Forgotten Word Ministries

Contemporary Worship vs. Biblical Worship

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Updated April 4, 2002 (first published December 11, 2001) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061

There is a great emphasis among churches today on "worship services." Commonly this involves the use of a "praise band" and a "worship leader." The traditional hymns are discarded in favor of powerful contemporary rock type songs that literally take control of the people. An invitation is given to the church members to move with the flow of the music and to abandon themselves in adoration to God. There is commonly an emphasis on inviting the Holy Spirit to minister to the people during these occasions. In such circles, it is typical to find a concept that the Holy Spirit should not be "put in a box," and that it is not wrong if strange manifestations such as shakings and fallings occur during the worship. It is not uncommon to find disorder, confusion, women leaders, and other blatantly unscriptural things in contemporary worship services.

The New Testament, though, does not give any pattern for conducting a specific corporate worship service in the churches. None whatsoever. Those who try to find biblical justification for the "worship service," cannot find it in the writings of the Apostles. They must go to the Old Testament temple worship or to the book of Revelation, but the pattern for the churches is the Apostolic writings. There are three key words for worship in the New Testament: worship, praise, and glorify, and none of these are used in the context of a corporate church worship service. The only time the word "worship" is used in the Acts or Epistles in connection with the church services is in 1 Cor. 14:25, and it is speaking of individual worship, not corporate worship. Likewise, the words "praise" or "glorify" are never used in the New Testament of corporate worship in church meetings. They are used, rather, of individual praise to God through private thanksgiving and godly living (Acts 2:47; Rom. 15:5-6; 1 Cor. 6:20; Phil. 1:11; Heb. 13:15; 1 Pet. 4:16).

This does not mean that it is wrong for churches to worship the Lord together. Just the opposite. Certainly, that is what we are to do at all times, including during the church services. In fact, there is a gross lack of conscious worship in the average church service in strong Bible-believing congregations today. Everything is treated with such a lack of solemnity and with such a lack of heart-felt praise directed toward God. Even the singing is approached in a "ho hum" manner, more as a ritual that we go through than an occasion of directing one's heart to God.

What, then, is the difference between the typical contemporary worship service and the biblical pattern for worship in the church?

(1) Biblical worship has no emphasis on the use of music. The two mentions of music in the New Testament epistles focus as much on edifying the saints as on singing unto the Lord (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). In fact, biblical worship emphasizes that God is worshipped through everything done in the church rather than merely through one particular type of worship offered to Him via a praise time (1 Pet. 4:11). In direct contradiction to this, contemporary worship focuses almost exclusively on one type of worship to God, that being the worship that is associated with contemporary music.

(2) Biblical church worship is submitted to the apostolic commandments, which require that everything be done decently and in order, that there be no confusion, that women cannot lead, etc. (1 Cor. 11:2; 14:37). This means that all of the unscriptural things commonly associated with contemporary worship, particularly in charismatic circles, are rejected.

(3) Biblical church worship emphasizes the understanding rather than the emotions (1 Cor. 14:15). The emphasis is not on "feeling God" but on understanding and knowing God through the truth of His Word. We see this reflected in the traditional hymns. The old hymn writers aimed to edify the understanding rather than to create an emotional high. In contemporary worship, though, "songs are chosen in order to induce feelings in the worshippers. . . . [to induce] an altered state of consciousness by flagrant manipulation" (Alan Morrison, The New Style of Worship and the Great Apostasy).

(4) Biblical church worship emphasizes the unity of the faith rather than the ecumenical concept of unity in diversity that is so common in contemporary Christian worship (Rom. 15:6; Matt. 15:9; John 4:24). There can be no true worship unless there is complete commitment to sound Bible doctrine. The hodgepodge of doctrine present in the typical ecumenical setting does not glorify God and is not acceptable to Him, regardless of the zeal and enthusiasm exhibited during the worship sessions.

(5) Biblical church worship requires moral purity and separation from the world (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 1:11), in contrast to the contemporary worship which typically ignores separation and which builds bridges to the world through the use of the world's music, dress, etc. Typical contemporary worship also ignores the necessity of moral purity and is very careless about how Christians live. It is enough that they enter into the "worship times" with great enthusiasm. If they divorce their spouses and commit adultery and are crooked in their business practices and dress like harlots and watch filthy television programs and Hollywood movies, that is overlooked. Among churches that incorporate contemporary worship styles, there is little or no preaching against the world in any plain and practical sense and little or no church discipline exercised. There are exceptions, but this is the rule.

(6) Biblical church worship is constantly vigilant of spiritual dangers (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:1-4). At least 11 times the Apostles warn Christians to be "sober." Pastors are to be sober (Titus 1:8); aged men are to be sober (Titus 2:2); the women are to be sober (Titus 2:4); young men are to be sober (Titus 2:6); the wives of pastors and deacons are to be sober (1 Tim. 3:11). 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 1 Pet. 5:8 explain what it means to be sober; it means to be spiritually alert and watchful and vigilant. To the contrary, though, contemporary worship teaches people to open up unreservedly to spiritual influences without any sense of danger or fear of deception. They instruct the people to "let go and let God," to "be open and vulnerable," to "open yourself to the Spirit," to "invite the Holy Spirit to come and do his thing," to "be ready for the unusual." There is absolutely nothing like this taught in the New Testament scriptures. The Apostles and early churches did not practice anything like this. When the Corinthians began to dabble in similar things and were allowing confusion and disorder to reign in their midst, the Apostle rebuked them and corrected their error.