Is ‘Worship’ more than just singing?


  • Question from AH, United Kingdom

    I was curious to hear how the word ‘worship’ is used in the Bible. Some people seem to say that singing is not worship, because worship is about your whole lifestyle. But in Amos 5 the word ‘worship’ is used for congregational singing, which sort of tells me there is still a place for calling worship by its proper name. I think you take away from ‘worship’ if you call it singing and just go for the worship is a lifestyle kind of thing. If we refer to sung worship as just ‘singing’ does that make it less important?

    The interesting thing about this question is the underlying assumption that the fairly modern, Western way of conducting a Christian meeting is Biblical. While songs have always been part of Jewish and then Christian worship, the Bible does not indicate that they are more important than any other means of worshipping God. In fact, the prime means of worship under the Mosaic covenant, and in Jesus’ day, was through sacrificing animals or birds in the Temple gathering.

    The reference in Amos to “the noise of your songs!” (Amos chapter 5, verse 23) follows prophetic utterances regarding ‘religious feasts’, ‘assemblies’, burnt sacrificial offerings, ‘grain offerings’ and atonement (fellowship) offerings. Songs and music feature last in the list. The whole point of this passage is that all these religious actions were meaningless if performed in the wrong spirit, which is why after the prophet dismisses them he issues this statement: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (verse 24)

    In the fourth gospel, when Jesus is asked about the correct method of worship, his famous reply is “the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John chapter 4, verse 23). This reflects an attitude towards life, not an instruction to break into song or to perform any other religious function which would then be called ‘worship’. Unfortunately, in many churches, the idea that Christians indulge occasionally in a ‘time of worship’ (e.g. on Sunday mornings) has taken hold. This is not a Biblical principle and has the added effect of separating life ‘in church’ (the sacred) from life outside (the secular).

    Music has the power to move and songs remain a vital means of imparting Christian truth. Kierkegaard, one of the pioneers of what became known as existentialism, wrote that “Music is the abstract made concrete”, meaning that feelings and emotions could be expressed and understood through the medium of music, even though they could never be adequately vocalised. Church leaders through the ages have recognised the importance of songs. Arius, the arch-heretic of early Christianity used songs put to popular sea-shanties to propagate his doctrines, a technique used centuries later by William Booth and his Salvation Army, who ‘borrowed’ music hall tunes for the same purpose. (NB: Booth was not a heretic, though). It would seem that sung expressions of worship will remain part of the Christian tradition, but the fact is that singing is only one aspect of Christian worship.

    Thank you for contributing to freelance theology, AH.

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