Worship: Cognitive and Emotional

There are typically two kinds of churches in people’s minds. One kind loves expository preaching, Bible studies and doctrine. But they have no life, people are generally cold and appear unchanged by good teaching. The second kinds is warm and friendly, and sings passionately. But there is no truth. Scriptures are out of context, and everything is out of order.

I think the issue is that people have a hard time connecting the knowledge of the head with the passions of the heart. But they are related and are both vital to biblical worship.

Head

Whenever we are participating in corporate worship we are doing more than singing a song. We are fighting for truth. The system of the world has been trying to brain-wash us into fearing it. Our flesh has been telling us not to trust God… constantly we are fighting against lies.

This is why worshipping God with our minds matters. We are to set our minds on things above (Col 3:2). We are to wrestle with doctrines and theology, getting our understanding of God as clear as we can with the revelation He has given in His Word.

Worship is not about mere ‘self-forgetfulness’. Our worship must be intelligent and informed. We must stretch our mind to the limits as we consider the greatness of God and the wonder of His works. This means that some songs will have to be heard twice before we can fully comprehend it.

Helping people to worship with their minds means we may have yo use songs that go beyond the tired Christianeeze that we have grown so accustomed to. Not new truth, but new ways of presenting it. To have worship which makes God seem dull is sin! But it will not be great productions and excellent musicians that will change that. It is by helping people clearly grasp the character and works of God.

We may also want to spend time explaining words that are unfamiliar (or maybe too familiar) to people; words like justified, Zion, grace, Ebenezer and glory. Non-Christians, children and regular members can benefit from knowing what they are singing about.

Intellect however is not an end in itself. We can become more impressed with our theological systems than we can with Jesus. Orthodoxy (good theology) without orthopathy (good emotions) brings no glory to God.

Heart

I do not think that overemphasising doctrine and truth is the problem in churches, if anything that is vitally needed. However, not many churches do well at passionate worship from the heart. They are often struggling through meetings without ever responding, being affected or being engaged.

Jonathan Edwards said that his job was to, “raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but the truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”[i]

The emotions we want are more than fleeting, shallow self-induced sentimentalism. We don’t want excitement for the sake of excitement. Godly-affections are deep and long lasting. They are a result of focusing on Who God is and what He has done.

A Clear picture of the living God moves our heart. His transcendence causes us to feel awe. His holiness evokes repentance from sin. Mercy begets gratefulness, Sovereignty brings peace. The gospel leaves us lost in wonder. God is particularly concerned with our joy. He tells us, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11).

When we fail to demonstrate delight and satisfaction in God, we’re not only dishonoring Him, we are disobeying Him. More than any other people, Christians should celebrate.

Bring it Together

As valuable as emotional engagement is, is possible for emotions and feelings to become our goal, rather than God. We come hoping to get a good feeling from worship and are not really concerned with what produces it or how we express it.

Expressing our emotions in unclear or inappropriate ways can be dangerous, and wrong. It may be helpful thus to avoid songs that overuse the words intimate, embrace or intoxicating, which our culture commonly uses to describe romantic love, and this makes things unclear. We are corporately, not individually the Bride of Christ.

This issue is far more than just hymns versus contemporary choruses. Some hymns are sentimental and feeling-oriented; some contemporary songs are rich in theological truth. The real issue is elders taking responsibility for what their church is singing, leading them wisely into truth-based affections, and making sure good fruit is produced.

Most of all we are meant to remember that both biblical truth and deep affections are a must in worship to God. This healthy tension must be maintained.

In the next few posts I will discuss (God willing)

–          Instruments and the weaker conscience

–          How to best bring about godly change in a Church

Thanks for reading, your encouragement, participation and question are a great help. May God help us all as we strive to the unity of the faith.


[i] Jonathan Edwards, “Some thoughts Concerning the Revival,” in ‘The Works of Jonathan Edwards’, Vol 4, ‘The Great Awakening’, ed.C. C. Goen (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 387.

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