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Nothing More Than Feelings: The Affect of Art in Worship

Which of the following scenario is a more meaningful worship experience?

The 100 member choir and 50 piece orchestra combine in a rousing performance of Bach’s Cantata No. 182, a piece composed for Palm Sunday.

The stage is full with a professional band, complete with drums, electric guitars, and a praise team. As the music soars and rages, they sing, “Jesus is Lord!”

Children stream down the aisles in beautiful white dresses and suits waiving palm branches and streaming banners and shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” as the choir follows singing a triumphant “Hail, to the Lord’s Anointed!”

The congregation sings five hymns accompanied by organ, interspersed with a lengthy Scripture reading, affirmation of a doctrinal confession, and an intercessory prayer. Not one mention is made of Palm Sunday.

Depending on your background and personal preferences, you may view one or more of these scenarios as a better experience of worship to celebrate Palm Sunday than the others. Assuming that the doctrinal content of each scenario is similar, and assuming that the Word of God is faithfully preached in each service, what really distinguishes these services from one another? Why would someone who is used to one of the first three scenarios find the fourth to be a spiritual disappointment?

Again, assuming the doctrinal content is the same among the services, the difference between them has to do with the way art is used in each service, and how it affects people. Of course, art includes music, drama, visual, and literature. So is one use of art more “worshipful” or “meaningful” than the others? Is any one of these uses of art inappropriate for congregational worship?

Art affects us, and that effect creates an experience that is often interpreted as meaningful worship. Yet in each of these scenarios, the experience is quite different from the others. In other words, the experiences created in these services are so different from one another that they cannot be the same kinds of experiences. So which is more meaningful? Which use of art in worship best creates a biblical experience of worship?

Understanding of how people are affected

In order to properly understand how art affect us, we need to first understand how people are affected.

Man is made of two parts — material and immaterial, body and spirit.1 We know this is the case because of the reality of life after death — the body remains, while the spirit is with God. says, “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

The body and spirit, however, are not without relation. Scripture teaches a kind of “holistic dualism.” Unlike Plato, who argued that the body is the inferior, undesirable “shell” of the true person, the Bible teaches that the physical body is a good, God-given part of human nature. In fact, believers will be given new, physical bodies after the resurrection. Even during the intermediate state, souls seem to have some kind of bodily form. In other words, “persons” are complete only as a uniting of body and soul, which are still distinct one from the other. Animals are only body; God is only spirit.2 But man was created out of the dust of the earth (material) and infused with the very breath of God (spirit). Thus man is a living soul.

The following diagram will be helpful as we further discuss this body/soul distinction and interaction:


Although the body and spirit do interact and affect one another as the totality of the human person, each part can be affected apart from the other. Just like animals operate completely on the basis of biological reactions to stimuli, so man can react on that basis alone. For example, if a child rounds the corner and his brother shouts “Boo!” in order to scare him, the reaction the child has is purely physical — nothing had occurred in his spirit to cause him to jump. His brain gathered the data of a suddenly loud sound that produced a physical passion of fear accompanied by certain feelings that created the impulse to jump.

This kind of purely physical, chemical process of causation is part of the biological nature of man. Appetite, fear, anger, sexual drive, sentimentality, and many other passions that produce feelings such as tears, increased heart rate, goosebumps, or exhilaration can be formed without thought by pure, physical stimuli. The physical response of laughing when tickled is an example of this purely physical causation. Adults, infants, and animals like can experience this kind of response.

On the other hand, these kinds of physical reactions can also be created as a result of thought. This reveals the interaction between spirit and body. As the mind (a component of the spiritual nature) comprehends an insult, it produces the passion of anger accompanied by various feelings that move the person to action. Likewise, when a person laughs because he understands a joke, the same physical response occurs as when he is tickled, but it began in his mind, a component of spirit.

But just like the physical part of man can be affected apart from the spirit, so can the spirit operate apart from any influence upon the body. A man may have love for his wife because of his knowledge of her, but that love is not always accompanied by physical feelings. Love is an affection — something purely spiritual. It can, and often does, produce feelings, but it does not have to. Often those feelings are mistaken for the love itself, but if love were a feeling, then God would not be able to experience love, for He has no body.

