But all things should be done decently and in order.
– 1 Corinthians 14:40
In TRUE WORSHIP OR RELIGIOUS ENTERTAINMENT?, we laid the foundation for this discussion. The question was whether crazy dancing is a part of true worship or is just idolatry. The fact that corporate worship (church service), was meant to worship God in awe and reverence was noted. Today, we consider the topic in-depth. First, we begin with what we mean by worship and corporate worship.
THE TERMS : WORSHIP AND CORPORATE WORSHIP
When we say worship, we do not refer to the “slow songs”. Worship here, does not mean getting to the emotional, ecstatic high. We refer to worship as the act of submission to God. Worship is a daily activity as Paul says, “It is presenting ourselves as sacrifices”(Romans 12:1-2). When we say corporate worship then, we refer to the Church body gathering together to fellowship with God. God isn’t looking for performers, He is looking for true worshipers: People who are wholly submitted to His Truth and worshiping by the Spirit.
IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH- CHRIST’S WORDS
Christ tells us how important the worship of God is. In his conversation with the woman by the well, Christ says God is looking for true worshipers who will worship Him in “Spirit and in truth.” That is, God seeks those who will worship Him by the Spirit (no one can worship God truly except by the Holy Spirit; worship apart from the Holy Spirit is idolatry) and in truth (that is, according to the standards commanded by God). It is in this place that doctrine matters. When we understand who God is, and who we are as sinners, a difference is seen in our worship. As Michael Horton brilliantly stated, “doctrine leads to doxology”. Truth has a vital part in worship. This is what Christ means when He says in Matthew 15:9, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” and in Mark 7:7, “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” That is, worship not done according to how God commands is in vain. Worship not directed in the Bible is simply vain: they are according to the “commandments of men”. Jesus warned against allowing traditions to dominate and subvert the Word of God: “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matt. 15:6). When we don’t have a high view on God, idolatry is the result and we try to paint it in the name of “glorifying” my Father. Something that is in complete contrast to what God has said does not glorify Him. God’s glory is important, and He does not take it in vain and neither are we to. We must worship as God commands us to and we must remember “All things must be done to the glory of God.” It is essential to obey the Lord. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see entertainment as part of worship. When the Church gathers, they do so by “offering to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP
The regulative principle simply states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon what Scripture has said. That is, God has commanded us on how to worship Him as a Church, and we can do none other. God regulates His worship by the Word. It states simply that, “what is not commanded in Scripture, is forbidden“. To violate this is straight idolatry: it is worshiping God falsely. The regulative principle is not one that is legalistic when applied. Rather, it frees the church from idiocies and allows us to freely worship God on his terms. The regulative principle identifies “elements” (that is, key aspects of worship). These elements include:
- reading the Bible (1 Tim. 4:13)
- preaching the Bible (2 Tim. 4:2)
- singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) — the Psalms as well as Scripture songs that reflect the development of redemptive history in the birth-life-death-resurrection- ascension of Jesus
- praying the Bible — the Father’s house is “a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13)
- and seeing the Bible in the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38–39; 1 Cor. 11:23–26; Col. 2:11–12)
- In addition, occasional elements such as oaths, vows, solemn fasts and thanksgivings have also been recognized and highlighted (see Westminster Confession of Faith 21:5).
Check this for an in-depth treatment. What is the Regulative Principle of Worship?
The regulative principle, then, ensures that all things are done in a proper order. As Derek Thomas notes, “Without the regulative principle, we are at the mercy of ‘worship leaders’ and bullying pastors who charge noncompliant worshipers with displeasing God unless they participate according to a certain pattern and manner.” This is exactly what happens in churches today; because of a deviation from Scripture, we have been left at the mercy of so-called worship leaders and pastors. Crazy dances are not spoken of in Scripture and hence, must not be allowed. However, we must note that this is different from swaying slowly or slightly.
GOD’S GLORY, THE BODY OF CHRIST, ME
When we worship, the key question is : To who’s glory are we worshiping?: God’s or man’s? We say to God’s glory. Therefore, worship must be done for His glory ultimately. Anything not according to God’s glory should not be done. In corporate worship, we meet God as the church. One may ask, what if I can glorify God through my “crazy dance”? Or what if I’m letting people know how good Christ has been to me? First, God is glorified when men see our good works not our crazy dance (Matthew 5:16). Secondly, you can share that goodness in other ways(in love, in speech, in good deeds) not by dancing crazily. Thirdly, there is no “I” in corporate worship. It’s no longer about me but the body of Christ when we fellowship with other brethren. Is my dancing in line with “everything being done decently and in order”? Is my dancing distracting to other members of the body of Christ? Is the attention on Christ or on what I am doing? If so, it must not be done. Everything must be for the edification (building up) of the body. Our head’s are not disconnected from true worship and so we should always remember the body of Christ in all we do in corporate worship. This is what glorifies God.
