“Singing and the Presence of God”Categories: Worship
The other day, I ran across a blog post online entitled, “Is Your Church Worship More Pagan Than Christian?” I said to myself, “Hmm. That sounds like the sort of thing I might agree with,” so I clicked on it. I did not agree with it.
The thesis of the post, to quote the author, is that “Music is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. In this schema, music becomes a means of mediation between God and man. But this idea is closer to ecstatic pagan practices than to Christian worship.” In other words, if we regard singing as a way to experience the presence of God, we’re thinking unbiblically.
I disagree. There are many Scriptural texts that link worship and encountering God. As Psalm 100 urges, “Come into His presence with singing! . . . Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise!” Certainly, this refers in part to entering the grounds of the physical temple in Jerusalem. However, the Israelites knew very well that God didn’t live in a box. They regarded the temple as a special point of access to His actual presence in heaven, and they worshiped in order to come into that presence.
Today, we worship God neither on Jerusalem nor on Mt. Gerizim. Instead, we worship in spirit and truth. God’s attention is no longer focused on the temple. Instead, wherever His people gather, He is in their midst. Our song worship is supposed to be a celebration of His presence. If we aren’t emotionally moved by the knowledge that God is with us and is accepting our worship, we aren’t doing it right.
Now, I do agree that many of the harms that the author lists are problems. No, we shouldn’t marginalize the Bible in favor of worship. No, we shouldn’t base our relationship with Him on emotion rather than truth. No, we shouldn’t exalt our worship leaders above their brethren. No, we shouldn’t divide over worship styles.
All of those things are wrong, but none of them are a result of desiring to encounter God through song worship. They’re the result of other spiritual problems that are contaminating worship too. If we try to make worship something other than a way to encounter God, we won’t solve those problems. Instead, we’ll create new ones.
Indeed, I believe that such problems are prominently on display in churches around the country. Every congregation that numbly goes through the motions on Sunday morning, every congregation that approaches song worship with the enthusiasm appropriate to a trip to the dentist, is a congregation that has forgotten the reality of the presence of God. Such churches may comfort themselves with the conviction that they have “done the right thing” (“Act of Worship #2—check!”), but in truth, they’ve only offered a Malachi 1 counterfeit.
The last thing that they need is increased suspicion of emotion in worship! Rather, what all of us need to increase is our willingness to pour ourselves out before the Lord, to rejoice in the knowledge that He is with us. Certainly, emotional worship can be wrong, but emotionless worship can’t be right.