Principles of Truth for the Worship Arts
Principle Number One
The Worship Service Should Tell the Truth about Jesus.
The Word of Truth
Confessing the Word of God
Those of us who grew up in free church traditions experienced a strange paradox. We were the ones who believed the Bible was our source of truth. We agreed with Paul’s assessment.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
What was the paradox? We believed the Bible was our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice but beyond the pastor reading his text and whatever scriptures he might quote, there was very little time given to the reading of the Bible in public worship. It took modern translations to make clear that Paul also instructed Timothy on the importance of the public reading of Scripture.
1 Timothy 4:13 NIV
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
Again, I owe to my doctoral studies a debt of gratitude for this insight into public worship. One of the strengths of the liturgical worship service is the public reading of scripture. In every service a psalm is read by the people and passages from the Old and New Testaments and from the Gospels are read and the congregation responds in faith. The prejudice against this use of the Bible among free worship Christians is hard to justify. Can you find fault with the public reading of scripture in worship? I cannot.
Singing the Scripture
In the 1970s a new phenomenon entered the free worship world—scripture songs. At first these songs all came from the King James Version and were rather clumsy, but they were fun, so their use was widespread. In truth, scripture songs were one of the genres of new worship music that led to the Praise and Worship Renewal of the 1980s. The scriptures songs got better musically and became an important part of the virtual explosion of worship music genres that characterized that important season of the massive invention of new ways to sing our praise, prayers, and confessions of worship. At the beginning of the 1980s we had hymns and choruses. By the early 1990s we had old hymns and new hymns, warfare songs, throne-room songs, excellent songs based on scripture songs, happy songs in minor keys, prayer songs, and extended congregational anthems expressing the deep truths of God.
There is no reason for this paradox—honoring the Bible by its absence in public worship—to continue. I am praying that the coming Renaissance of the Worship Arts will bring a return of the public reading of scripture and of songs either based on scripture or exact quotations of scripture. We need to include the actual words of the Word of God in public worship. We need more than a text and a scripture reference or two. I have been advocating “leading private worship” for many years now and I am still hoping this idea will catch hold in my branch of the Family of God.
Principle Number Two
The Worship Service Should Include the Public Reading/Singing of Scripture.
The Mind of Truth
The challenge before all worship leaders and lead worshipers (my term for senior or lead pastors) goes beyond the public reading of scripture or the repeated telling of the Jesus Story. Beneath all the weekly choices and plans there must be a sure foundation of truth—the clearly drawn purposes and benefits of worship. This call to worship from the Psalms helps us see the differences between the purpose of public worship and the benefits of public worship.
Psalm 103:1-2 NKJV
Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…
The purpose of public worship is for the People of God to bless the Lord from the depths of their collective being. In Psalm 29, we are commanded to give the Lord “the glory due His name.” This is the singular, immense purpose of public worship. From the opening call to worship to the benediction this is the business about which the church must be. This demands total focus and maximum effort. This purpose enlists all the artists of the church in the multiplied crafts held in their skillful hands. This mission elevates the most humble and meek of our fellowship to the level of Holy, Royal Priests. Our songs and scriptural confessions, prayers and praises, our testimonies and exhortations, our sermons, homilies, and invitations must all be focused on who Jesus is right now and right here, the Dayspring from on high rising among us with healing in His wings.
However, all too often this singular, holy purpose for public worship gets lost in a maze of mixed motivations. Leaders blindly use worship to lesser ends like
- church growth—Let’s do these songs to bring in those people, or
- tradition honoring—Let’s do things this way because we have always done them this way, or
- presentation—Let’s let the community to know how wonderful our worship arts are,
- sermon preparation—Let’s use the worship as a preliminary to enhance the sermon, which everyone knows is the main event, or
- preacher promotion—Let’s help the preacher write his/her next book or increase his/her “likes” online, or even
- soul winning—Let’s keep things moving so we can add more souls to our holy record-keeping.
“Hold on a minute, Dr. Phifer, those are some truly good things that we really are called to do!”
True enough but the problem comes when we fail to see the difference between the purpose of worship and the benefits of worship. Let’s go back to Psalm 103.
The purpose of public worship is simple and direct, and the benefits of public worship are many, varied, personal, corporate, merciful, redeeming, healing, and on and on Psalm 103 goes before returning to the purpose at the end.
How is this possible? Simply because Worship in Truth establishes the Kingdom of the Lord in the hearts of True Worshipers. This is the simple and life-changing, world-altering, devil-chasing, peace-giving, hope-inspiring promise of Psalm 22:3.