The affections are part of man’s spiritual nature. They are products of thought and may or may not be accompanied by feelings. Furthermore, different people experience different levels of feeling as a result of possessing certain affections. Two people may both possess the affection of courage but may exhibit it through different physical feelings.3

onathan Edwards explains this important distinction between the passions and the affections:

The affections and passions are frequently spoken of as the same, and yet in the more common use of speech, there is in some respect a difference. Affection is a word that in the ordinary signification, seems to be something more extensive than passion, being used for all vigorous lively actings of the will or inclination, but passion for those that are more sudden, and whose effects on the animal spirits are more violent, and the mind more over powered, and less in its own command.4

Both affections and passions can drive a person to action. The affections are the inclination of the will (the moral component of the spirit), while the passions/feelings drive physical impulses.

What is important to remember is that a Christian must never be governed by his passions. The Bible calls this part of man his “belly” — his “gut,” and reveals an unbeliever to be a slave to it (). A Christian should never allow his gut to control him. These passions and feelings are not evil; they are simply part of the physical makeup of mankind. To assign morality to them would be like assigning morality to hunger. Jesus Himself experienced the passion anger, and yet without sin.

The physical passions are not evil in themselves, but they must always be kept under control. Left unchecked by the spirit, passions always lead to sin. This is why the Bible must warn, “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (). Anger is not wrong, but it will lead to sin if not controlled. Likewise, appetite is a good thing, but left unchecked it results in gluttony. Sexuality is a wonderful gift from God, but uncontrolled it turns to lust. Fear is a necessary part of the survival instinct of man, but if it controls a person, he can not operate properly. You can distinguish between affections and passions because you can never have too much affection, but it is possible to have too much passion.

The problem is that when the passions are set in conflict with the mind, the passions will always win. A man may know that it is wrong to hit another man, but if he is angry, that knowledge alone will not stop him from reacting wrongly. It is only when his knowledge is supported by noble affections that he can overcome his passions. As Lewis says, “The head rules the belly through the chest.” This is true for faith. Faith is not mere belief in facts. That alone would not move a person to a righteous life. Faith is belief combined with the affection of trust. When belief is supported by trust, a person will be able to overcome his sinful passions.

Christians, therefore, should strive to gain more right knowledge and nurture more right affections so that they act rightly. They must also beat their bodies and make them their slaves (.27).

In summary, when people talk about emotion, they are speaking of a category that may include the affections, passions, or the resultant feelings. This is why we must be more specific when discussing these things — “emotion” is just too broad a term. Most people are thinking of “feelings” when they say “emotion,” but not always. Joy, fear, and “butterflies” are all “emotions,” but they are very different from one another. Therefore, the emotional experiences created by various uses of art are consequently very different from one another.

Dionysian vs. Apollonarian art

With this understanding of how people are affected, we move now to a discussion of how art affects people.

Art, and especially music, is emotional by its very nature. But remember, emotion is a broad category. To say that art affects the “emotions” is to say that it can affect either the affections (which may then produce feelings), or that it can affect the passions (which always produce feelings). With the first kind of art (what aestheticians call Apollonarian art), the whole of man is involved — spirit and body. A certain level of intellectual involvement is necessary, and the affections are targeted. This, in turn, may produce feelings, but the feelings are not the central focus of the experience. The latter kind of art (what aestheticians call Dionysian art) targets the feelings themselves. Devoid of spiritual involvement, this kind of art moves the participant into an experience of the senses alone. Animals can experience the effects of this kind of art no different than humans.

Both Dionysus and Apollo were mythological Greek gods associated with art. Apollo was the god of reason and logic, and was considered the god of music since the Greeks thought of good music as a great expression of order and patterns (a la Pythagorus and Plato). Dionysus, on the other hand, was the god of wine and revelry, and was worshiped with loud, raucous music accompanied by pipes and drums.

These names are used to distinguish art that targets the whole person (spirit and body) through the mind and affections (Apollonarian) from art that targets the body and encourages enjoyment of feelings for their own sake (Dionysian). Daniel Reuning explains:

Music that communicates emotions with a Dionysian force is that kind which excites us to enjoy our emotions by being thoroughly involved or engrossed in them with our entire person. Our enjoyment of the emotion then becomes ego-directed, driven by the desire for self-gratification. This direction often shows itself in keen physical involvement; people become emotionally involved through stomping of the feet, swaying of the body, clapping of the hands, and waving oft he arms. Music that solicits from us this kind of emotional response allows us to enjoy our emotions from the inside and very experientially. This kind of music is clearly anthropocentric in nature, because it turns man to himself, rather than away from himself, with the result that he becomes the appreciating center of his own emotions and experiences. Herein lies the goal of all entertainment and popular music, which must please or gratify the self if it is going to sell.5

All art has both components to one degree or another, but various forms of art, by their very nature, communicate either primarily with a Dionysian force or an Apollonarian force. Literature, because it essentially targets the person through the mind, usually communicates to the whole of man with an Apollonarian force. It requires at least a moderate level of comprehension and reflection to be enjoyed. Readers can experience the same feelings as the characters, but they do so in a way that allows for evaluation of those feelings and the motivations that lie beneath them. Cheap literature does exist, however, filled with cliches and thinly veiled sentiment, which simply stir up the passions.

