Articles and Apologetics …earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 4)
Praise and Worship with Dance: Is God Pleased?—Pastor Anthony Bentum-Ennin (2009)
CHAPTER 1: WHAT IT MEANS TO WORSHIP
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).
“For we are the circumcision, which worship in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
Worship today is differently understood from what it used to be. Today worship greatly involves the use of many instruments and lots of personal enjoyment. People aim at feeling good and happy when they go to worship. If they had opportunity to dance, laugh, clap and enjoy each other, that is regarded as a happy worship.
It is easy therefore, to decide on what to include in today’s worship service. It simply involves looking around for what most pleases people – what they want to do or hear. All manner of jokes and light, witty and catchy phrases are all acceptable as long as they make the worshipper feel good.
So very sadly, in many churches today, Scripture reading for example, is taken out of the worship service except the brief passage to be used by the preacher. The music is designed to whisk up the emotions of those present. In sum, today’s worship is man-cantered. It is assumed that if the worshipper felt good then God must have been pleased too. But all this is the direct opposite of biblical worship. Biblical worship has God as the centre. The worshipper recognizes that worship is a happy yet a solemn responsibility. He goes first to give unto God (though feeble and weak) glory and honour due to His name and not to seek opportunity to enjoy himself. True, if a person truly worshipped, he will leave the house of the Lord happy but also solemn and humbled. We cannot go to the house of God with ourselves and pleasure in mind.
The Lord Jesus taught us what worship ought to be: it has to be spiritual, for we can only worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Both the chief Hebrew and Greek words which are often translated “worship” literally mean to prostrate oneself. That is bowing down or actually falling flat on the ground.
It is a gesture that was done also to people of authority like kings and masters. Apart from human masters and kings, in Scripture people literally prostrated themselves mostly when there was a physical or outward manifestation of the Divine Being as in Joshua 5:13-15 and elsewhere. Therefore even in the Old Testament, worship was not normally done by literally bowing down or falling flat. The words then are used far more figuratively in worship than literally.
The Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching that worship shall be in spirit and truth established the rule that New Testament worship shall not in any way consist of outward, physical gestures. Worship shall flow from the heart and affections of believers as the truths of God’s Word moved them and worked in their hearts. So that the physical picture captured in the terms for worship point to a spiritual attitude or practice in worship. Worship, our Lord meant, shall not involve any outward decorations and pretences but sincere and deeply meant offers of praise, thanks, dedication etc. to God. Therefore spiritual worship can only be offered by Christians. It is people who once felt the shame of their lifestyle and been humbled in seeing their worthlessness before God. Such ones have come to God trusting that the Lord Jesus Christ’s righteousness alone can make them acceptable to God. Therefore they have thrown away all trust in self, good works and religious activity but have come to the Lord pleading for mercy and acceptance only through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And having yielded their lives wholly to Him, they have been touched and forgiven. The Lord Jesus Christ, by His Spirit has worked in them an amazing change. God has changed their tastes, desires and bowed their wills to desire His ways. The Lord fuses a new nature into them which includes the capacity to worship the Lord.
It is such a heart that is ready to worship. This is because when such a person comes into the presence of God, he is able to lift up his desires after God, yearn for His ways, dedicate himself to Him and sincerely praise Him. Therefore only true conversion prepares a person to worship the Lord.
The symbolical gesture of falling down or prostrating one-self teaches the following ten great and fundamental elements present in spiritual worship. They are meant to give us a great picture of the proper content and attitudes in acceptable worship. The gesture teaches that:
1. Worship is to do reverence before God. (Hebrews 12:28). This picture is seen in all cases where someone literally bowed. It is a sign of deep respect for the one before whom we bow. Equally, in worship we do reverence before God. To do reverence before God is to come before Him with a deep respect and even fear. It is to have a holy anxiety that our worship may be pleasing to Him. Thus there is no self- confidence and presumption that we can do whatever we liked ‘in the name of Jesus’ and God will be pleased. Reverence moves us to be careful.
2. The gesture suggests humility. (James 4:10) The proud cannot worship. When a person falls down before another, he is expressing humility toward him. Thus proud, self-pleasing, self-seeking, attitudes and self-esteem are great opponents to true spiritual worship. Humility makes us accept all God’s dealings with, and we refuse to complain even when our circumstances are hard. We submit to Him, aware that we are in His kind and gracious hands. Thus how can a complaining, discontented believer worship God acceptably? And how can a self-willed person draw near to God in worship?
