Emotional Worship is Acceptable Worship
by Joseph Franks
When one reviews worship as found in Scripture, one finds various postures. At times, the acceptable worshiper dances and leaps with joy. At other times, he is found worshiping in the presence of God with hands clapping or arms raised towards the sky. Then there are those instances where the acceptable worshiper is found standing in silence, seated in reverence, on bowed knee, or even laying prostrate with his face towards the ground. Clearly, there is not one posture that is preferred by the King of kings who sits on his throne and regulates his worship.
Additionally, when one reviews worship, one finds various styles of dress. Sometimes the High Priest wore his spectacular garb. On other occasions, his suit was removed so he might praise God in his simple linen tunic. Kings were known to wear their best in the house of God, but the “man after God’s own heart” found it not sacrilegious to become more comfortable and casual as he sought to better express himself before the King of kings. In the New Testament scriptures, there is no reason to think the Apostles or the common worshiper dawned their Sunday-best; the Pharisees and those in James’ church were known for this. And when one goes back to the beginning, proper worship was practiced by Adam and Eve without clothing of any sort. Clearly, there is not one dress-code that is preferred by the King of kings who sits on his throne and regulates his worship.
And, when one reviews worship, one finds that acceptable music is not always happy and exciting. In Job the saints proclaim, “How come?” In Psalms the saints cry out, “How much more?” In Revelation, the saints mourn, “How long?” And in the book of Lamentations one finds a similar emotive cry. The author has witnessed the sin of his neighbors, the warnings of God, the invasion of Babylon, and the ultimate fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. As he peruses the situation, he is devastated. David’s city has been infiltrated, and the great walls have been torn down. The best of Jerusalem’s men have been slaughtered, and the richest of houses have been pillaged. The Chaldeans have kidnapped the sharpest of Judah’s children, and the sacred temple of Yahweh has been plundered, desecrated, and broken to pieces. Therefore, the prophet’s heart is broken by what God has allowed to befall the city that formerly housed the Chosen People and Royal Priesthood. So, in five stanzas, the inspired worship leader expresses his personal grief and guides his congregation to do the same. Through lamentation, God is acceptably worshiped by the worship leader and his friends.
So with this in mind, let us review our corporate worship. Perhaps those who feel every worship service should be an exciting pep-rally, and those who feel every service should be a solemn liturgy, have this in common — they are both wrong. The Scripture, which regulates worship, allows a wide variety in the expression of worship. Good worship should include loud instrumentation and choirs, and it should also include acapella singing and solemn declarations. Proper praise should be exhibited by some with arms elevated and by others with knees bowed. Some should give glory to God by wearing the best of their wardrobe in honor of the King, and others should give glory to God by not being so externally and materialistically focused. Psalms and old hymns should remain part of the church’s vocabulary, and new songs should be utilized to the glory of God. And in the selection of song styles, worship leaders should include some doctrinal songs that focus on the brain, some raucous praises that stir the soul, some sentimental tunes that encourage remembrance, and also some mournful lamentations that express the troubled heart. In song selection, some should be congregational proclamations that focus on the attributes of God, and other songs should be individual declarations of personal joy, recommitment, love, and intense sorrow. [Notice the personal pronouns found in Lamentation.]
Yes, good worship should not be uniform, because God’s people are not uniform. Since acceptable worship flows from the heart, and all hearts are not found in the condition, good worship should include a variety of postures, presentations, and genres. And all the faithful saints who gather weekly to honor the King of kings, they should leave one other alone. As men and women who appreciate the Regulative Principle of Worship, believers should not legalistically regulate that which Scripture leaves alone. So let us make room in our worship services for those who dance with delight. And let us make room in our liturgy for those who wish to fall on their knees and tearfully wail over their sin, the consequences of their sin, the situation in their church, the state of their nation, and the souls of their children. Personal, emotive, lamentation belongs in the good and acceptable worship of the King of kings. Wailing and mourning is pleasing in his sight.