New Testament worship is that place where the surrendered soul finds opportunity to lavish on God overflowing thanksgiving and adoration. In worship, hearts, overwhelmed by God’s love and in awe of the splendor of His Holiness, often turn to words, songs and music as one way to express their unspeakable joy. A deep longing to bow before God and attribute to Him the dignity and worth He deserves to receive from all His creation is a mark of this worship. Psalm 96:1-9; I Chronicles 16:29-30.
Because this worship is an expression of man’s longing to bestow on God an offering He deserves, care is always taken to assure that worship is free from worldly invention, demonic influence and fleshly preferences. Worship expressions are to reflect “self-less” adoration and praise that He prefers and is pleased to receive. Deuteronomy 12:29; Romans 8; I John 2:15-17, 5:19.
Worship of God, whether expressed musically, instrumentally, meditatively or otherwise is best if it reflects an attempt to worship God unlike the world worships its gods. God-worship is unique. God deserves worship that is more than a worldly religious activity. Deuteronomy 12:29; Romans 12:2.
This worship, broad as the variety of nations, languages, tongues, tribes and people, is equally bound by limits of sincerity, truth, propriety, modesty, godliness, and Biblical spirituality as God reveals them in scripture. I Corinthians 14; John 20:11ff; I Timothy 2.
Scripture itself, the sole authority of things pertaining to God, is, therefore, the best source for determining the freedom we have when drawing near to worship God. We should be no more restrictive or permissive than the worship guidelines set forth in the Bible. Matthew 5:17-20, 22:29, 24:35.
Within the worship freedom God affords us, we proceed with caution, giving due consideration to those believers whose faith might be most fragile and tender. And, though care is also taken to respect those who are just beginning their faith journey, their perspectives are not primary consideration when choosing expressions of believers’ worship of God. I Corinthians 10:23ff, 14:22-25; Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4.
In our evaluations of worship expressions, care is taken to understand that evaluation calls for maturity and discernment. Although the initial act of conversion often manifests itself in pure, passionate and childlike devotion, discernment of the deeper things of God often requires deeper spiritual maturity: maturity and discernment that arise from prayerful devotion, dedicated study, consistent obedience, self-denying sacrifice and Godly counsel. Proverbs 2:1ff, II Peter 1:5-11; I Timothy 3:6.
Though often associated with music, worship may be offered musically, instrumentally or even verbally as God leads, such as in proclamation of the word, scripture reading or devotional mediations. There may, also, be times when only meditative/reflective silence can suffice as the proper expression of believers’ hearts bowed in worship before God. Job 40:4; Ezra/Nehemiah; Revelation 8:1.
Because God desires that our “whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ”, we must approach God in worship on His terms, having given careful consideration to the “conquest of the flesh”. Therefore, whenever music, instrumentation, lyrics, songs, meditations, body posture/movements, attitudes, presentations or the use of technology are employed in worship, they should reflect a purely spiritual expression and be free from the excitement of the flesh. Colossians 3:1ff; John 4:24, 6:63; Romans 8:1ff; Matthew 14:6, 16:24; Mark 6:22.
In surrendered obedience to Jesus, believers, who have their minds and hearts fixed securely on Him, may, among other worship expressions, follow His leading and contribute to Godly corporate worship by offering “psalms, hymns or spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to God”. These offerings should honor and glorify God and edify believers. Colossians 3:1-2; I Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:18ff; Colossians 3:12-17.
Those believers, desiring to contribute to worship in this manner may look to the Bible for a rich, inexhaustible source of God-honoring, fellowship-building and truth-expressing texts. Additionally, authors and composers should look to the wisdom of scripture when choosing musical expressions and instrumentation. Selections should be composed that reflect God’s revealed plan to harmony, order and rhythm. The worship offerings should illuminate truth, enhance the message and avoid drawing undo attention to those who are serving. Revelation 15:2ff; I Corinthians 14:33. (Match music and truth, Joel 2:1ff, and instrumentation and purpose, Numbers 10:1ff)
Special care is given when decisions are made regarding instrumentation. The most common Biblical instrumentation used to accompany songs, hymns and spiritual songs was that which produced sounds by “plucking the string” or “blowing air”. These sounds were produced for the purpose of assisting believers in their musical expressions of praise and worship, especially when worship included chanting or singing. Yet, this instrumentation was not employed to “produce” worship or a feeling of being in worship. The sounds only helped support the singing of melody, harmony and rhythm and highlight truth’s message. Psalm 150; I Corinthians 13:1ff.
As with many church decisions, discussions arise where competing views are sometimes expressed in terms of “modern” or “contemporary” vs. “traditional”. Though these differing perspectives are real and generally reflect honest attempts to arrive at truth, believers are called upon to base their convictions on Biblical truth. At these points where our modern concepts of worship and service to God agree with the Bible, we have freedom. But wherever we see God’s word reveal truth that runs counter to commonly accepted views, believers must side with the Bible. This would include discussions of music, instrumentation, tempo, meter, volume, etc. Matthew 5:21-48; Psalm 92:3.
Finally, as with all expressions of devotion to God, we call to mind that all God-given gifts offered in our approach to Him are subordinate to LOVE. Our genuine offering of worship must come from a pure heart. In worship and every other expression of our devotion to God, we remind ourselves of these two key commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself! This sums up God’s will for us. Matthew 23:36ff; Galatians 5:6; II Peter 1:22.