Looking at the pros and cons of physically expressive forms of worship.
I’ve been talking about how to help a church grow in physical expression that draws attention to the greatness of God’s glory in Christ. After teaching on the appropriateness of that expression in worshipping God and the importance of the heart, I’d move on to:
3. Address the different reasons people might be reserved in their expression, and teach on preferring others.
Some Christians are simply unaware of what the Bible teaches about physical responses to God. They don’t know that Scripture is filled with examples of exuberant, passionate worship (Psalm 150; Neh. 8:6; Rev. 5:11-14). Perhaps they’ve grown up in a church environment that elevated certain types of expressions and ignored others. Often, simply understanding what the Bible says will bring about a greater freedom in expression.
Others restrict their responses to God because they’re afraid of what others might think. They wonder if their image as a “respectable” Christian will be tarnished. They’re concerned that people might think they’re pursuing emotionalism. The Bible calls this the fear of man (Prov. 29:25). Our responses to God are based on His worthiness, not some image or reputation we may be trying to protect.
Some think it’s hypocrisy to express honor toward God physically when they don’t feel anything in their hearts. On the contrary, it’s only hypocritical when we act a certain way to give others a false impression of our spirituality. A better response is to acknowledge our lack of desire for God as evidence of our innate sinfulness, and to begin to fill our minds with truths about His kindness, mercy, holiness, grace and goodness, especially expressed to us in the Gospel. We then act in faith, trusting that God will give us a greater passion for Him.
Another reason our physical actions to God are tempered is theological presuppositions. I have good friends that I respect deeply, who love God passionately, know the Bible much better than I do, and are more reserved in their physical expressiveness. They believe our worship is to be characterized by an attitude of reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28), soberness and solemnity. It’s true that reverence and awe are essential to biblical worship, but can’t bowing down or lifting hands be a sign of that as well? Also, it’s impossible to ignore the multitude of examples and commands in Scripture that emphasize celebration, passion, delight and exuberance, all reflected through our bodies. The question to ask ourselves is this: Is there any physical expression of worship that God has given us in Scripture that I’ve never displayed? If so, why?
Finally, some think that worship is a matter of the heart, not the body. Actually, both are crucial. If I told my wife that I loved her in my heart, but never demonstrated it through physical actions, I doubt that she would believe me. We wouldn’t have much of a marriage either.
In every church there will be varying degrees of physical expressiveness. While the focus of our bodily expression is God Himself, we are called in love to do what is edifying to others (1 Cor. 14:12; 13:1-8). That means that I don’t break into loud shouting and enthusiastic dancing just because I feel like it. I want people to see the glory and greatness of God, not my physical displays. I also don’t assume that those who are physically expressive are seeking attention, hypocritical or insensitive to others. Perhaps God wants me to learn from their unhindered and sincere expressiveness.
Our focus should be exalting God in a way that magnifies both His infinite holiness and His unfathomable grace which has brought us near to Him through Jesus Christ. Our culture, personality or background doesn’t ultimately determine what that looks like — God does. May our churches be filled with the kind of truth and expression that most clearly communicates to others the value of the One we worship.