A mutual friend recently introduced Jack and I. Jack is a brother in Christ, song-writer, and author. His music, testimony, and articles can be found at LordYouAre.com. This article appears with Jack's blessing.
- David
Facing Our Worship Fears
by Jack Helser

The summer of 1975 I toured the northwest states with "God's Creation Company", a musical troupe of 35 youth. Every day meant 300 miles of driving in a hot bus, restroom lines, unpacking tons of sound and light equipment, hours setting up, practicing and performing, tearing down, and sleeping wherever we could. We loved it.

At a Catholic church in Spokane, WA, we were met by a man in a gray pin-stripe suit with a voice like Sylvester Stalone who said something like "you's guys ain't playin' in da sanctuary!?!" For a minute I thought we would be "swimmin' wit' da fishes", until the director of the group, with the priest in tow, came and rescued the band and roadies from a cement overcoat.

Since the first time I played in church I've heard the comments "pro and con" over guitar, bass or drums in church. If it wasn't the instruments people fussed about, it was the music itself. "Devil music" said some about the new Christian music. "Cool" said the youth. No one ever questioned the lyrics which were undeniably Biblical. So why the objection over the music? The sound and instruments simply represented current trends in music, and spoke the language of the present generation.

Disputes over music aren't new to the church. In Ephesians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul says "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

That Paul mentioned 3 types of music: "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs", and commanded the Ephesians to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" suggests there were similar disputes over music in the early church. Apparently the dispute was serious enough that the Ephesians could not settle it themselves, and so Paul commanded mutual submission to restore peace and unity to the church.

Unfortunately, music is often blamed for division in the church. Music is not so much the cause of division, as it is a smokescreen used by the enemy to divert our attention from one of the most serious problems in the church today: the spirits of fear and oppression that seek to subdue and silence the worshippers of God. Is that a far out idea" I don't think so. Consider the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 5:19 ""the whole world is under the control of the evil one." As long as the Church is in the world, the Church will have to contend with the schemes of the evil one. Lest we forget, the evil one fell from Heaven because he exalted himself above God and sought worship for himself (Ezekiel 28:12-19). He does not want the Church to worship God.

Consider the first murder, which was over an act of worship. God was pleased with the offering of fat portions of the first born from Abel's flocks but rejected Cain's hasty offering from his crops. Cain, fueled by jealousy and influenced by the spirit of oppression (sin crouching at the door), murdered his brother Abel. God cursed Cain and banished him from Eden for his sin. (Genesis 4:2-16).

The same spirit of oppression is seen in Michal, daughter of Saul, who was King David's wife. As David returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he danced before the Lord with all his might. When Michal saw him from a window, she despised David, and rebuked him. David was willing to be foolish in the eyes of man if his worship pleased God. God's feelings in the matter are clear. Through the royal line of David, Jesus was born. In honor of David, Jesus was called "Son of David". Michal on the other hand died childless. (2 Samuel 6:12-23).

We see many manifestations of the spirits of fear and oppression in the church today. Often they take the form of legalistic rules, real or implied, or traditions, that do not permit contemporary music, various musical instruments, raising hands, clapping, use of spiritual gifts, or a resounding "AMEN" when the pastor makes a fiery point. Sometimes it's just a negative attitude toward expressive worship, seen in a stern glance, a cleared throat, murmuring, or gossip.

What are "implied rules"? Simply this: permission is granted for those things that are permissable. Those things that are not permissable either are not mentioned, or are specifically forbidden. Therefore, if the church does not have a policy that endorses expressive worship and the public use of Spiritual Gifts, the implication is that they are not permitted in the church. Churches often hide from the issue of expressive worship and Spiritual Gifts behind the cloak of silence. Some say "we don't forbid it" and then run the pastor out of the congregation for being "too charismatic" or for introducing contemporary music, guitar, bass or drums into the worship service. Though the church didn't expressly "forbid" them, by their actions they make it clear that they aren't allowed. God isn't fooled. If any church thinks they can escape the judgement of God by pleading ignorance, they should consider the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Look closely at verses 44-46 - sin is sin - whether willful or unintentional is irrelevant. The Lord does NOT accept a plea of ignorance. NO LONGER can the church remain silent on the subject of expressive worship and Spiritual Gifts!

What did Jesus have to say about how He wants us to worship?

