The Issue of Worship

Updated: May 16, 2019

Peter McArthur

Once upon a time...Yes this is a blog about worship!

Once upon a time you could go into a church building (pre-Reformation) and upon entering the first thing you'd notice were seats/pews all orientated towards the sanctuary.

The next thing to quickly grab your attention was the aisle down the middle leading your eye to focus on the main issue relating to the building. This of course was the sanctuary in which stood the altar, the "holy of holies" as far as catholicism was concerned, where the Mass was celebrated with great pageantry and solemnity.

Surrounding the altar were stained glass windows, candles, crosses, etc. But the main centre of focus was definitely the sanctuary and its altar. Churches were deliberately designed to draw the eye down the aisle towards the altar. Strategically placed pillars enhanced this. See below.

After the Reformation (16th century+) the altar was generally displaced by the pulpit, to allow for the preaching of the Word as THE central issue. Although in some cases like in Anglican and Lutheran buildings the altar and pulpit were in relatively close proximity.

In following decades the Protestant pulpit became quite as grand as the Catholic altar it sought to replace! Just look at this photo below.

Then in the 19th and 20th centuries we even had the pulpit moved aside somewhat, in order to accomodate the choir. While the overall layout of church buidigs retained the seating and aisle arrangement in various forms, the purpose was to draw attention to what was happening "on the stage" or platform. Again see below.

So gradually we had a transition from altar to pulpit to choir. Now of course the pace has quickened considerably and the choir has given way to - wait for it! The BAND. No longer are the musicians and singers referred to as the "Music Ministry" or whatever, but now they're The Band.

The progression has accelerated over the past couple of decades but isn’t probably noticed much by the younger generation. Might I say here that I am not against contemporary forms of music in church, although of course I’d have to clarify that somewhat. It needs to be reverent (that doesn’t mean “boring” by the way), Christ-focused, and devoid of as much “me-I-my” wording as possible. I’ve sung songs that never mention the Lord’s name at all, and it could almost be just a lovely romantic song to my spouse!

It’s also surprising how many Christians get their theology from songs. I’m still amazed at how often in contemporary Christian songs the Old Testament concept of the Atonement is still used. Lyrics which emphasis the blood of the Lamb covering our sin for example. The New Testament concept is radically different because the blood of Jesus no longer covers our sin, but removes (washes) it completely. What’s just as concerning is that the Pastor doesn’t bother to correct the glaring mistake, or maybe he doesn’t know the difference!

And where did all those “whoa-oh-oh” words come from? Secular music of course. In 2015 there were over 60 secular songs that used those words in different ways. But why are they used in church as we sing unto the Lord? “Do not be conformed to this world…” (Romans 12:1)

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary “whoa” means a “command (as to a draft animal) to stand still; or for someone to cease or slow a course of action or a line of thought”. Not really the attitude you want to have during worship to the King of kings!

At times the worldly attitude has more than encroached into the sanctuary. Without throwing it all away maybe we need to “whoa” ourselves and really THINK about what we’re actually singing?

The image below probably sums it up fairly well.

A.W. Tozer said: “Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”

Enough said on the negative side; although I prefer to call it “the adjusting” side. So let’s take a look at worship in a wider aspect.


All things have a history, even the unseen spiritual realm. The spiritual history of the universe is really about “who shall be worshipped.” One of the things I’ve learnt over 50 years of being a follower of Jesus is to “go back to the beginning of things” when trying to discern a particular issue, in this case back to the book of Genesis.

From the very beginning the enemy of our souls, the serpent (נָחָשׁ nâchâsh in Hebrew and δράκων drakon in Greek = dragon) has wanted power, authority and worship. He was and is after centre stage. What goes on at the front "on-stage" at church is still important!

(Rev 12:9) “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (See also Rev 20:2)

This desire for centre-stage continued on even at the coming of the Messiah (Mtt 4:9).

...and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."

At the end of all things we find the very same issue is there.

They worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast.” (Rev 13:4)

All who dwell on the earth will worship him.” (Rev 13:8)

Have you noticed how often Satan attacks at a “slant” and rarely “front-on” as it were. He aims for the spirit of man in the hidden place, because it’s there he believes he can and should be worshipped. He attempts to get to our spirit via the mind, emotions and will. He wants to install himself as “god”.

To be worshipped means to ultimately receive all things. (1 Cor 15:28) “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” Satan wants this too, but for himself!

In the end of all things, only one thing really matters: Who is worshipped, and who do you worship?

Worship of course is more than singing, etc – we know that. It's actually putting Satan in his right place and exalting Jesus in His rightful place. Worship has been expressed as "telling the Father how great His son is"! What a wonderful way of putting it.

Always the most important spiritual things come down to one big issue, who is to be worshipped? In fact it could be said the whole issue of Scripture is “Who deserves to be worshipped”. We see this in Jesus’ words in Mtt 16:15 “But who do you say that I am?"

Ultimately it’s the real issue of all creation. When we were Born Again we were marked out to specially worship Jesus. Plenty of Christians go every Sunday “to worship” but the real issue boils down to this: is it truly “in spirit and truth”? (Jhn 4:23-24).

The first occasion worship is mentioned in Scripture is found in Gen 22:5 “Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you."

The final occasion is in Rev 22:9 “But he (the angel) said to me, "Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God."

So we find that from the first book of Scripture and again in the last book, “worship” is at the heart of the matter. Strange as it may seem the New Testament gives us NO clear definition of what worship actually is.

There are two words used to express what we translate as "worship". One word is λατρεύω (latreuō) meaning “to serve”. The other is προσκυνέω (proskuneō) which means “to reverence”.

Jesus combined both of these when He said “Go, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve." (Mtt 4:10).

It’s often been pointed out that “worship” in Greek comes from the two words pros (towards) and kuneo (to kiss) which gives us a lovely idea of homage, and the acknowledgment of a superior with reverence, respect and love.

Another way of putting it is to say that true worship is recognising the Father’s supremacy in all things, to yield to the Lordship of Jesus, and to bend our will and mind in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Not just in singing when the saints gather, but all through life.

Having said all that it’s VERY important to use music and lyrics that fit the definition of the above. And by the way it’s not necessary that worship songs need to always be slow and soft. That’s pretty much man’s tradition.

On the other scale of things (excuse the pun!) songs that portray themselves as “worship” but which include the “me-I-my” words need to be scrutinised fairly heavily. Self-centredness during worship is self-defeating. Worship songs should be focussed on God and His great works, His eternal characteristics, and about His glorious Son.

Have you noticed during a church service (terribly phrase!) how the congregation respond when the lyrics speak of God’s greatness and His attributes? The volume increases noticeably, the arms are often raised spontaneously, and there’s a noticeable sense of “the divine” among the saints. We love those songs. We instinctively “know” they’re great, and we respond in a very natural (super-natural) way! It’s glorious.

Why don’t the song leaders always pick up on that? Why don’t the Pastors click that THOSE are the songs that cause us to raise our adoration heavenward. They’re about Jesus, they tell of the glories of the Father, they speak of eternal things – they remind us of Home!

I once asked my congregation to stop asking God for anything in their prayers for one week, and instead tell Him how great He is. Most of them took the home work in their stride and did just that. The result was wonderful. Testimonies came flooding back of the difference it made in their minds, attitudes and of course their prayer life.

What if we did a similar thing regarding our worship? What if we decided not to sing any songs for a whole month that included any of the “me-I-my” words and didn’t ask God for anything for ourselves? What if we only sang songs that just told God about Himself? What if we expressed our worship to Him by simply singing and saying how wonderful He is?

I’m certain it would shake up our singing, praise and worship times remarkably. In fact it might be that we’d jettison many of those rather “feely” lyrics that speak about our feelings and wanting to be “touched” by the Spirit, wanting “more” (for ourselves), and looking for a manifestation of His power to "soak" in, etc. You get the drift I’m sure.

Time to close, but I sense that this text sums much of it up.

"Who will not fear You Oh Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You....” (Rev 15:4)

Blessings to you in the Messiah.

Peter McArthur

The Issachar Ministry



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