Theology in Worship
“Just give me Jesus. I don’t need theology.” It is alarming to me that this view of theology is so prominent among American churches today. When we hold a view that diminishes the importance of theology we are choosing to neglect truth about who God is. Too often in this modern era of Christian music, the worthiness of God for our worship is neglected for the emotions of man in our worship. Scripture should be the foundation of all forms of worship. How can we know God more deeply if we treat the study of God as something that is nonessential to the Christian life? Theology is a force that drives who, what, and how we choose to worship. Our generation of believers desperately needs to rediscover the importance of sound theology in our worship, especially in our worship music.
WHY WORSHIP MATTERS:
Before we can understand why theology in worship matters, we must understand why worship matters. The book Reformation Worship argues that
God has so structured His world that every person will worship through one of two men – Adam or Jesus Christ. The first man Adam was made homo liturgicus, and everyone bearing his image has inherited his fallen liturgical orientation toward idolatry. We are born worshiping the creature, not the Creator; we live our lives seeking salvation and satisfaction in in pseudo-redeemers, not the Redeemer… Since the first son of God, Adam, through the national son of God, Israel, and the royal son of God, Solomon, to the final son of God, Jesus, and now the sons of God, the Church – God has been seeking a people to worship Him. We are called to worship, and our hearts are restless until we respond to that call by faith and obedience and come and feast on Christ.
Worship matters because we were made to worship. We are creatures of worship. From the moment we are born, our hearts long to worship, and we will worship anything. That may be relationships, jobs, grades, sports, or insert anything this world has to offer. If we do not worship Who we were created to worship, we will not find satisfaction. Worship is a response to the overflow of God’s goodness in our lives, and even beyond that, worship is a posture of the heart that bows at the worthiness of God for our worship. Worship is to treat Christ as preeminent, above all things, and in it we may find the satisfaction we long for. We must worship our God in all His majesty and glory, and we must not neglect sound theology. In failing to anchor our worship in biblical truth we lose many important aspects of worship and gut it of so many beautiful and necessary components.
THEOLOGY IN WORSHIP:
Consider painting. The purpose of a painter is to take a blank canvas and depict imagery onto it with attention to detail in every brushstroke, all to create something beautiful. Why is worship any different? Our worship is the canvas, the words of our worship music being the paint, and we, the painters, and we would not want to carelessly throw together a painting that was commissioned by a king, especially if He has exact specifications for the painting. Worship depicts the beauty of God, and that beauty is revealed primarily in Scripture. When we recklessly neglect sound theology in worship, we do not get the beautiful image of God that He has portrayed Himself but an image that is tainted because the painter did not know how to properly use the tools that they had been given. That is why theology in worship matters. By studying Scripture, we begin to grow in our theology because we have studied God’s revelation of Himself. The literal definition of theology is “the study of God.” To be a Christian and to disregard theology is to declare that the God of the universe, the God of your salvation, is not worthy enough of your study, which is absurd. If you were the ambassador for a country, you would be well versed in everything regarding that country to the point that you would be ready and willing to act and to give responses on that country’s behalf. Yet when it comes to your role as an ambassador for Jesus Christ, does studying about Him somehow not feel necessary? Could you simply just not care that much about learning about him? What message does that send to people who do not believe in Jesus? If the people who claim to know him do not care enough to try and understand the beautiful accounts of who He is and what He has done, what does that say to our audiences about the Jesus we claim to love? Biblical theology is vital to having God glorifying and God honoring worship. I am not the guy who hates contemporary worship, whatever contemporary worship really means. I am, however, the guy who finds disdain in worship that seeks to glorify anything other than my King in a way that He has already described Himself in Scripture. When Scripture is not the source of our theology and worship, the songs that will be produced will usually fail to paint the biblical picture of God. In many cases, the songs may appear to accurately portray God, but you will not know unless you earnestly study the Scriptures and ask for God to give the guidance and discernment to see Him as He is and not how you want Him to be. This is the beginning of my challenge to you.
I want to finish with a challenge, a plea if you will, for you to search the Scripture and read it for what it says. Not what you think it says, or what feels right to your, but what it says. We deprive ourselves of the satisfaction and the joy that God gives to His children when we refuse to open His word. Further, we will not find satisfaction and joy by putting God into the box we want Him in. If we only see God as who we want Him to be, we will never see ourselves as He is. This is why theology matters, and why it matters especially in worship. I plead with you not to fall into the trap of thinking theology is not important. So here is my challenge, with some backstory. One of my best friends, who leads worship for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at my school, does something that I want to encourage you to do as well. I encourage you to sit down with worship songs that you love, worship songs you hate, and worship songs you are indifferent about and compare the lyrics to Scripture. Sit down and analyze every word of a song with Scripture. If it does not describe God as He is in Scripture, it is not fit for worship. Do not try and justify an issue by calling it “artistic expression” or “I think they meant this.” If it contradicts Scripture, it is not fit for worship. If it does describe God as He is in Scripture, cherish it. Sing it. Shout it. Play it. Lead it. Do not grow tired of it. Yes, this process might seem extreme. Yes, it will take time. But the most important thing this will do is it will drive you into a deeper love for and a deeper worship of your Creator, whom you were meant to worship from the beginning of time because of His great love that He has for you.