In John 4:23-24, Jesus says: "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

One interpretation of worship "in spirit and in truth" suggests we must worship as the Holy Spirit leads. If the Holy Spirit leads us to clap or raise hands during worship, then the proper response is to clap or raise hands. If we resist the Holy Spirit for fear of what others think, we put man above God and unwittingly submit to the spirit of fear, which comes from the Father of Lies in whom there is no truth! (John 8:44). Similarly, if the church does not permit someone to use their spiritual gifts, or their talent to play an instrument or perform a song to God's glory, then the church unwittingly robs God of worship and assists Satan who comes to steal, kill and destroy all that belongs to God. (John 10:10). Lest we forget, Satan  wants to steal worship from God! (Matthew 4:8-10).

Since God seeks worshippers to worship Him "in spirit and truth", is it enough for us to worship Him in the quietness of our hearts alone, like happy stones? Consider the words of Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem when the Pharisees asked Jesus to rebuke those who were worshipping Him by waving palm branches with shouts of "Hosanna". "I tell you," He replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40)

Worship is one of the ways we witness about the Lord. Our worship proclaims many things: His resurrection, holiness, faithfulness, and matchless power. It is our public statement of love and adoration for Him. If during worship we sit in our pews like happy stones, how does that witness to a seeker? Might they wonder if they had happened upon a wake instead of a worship service? James 2:17 reads "'faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead'. Similarly, 1 John 3:18 says: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." In the same fashion, I dare say 'a heart filled with gratitude towards God, if not accompanied by an expressive act of worship, is dead.'

True worship begins in a heart filled with awe, reverence, and joy for the Lord, but it doesn't end there. Out of the abundance of the heart, worship is expressed physically to please the Lord. Throughout the Bible, we see the following expressive acts of worship: bowing, kneeling, falling prostrate, falling down, standing, raising hands, dancing, leaping, shouting, rejoicing, singing, playing a multitude of musical instruments including: tambourines, cymbals, harps, flutes, lyres, trumpets, and ram's horns (shofar). In short, the Bible is replete with examples of God's children who sought to please Him by their expressive acts of worship.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to praise the Lord in worship is found in Psalm 22:3 which says: "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel." Our God inhabits praise!Psalm 68:24-25 reads: "Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the maidens playing tambourines." God enters His house through the door of praise! Why then would we ever want to restrict the praise and worship of God? Could it be that we really don't want God around?

When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, He answered in Mark 12:29-30 with "The most important one," answered Jesus, 'is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

If we were intended to worship the Father in our hearts alone, Jesus would have simply said "Love the Lord your God with all your heart", period. However, Jesus said "Love the Lord your God " with all your strength" which underscores His command that we worship the Father expressively.

As we consider the kind of worship the Father wants, and changes we need to make out of obedience to Christ's command to "worship in spirit and truth", there are certain to be hurt feelings, disagreement, and uncertainty, unless we approach the subject with prayer and surrender. Only by our commitment to face our fears honestly will the Church become unified as Christ desires (John 17:20-23). Questions such as the following will reveal our fears, prejudices, and overall attitude about worship:

In church, do you feel the freedom to worship as the Lord leads?

Yes? No? What aren't you free to do?
How do you feel when someone worships by:
Clapping? Swaying? Prayer? Lifting hands? Kneeling? Prostrating? Dancing? Shouts (Amen, Hallelujah, etc.)? Contemporary music? Instruments other than piano and organ? Spiritual singing? Tongues? Interpretations? Prophecy?
If the church is non-charismatic (i.e., the 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are not used publicly), is the attitude of the church "NOT in THIS church?"

How do you think a person with spiritual gifts feels when they aren't allowed to use them?

How do you think God feels when a church restricts/suppresses acts of worship?

There is one final question each of us needs to ask after answering the questions above:

Does my attitude line up with God's will for the church, and how He wants us to worship Him?

In conclusion, I believe fear of surrendering control to the Holy Spirit plays a bigger role in the worship life of the church than many of us care to admit. Over the years I have met many who believe that by allowing expressive worship we risk letting the 'charismatic cat out of the bag'. Lest we forget, the 'cat' we are trying to contain is none other than the "Lion of Judah" (Revelation 5:5) and not even the grave could hold Him!

If the Church is ever to worship the Father "in spirit and truth", the spirits of fear and oppression must be exorcised from the Church. If we continue to submit to the spirits of fear and oppression, we will surely incur the discipline of God, just as did Cain and Michal. As for how we worship, we are commanded to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:19-21) so that each of us may worship as the Lord leads.

May we always give God the praise and worship He desires and deserves.

Jack Helser

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