Music can communicate in both ways. Well-crafted, “modest” music involves the whole of man — mind, affections, then feelings. In Heinrich Schenker’s terms, it is true to nature — every component of this music fits within the whole of the piece. Other musical forms, however, simply rouse the feelings through spectacle, sentimentality, or the simply sensuous6 experience of loud amplitude and timbres.

On the other end of the art spectrum is dramatic art. By its very nature, drama communicates directly to the passions with a Dionysian force. Drama invites the participants to actually experience the feelings of the characters in a sensory way, providing little possibility for reflection. Participants are almost involuntarily drawn into a vicariously shared experience of passions that gives no time for detached reflection or evaluation. Theologians and philosophers throughout the centuries have questioned the wisdom of using drama, particularly for sacred purposes, because of these reasons.

In summary, different art forms affect humans in very different ways, and sub-forms within a broader category of art may affect humans differently. Therefore, when evaluating the use of art in worship, one must determine whether such uses are really affecting the spiritual nature of man or simply the physical passions.

What Does This Mean for the Christian?

What does this mean, then for believers? What does this mean for the use of various art forms for sacred purposes?

If as Christians we are striving to rule our bellies by our heads — if we rightly do not want to be controlled by passions or their resultant feelings — then we must embrace Apollonarian art and be wary of Dionysian. I am not prepared at this point to say that all art with a Dionysian force is wrong for a Christian, but it is at least potentially dangerous if consumed regularly or in large quantities.

But I am prepared to say that art that simply engages the passions and fuels physical feelings is inappropriate and quite dangerous for sacred use. This would rule out some forms of music and all dramatic art for sacred use. Reuning discusses this in his treatment of Martin Luther’s music:

His music and that of the Lutheran heritage communicates a message with an Apollonian force, which allows our emotions to be enjoyed, while at the same time retaining control and mental freedom. We are relieved of the urgent requirements of our inner drives. Under Apollonian influence our emotions are viewed empathically or contemplatively in a more detached fashion, so that they might always be subject to our discretionand judgment. Since the major point of the Reformation, as of Scripture itself, was to turn man away from everything within himself as the source of hope and assurance of salvation — to the grace of God alone, earned for us by Christ Himself — it was logical for Lutherans to use Apollonian music. Man-directed Dionysian music would only confuse or contradict the message through its anthropocentric emotional forces. Just as hymns and spiritual songs with words full of Dionysian content, doting upon human experience and feelings, are incongruent with the biblical proclamation of the Gospel, so also is music that revels in Dionysian emotionalism. Thus, because music has so much influence on one’s understanding of the Gospel, Apollonian reinforcement was the obvious choice. Furthermore, this choice is just as relevant to us today, since the emotional forces in music keep on conveying their unique messages, remaining uneffected by changes in time or environment — a truly universal expression!7

Is it any wonder why the Christian faith is based exclusively in words — in literature? Is it any wonder that the second commandment forbids the use of visual art in worship? Is it any wonder that the only drama sanctioned for worship is baptism and the Lord’s Supper, relatively safe forms of symbolism?

Art that communicates directly to the feelings through spectacle is inappropriate for worship because people are always in danger of interpreting those feelings as the essential experience of worship. Feelings are not wrong; they are sometimes the natural production of right affection. But when feelings are roused through an primarily sensuous experience, there is always the danger of attaching a spiritual significance to those feelings apart from any connection to the truly spiritual.

This takes a number of forms today. For instance, some people refuse to be part of a church that centers on biblical teaching with little else because it doesn’t “feel” like worship. They consider such churches “boring” or “a let-down” because they relate their experience of worship to certain forms of music or drama or ritual that create an experience of the senses. Others don’t think they have had a religious experience unless there have been high levels of feelings — tears or exhilaration. Others enjoy biblical lyrics set to certain forms of music (whether pop or Romantic) because they interpret the feelings they get from listening to the music as spiritual when they are merely a chemical response to a stimulus.