3. The gesture is also meant to teach that in worship we always have a sense of our smallness. We, as it were, lie down in the dust before the almighty God. Yet it is in this very state that we rejoice. We rejoice that though we are small, in Christ we could be granted such a favour of coming before the almighty God and we rejoice with trembling. (Psalm 2:11)
4. The gesture tells the superior that we are at his mercy; we give ourselves to him. It is the same in worship. Worship has never taken place if the worshippers did not yield themselves afresh to God. This rededication is precious in worship. It is pledging ourselves to Him, to put Him, His will and way first and high above our own. This makes worshiping Christians His servants, absorbed with the matters of His kingdom – the work of proclaiming or making Him known. They will be personally available for the work of His kingdom first and also their attention, concern, time and resources. (Romans 12:1)
5. Also the gesture tells the superior that we are ready to do his bidding. This follows from the previous. Thus it suggests that worship must only be at the bidding or directive of the Lord .We are not masters who plan what we think should please our Lord but available to do what He tells us to do. Willing obedience is a great prerequisite to Christian worship.
6. When a person bows down or falls flat before a great person he means also to say that he acknowledges his dependence on the great one. So it is in worship. There must always be a place of affirming our faith and trust in God’s Word and ways. We express our assurance that His ways are wiser, better and safer for us than anything. This is aimed at in the preaching, though it is also done in the songs chosen and the led -prayer. But this sense of dependence upon God must prepare the heart of every believer before they can worthily enter the place of worship.
7. The gesture shows that we acknowledge the worth of the person. In worship we desire to give God glory. We sense His worth so that we are ready to study Him from His Written Word. We praise Him for His self-revelation in the Word and admire His majesty, glory and power. Knowing Him becomes the greatest subject we want to study. We desire to understand, appreciate and love who He is, and what He does. We are also amazed and moved afresh by what our Saviour and Lord of glory did for needy sinners like us on Calvary. The truth is we have not appreciated God sufficiently in worship if we are not stirred afresh by God’s pardoning love in Christ Jesus for worthless sinners like us. It is His worth that makes His love for rebel worms like us all the more moving, melting and wonderful. There is always a sense of wonder in spiritual worship.
8. The gesture is also done when a servant offends his Lord. (See e.g. 2 Samuel 19:18-20) In worship there is a place for exposing sin and owning up our sins with shame and confession to God. This is also aimed at in the preaching and may be taken up in the led- prayer of the minister. Each believer in the quietness of his heart must examine himself or herself during worship as he thinks through the words of the hymns and listens to the sermon. Spiritual worship cannot take place if we do not admire and long for holiness for the Word says “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). We admire and are moved by God’s holiness and desire sincerely to be purer and better people in life, thoughts and words. Thus if we attended a worship service and were never affected and deeply challenged to take sin seriously and strive to please the Lord, we did not worship. The apostle Paul hints that this was the great aim in worship in the first century churches when God gave direct prophecy (because the Scriptures were not complete). He said, “but if all prophecy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship and report that God is in you of a truth”. If God is among us in worship sins will be convicted and hearts moved to humble themselves before our God. Not just the so-called big sins only but heart sins of pride, lust, greed, love for earthly show and such like will also be convicted and confessed. There will not be proud showmanship, self-confidence and boastful claims.
9. When one wants to beg for some favour or mercy, bowing down or falling flat before a great one is done. Thus in worship we always come to plead with God. With the aid of the songs, the sermon, Scripture reading and also in prayer we must lift up our hearts in pleadings or petitions before God. And we remember to sincerely make our spiritual needs and issues concerning the spread of the Gospel (in which He is greatly glorified) and the purity, peace and progress of the Churches of Jesus Christ supreme in these petitions.
10. Or it may be an expression of gratitude for mercy received. Thus believers must review the mercies the Lord has poured first on the Church in which He has placed them so that they can worship with a sense of gratitude. We need to remember that in corporate worship our concern should not be primarily and greatly about our personal matters. In public worship it is the interest of the entire body that comes first.
In any gathering of believers for worship all those elements must be honoured otherwise our worship service has been faulty. Therefore the choice of songs, the Scripture reading, the prayers and the preaching must direct the hearts of worshippers to these things. Every one of these elements, we repeat, must be done. It is obvious this requires complete concentration, seriousness of heart and mind and earnest plea for the help of the Spirit of God to aid us.
If Christians take worship seriously they will at once recognize their need of the Lord’s help to be able to worship. Yet we have a part to play and the following thoughts will be helpful:
1. The worship service must never involve trivial and playful elements. This includes the preaching, though we may use profitable anecdotes. Everyone must remember that we are before Lord (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2; Acts 10:33)
2. Choruses are sadly superficial and they rather hinder real engagement with the Lord in spiritual intelligent worship. Let us sing songs that prove that the Word of Christ dwells richly in us. Let us give God worthy praise befitting His majesty. Sing good hymns only. (Col 3:16; Psalm 29:1-2).
