Worship: The Emotional Component

by Warren E. Berkley

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” (John 4:24).

Every element of true worship involves some emotional component. The emotional component is not driven by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit (as in Calvinism) or “getting the Holy Spirit” (as in Charismatic practice). The emotional component of true worship is the result of one’s informed relationship with Deity.

The faithful disciple will go into every assembly with the emotion of joy, reverence for Deity, and the anticipated interest in praising Deity and being edified. The true worshipper will leave the assembly with the emotional satisfaction of participating in all that God has directed, unto His glory. The proper emotional component is not contrived and forced or coerced. It is the result of one’s informed relationship with God.

One should not perform some emotional display, because it is perceived it is expected by others. One should not imitate the emotional display of another. The faithful one’s emotional response (seen or unseen by men) is the result of one’s informed relationship with God.

When the Word is faithfully preached, there should be a range of emotions in the hearts of faithful listeners (remorse, assurance, joy, and the satisfaction of knowledge gained). In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and remembering His death, the emotions of both sorrow and gratitude should combine in our reflection. Singing has a strong emotional component. But this emotional result is directly tied to lyrical content. What do the lyrics mean to the worshipper? Some love music and are moved by what they believe is good music, but without any self-examination or thought to lyrical content. The emotional connection derives from content (the words in the songs), not form (harmony, meter, structure). Likewise, praying is not simply a formal, mechanical exercise. It has great emotional potential, but not due to voice or poetic structure, but content and direction (praying to Deity). Giving should also have an emotional component (a cheerful giver, II Corinthians 9:7).

In a lecture about this in 2005 I told the audience: Ignorance of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, combined with the popularly promoted Charismatic concepts can combine with the passion for the contemporary, and reduce our worship to events designed toward the pleasure of men instead of God! In this process (that may extend slowly into another generation), biblical knowledge can be set aside to pursue the emotional needs perceived by humans in their cultural context. True worship is not about competing with the modern marketplace. Our focus cannot be on drawing crowds or showing our affinity with the modern Charismatic style of worship. God is the object of worship, not the changing emotional needs of man. We must, from baptism until death, listen to the call of the gospel, not the call of the culture or religious world.

Regarding the influence of the Charismatic movement on worship, I want to recommend that we carefully consider the danger of engineering assemblies and meetings for emotional outcomes. What’s at stake here is the very definition of worship! In the New Testament, worship is not presented to us as something humans set up so that other humans can find some “spiritual high” or emotional fix. The object is to respond to God with reverence and obedience: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him,” (Psalm 89:7).

Worship is not depicted as a resurrection; conversion is! When people who are terminally unspiritual, willfully ignorant of the Scriptures and religious only in some systematic or institutional way, come to the building to be raised from the dead – we cannot cater to their wants. What these people need is conversion, not “worship” designed to meet their felt needs. When we engineer worship to answer the emotional needs of people who are not concerned with the Scriptures, we fail to serve the Lord; we give people something that can never be ultimately satisfying, and we set ourselves on the road of apostasy. Worship is the avenue God has given for converted people to show their respect for Him and honor His Son. These purposes cannot be served in any sense until we decide to follow His instructions. The Charismatic format is motivated primarily by the aim to hit a human emotional target. God’s people cannot go there!

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