As we start to focus more and more on Discernment in Music posts, the need to clearly define some of our terminology becomes clear. There is a tendency in modern evangelicalism of treating Praise and Worship as interchangeable terms. I believe that to be an error in theology. Worse, there is a tendency to treat both Praise and Worship as pertaining only to music and singing. If you asked today’s evangelical youth to define Praise and Worship, you’d probably get a breakdown along the lines of “praise is when you’re rockin’ out for God, and worship is the slower music before the sermon”. Worship and Praise are not the same thing, and neither is defined by music, singing, or dancing.
Worship ≠ Praise ≠ Music
Today’s post will not be an exhaustive treatment of this thesis; rather, it might be considered more of an introduction. It will not be a short post. The visible church has been overwhelmed by this music-centric understanding of Praise and Worship for decades… Hillsong, Vineyard, and Jesus Culture have built empires on this error of theology, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t take my word on this, but take what I’m presenting here to the Word of God to see if it is True.
For the empiricist reader, I fully recognize that you “feel something” whenever you are engaged in “corporate worship” of a certain sound, a certain vibe, and many of you attribute that sensation to the Holy Spirit’s approval of the music, singing, and other inclusions of art in the “worship service”. There is often the argument of, “there is power in praise and worship music”… and to that I will agree. However, let me urge you to suspend that thought for just a second, and consider that while there is clearly emotive power in music, that doesn’t necessarily constitute God’s approval. The thought, “I really enjoyed that” shouldn’t morph into “the Presence of God was there”… but it does in evangelical speak. The world can manipulate the emotions and the senses through the arts better than any of today’s mega-church corporations… and we see this when they constantly copy the world’s techniques. The world has perfected the art of staging a concert down to scientific and engineering detail. Emotional manipulation through the arts is a multi-billion dollar industry (Movies, Music, TV, and Internet).
I’m a big fan of music. I find enjoyment in a wide array of musical styles and genres. I have played in Church worship teams, sung background and the occasional lead, and ran a small mobile DJ business that I handed over to my little brother when I enlisted in the US Army. I love music. Is it possible to incorporate music and the arts into our proper Praise of God? Absolutely.
Psalm 150 (ESV) | Let Everything Praise the Lord
1 Praise the Lord!Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Throughout Chronicles whenever King David directed the people of Israel to Praise the Lord he assigned musicians and singers to mark the event. He had instruments made and he wrote many songs and hymns. He also had chief musicians who wrote Psalms. You’ll find hundreds of songs and references to songs throughout the Bible… but you won’t find the arrangements. You’ll find the lyrics, but not the melody. Music can add emotion to lyrics, but it cannot sanctify them. When God ensured His Word was recorded and preserved throughout the generations unto this day, He preserved His Word, but not the musical arrangement. Why is that? Because in Christ we have musical freedom, but we dare not neglect or abuse His Word. Praise doesn’t require music. Music is a gift to us from God that can be used to heighten our emotional engagement with the substance of our Praise (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), but music is in no way required for praise. The music doesn’t make the praise, it is the Praise that makes the music pleasing to God. Praise Him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
What is praise? In a secular sense, praise is the act of expressing approval or admiration; commendation; laudation (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/praise). The focus of the definition isn’t on the act; rather, on the substance of what is being sung/spoken. There are cases where the praise might purely contextually based, such that an outsider may find the praise ambiguous. For example, if a group of people are gathered in the living room to watch a team sporting event on TV… everyone might cheer a great play without articulating what was assumed to be witnessed by all. Everyone might simply yell, “YEAH!” or “WOOHOO” while throwing their hands up in the air. That is praise. It isn’t very clear praise for someone who didn’t witness the play, or has no knowledge of what is taking place on the television. However, if the outsider were to ask any one of them what they were praising, we’d expect them all to articulate the object of their praise (e.g. the great play). Before we abandon this analogy, please note that as the crowd grows larger, the likelihood of one of the “praisers” not understanding what they were praising or why grows. What becomes of that individual? They are either labeled a “false fan” of the game, or a fan of being a fan, or a praiser of praise irrespective of the object of said praise… they just like seeing folks “happy”. Sadly, many a modern church congregation fits this sports fan analogy better than what is prescribed of a Church in the New Testament.
Turning to the Scriptures, I’m going to stick with a solid English interpretation of the Bible and will not be diving into the Ancient Hebrew or the Koine Greek. For those of you who have faithfully studied the Biblical languages, feel free to search these things out in the original texts. We’ll start by a rough examination of the use of the word “praise” in the ESV, beginning in Genesis.
The first time we see this word is in Genesis 12. God called Abrahm to leave his country and his father’s house and go to the land that He would show Abram. Abram believed the Word of the Lord and obeyed. He took his wife, Sarai, and followed as the Lord led him. Let us pick up in verse 10.
Genesis 12:10-15 (ESV) | Abram and Sarai in Egypt
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
So, in this historical narrative, we find out that Sarai is indeed beautiful in appearance, so much so that Abram fears for his life and opts to lie about her. The Egyptians praised her to Pharaoh. What does that mean? They communicated to Pharaoh what they saw and knew about Sarai. They had esteemed her greatly and were praising her as one in whom the Pharaoh should take interest. They had been given wrong information regarding her, but their praise of her beauty was not wrong. They were praising what they had witnessed.
