Worship God at All Times. If Necessary, Use Music.

It turns out the Bible’s idea of worship is mostly about posture, not music or praise.
Worship God at All Times. If Necessary, Use Music.
Image: Illustration by John Hendrix

To be human is to worship.

That much is clear in the Scriptures (Ps. 150:6), declared in our creeds, and evident from history. But while the impulse to worship seems innate, what we mean by the word worship varies. Attempts to define it usually begin with the etymology of the English word worship, which is commonly understood to mean “to ascribe worth to” someone. This leads naturally to the notion that worship is primarily verbal, that is, it involves words that praise God. Once we have made this move, it is easy to understand how and why the contemporary understanding of worship tends to associate the word with music, perhaps with the occasional sprinkling of dance or visual art.

In 2001 I was flying to Kansas City every Sunday for 16 weeks to preach in a large church with three Sunday morning services. I will never forget one morning when, at a transitional moment in the service, the “music and worship” pastor declared to the congregation, “Now, before we continue our worship, let me read a passage from Colossians 3”—as if reading and hearing the Scriptures are not exercises in worship.

This restricted notion of worship is common in our day and is reflected in the ubiquitous labeling of recordings from Bethel Music and Hillsong as “praise and worship,” the church bulletins that call the period of singing “worship time,” and the identification of musicians on the pastoral staff as “worship ministers” or “ministers of worship arts.” In fact, the so-called worship industry not only tends to equate worship with music but also limits it to a particularly narrow type of music—contemporary praise. Despite the prominence of lament in ...

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