3. It is difficult for anyone to concentrate for too long. Worship services lasting for several hours will naturally fall into a state when worshippers no longer concentrate seriously and earnestly participate but become passive. If the service is kept truly and entirely as a service of worship, then it will take no more time than really necessary. New Testament church gatherings were principally gatherings around the Word (Acts 2:42).
4. We strongly warn against charismatic type of worship service for its design is man-centred, entertainment based and full of selfish and carnal interest and too much room for proud self-promotion. No one and nothing must be promoted except Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians. 2:2 Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
5. The service must have a firm order. The idea that disorder is a mark of the presence of the Spirit is simply unbiblical. Order ensures that people are not merely stirred or excited by novelty (wrong perception in Charismatic worship) but rather properly affected and moved by the content of what is being done. Thus the service must have a regular structure. The leading of the Spirit has nothing to do with sudden impromptu innovations devised by the leader. When the Spirit of God is present with us in worship (and we must always seek His aid and pray for it) the regular order is attended with much meaning, depth of earnestness, sincerity and wonderful enabling to respond properly and fully to what has been sung, or heard or prayed about. Disorder and impromptu innovations create distraction as worshippers’ minds wonder about what to be done next rather than on the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40; Col. 2:5). The Greek for “order” in the texts is regular arrangement; a fixed succession. This order must include only items we are permitted to do in God’s worship as directed by the Scriptures.
6. In corporate worship we have not gathered to do our individual things. We are part of a body in worship. Therefore prayer times must be led. That is, one person, say a church leader, leads in the prayer seeking to present the various concerns of the church before the Lord. We cannot allow for individuals praying their little individual prayers in a corner. This is not corporate worship. When the Lord said “two of you shall agree on earth . . .” The Greek word for “agree” means to be harmonious, in fact, to the extent that we can stipulate what we agreed on. When Ananias and Saphira (see Acts 5:9) agreed to lie the Greek uses the same word – they said the same thing. Agreeing in prayer as a body does not mean everyone is saying his own individual prayer at the same time. Corporate agreement in prayer can only be expressed in led-prayer. That is why even in Acts though we are told the church prayed yet we have the exact prayer recorded for us. (Acts 1:24-25; 4:24-30 and note “and they lifted up their voice (singular) to God with one accord). Remember, our personal interests are not the supreme issues in corporate worship. The purpose of corporate worship is joining with our brethren to bring to God worthy praise, together affirm our faith in his Word and ways and dedicate ourselves afresh as His people to Him.
7. Worshippers must never rush off after the closing prayer or benediction. In a corporate worship where we are not permitted to do our own individual things that personal time of prayer or reflection after the service is very important. Therefore worshippers must spend a few minutes after the closing prayer in private prayer. This is an opportunity to respond to the Lord in a purely personal way according to what was taught or preached. In corporate worship we responded together with our fellow believers to the message through the final hymn and the led-prayer.
‘Praise and Worship’
Worship is not singing some ‘soft music’ to arouse the feeling. ‘Praise and worship’ as it is called today is a complete misunderstanding of worship. When God’s people meet in His name every thing they do must be worship. That is, everything they do must be aimed at awakening the hearts of the Lord’s people to praise, confess their sin, renew their devotion to God, reaffirm their faith in God’s truths and ways, intercede and plead for the needs of God’s people and the advance of the Gospel etc. It is these elements that make up the New Testament worship.
In the New Testament the word used for “praise” basically means to tell or narrate. So when people regard praise time to be the time when they drum and dance during the worship they are wrong. In Acts 2:47 the gathered brethren praised God and no hint whatsoever is made of dancing. In 1Peter 2:9, we read “But ye are chosen generation a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light”. The Church is called a holy nation to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you…” The word “shew forth” means to preach, proclaim, tell out. Thus the praise is declared or spoken. (The Greek for “shew” is “exangello”, to preach or proclaim). Then also Hebrews 13:15 “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS giving thanks to His name”. Also Romans 15:6 “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The New Testament tells us then that no one can dance “praise”. No never! Praise is declared or said. That is why the Bible calls us to sound God’s praise in a specific manner. Only words (sincere and heart-felt words) can declare exactly what God has done for which we want the whole world to hear – this is praise.
Where did people get the idea of “praise and worship” from – where “praise” is the time of drumming and dancing and “worship” -is the time to sing soft choruses with hands raised etc? It is not in the Bible, they got it from somewhere else. Therefore the practice, let it be made clear, is not given by God but by human imagination.
