Is Worship God-Centered or Man-Centered?

by Samuel Ling

What is worship? Biblical worship is God-centered, directed toward God, not toward ourselves. Fellowship, teaching, intercession, serving those in need-these are ministries directed at each other. Evangelism and mission are directed toward the world.

But worship is directed toward God. Worship is also about God: praising God for who He is, what He has done, what He has said. Worship is also for God: we worship God and praise Him solely for His pleasure and for His glory.

The church has much to learn about God-centered worship. In many traditional evangelical churches, we often make our worship services so man-centered, cluttered with announcements, celebrations, thanksgiving (not to God but to each other), and other man-centered elements, that God's glory and majesty is often hidden.

The style of music used, and more importantly, the words used in our hymns and songs, should also be scrutinized. Are we concentrating on God? Do the words of our hylmns and songs encourage the singer to direct his/her heart toward God, about God, and for God? Or are we too preoccupied about our needs? We often are very concerned about what we get out of the worship service. We ask ourselves if we feel emotionally fulfilled as a result of attending worship. Have we put ourselves at the center of worship instead of God?

An important challenge for the church is restoring God-centered worship, God-centered preaching, God-centered thinking, and God-centered living-and in that order! We live out what we think; and what we think can be heavily influenced by preaching and worship.

In the Old Testament, praise is an integral part of worship. The so-called "full-time workers" in the Old Testament included not only priests but also Levites, Temple servants, and singers. We can see that:

1. Music was an important part of worship.

2. Professional musicians took care of the ministry of music.

Worship team members for contemporary worship services need to take their calling seriously, and be both prepared and spiritually mature. A good worship leader directs people's hearts toward God. (This principle applies to every type of church music: a church musician's spiritual maturity is more important that his/her musical qualifications.)

New Testament worship followed the form of synagogue worship, which arose during the Intertestamental Period. Synagogue worship included four elements: the reading of the Torah, teaching, singing, and prayer. The Lord Jesus worshiped in the synagogue "as was His custom." As our Lord and Savior, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper and baptism, which Christians have observd through the centuries. These are the non-negotiable elements of Christian worship. Praise and singing are very much an integral part of New Testament worship!

The style of music used in worship has changed a great deal throughout church history. Almost always worship music reflected the culture and worldview of each generation. In every generation, Christians have sought to bring the best of their music and poetry to the praise of God. We may note the contributions to hymnody of the Gregorian Chants in the Middle Ages; the music of the Protestant Reformation, ranging from hymns set to popular pub tunes to the great classical music of composers such as Bach and Handel; to the seventeenth century Puritan tradition of singing of the Psalms; to the great hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley in the eighteenth century.

Who writes words like Watts and Wesley today? No wonder these two are called the greatest masters of English hymnody. Christians who love contemporary worship music may not appreciate the melodies of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. They may not appreciate any form of classical music. However, we lose something of the richness and depth of God-centered worship if we let the current generation forget the words penned by Watts, Wesley, and others such as William Cowper and John ("Amazing Grace") Newton. Listen, for example, to the wonder and awe with which Wesley meditates on God's eternal plan:

‘Tis mystery all! Th' Immortal dies;

Who can explore His strange design?"

In vain the first born seraph tries

To sound the depths of love divine.

‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;

Let angel minds inquire no more."

Why not write new tunes for such timeless lines? If we fail to pass on the rich tradition of God-centered worship to our grandchildren, we fail to pass on a precious treasure-store, a virtual gift of the Holy Spirit to the global body of Christ.

Reprinted with permission from The Challenger, August/September, 2000