Yet this is not simply a conservative vs. contemporary issue. Most forms of pop art are Dionysian in nature, but some so-called “Classical” art is as well, including “reverent,” “meaningful” ritual. Many such “conservative,” religious ceremonies — in that they are essentially drama — are intrinsically Dionysian — they create an experience of the senses that targets the feelings directly. This can be anything from the children waving banners to candle-lighting to elaborate processionals. Many people view simple services of hymns and preaching as boring compared to such ceremony. Liturgical churches are filled with this kind of thing — service elements that directly target the senses in order to create the “feelings” of worship.

Conversely, the biblical picture of worship is simple — no flash, no ritual, no drama. Yet unfortunately, many people are dissatisfied with simple, Word-centered worship supported by modest music and the symbolism of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. On the one hand, some want pop music and drama that excite the passions and invigorate feelings. On the other hand, some want elaborate rituals and ceremonies (especially at Christmas and Easter) that, again, are just sense experiences — they do not really involve the spirit. Both are unbiblical.

This is also becoming a problem as churches become more technologically savvy. Churches are adding visual elements to their services — pictures and video on screens accompanying music or preaching — to “enhance” the worship. I am convinced that they have good motives behind it, but I am also convinced that these practices are rooted in a lack of understanding the nature of emotion and art.

The modern church has become so confused on these issues because it has forgotten biblical, anthropological, and aesthetic distinctions that have been understood for centuries. It is my burden to recover some of these things as we seek to worship our holy God as He wants to be worshiped.

So I ask you, reader, to what to you attach spiritual significance in worship? Rousing music (whether “conservative” or “contemporary”)? Dramatic rituals? Elaborate ceremonies? Or the Word?

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. There is some debate about whether man is two or three parts, but for the sake of this paper, only the distinction between material and immaterial is necessary to grasp. []
  2. Except, of course, in the person of Jesus Christ since His incarnation. []
  3. Keep in mind that whenever we attempt to assign terms to things that happen internally, we will always be imprecise. The Bible itself uses the same terms to describe different parts of man, such as “heart” or “soul.” It is very possible to disagree with the terms I chose to designate various affections, passions, or feelings. The important thing is to understand the basic concepts. []
  4. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2001), 26-27. []
  5. Daniel Reuning, “Luther and Music,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, 48:1, 18. []
  6. Meaning, “of the senses.” []
  7. Reuning, 18-19. []

15 Responses to Nothing More Than Feelings: The Affect of Art in Worship

  1. Very well said.
    I do have a question/objection. You said:

    …the biblical picture of worship is simple — no flash, no ritual, no drama.

    I'm wondering what you're basing this on. I haven't found a lot in the Bible about exactly what went on during early church meetings. They did communion… they sang songs, hymns, and spiritual songs… they were taught the Word… they read the apostles' letters… they apparently ate meals at church gatherings… But there's just not much said about any specifics. So saying their meetings were "simple" must mean either that 1) they were simple compared to modern standards because they didn't have electric lights or microphones or podiums or brochures; or 2) that they didn't do much besides read the Word, have communion, and sing. Probably without instruments. It was just people huddled in a home wanting to be with each other and hear about God. Number one is a pointless objection and I'm assuming you mean number two. The trouble is, that's an argument from silence.
    But wait: no, it's not. It's actually an argument against the facts. There is other worship mentioned in the Bible (with high specificity): Israel's worship. That was a production. Music, choirs, instruments, responsory, dancing, sacrifices, readings, the opulence of the temple and the temple mount, the priests and their heavily detailed and symbolic robes… That paints a different picture of worship… lots of flash, ritual, and drama.
    And when Miriam grabbed her tambourine and lead the women of Israel in a dance of thanksgiving, that probably had more in common with Dionysian art than Apollonian. The same with David's dance before the Lord. It gives me great pause to wonder whether Dionysian is really to be feared as strongly as you suggest.
    I definitely appreciate the sentiment that Dionysian music can be dangerous and that bringing it into the church poses some problems (which is why I'm in a church that doesn't use rock music in its services). But I'm not yet convinced that it cannot be brought into the church. Maybe you could delineate where you think Dionysian music should be used?