Even in the Old Testament none of the words translated ‘praise’ included anything expressed in a dance. All the words point to something done or said to convey a specific thing to the Lord. Perhaps only one example will help here – Psalm 63:3 “Because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee”
It is very interesting that the Hebrew word translated praise in Psalm 149:3 and in the whole of Psalm 150, literally means – to be clear or made clear. It was a word used to speak of making a sound clear and later even used for making a colour etc clear.
Therefore in both Psalms 149:3 and 150 the teaching was not that Israel must use a dance to praise God. Rather it is a call that Israel must praise God (a thing they will do with clear, specific words) alongside their festive or national dance. That is, as the dance may be performed as a nation during a feast or victories in warfare they must remember that they must praise God also along with that. Their dancing itself could not constitute praise to God. The dancing will be their enjoyments at such festivals or warfare etc. but the praise will be the words. This is again, the reason why dancing which only constituted personal or mere outward enjoyment was never done in the temple worship. For dancing during these periods seems to have become part of their social or national life already. The dance, we repeat, could never express the praise. But because it will be done at some of their feast or victory in warfare, praise, true praise, must be present also. (Dancing in worship is treated in some detail in the next chapter.)
This was true also with all the instruments mentioned in Psalm 150. The instruments could not praise the Lord. The so-called “instrumentals” may be good for a home or a party but not during a worship service. They must be accompanied by actual praise. If I only played the instruments they mean nothing, for they say nothing.
Thus the only place for the instruments is to aid the worshippers. That is why Churches in the past used only the organ or the piano – though it cannot declare God’s praise by itself it played clear tunes to assist the singing. Any other instrument used must be weighed by the same principles of simple and practical suitability in aiding worshippers. A complex and expensive instrumentation are unwise and could only be distractive to worshippers.
Preaching in Worship
Preaching is central to New Testament worship. This is why New Testament gatherings may be described as gathering around the Word. Therefore it must be given all the alertness of mind. Preaching must always aim at exalting Christ that worshippers may also focus on Him. Preaching replaces the sacrificial system that was the centre of Old Testament worship. The sacrificial system was the Old Testament’s central message. It pointed to Christ. Thus Christ, having fulfilled the sacrificial system must be the chief focus of Christian preaching in worship. “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (11Corinthians 4:5). The worshipper must endeavour not to miss anything in the preaching. Then at the end you will have pure joy given and wrought by the Holy Spirit through the Word and not gimmicks and entertainment. Preaching in worship is not the time for entertainment and jokes, though preachers always use relevant illustrations and anecdotes. The preacher has a solemn task – to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ that believers may all the more be moved to love and serve Him; and unbelievers to fall at His feet for pardon and new life. In other words, preaching must provide spiritual food to strengthen and empower believers in their walk of faith and obedience to the Lord. It prepares them for the rejection of world and to draw near to the Lord Jesus Christ. It must provide a healing balm for the sin-wounds of unbelievers. That is, it is aimed at persuading unbelievers to grief and shame in repentance of sin and to run at once to the healing fountain of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Worship Requires Preparation
“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few”. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)
Worship is a serious undertaking therefore it requires preparation. The purpose of this preparation is to increase and deepen our desire to adore, give glory and yield ourselves to the Lord. It is aimed at doing all this in a manner worthy of the Lord. The fact that you went to church does not mean you worshipped. Worship is a deliberate, careful, earnest and yet a joyful engagement with God.
In the Old Testament when the Sabbath was on Saturday, Friday was often called preparation day. During the working week our minds are engaged with many things – legitimate and illegitimate ones. We need to calm our hearts and minds and begin to engage them in spiritual things with a greater intensity before we go to the house of the Lord. Certainly, the believer must keep the mind on spiritual things all through the week. But if they failed or did not do that constantly then much time may be needed to prepare the mind and heart for worship.
If we do not prepare it is most likely we will have problems with concentration. Without concentration you cannot worship. We go to the house of God to think more of Him with our fellow believers. It is not a time to engage in some of our petty favourite thoughts but as much as possible to join with the other believers in thinking about the same things. This calls for preparing the mind to delight in spiritual themes sung, read or heard, so that whatever becomes the theme or themes read or heard at church you may be able to engage the mind and the heart.
This preparation involves –
(a) Deliberately putting aside all of your normal domestic activity as much as possible.
(b) Singing, praying and Scripture reading.
(c) Giving more time to meditation than usual as much as possible.
(d) Self-examination, which will lead to sincere repentance and yielding of oneself afresh to the Lord.