Psalm 22:3-5 NKJV
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.
Other translations say that the Lord inhabits our worship. The word translated “inhabit” and “enthroned” is this:
OT:3427 yashab (yaw-shab’); a primitive root; properly, to sit down (specifically as judge. in ambush, in quiet); by implication, to dwell, to remain; causatively, to settle, to marry:
The Bible is declaring that our worship of God becomes His dwelling place and His ruling place. When we hold to the one purpose of worship—to minister to the Lord—He comes among us in the fullness of His ruling power and healing presence. Amazing and so, so very true. When we purify our motives in planning and leading public worship and keep to its one purpose, the Lord comes among us in power and presence and the work of His Kingdom gets done. When our purpose is pure the benefits flow. Simply put, we minister to the Lord and He ministers to people. Lesson: Let us lead worship and worship with one motivation. Mixed motive worship is not worship in truth.
1 Corinthians 2:16 NKJV
For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Principle Number Three
The Mind of Truth:
Worship Services Must Be Led from Clear Biblical Motivations—”The Glory Due His Name.”
The Heart of Truth: Passion for God
The Holy Fire
We all know that fire can be a constructive force or a destructive one. When harnessed, contained, and focused on a task, fire can create, produce, heal, form and reform as life demands. Think of the internal combustion engine. Thousands of tiny explosions of fire propel us forward in everything from cars to ships to airplanes and we barely hear the sounds they make. The controlled heat of an oven bakes or fries or boils raw food into edible meals. On and on I could go. The heart of worship is a fiery heart. This is beautifully illustrated in the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus when Jesus traveled with them and then shared a meal with them.
Luke 24:30-32 NKJV
Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
The heart of the True Worshiper is a fiery heart burning with a passion for God and for His Kingdom. This fire is the fire of love: love for God, for His Kingdom, for His Church, for His Word, and for His will. A heart like this is easily led in worship, is readily engaged in prayer, is eager to tell the Jesus Story, and radiates the joy of the Lord in every direction. Those whose lives bring them in contact with this heart will feel its warmth. As their needs multiply, they will come closer, even if to do so brings an uncomfortable warmth of conviction. When a crisis comes their way, they will seek out the one with the fiery heart.
In public worship this blazing internal flame should become visible to all in the house. Like the cloud of fire on the Day of Pentecost, the flaming anointing of the Holy Spirit can fill the house with the awareness of the presence of God and then travel to each willing heart to set it aflame. Soon the ministry engine is running on all cylinders and the People of God are one their way.
Expressions of the Heart of Truth
How does this spiritual presence become real in the physical world? How does the fire in the heart warm this cold, hurting world? Through the actions and attitudes of Spirit-filled believers.
- Our love for God puts us on a path that is so different from the chosen ways of people who do not know the Lord.
- Our love for each other commands of daily lives. This, Jesus said, was the mark of those who are real Christ-followers.
- Our love for the lost is revealed in true friendships with those who do not know the Lord.
The spiritual life of the Christ-follower is marked by the Great Commission and the Great Commandments. He/She lives a life of holiness, integrity, and compassion—truth in every aspect of life. This life is renewed in daily devotions and in weekly worship. The biblical metaphor for this is the fruitful tree described in Psalm 1
Psalm 1:1-3 NKJV
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
These are the fiery hearts that warm this frigid world. Each believer possesses a candle of light, the residence of the Spirit of God within giving light to each day’s obedience. Together on the Lord’s Day, all these candles merge into a beacon of hope for all the world to see. In the words of Jesus, “a shining city on a hill” that cannot be hidden. When the church gathers to worship, that celestial city shines in the dark regions of this sinful, rebellious earth.
The Last Prayer of Jesus before Gethsemane
On the night He was betrayed Jesus spoke many things. Next to His Sermon on the Mount, His “Last Supper Discourse” revealed details of the lives Christ-followers must live in this world. Before the meeting adjourned to the retreat on the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed for His men and for us. What was His chief concern for us? That we should “be One,” that is undivided and centered on Him.
John 17:20-23 NKJV
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
May we never allow music or ceremony, or architecture, or personal preferences break us up into competing camps. A worship emphasis on Jesus and His Story can keep Him at the center for all of us. In these Last Days we need the message of the old chorus we used to sing:
“Let’s Talk about Jesus!”
Let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s talk about Jesus. He’s my Rock. He’s my Rock.
Let’s talk about Jesus. He’s my Rock!
He’s always here beside me, to cheer me and to guide me.
He’s my sword. He’s my shield. He’s my Rock!
© 2022 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
 Luke 1:78-79
 Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.