Last night at our church’s evening worship service I taught on Psalm 95. I titled the message “The ABCs of Worship” because my reading of Psalm 95 is that it teaches the corporate gathering of the people of God a few how-to’s of eternal worship. Specifically it instructs us to worship joyfully, reverently, and with trusting obedience. Overall, I thought the message of Psalm 95 was well received. However, there was one responce that I did not anticipate. Several folks asked whether some of the particular worship practices which this psalm instructs us to engage in are culturally-bound expressions of universal principles of worship that are applicable in different ways in various cultures. The worship practice that triggered this question was the physical posture of bowing down with our faces to the ground in worship. It seems that in our American 21st century culture, bowing down on our knees is a stretch (perhaps literally!), but bowing our faces to the ground seems a little foreign–something that Muslims and maybe Christians from eastern cultures do–but not really applicable to our culture.
I encouraged those who chafe at the thought of prostrating themselves to the ground before our Lord in worship to reconsider their heart motives and notions of what true biblical worship is. Personally, I find that my bodily posture of worship often causes my heart’s posture to follow the body. If I am kneeling in prayer, my heart seems bent toward humility more readily than if I am praying while walking, driving, or some other multi-tasking adventure in my busy schedule. Even more so if seems that my heart’s condition follows my body’s position when I’m kneeling with my face to the ground. There is something very humbling and worshipful about fully prostrating ourselves when we are approaching our holy God in prayer. I absolutely sure that I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Perhaps that is why the Bible instructs us to bow down low in worship?
I find it instructive that the PCA’s Book of Church Order (in the section entitled “The Directory for the Worship of God”) says this about the forms of worship:
47-5. Public worship must be performed in spirit and in truth. Externalism and hypocrisy stand condemned. The forms of public worship have value only when they serve to express the inner reverence of the worshipper and his sincere devotion to the true and living God. And only those whose hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit are capable of such reverence and devotion.
Notice that the external forms indeed have value, but their value is always derived and dependent on the inner reverence of the worshiper and his sincere devotion to God. Without the inner transformation of the heart that only those regenerated by the Holy Spirit’s sovereign power experience, external expressions of worship (including forms instituted by God in his Word) become mere externalism and hypocrisy. Yet a worshiping heart expresses itself in outwardly manifested forms. The remaining question is whether our outward expressions of worship conform to God’s express desires.
What are your thoughts on the body’s posture during worship, both during private and corporate worship? Do you think that the American/Western cultural practices of worship need to be reformed to better reflect some of the worship practices that the Bible (especially the Psalms) present as proper ways to worship? What do you think of shouting in worship? Of making a “joyful noise” Of clapping? Of loud music? Of bowing and kneeling?