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Jeff.
    I have a few theological presuppositions that inform my interpretation of the biblical issues you mention:
    1. I understand Israel and the Church to be distinct. This also leads to an understanding that the way Israel worshiped is different than the church. The essence is the same, but the manner is different. I think this is made clear in Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman (John 4). Israel had to worship on a particular mountain with particular rituals and externals. With Christ's coming, those externals are done away with.
    Furthermore, Israel's existence as a theocracy means that her worship and her civil and governmental activities were often intertwined. I see David's dancing, Mariam's leading, etc. as this kind of worship/patriotic event.
    But even so, the point here is that the externals were done away with once Christ came.
    2. I hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship, meaning that I believe that God alone has the prerogative to tell us how he wants to be worshiped. So I agree with you that my insistence that NT worship be simple and unadorned is an argument from silence, but that silence speaks volumes.
    The NT permits only six elements for NT worship: public reading of Scripture, preaching, singing, praying, ordinances, and giving. That the NT is silent as to what else went on, when viewed from a position of the RPW, is exactly what leads me to limit my congregational worship to these elements.
    So really this article is my attempt to understand why God doesn't permit drama, visual elements, elaborate rituals, etc. in NT worship. I think, in part, it has to do with the fact that these predominantly Dionysian art forms naturally lead men to enjoy their feelings for themselves, which is idolatry. Reading, preaching, and singing targets man in more predominantly an Apollonarian way (although, of course, some music is Dionysian).
    What do you think?

  3. Let me begin by saying that this is a discussion I would joyfully have across from you in a coffee shop somewhere. I'd probably be smiling the whole time and laughing a lot. I just want to set up the metacommunication in this post since I'm never sure how I'm coming across.

    I think we have a serious disagreement with the Regulative Principle. God has said how He wants to be worshipped: not in this mountain or this place or with that system, but in spirit and in truth. Christ seems to be blowing off the doors for regulative worship. Because, as the NT unfolds, where are the specifics on what "in spirit and in truth" means for order of worship? As we've both said, there's pretty much silence in the NT. But the argument from silence could equally speak volumes that worship is an open question within the confines of "in spirit and in truth". For instance: if the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice (and it is) and if God wrote the Bible (and He did) and if He said say everything in it that He wanted to say (and He did), then the lack of worship style instruction probably means that it's not as big of a deal as we tend to make it. That's an equally valid argument as saying "silence equals prohibition." "No, no. Silence equals consent."

    If the Regulative Principle decides that silence equals prohibition, then I adamantly reject it. Arguments from silence are logical fallacies because they equally prove and disprove both sides of the argument. If one chooses that the argument from silence means "prohibition," then he's made that choice in the face of logic and has no ground for calling resulting conclusions "biblical."

    I can't think of any other biblical issue where people would make such sweeping rules based on the Bible's silence. We don't limit help ministries to food, shelter, and money because only those were mentioned in the Bible. Some people administer medicine, do surgery, build buildings, run radio stations, etc. If we go with the "silence equals prohibition" argument, all these things should cease. In fact, we probably shouldn't be meeting in buildings that are not people's houses. The NT church didn't.
    But I'm still not persuaded that the Bible's silent about this (even besides Christ's rejection of arguing over worship protocol and stating that only spirit and truth matter). I don't think the Old Testament is a closed book when it comes to learning about faith and practice. The separation of Israel from the church doesn't end all things in the Old Testament. There are things that carry over (moral law, for example). And we derive good models of behavior from some of the Old Testament characters (Joseph, for example). The acknowledgment that some things ended with the cross doesn't mean OT moral laws ended. If your point is that there should be moral (i.e., categorical) rejection of dionysian art in worship, then Israel's use of the dionysian in worship–despite any political co-causes–strongly argues against dionysian elements ever receiving a categorical rejection in the area of worship. If dionysian elements in worship are categorically wrong, it doesn't make sense to say it was right then but wrong now. Logically, Miriam was wrong. David was wrong. They didn't understand that God hates being worshipped in a dionysian manner.

    But really, I think even this line of reasoning misses the mark. Sin is never finally in things; it's in people. Arguing against dionysian music will always be short of the mark. Dionysian music can only encourage mindless emotion. It takes a human being giving himself to mindlessness for it to be a problem. I'm sure, in attempts to analyze it, you've listened to music you'd consider dionysian. Was that sinful? Or did your purpose and control change the dynamic? Could not someone else with more familiarity with that music (or more control) use it in a more apollonian way? Could not someone use happy dionysian music to reflect the happiness they already have in the Lord?

