melting pot, the Wakeman trust, 2002, p, 24-25).
God’s people must be edified in the worship service.
Another thing to point out, is the usage of truthful worship.
Let us ask another question: how do we perceive what truth is? Does truth go before our feelings or is it the other way round? Second, how does the truth affect us?
For the ecstatic worshipper, truth becomes valid based on one’s emotions or experience. But if that was the case, the Christian might as well allow any type of music style they desire, with any lyrics they desire since it will only be valid based on one’s personal preference. The issue is that in the worship service, God’s people need to be edified, sanctified. Their passion and understanding for God needs to grow. We know that the preaching of God’s word is a means of sanctification. This too can be identified as public worship. But here we are dealing with singing as the means that God uses to sanctify his people in public worship. That is why the Apostle Paul instructs us “Let all things” in the context of public worship, singing hymns, psalms, using organs etc. “be done unto edifying“(1 Corinthians 14:26). The prime role of worship as we see in our text is to edify God’s people. Music does not help edify God’s people, neither does entertainment. For Jesus said “sanctify them by thy truth“ (John 17:17). This off course is speaking about the truths of God’s Word, but this would also include the truth we find in the Psalms. Paul said in Philippians 4:8 “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things“. That is, in Christian living, any thought that is under these categories are worthy to be meditated and remembered and learned for our edification and sanctification. Does this include what words we use in the worship service? Yes. But in a broader sense, Paul does not only mean the words written or said, he would also have meant actions and conduct. Let’s not limit truth only by words, but by also emphasising the importance of action. So the manner in which we prepare and conduct our worship services must also be pure, just, honest and true.
In all these things, it shows that rational/truthful worship is instructive, edifying for mind, it feeds, nourishes our souls, it is doctrinal both in word and in deed. In other words, it is didactic. And what is the result when we see the congregation practice worship in spirit and truth? Genuine zeal, genuine emotions, accompanied by genuine knowledge and appreciation of the attributes and works of God.
The ecstatic worshipper does not appreciate doctrine and many words in the lyrics of a song, but the true worshipper, in the Spirit of God, mostly appreciates, honestly, the deep and high Biblical truths of a hymn or the Psalms. He appreciates also the way the worship is conducted, with reverence, without anything to arouse or manipulate his feelings. Why is that? Because the worship is rational (truthful) and so it is the spirit of God accompanying it. For God is not a God of confusion, the work of the Spirit of God is not irrational, but rational.
So when it comes to deciding what song is best to sing or way that we ought to conduct the worship service, we must begin finding the truth objectively, not subjectively.
It is truth that must come before our feelings, not the other way round. The desire to worship God, by singing deep and wonderful hymns, is due to the fact that the true worshipper is seeking with reverence to worship God in a genuine manner of soul and mind.
How do we know if what we say with our lips is genuine?
I have seen people during a modern worship service put their hands up and say thank you to God, or some falling down in tears and screaming thanks to God or even moving their whole body like electricity; as if they are showing others how connected or how thankful they are to God. But aren’t these mere outward expressions? Are these people worshipping God in a spirit of truth? How can we know?
My conviction is that if they are worshipping God in the spirit, then they will desire and hunger to worship Him in a spiritual way. That is, spiritual worship is rational, walking side by side with truth in our sanctification. Now, if a style or the roots of the music originate from sexual lust, impurity, sensuality and rebellion, approved by the culture which hates God, then does it need to be played in the worship service for God’s people i ask?
Why would we accept it? Based on what standard to we accept it and is it biblical?
Something that is described as the above, leads to a form of worldly and down right man-centred worship. And the Scriptures say that “the carnal mind is enmity against God,“ (Romans 8:7) thus it is not Spiritual worship. And if the world uses the lyrics or the styles of music, by approving and promoting them, then why should the saints of God use it? What holy edification will it produce in the hearts and minds of the people of God? It will lead to fleshly worship and fleshly living. If this is true, then we must throw it away, for it rejects the commands of Christ to worship in “truth“ (John 4:24). The truth is deliberately divisive because it is pure in contrast to the things in this world. When it comes to deciding what music or what lyrics we use in our public worship services, we must start with our calling as Christians; which is, that we are in the world indeed, but we are not to be of it. Don’t allow the system of the lifestyle of the world to feed your mind. If we live by truth, we will be separating ourselves from anything that promotes or associates with impurity, injustice, dishonour and rebellion. Rather, we will be hanging on and abiding in the truth which edifies and sanctifies us (Psalm 4:3, Romans 12:2).
Furthermore, we cannot have one and reject the other. A worship service that claims to worship God, cannot have for example sound and truthful lyrics and the music style of the world such as rock, hip hop music etc. It is like a picture of a man preaching the Gospel with a clown suit. It does not show consistency in their worship. We must not be double minded about this. If worship is both true and rational it must be shown both in deed and in word, both in singing and in the conduct of public worship.
(For anyone who is interested to know more on this subject, go to http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/the-works-of-stephen-charnock-5-vols.html or https://www.amazon.com/Discourses-Upon-Existence-Attributes-God/dp/0801024374
and purchase Stephen Charnock’s works On the Attributes, recommend vol 1 for more study and reading on the subject of God and Worship. )