Freedom in Worship
Where do your hands go during Sunday corporate gathered worship? Some are stuck in the pockets, only to move if necessary. Some are up in the air. I have felt uncomfortable in this situation in the past because of the questions that spin in my mind.
- Is it more spiritual to raise my hands?
- Will people think I am not worshipping if I keep my hands at my side?
- What if the song lyrics actually say that we have our hands in the air?
Tim Hawkins has some fun with this insecurity many of us face.
As with many things we do, our actions are shaped by what we have seen others do and not what the Bible says. I believe the Bible holds up two main guardrails for our corporate expression of worship of Him. These are freedom and order.
There is great freedom of expression in musical instruments. A great example of this is Psalm 81:1-3. Guitar happens to be popular right now, but the organ had a place for the saved to sing the praises of their Savior for a long time.
When I encounter a worship style that does not fit my preferences, it is an opportunity to check my heart. In fact, some of the most passionate worshippers I have experienced were in foreign countries where the singing was off-key and the instruments were much different than I am used to hearing.
If my worship of the unchanging God is affected by the changing of the instrument choice, I have made an idol in my heart of the means of worship, rather than the object of that worship.
There is great freedom of expression in posture. There are examples in scripture of standing (Psalm 119:120), clapping and shouting (Psalm 47:1), lifting hands (Psalm 63:4, 1 Tim 2:8), and dancing (Psalm 149:3). As with baptism and communion, your posture during worship is an outward expression of an inward reality. The expression of my words to my wife is so much more than the words I use. It is my facial expression, hand gestures, the inflection of my voice, and even the emotions I feel that are tied to those words. The same is true in worship.
Consider the words of this old hymn below and test them against the Bible verses referencing our posture in worship:
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.” - Francis R. Havergal, 1874
If I choose my posture based on what others are doing or what they might think, then I have made an idol of my fellow worshippers rather than worshipping the One who deserves it.
While we praise God for amazing individual freedom in Christ for the expression of worship, we hold in tension with that the encouragements elsewhere in scripture for the orderly expressions of it. One summary statement Paul made after many specific directions to the Corinthian church is in 1 Cor. 14:40 which says, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” In another place, Paul begins a set of instructions about expressing our freedom with care by saying, “but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Rom. 14:13). The implication in worship is that though we are all individually free, we need to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3-4) by being mindful of the way our expression of freedom may impact those around us. If I raise my hands (being a rather tall guy), I guarantee that will prevent some viewing of the words for those behind me. If I dance in my row and shove my chair into the shins of the guy behind me, I can’t look at him wincing in pain and expect him to just put up with my freedom. If I have no regard for others in my corporate expression of worship, then I have made an idol of myself rather than an instrument of that worship.
Ultimately, everything is a Gospel issue. Christ modeled this for us. He gave up His right to sit at the Father’s right hand. He made Himself the servant of all. At the same time, He knelt when He prayed (Luke 22:41). He lifted His hands (Luke 24:50). He was free to worship, but chose to express that freedom differently in different contexts.
If I believe the Gospel in worship, I will be free to worship Christ regardless of the musical quality or instrument choice. I will be free to worship in a posture that is a true outward expression of the inward reality. I will want this same freedom for my fellow worshippers and therefore take care in expressing my own freedom.
If I believe the Gospel- that I am saved through the undeserved gift of grace from God through His Son- then you will not stop me from expressing worship and you will not stop me from desiring the body of Christ to worship Him together, in freedom and with order, because I will be compelled by His love and grace.
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