I grew up in a typical conservative, church-going home. Sunday mornings I would test my parents sanity by slowly rolling out of bed (after multiple attempts to wake me up), take my time eating breakfast, fight with my brothers, and put my shoes on the wrong feet, before we finally got out the door. It was chaotic leaving the house, and I’m amazed my parents didn’t end up leaving my brothers and I behind. However, in spite of the chaos, when we would get to church, we’d sit in our regular pew and became the perfect church family. May hair would be perfectly slicked down with my mother’s saliva, and my dangling feet would kick the pew in front of me as they swung back and forth (but the lady in front didn’t mind, because I was so darn cute). The service would begin and periodically, my Dad would be the man responsible for leading the music. We always sang straight out of the hymnal, and our accompaniment was a sweet lady on the upright piano, and occasionally the electric organ in the corner. Each week, worship in that little church was familiar and it was consistent. There’s often times I wish life would be that simple again.
As we would sing, no one would raise their hands, because if you did, you’d drop the hymnbook; and no one would close their eyes, because, well, then you wouldn’t be able to read the music. We would make transitions from hymn to hymn without a lot of thought, except for trying to recall which verses we were told not to sing, but those hymns were sung with gusto.
If we were to transport ourselves from the modern worship era back to those simpler days, critics might say, that we had no passion, no emotion, no real connection to what we were singing. Some might even challenge the idea that we weren’t even worshipping.
The Lord has created us all with different emotional and social temperaments. Some people are introverts, some people are extroverts. The Scripture does not give us a play-by-play instruction in corporate worship, but it does command our hearts and attitudes in regards to how we worship. An exact prescription is not given as to the format, because what ministered to the pioneer families at the turn of the century, is vastly different from those who grew up on the streets of Harlem, or in the underground church in China. But the heart behind corporate worship stays the same; in whatever context and culture it finds itself, just as the Word of God never changes.
Jesus commanded us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Of course, He’s referencing the commandment given in Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the heart of worship. It’s not an emotion, it’s not a tugging at the heart strings, it’s not how high you can throw your hands up in the air.
Now I have an honest question, (and I’d love some dialogue in the comments section) why do we raise our hands up in the air? After my conservative upbringing, I began attending more “contemporary” churches in my High School and early college days where hand raising was a regular part of the music. I participated in it, because it looked like the good and spiritual thing to do, but I always felt a little uncomfortable, because, to this day, I don’t understand why it is done. I’m not saying it’s wrong. In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul writes: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer,” and prayer is certainly a large part of corporate worship, but this isn’t the command to be doing it in corporate worship. So just to be clear… I’M NOT SAYING IT IS WRONG, I just want to know WHY you do or don’t do it yourself? And why you think Scripture supports your view. I think it’s good for us in worship to utilize our minds, and ask ourselves these questions. Here are some dangers I have associated with hand raising…
1. Pride. “I want everyone to see how spiritual I really am.”
2. Distracting. We’ve all seen the lady that we can’t take our eyes off of, because her arms are swaying above her head like wheat in the wind. This is does nothing to help those around her focus upon Christ, but can make for great stories (and be careful… gossip) on the way home. So yes, it can be distracting to those around you, but it can also be distracting to yourself. All of the sudden, one might become incredibly self-conscious. Am I doing it right? Are people watching me? And all of the sudden, you’re not focused upon Christ, but upon your outward actions. Which leads me to the next point.
3. Self-focused. Honestly, the corporate aspect of corporate worship is lost, because it becomes solely about the individual, without regard for those around them. Corporate worship is a shared experience, in which we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18). Often I see people floating around in their own “worship bubble,” unaware, or disinterested in those around them.
So again, I’ll ask the question: In corporate worship, can a Conservative, Cessationist still show outward signs of emotion? It may surprise you that I’ll answer…ABSOLUTELY. Anyone who has seen me lead music knows that my heart sometimes looks like it is going to burst out of my chest (Sometimes, I feel like this guy to the right, but you probably won’t find me doing this out in a field at sunrise). God made us to be those who worship Him with our whole hearts. The Psalmist writes: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1). However, is it commanded that I weep, or jump, or sway through all this time? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
There is a respect that must be applied in corporate worship. Respect for those around you, but also a respect for what you are doing and before Whom you stand. If I were to be presented before a political dignitary or someone in high standing, I would address them with the utmost respect. Worship brings us before the throne of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And while Jesus is the friend who is closer than a brother, He is still the Holy, Uncreated One, the One whom Isaiah trembled before and cried, ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
My fear is that those who are more extroverted in their corporate worship, judge those who are not so extroverted, believing them to be not as spiritual. On the flip side, those who are more reserved, might quietly judge those who are more expressive. Both present an air of self-righteousness that has no place in worshipping Christ.
The posture and our expression in worship is important. Worship is a tremendous privilege and humbling honor that God has permitted us to take part in, and therefore, we need to think before we act, whether we raise our hands or not. Then, and only then, can we worship both in spirit and in truth.