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Today there is a heavy emphasis on praise and worship in the Christian community, especially in the West. Christian concerts featuring well-known Christian artists attract thousands to come together to enjoy the worship of God. There are countless music ministries and singers, some of them very famous.
Is this emphasis on worship found in the New Testament? Of course, it is good to praise the Lord (Psalm 92:1). We see David in the Old Testament dancing before the Lord with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14), and God was pleased with him. We see singers and musicians sacrificing praises to God in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15). But is this outward form to be carried over at the same level into the New Testament, which is the reality of the Old Testament shadow?
The answer is that we do not see the same emphasis taught in New Testament Scripture. Yes, we do see Jesus and the disciples singing a hymn on one occasion (Matthew 26:30). We are taught in 1 Corinthians 14:15 to sing to God with our understanding as well as with our spirit. However, we do not see professional singers and musicians per se—rather we see apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers. We do not see big Christian concerts featuring the worship of God.
Rather, true and proper worship in the New Testament is living a holy life. This is the sacrifice which is pleasing to God.
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.
We are to renew our minds in accordance with God’s word, overcoming the works of our flesh and living lives of self-control and discipline. This is the worship which truly pleases God.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Does everyone who comes to praise and worship God in church on a Sunday morning obey the Lord’s command to be holy as He is holy? Have those who gather at Christian concerts offered their bodies as living sacrifices to God? The answer to both questions is most likely no. Many professing Christians are unable to overcome the sin nature and still practice sin.
Therefore, could the contemporary emphasis on worship in the form of music in Christian gatherings be more of a reflection of our culture than of following the pattern found in Scripture? Of course, contextualizing the gospel to fit the culture in itself is not necessarily wrong. Going to a Christian concert can be uplifting to the faith of a western believer. Sinners have come to Christ as Lord and Savior at such concerts (but again, “concert evangelism” is not seen in the New Testament). Believers raised in Western culture may find a Sunday service very dry indeed without uplifting praise and worship before the word of God is delivered.
But we must acknowledge that this is not the primary worship taught in the New Testament. We must place more emphasis on teaching God’s people to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is our true and proper worship. We must teach believers to overcome sin and to obey God’s holy commands by the power of the Holy Spirit. But because of the Church’s failure to do this, believers often fall into sin.
When a megachurch pastor or leader sins, it becomes public fodder for the broadcast media. As the sin is splashed across newspaper headlines, it confirms to the world that Christianity is but one of many different world religions and has no power to change us. Then we have an excuse for sin, since “no one is perfect.” We become immunized to the work of the Holy Spirit which is to convict us of sin. Is it possible that in order to compensate for our inability to overcome sin, we expend disproportionate energy sacrificing praise and worship to the Lord in song? But Scripture says:
“To obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Samuel 15:22)
When we obey the Lord’s command to walk in holiness, then our songs and praises will be much more pleasing to Him.