    Which also raises a question: between what are we drawing the dionysian and apollonian line? If we're drawing the line between different songs (that beat is dionysian, this chord progression is apollonian, that melody is dionysian, etc.), we're devolving into endless speculation and, really, massive doses of opinion. If we draw the line between the dionysian and apollonian impulses in the human heart, then it's still subjective (I can't judge your heart), but the person having the impulses should be able to know (or the Spirit can help them know) what's ruling them. If I'm trying to control that knowledge for them and make them subject to my understanding of what their heart is doing, then I've become their Word of God and their Holy Spirit. I'm asking them to submit themselves to my understanding of music or my understanding of my own heart. That may be advisable in children or new believers or broken believers, but I have to be careful to not make statements like pop, drama, and high church liturgy are all just sense experiences and are all unbiblical. That's making an idol out of one's convictions. Each of us should be fully convinced in his own mind. Absolutely. But let not the one that eats despise him that abstains. And let not the one that abstains pass judgement on him that eats. Each, before his own Master, stands or falls. The issue is whether the person is doing what they're doing from faith, not whether we can find any danger elements in what they approve. There's danger everywhere. While I like those Dave Rasbach pieces you posted a while ago, I find a lot of distracting (worship-detracting) elements in them. Apparently they aren't a distraction for you. I grieve that I can flip between listening to Brahms' Requiem as godly edification to listening to it as an arrogant reminder of "my intellectual superiority." The danger's everywhere because I'm a sinner. The problem isn't in the music. It's in me. Sometimes I listen to Brahms' Requiem from faith. Sometimes I don't. But I don't want to take my struggle with pride and extrapolate the rule for everyone else that "high church music promotes pride and is therefore unbiblical." It would be equally foolish to say that "simple music promotes self-righteousness and is therefore unbiblical." Sin's not in the music. It's in us. And I'm not you and you're not me.

    My own struggle through this question has been an attempt to learn that God is God and I am not. And it feels right to let God be God. It feels right to let Him speak to (or not speak to) what He chooses. I think we should honor His silence in the NT and recognize that He's given us other principles for worship, such as charity, liberty (in its fullest sense), and the spiritual gifts. We should recognize that sin is in people, not in things, and that attempts to keep people from sinning by regulating their flesh will never produce godliness. We can set up guardrails (as Jim Berg has suggested) to help people while they're learning to drive, but we'd better not go around setting guardrails on everyone. Romans 14 couldn't be clearer about this.

    Ack. Sorry for the length. I'm talking and I can't shut up!


  4. Pastor Aniol–I really like your new site! And I promise, Jeff is not me posting under another name and pretending to be a man! :-) (though he's wording it all a lot better and going deeper than our discussion on your previous site). I'm really interested to hear your response. This is one thing I wanted to ask before but didn't–in churches that practice free worship (say, in the formal style that you outlined in one of your scenarios above) are their service elements that fall outside of the regulative principle of worship then not truly worshipful? So, to put it sort of bluntly, would God view a worship service like that as "Bible reading–good. Prayer–good. Children with palm branches–no, not pleasing to Me." (I'm trying to be sincere, not facetious.) I want to judge things rightly, through Scripture, but I've been in services that seemed to me to bring much glory to God that contained many elements outside the RWP. It seems like it's not hard to figure out what doesn't bring God glory. But…it's a little confusing to figure out exactly what does sometimes. Thoughts?

  5. I feel like a toad for writing again because I wrote so much before… but I reread your comments above several times until it finally dawned on me that I might have not entirely grasped the depth of our disagreement.

    It appears that when you say Israel and the Church are distinct and at the cross Christ did away with all the externals of temple worship and such, you mean that at the cross, God took the panorama of symbolism, pageantry, festivals, drama, feasts, artwork, music, and ritual and stripped it away and said "you are now not allowed to worship with those elements except where I specifically mention something in the New Testament." When Christ ended temple worship, when He said to worship Him "in spirit and in truth," you're saying He actually made our worship far more restrictive in the sense that much of what was once acceptable is now forbidden. We cannot worship now through a festival or a feast or fancy productions like elaborate music or any drama. Whereas in the OT, Israel was required to keep externals like festivals and feasts, in the NT we're required to not keep them unless specifically directed to do so.

    Am I making sense? And accurately representing your position?

