Worship is something that is profoundly personal and yet often experienced through the body of Christ, the church, in weekly services. Personal devotions are as much a part of worship as gatherings of like-minded believers, but we often don’t use the term worship to describe our daily devotions. Worship simply put, is adoration or praise to God. How we choose to “do” worship can vary greatly based on the ethnic make-up of your church body, the geographical location, or generational composition of your church. However, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, you would be hard pressed to find a large variance in the elements of the ceremony. There are of course differences in appearance, style, and languages, but for the most part, offering, song service, prayer, children’s story, and a sermon are all elements that almost any Adventist can find welcoming.
Ellen White writes “As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer. Indeed, many a song is prayer. If the child is taught to realize this, he will think more of the meaning of the words he sings and will be more susceptible to their power.”1 She is here implying that the words and their meaning are to be the focus of our worship and the power in the words are to be based on Biblical truths brought forth in song. These promises are to be a song in our hearts, singing of love and justice, new songs of his righteousness, and anthems sung for all eternity from the heavenly choir and the elders.2 In Revelation 4, we find a song that will be sung throughout eternity with the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come.” Giving glory to God, honor, and thanks to Him who sits on the throne is an act of perpetual worship, with the same lyrics forever and ever.
The Bible, however, does not prescribe a specific order of ceremony, outside of the tabernacle, instead giving guidelines to the tenor and focus of worship. The methodology we often use as the church body to create our liturgy is more about conforming to ritualistic human tradition: usually based on what we think we should not do, rather than a prescribed order or style of ceremony from any biblical source.
Instrumentation, particularly, has been a source of contention to many as personal preferences and opinions are often used to supplant gospel guidance. Drums are an easy target because of the association with “worldly music.” However, in Psalms 150, we are called to give praise and worship with the timbrel (a kind of drum), clashing cymbals, and even dancing. While this does not speak of a church service in particular, it speaks clearly of worship, with verse two saying “praise God in His sanctuary.”
Many a person has pointed out that these are all examples given outside of the tabernacle service and thus outside of what church should be doing during a “worship” service. However, if we are to follow the biblical example down to the letter on what should be done in church, where is the breaking of bread as in Acts, where is the selling our houses and homes, giving to the church to divide it amongst each as they have need? Cannot the direct and materially tangible service to our fellow man be a real and effective form of worship that every person irrespective of their position, age, race, or sex can accomplish? Should this form of unity in worship by service be the focus of our energy and effort instead of whether or not we sing all stanzas of a hymn written by a Catholic, or just verses one and three?
So, what are we to say then is worship in today’s modern church? Can worship involve different cultural instruments, dress, and practices? Can worship involve different instruments, songs that were written after 1940, or the active participation of all church members in weekly outreach and service? Should we adhere to the “frozen chosen” moniker or can we find Holy Unity in worship not in stylistic changes or mandates but rather in the desire to serve each other as Christ serves the church?
As a member of the church who has seen the vast majority of my peers actively driven away from the church by parishioners more focused on the color of the drapes than the tone of worship, I would challenge us to change our perspective on what is worship. We as a church body must look farther and deeper into the Word and ask ourselves if we often are placing our personal opinions in place of Holy scripture. Committing our own thoughts and ideas into a heretical “thus saith the Lord” type of attitude and placing ourselves into dangerous territory of supplanting God on His throne.
I would hope and pray that we can be as Jesus said “One, even as I and the Father are One.” – John 17:21-23
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.
Notes & References:
1. E.G. White, Education, 168.
2. Psalms 98, 101, 150, Revelation 14.
Tyler Cantrell works at Wisconsin Academy teaching courses in geography, world history, American history, American government, economics, videography, and emergency preparedness.
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