True freedom then, is worshiping God as He has prescribed. That is true freedom. When we worship God as He has commanded us to, that is in Spirit and in Truth, we are living in true freedom, and that is what brings glory to God. Doing otherwise, is to put oneself under idolatry;which is bondage. It is essential then for us to obey the Lord. We are not to worship false gods and neither are we to worship the True God falsely. They are both a violation of the standard of God. When we worship God as he has commanded us to, we enjoy true freedom in Him. Now this does not take away our heart from worship. We are not emotionless humans and worshiping God as he has commanded does not turn us into one. Rather, The Holy Spirit illuminates the truth of God’s word in our hearts and we respond in awe and reverence. Our hearts are rightly involved in true worship.
When one deviates from God’s word, the consequences are serious. When Nadab and Abihu offered “a strange fire” to God, they were killed, not because they offered the sacrifice, but because they offered it in a way that God had not commanded them to (Leviticus 10). This must be an example to the Church today. We may not add or take away from how God has commanded us not to take away or add to his words (Deut. 12:32). We must do exactly as He has commanded. These crazy dances are not commanded by God. Interestingly, crazy dancing is not presented in good light. The Israelites were found “dancing” in front of the golden calf. “When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 32:19). Here, we see dancing presented in an idolatrous manner. We also see this said of the prophets of Baal when Elijah challenged them, “…they limped around the altar that they had made…cried aloud… they raved on” (1Kings 18:26-29). These idolatrous dances in churches are pagan and are simply not acceptable. They are man-centered and very distracting in services. The attention must always be on Christ, and anything that steals glory from Him must be removed.
THE CASE OF DAVID
Some have defended these crazy dances in church services, by citing the example of David. However, the context tells us something different. David had just returned victorious from war against the Philistines, and was returning the ark to Jerusalem. In his excitement, he leaped into dancing (2 Samuel 6:14). This, is not in corporate worship. The people of God had not gathered to worship God in this case. This example, cannot justify crazy dances that goes on in churches.
THE PLACE OF ENTERTAINMENT
We must worship God by the Holy Spirit and in truth, that is, as stated in Holy Scripture. These forms of entertainment have no place in the church. As one writer notes, “When ministry becomes performance, then the sanctuary becomes a theater, the congregation becomes an audience, worship becomes entertainment, and man’s applause and approval become the measure of success.” We must worship God as commanded, not according to tradition. There is no place for the madness that has been nicknamed “praise and dance.” In worship, there is orderliness; for God is not the author of confusion. Dr. Robert W. Godfrey brilliantly notes,
“The call for entertainment in worship in our time is often cast in a particularly seductive form. Entertainment is often sold in the name of evangelism. We are told that we must make worship interesting and exciting for the unconverted so that they will come to church and be converted. At first glance, that argument is very appealing. We all want to see many brought to faith in Christ. Who wants to be against evangelism? But we must remember: entertainment is not evangelism, and evangelism is not worship. People are evangelized, not by a juggler, but by the presentation of the Gospel. And while evangelism may occur in worship as the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed, the purpose and focus of worship is that those who believe in Christ should gather and meet with God. In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 the apostle Paul comments on the presence of an unbeliever in a worship service. He does not call for the church to entertain the unbeliever or make him feel comfortable. Rather, in the clear and understandable articulation of the truth, the unbeliever should be convinced that he is a sinner. ‘So, he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”’ Faithful worship, where the primary purpose is the meeting of God with his people through his Word, may well have the secondary result that unbelievers will come to faith. But worship must not be constructed for the unbeliever. Rather, it is for God and the church. The whole service in the church, then, must not be shaped for either entertainment or evangelism. Instead, it must serve to unite the people of God for their meeting with God.”
A RETURN TO THE BIBLE
We must return to the Word of God. Men are no longer enduring sound doctrine; they have itchy ears. The Apostle Paul rightly warned of this. The church, instead of being a place to meet God and worship Him with awe and reverence has become nothing more than a theater. Many are seeking “fun” and in response, the Church is trying to please them by becoming like the world. But this is blasphemy! This is nothing but pagan worship. The God of the Universe must be worshiped according to Scripture! As Martyn Lloyd Jones notes, “Once you have lost the division between the world and the Church — the Church ceases to be truly Christian!” The Church is different from the World, and these “crazy things” that are supposedly in praise to God must be banished from the Church. When we meet with fellow believers, that time is for God, and it must be honoring; for our God is a consuming fire.