  6. Hi, guys. Sorry I haven't responded yet. I was out of town the past two days.
    And don't feel like a toad, Jeff. You (and your comments) are always welcome! If I ever don't respond immediately, it's most likely because either (a) I'm out of town or (b) I want to take some time to think a little before I respond.
    OK, a couple responses to both of you:
    1. I plan to do a series here soon on the Regulative Principle of Worship, so I won't go into excessive length on these points here. It really grieves me, though, that this doctrine has been all but lost in many circles. This was a cardinal doctrine of post-Reformation. Presbyterians, Baptists, Puritans, and Quakers have always traditionally held to this principle. It was only Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans who didn't. I'm sorry that's changed.
    2. I need to make clear that this Principle applies only to worship, not to all of life. God does not speak to every issue that we will face in our Christian lives; we must use discernment to determine what pleases him in these areas, and we have much liberty where God has not spoken.
    3. But corporate worship is unique. It is the one situation in which all of God's people are expected to participate in certain events. This is different than the rest of life. You can do something in your home with your family, and you are not insisting that others participate with you. But the minute we enter a corporate worship gathering, every believer is expected to participate in the elements of the service. This puts a heavy weight of responsibility upon church leadership, because they must be sure that what they are including in their service does not contradict God's will. Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches liberty of conscience, that is, church leadership does not have the authority to expect Christians to participate in religious rites that God has not commanded. Romans 14 and Colossians 2 makes this clear. When church leadership include in their service elements that God has not commanded, they are infringing upon the liberty of the consciences of believers in their church. That is at the heart of the Regulative Principle. The first to formulate this principle were those, such as the Puritans, who in the Anglican Church were being expected to participate in religious rites and ceremonies that God had not commanded. This was infringing upon their liberty.
    4. Colossians 2 goes a step further to explain why God now does not command religious ceremonies. They were simply a shadow of things to come. Now that we have the reality, we no longer need the shadows. And, as the passage makes clear, it would be wrong for us to insist that other believers participate in such elements.
    5. So, Alice, as I've said before, I hate to "judge" a certain church for including extra-biblical elements in their worship. But it seems to me that the Bible is clear that God is not pleased when we expect believers to participate in religious rites (mere shadows of reality) that He has not commanded. As I have tried to explain in this article, they take our eyes off of Christ and actually direct the focus to our senses and feelings.
    6. The Bible is replete with examples of believers including elements in their worship that seem good and meaningful (they seem to the people to bring much glory to God), but God rejects them (even severely) because He has not commanded them. A couple examples come to mind:
    (a) The golden calf incident (Exodus 32). Aaron and the people were clearly seeking to honor and worship Yahweh. The word translated "gods" in verse 4 is actually "Elohim," a plural reference to God often used to designate Yahweh. And in verse 5, Aaron makes it clear who they intend to worship – "the LORD" – Yahweh, who brought them out of Egypt. Forming a likeness of a calf out of gold was to honor His strength and might. The problem was that God had not permitted this form of worship. And He obviously rejected it.
    (b) Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3). In this passage Nadab and Abihu offer a strange fire — literally an “unauthorized” fire — to the Lord, and they were killed for it. Why were they killed? There was nothing inherently evil or profane about what they were doing. But the fact that, as verse 1 says, the Lord had not commanded this element of worship, they were killed. God is very serious about this. The only acceptable worship is that which He Himself has commanded.
    (c) The Pharisees (Matthew 15:8-9). Jesus is scolding the Pharisees who have added their own ingenuity to worship, and they are requiring others to take part in these same worship elements that God has not prescribed. Were these added elements evil in and of themselves? No. But the fact that they are not commanded by God renders the worship vain.
    I could go on. The point is, just because something looks meaningful or glorifying to God does not mean God accepts it. The argument of the RPW is that He does not accept anything that He has not permitted. And the point of this article was to try to explain that the reason they "seem" meaningful is that they target a part of you that is sensory, and so create an experience that is easily mistaken for spiritual.

  7. Nuts. I think most of my objections are rooted in RPW, so I'd be most anxious to read your treatment of it. In the meantime, I can't help myself. :)

    Romans 14 and Colossians 2 makes this clear. When church leadership include in their service elements that God has not commanded, they are infringing upon the liberty of the consciences of believers in their church. That is at the heart of the Regulative Principle.

    Let me be sure we understand those passages the same way. Colossians 2's thrust is that no one should think that Christ is not his sufficiency. No one should think that by doing seemingly virtuous amoral externals (being a vegetarian or tee-totaler or participant in Jewish festivals) that they are helping themselves along the path of sanctification. Paul is very clear that none of those types of things are helpful in stopping the flesh. The whole body of Christ grows with a growth that is from the Head–Christ–and not from asceticism.

    Romans 14 speaks to both the person who remains a vegetarian or a festival observer as well as the person who eats meat and doesn't observe festivals. And Paul doesn't say that one party should just dump their convictions and give in. He tells both parties to be fully convinced in their own minds. But the vegetarian should not pass judgement on the person who eats meat. And the meat eater should not despise the one who remains a vegetarian. It's telling Christians how they should respond to one another when they don't agree on what makes for holiness. If a conflict arises where a stronger brother's liberty is encouraging a weaker brother to sin, then the stronger should exercise their true liberty from all externals and avoid that thing causing the offense.

