Is there a right or wrong way to worship?
Ah, such an emotionally charged subject! But as those who claim to worship God, shouldn’t we know the answer to this question?
Is it with a certain form or style?
Is it with any style as long as it is considered worship by the one doing it?
Is there a right and a wrong, or is it amoral (neither right nor wrong)?
What/who defines that?
Is a certain kind or style of worship okay for one to do, and not for another?
First of all, we have to understand that worship does not necessarily mean music is involved. In fact, most of the time, when someone in the bible was described as worshiping God, there is no mention of music.
We read of several accounts in scripture, where people attempted to worship God, and God did not respect their attempts. Three well known ones are:
Cain vs. Abel’s worship in Genesis 4:1-5, as well as Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3). Then there was King Saul, who disobeyed the direct command of the LORD in the name of offering a sacrifice (1 Samuel 15). In the New Testament, we read of the Scribes and Pharisees, whom the LORD rebuked in Matthew 23, saying in part,
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt 23:27-28)
And there were the Saducees, who denied the resurrection (is that worship?), and the Samaritans, who didn’t get a long with the others, but were adamant about how and where to worship, while missing the point altogether, which Jesus aptly made clear in the parable of the good Samaritan and also in his conversation with the woman at the well, where He says something interesting:
“The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 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 4:19-24
All these religious people thought they were worshiping the LORD, yet they were falling miserably short of anything close to true worship. Later, we read of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, who were not worshiping the LORD with their finances, but held part of it back when they really didn’t have to give anything. This was also a form of false worship, neither in spirit or in truth, but meant to be seen of and admired by men. God wasn’t impressed, and they died because of it.
Another interesting account out of the old testament, is when Moses was up in the mountain with Joshua, receiving the commandments of the LORD, and the people down in the camp turned away from God. You can read about it in Exodus 32. Joshua thought it sounded “like the noise of war in the camp” Moses, after listening, determined it wasn’t the noise of war, but the noise of them that defile themselves. I know, in King James, and most versions, it says “the noise of them that sing.” But look at the words used in Hebrew. They are according to Strongs:
קוֹל -qowl: Sound, Noise Voice, Thunderings, Proclamation, etc. Its usage appears to carry the tone of frivolity or festivity.
עָנָה -‘anah: out of the 84 times it’s translated, only two are translated “Sing”. All the others are, Afflict, Humble, Force, Exercised, Weakened, Troubled. I think its safe to say, wasn’t a positive thing and Moses wasn’t thinking about praise to the LORD God, when he heard it.
שָׁמַע -Shama’: To Hear, Be Heared, Listen to, Call, Summon.
It wasn’t music, noise, or sound, the LORD was pleased with: it was in worship to a golden image they had just made! I found it fascinating that Joshua thought it sounded like war! Moses realized it wasn’t war, but it wasn’t proper praise music either- it was the sound of people who had defiled themselves by praising a golden calf they had just made! This is just one example of how the world brings praise, vs. how a man of God such as Moses or Joshua would. God wasn’t to happy with the people whom He had brought out of Egypt, and who had turned away from Him and nearly destroyed all of them. In the end, the worshippers of this false God died at the end of the sword.
Worship of God is a serious thing. God is not an overstuffed teddy bear in the sky, He is “The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty…18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Revelation 1:8,18)
When John saw and heard these things, he fell down on his face and worshiped. When Moses saw a burning bush and heard the voice of God, he covered his face, “lest he see the face of God.” This cavalier attitude we have today in Christendom, is born, not out of true worship, but really out of unbelief. We don’t really believe He is who we say He is. If we did, out lives would be remarkably changed. We would be obedient before trying to offer sacrifices of praise.
The Apostle Paul said it clearly:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)
According to Paul here, God accepts a life that is a living sacrifice, holy (set apart) from the conformance of the rest of the world. This is good, acceptable, and the perfect will of God. When applied to worship, whether in personal sacrifice, in words, in music, in dance, or any other expression of worship, if it isn’t significantly different than the way the world does it (and not just different, but holy, pure, peaceable, and theologically sound), than perhaps we are putting on a show for man which is really an abomination to God.
Let’s take a moment to make sure our worship isn’t tainted by the ways of the world, but is set apart for God, and God alone, sacred, holy, pure, lovely and acceptable to God.