Christian worship is far more diverse than Western media would lead us to believe. Expressions of appreciation, love, and adoration for the God of the Bible are as varied as the cultures within which the Christian faith has been infused. On one end of the spectrum, there are what might be identified as ‘informal expressions’ of worship, often vibrant, expressive and culturally informed. On the other end are what might be described as ‘formal expressions’ of worship, often more orderly and informed by liturgy or denominational culture. Again, there exists a plethora of convergent expressions somewhere in-between.

Often, people gauge the quality of their worship experiences according to whether their emotions were stirred and whether they left the service feeling motivated. The trouble with such an assessment is that it is very much informed by taste and preference. It is for this reason that we consider it a fruitless exercise to try and assess the relevance or efficacy of any specific form of worship – each have their place and function and believers should enjoy the freedom of participating in worship environments where they feel comfortable.

What we should do, however, is consider some of the qualities that constitute genuine and fruitful worship, seeking to ensure that these qualities are present, whatever contexts we find ourselves in. So, the question is, what are some of the qualities that would constitute Christian worship? Biblically, we have some instructions as to what our worship should contain.

  1. Worship in Spirit

Worship can be something we do as part of a pre-determined program or agenda, with very little opportunity given for spontaneous, Spirit-led deviations from the plan. Yet, when we look at the book of Acts, we see that in the first Christian community, the Holy Spirit was essentially governing the program (Acts.1:8; 5:3, 13:2). Worship, by its very nature, should be led and directed by the Spirit (Jn. 4:20-24). Craig Keener writes,

“If God’s Spirit empowered his people in worship in the Old Testament, he certainly deserves worship today that is no less Spirit-led. Scripture, in fact, marks the believer as one who will worship God not merely in traditional temples (such as those in Samaria or Jerusalem) or with traditional ritual (such as circumcision) but “in the Spirit” (John 4:24; Phil. 3:3 in context).” [1]

The Holy Spirit leading us does not directly translate into mystical experiences or weird ecstasies. There are too many oddities within some churches that are attributed to the working of the Holy Spirit, when in fact they are just manifestations of the flesh. The Holy Spirit always leads to us esteem God properly (1 Cor.12:3; Jn. 16:14; Rom.8:26).
Homer A. Kent wrote,

“Occasionally the criticism is heard that the Holy Spirit is not honored sufficiently by present-day Christians. However, if Christ is given the proper emphasis, then Christians are responding to the Spirit’s basic ministry of glorifying Christ. Any movement supposedly led by the Spirit that focuses most of the interest on the phenomena of the Spirit is contrary to this statement of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is honored when Christ is glorified in our lives.” [2]

Worship, stimulated by the presence of the Holy Spirit, will therefore both esteem Christ correctly and the truth of God’s Word clearly (Jn. 17:17, 8:32). Worship is not just a dead ritual; it is a participation with and response to the guidance of the Spirit, who leads us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).

  1. Worship in truth

Worshipping in truth speaks to the content and genuineness of our expressions of worship (Jn. 4:24, 16:13). Worship should never be allowed to devolve into a form of entertainment or self-adulation. Worship songs that are constantly fixated on our benefits or on our self-importance simply will not do. We should be alarmed when the focus of our services starts and ends with a focus on self. Worship should demonstrate a proper understanding of God’s self-disclosure in His word, affording Him our primary focus (Job.42:5). True worship should be theologically sound, and therefore, as we like to say, Bible-based.

Worship can also become a stale habit, tradition, or ritual – something that we simply ‘do’ as part of our regular Sunday services. However, worshipping in truth requires that those who approach the throne of grace do so willingly, with sincerity and genuineness. Skip Heitzig writes,

“The externals of worship don’t matter. It’s not the art of worship that is vital; it’s the heart of worship that counts. Certainly, I must worship according to God’s directives, but the important issue is that my heart is involved and that I’m not focused on outward appearances. There must be sincerity and truth.” [3]

  1. Worship in beauty

Worshippers who have a biblical understanding of the transcendence of God should be compelled to worship in ways that are entirely upward focussed, appreciating the fullness of the beauty of the triune God. When God is the object of our worship, we cannot but be overwhelmed with His beauty. Norman Geisler describes the beauty of God when he writes,

“God is beautiful; He is, in fact, the ultimate standard of all beauty. Whatever is beautiful is beautiful because it is like Him. All beauty has order and unity; God is the source of all order and unity. Hence, God is the source of all beauty. When we see Him as He is, we will behold beauty—ultimate, infinite, and unadulterated beauty—as it truly is.” [4]

At the same time, we understand ourselves as having been made in the image of God, and while we should never seek to be worshippers of self, it is appropriate for worship to be contextual. The Psalms abound with invitations for the people of God to worship in beautiful ways that embrace diversity (Ps. 33:2; 149:3; 150:3-4). Worship can be enriched when divergent aspects of our varying cultures are incorporated into our expressions of worship.

  1. Worship in Holiness

Both the Old and New Testaments highlight the requirement for believers to be holy (Ex.15:11; Ps. 96:9; 1 Pet.1:16, 2:5, 9). This command to live holy lives extends beyond a simple adherence to a set of regulations and should permeate every aspect of Christian life, including that of worship. As Jesus taught, we should not even consider bringing sacrifices – including those of praise and thanksgiving – to the altar if we harbour any ill-feelings against our fellow believers (Matt. 5:24). Similarly, Paul taught that we should not partake in Holy Communion unworthily, without first having checked ourselves and the condition of our relationship with God (1 Cor. 11:27).

Worshiping in holiness relates to the issue of purity, as we approach the Creator, with right hearts, right thoughts, and right intentions, to gaze upon His perfections. As we do so, our lives begin to reflect what we gaze upon. We become what we behold. Given the biblical imperative for believers to become more and more Christ-like, it follows that our worship should be Christ-centred (2 Cor. 3:18). It should be fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb.12:1-2). Ken Heer writes,

“God is holy. Those who enter His presence must not only recognize His holiness, but must themselves be holy. When we come to worship, we can only assemble in the name of Jesus, as people whose sins have been covered by His blood.” [5]

To be continued…

Short Bio:

Rev. Hugh Goosen is a minister with the Baptist Union of Southern Africa. He holds a MTh and is in the process of finishing his PhD with a focus in pneumatology. He currently serves as the Ambassador of the South African Theological Seminary.

Ps Rudolph Boshoff has completed his BTh and his BTh Hons at SATS and is currently pursuing his Masters in Theology with a specific emphasis on Islam at the same institution. He is also actively involved with Cult and Muslim Evangelism (Ad Lucem Ministries) and he also lectures full-time at a local seminary in Randburg (RBC).

Sources:

[1] Gift & Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today. Pg. 32

[2] Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John, 2nd ed. Pg. 211-212

[3] How to Study the Bible and Enjoy it. Pg. 136.

[4] Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation. Pg. 245.

[5] Ancient Fire: The Power of Christian Rituals in Contemporary Worship. Pg. 83.