Pagan church worship?

December 29, 2014 - By 

I admit it, I did read this article:

And I did not agree with it. (Imagine that!)

I approach church worship ministry, as those of you who know me will know, primarily from a traditional point of view. Our church doesn’t have a praise band; we have a choir and orchestra. So we don’t deal with some of the scenarios that were mentioned in this article.

However, I’m not really sure I agreed with the premise of the article, which basically tried to show us that music isn’t really a way to enter God’s presence. On the contrary, I have over the years felt that our worship indeed is the primary way for us to enter God’s presence, and in recent years, I have become even stronger in my conviction on the matter.

I do agree that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Worship can never do what Christ alone has done. However, worship can draw us closer to God as it gives us a greater awareness of His presence (and of our need for Him).

Here are the author’s main points:

  1. God’s Word is marginalized.
  2. Our assurance is threatened.
  3. Musicians are given priestly status.
  4. Divisions are increased.

Let me gently address each of these.

God’s Word doesn’t have to be marginalized.

I agree, faith comes through the proclamation of God’s Word, but if I were to take this author’s argument to the extreme, we might as well remove the entire song portion of our services. Yes, the preaching of the Word of God is preeminent, but the musical worship of God’s people has it’s place too.

Our assurance doesn’t have to be threatened.

I understand what the author tries to say here. He doesn’t want us to associate entering God’s presence with a certain feeling or emotion. And it’s true, there needs to be solid biblical truth involved in our worship. But we are also to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, emphasis added). Our assurance need not be tied to a feeling, but our worship need not be devoid of feelings.

Musicians–and all worshipers–should be given a priestly status.

If the author had just changed the term from “priestly” to “rock star”, I would have been happy. And so, again, I know what he’s getting at. And if it weren’t for semantics, we’d be golden. But I genuinely believe our worship would be much more pleasing to God (and personally fulfilling) if we would take our role in the worship service as seriously as the Old Testament priests took their role. I want all worship leaders in our ministry to take their calling seriously, to approach it with a sacred passion, and to be faithful to their calling. There’s just no other appropriate way to worship God.

Unity can be achieved.

I will be very careful here, as I don’t want my words stretched or used against me. (And I have people who I would consider dear friends who would disagree with me on this.) I believe that much of the contemporary worship (that is, those rock concert worship churches) is dependent upon a feeling, an effect, emotionalism, or whatever you want to call it, often at the exclusion of truth (or much substance, at least). But lack of unity is not so much a result of an inaccurate view of approaching God through worship (as the author would have you believe), as it is a result of losing site of the main thing. When we turn our focus away from Christ, and on to our preferences and what we want, then of course there will be divisions.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not undermining the fact that there have been years and years of worship wars. Many tastes, preferences, and opinions have split churches right down the middle. It’s not been pretty. But to infer that the cause of that is a pagan philosophy of worship is not entirely accurate, in my view.

It’s completely understandable what the author is trying to do, and on much I agree. I’m thankful for the discussion it has led to. Don’t misunderstand me: I’ve no patience for pagan worship. But I regularly seek God’s presence in worship, and desire to lead others there as well.

Posted In:  Church Music Ministry
  • James, have you read Peterson’s “Engaging With God”? He shows clearly how corporate worship after Calvary (and the tearing of the veil) is about mutual edification, not “God’s presence,” since we have the indwelling Spirit. I recommend it for clarity on this issue.

    Style discussions can easily lead to straw men and false premises. So it’s really not a style issue. I didn’t disagree with your points above, but I do disagree with the position that music leads us into God’s presence.

  • Thanks, Dan. I have not read this, but I will look into it.

  • Dan, I have not read Peterson’s book, but worship for thousands of years prior to Jesus death was sacrifice. When Jesus died on the cross as an atonement sacrifice for sin, it did not change the meaning or definition of “worship” As Christians, we offer “sacrifices of praise” in music worship, we offer tithes and offering (sacrificially) in our “giving” worship, and during the ministry of the Word we offer our hearts and minds in the hearing and doing of the Word. We no longer sacrifice for the atonement of our sins, but we do offer our bodies as a “living SACRIFICE” for the glory of God. Edification of the believer is a wonderful byproduct of corporate worship. But if mutual edification is the reason for “worship”, we have a man-centered and self-serving worship that is not for the “glory” of God but for the gratification of man.

  • I didn’t read the article you are posting about but the way I see the music and other activities in a church service is to help us be “Mary” for a time. Spend special time with our Lord. If we have Jesus as our Saviour we are in His presents all the time but we may not be aware of His presents.

    At Christmas we decorate and play Christmas music. July 4th we get out John Philip Sousa and watch fireworks. We go on a date with our spouse or children. We do these things to focus and give special attention to these times or people. We should go this daily but really who has time!

    I think that this is what church should do. Not bring us into His presents but help us focus and pay special attention to our Lord. Does it make us feel closer to Him, yes but that is not the reason for doing it. We do it because we what to join our heavenly family in spending special time with our heavenly Father!

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