Skip ahead to Genesis chapter 29, we find Isaac’s son, Jacob, and his two wives Leah and Rachel. Jacob had entered into an agreement with Laban to marry Rachel, but Laban tricked Jacob into first marrying Leah, Rachel’s olders sister, so Jacob then had to promise to work longer for Laban to finally marry Rachel. Now Jacob has 2 wives but loved Rachel and hated (“loved less” in this sense) Leah. Let’s pick up in verse 31.
Genesis 29:31-35 (ESV) | Jacob’s Children
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.
Our first introduction to the concept of praise reflects an expression of witness of the beauty of Sarai. Here, we see praise as an expression of thanksgiving for what God has done for Leah. It is expressed in his name, Judah. It is fitting, then, that the Promise of the Messiah is given to the tribe of Judah.
Genesis 49:8-12 (ESV) | Jacob Blesses His Sons
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.
Judah will be praised for what God will do through his generations. In Revelation 5, Jesus Christ is identified as the Lion of Judah.
Revelation 5:1-5 (ESV) | The Scroll and the Lamb
1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Praise begins and ends in God the Father and God the Son. We offer praises to God for who He Is and what He has Done. As we close out Genesis and move into Exodus, we find our next occurrence of the word “praise” in the Song of Moses, Exodus 15.
Exodus 15:1-3 (ESV) | The Song of Moses
1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name.
God is being praised in this moment (and forevermore) for who He is (our strength, our song, and our salvation) and for what He has done. The remainder of this song is confession of what the Lord has done by His Mighty Hand. Miriam led the singing with tambourines. This song is revisited and expanded in Psalm 106, and was likely accompanied by a greater complement of instruments. Psalm 106 extends this theme of thanksgiving for God’s grace and mercy and mighty works for a sinful and forgetful people, Israel.
I’ve heard it said in multivarious ways by various people that they just couldn’t get into the Praise at a given church due to its music. It is one thing to be distracted by technological problems, painful volume levels, or having music that is very poorly played, but to cite a musical style as inhibitive of Praising God is folly. Sometimes the phrasing comes out, “it doesn’t feel like the Holy Spirit is free to move in their worship service”. I think that the vast majority simply haven’t been taught what Praise really is. If you are finding it hard to Praise God (with or without music), I submit to you that it is due to not having an understanding of who God is, what He has done, who you are, or you have an unhealthy fixation on your own senses.
Worship isn’t a subset of music. It isn’t the “slow songs”, though it is possible for a slow song to be sung in worship. Praise is a subset of Worship. Music can be used to enhance our worship, so long as it doesn’t become the object of our worship. Let’s start with the basics, but I want to begin with something Jesus told the Samaritan at the well.
John 4:19-26 (ESV)
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
What is the context of the Samaritan’s reference to worship? If you think it’s singing slow songs, you’ve missed the greater meaning of worship. She is contrasting the Samaritan worship up in the mountain, but the Jews declared the only place of worship was in Jerusalem. She is referring to the Temple. Worship, in the Mosaic Covenant, encapsulated all that took place in the Temple of God (first the tabernacle). If we look back through Genesis as we did with Praise, we’ll see that the first forms of worship mentioned are the sacrifices to God.
Genesis 22:1-8 (ESV) | The Sacrifice of Isaac
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
In its purest sense, Worship is the act of serving God. The sacrifices of the Law, the bowing of the head in reverence to God, the prayers, and also the songs of praise are all forms of Worship. The Law articulated what it was for Israel to worship God, and it also set limits as to what forms of worship were strictly forbidden. This is what is being discussed at the well in Samaria. The Samaritans were guilty of mixing Jewish worship with the worship of false gods. They kept the old “high places” built to false gods and incorporated the Asherim and other gods of the Assyrians in their religion. This is why the Jews despised them so, they were not merely a people of mixed bloodlines, but of mixed religion. Jesus’s answer to her isn’t to pick a side between Samaritans and Jews; rather, it is to declare that He had come to reconcile all men unto God through Himself. This Samaritan, was waiting for the Messiah, the Promised One… and He presented Himself to her.
The New Testament clearly demonstrates what it means to be a true worshiper of God, that it is only done by faith, and that faith is the gift of God. In the New Covenant we still have prayer, the Psalms, the public reading of the Word (Law and Gospel), and Christ instituted communion. What do we do about the sacrifices? Our giving is still an act of worship, if our hearts are right (Sermon on the mount). The book of Hebrews does an excellent job of teaching worship in the context of the New Covenant.
Hebrews 12:18-29 (ESV) | A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 13:1-21 (ESV) | Sacrifices Pleasing to God
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Amen. Let us clean up our understanding of Worship that is pleasing to God, and then let us strive to correct the language. Corporate Worship is everything you do as a gathered assembly of believers. We may sing songs of Praise, but everything we do in service of our God and Saviour is to be worship offered by faith, in spirit and in truth. Your giving, your prayer, your speech, your attire, your embraces, and your kisses, do all as an act of Worship to the Glory of God, whom you serve (Worship).
In Christ Jesus,