It is no secret that people, as a general rule, are prone to make idols. The same nature that existed in the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt and created a golden calf to worship at the base of the mountain (where God was visibly present in the form of a cloud) exists in us. We are quick to abandon God and replicate the worship of the one true God with a form of worship that is pleasant to us. We are quick to assign deliverance to a false deliverer, exalt what our own hands have created, and make worship an idol. Now we jump to today within the context of the modern day contemporary church. Like in the past, there are many who are worshipping worship.
God created us to worship – but He created us to worship Him. What does worship look like? It looks like obedience. It is interesting to note the work of the people in crafting an idol to worship in Exodus. They used everything that God gave them – even the wealth from the Egyptians, to make-up a God that fit their imagination. Just like Israel did in the wilderness, today the professing Christian often labors hard to fashion a god that makes no demands except basic belief. We create, with the tools and the gifts that God has given us, a representation of something, in the very presence of God. So then, just like Israel, we too, are expert idol makers. Moreover, our ‘golden calves’ or ‘sacred cows’ distort other people from seeing and worshipping the one true God as revealed through His son Jesus Christ.
Why does worship have to be obedience? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Therefore, the assessment of true worship is obedience. Take for example the ‘sacred cow’ of modern musical worship. In a sense, we can become people who worship worship music. How does this happen? First it happens when we relegate worship exclusively to a form of music that suits us well (fast, slow, traditional, contemporary, etc). Second, it happens when we sing songs to a God that makes demands of us yet we never follow through on what he desires of us; chiefly, obedience. Instead, we sing what we like louder, and our lives are not affected since our lifestyle is detached from any sort of obedience inherent in the words we sing. Therefore, we worship worship. We have created an idol, and we have made that idol in the very presence of God.
I confess that I used to be a worshipper of worship. At one point in my life I had grown accustomed to one way to worship God in a worship service and had exalted that paradigm as the pinnacle of experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit. This elevated a particular formula or model of worship that became an idol. Soon, worship was not about obedience but it was about songs, sounds, effects, key changes, rhythms, and words that I liked. Worship began to be defined as ‘music’ and it became self -pleasing and self -focused – it became an idol. This slow drift was unnoticeable at first, but later became a stumbling block as I met and sat in church of people from other worship traditions. My idol was now a tool of judgement imposed on others to test whether or not they were really worshipping. I had made an idol of worship and I was forcing others to bow down to it. And, I did all this in the presence of God.
To a degree, all ministries follow a predictable form which helps people worship God. It can be 3 fast songs and 2 slow songs or whatever combination. Yet, when we refuse to change, we show that we are worshipping worship. We hold on to the form above the function. And, most pastors will never change their order of service or order of musical worship songs. So, we worship worship by making it tame, predictable, and patterned after what we like and detached from a life of obedience.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself to Examine if You Are Worshipping Worship:
- Is my life oriented in a responsive way to the words that I am singing in a church song? Does my worship look like obedience?
- Do I find that church music matters more than its content? Do I place more emphasis on the sound (aesthetics) over substance (theology)?
- Can I worship God in a variety of church traditions with an array of worshipful ‘tools’ (liturgy, hymns, responsive reading, choruses, praise songs, scripture reading, meditative prayer, contemplative prayer, fasting) and moods (rejoicing, celebratory, solemn, contemplative, joyful, triumphant, etc.) and instruments (organ, elec. guitar, drums, sitar, piano, bass, trumpet)?
- Do I wrongly judge other people if they listen to other music beside ‘worship’ music? Do I find myself playing worship music all the time in order to keep my spiritual life from flatlining?
- Do I choose to use a song simply because it is popular, or is sung by a ‘big’ or ‘exciting’ church? Can I change my order of service and choose to add songs or other ‘tools’ that I do not like so that I may learn to worship with them?