    In both of these passages, the emphasis is on rejecting externals as a place where we put confidence. Christ is our confidence, not vegetarianism, or tee-totaling or Judaic observances. And where would these sorts of things come to a head if not in the church context? Communion wine for a tee-totaler? Having a Passover meal when Judaising is a threat? Continuing in breaking bread together when Diana brought meat and she knows Phylis is a vegan? The early church had to decide to observe these things or not. The issues in Romans 14 apply to both church and away-from-church situations. I think Romans 14 has huge implications for the worship question. You do, too, obviously, but we're seeing the implications as diametrically opposite. As you define it, RPW (or its application) says that liberty in Romans 14 can only be fulfilled by pastors prohibiting anything in worship not strictly commanded in the NT. I'm saying the pastors and other members need to practice Romans 14 alone. There's no reason to substitute RPW's prohibitions for Romans 14's call for charity and true liberty. Sure, church stuff is commanded (and so we all must participate). We all have to eat, too. But that's no reason not to observe Paul's command to not judge meat eaters or not despise vegetarians and ultimately to give up meat if it's harming someone. There's no need for an extra rule (which circumvents the text) saying that the only foods valid to eat are ones that are proven to be okay from the New Testament. (This is sounding so much like the "new Law". Or a hedge around the new Law.)

    You said "this article is my attempt to understand why God doesn’t permit drama, visual elements, elaborate rituals, etc. in NT worship" and your article has statements like "pop, drama, and liturgy are all just sense experience and are therefore unbiblical." But you're already stepping out on a limb to say RPW's argument from silence is biblical (especially in the face of the solution already provided in Romans 14). So saying the extrapolations from the implications of RPW are biblical is going way too far. You're on the limb of a limb. How much better to leave Romans 14 as is and say "if X practice is a problem for your congregation, don't do it."

    Even in things which we're told to do (giving, singing, praying, etc.) those elements will always involve form (sitting, standing, instruments, a cappella, etc.). If we sung, say, a hymn set to pop music (in church), we'd both agree that we're obeying the Scriptures as far as singing hymns, but I'm sure you'd object to the music–not based on Scriptural grounds, but on the grounds of apollonian vs. dionysian. If you said "No, I object based on the need for being sensitive to people's consciences since we're all mandated to be here singing," I'd say, "Well, we're singing a hymn. And the NT doesn't speak about form, so we're even within the confines of what was commanded. If there is spiritual damage to your soul going on, I'd be happy to stop the drums and guitars. But if not, we need to apply the beginning of Romans 14."

  8. No, in context, Romans 14 is speaking specifically of issues of worship – dietary restrictions and holy days. It does not apply to the rest of life. 1 Corinthians 8-10 deals with those issues. Often Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8-10 are interpreted as dealing with the same issues, but they're not. They're completely different contexts. Romans is written to a predominantly Jewish church in Rome dealing with whether or not they had to continue with Jewish religious commands. The weaker are those who thought they needed to keep the dietary restrictions and observe the holy days (i.e. corporate worship rituals). The stronger realized that they were merely shadows that were done away with Christ. This can't be a passage about confidence in the flesh or believing that observance of the law gains one merit with God because if it were, Paul would have dealt with it as strongly as he did in Galatians or the Jerusalem counsel. The weaker weren't observing the rituals to gain them merit; they were observing them because they thought they had spiritual significance. And Paul admonished them that they must not demand that others participate in such rituals. This is the basis of the RPW.
    And I'm not really "out on a limb" with this issue since this principle has been held by Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Puritans for hundreds of years. I still could be wrong, but that would mean that they are, too. Still, we could all be wrong, but we're not out on a limb.
    You're exactly right in your last paragraph, though. The RPW doesn't particularly deal with the forms of corporate worship, just the elements. All proponents of the RPW agree that there is much flexibility concerning the forms and circumstances of worship.
    I promise to get on that RPW series soon. In the mean time, check out this article:

  9. Rereading Romans 13-15 and I Corinthians 8-10… I'm just not seeing the distinction between Romans 14 talking about worship and I Corinthians 8-10 talking about the rest of life. I can't find any indication in Romans 14 that he's limiting the discussion to only worship-related matters. Romans 14 occurs immediately after instructions to obey civil authorities, to love one another, and stop getting drunk, committing fornication, or quarreling. Worship doesn't appear to be on the radar.
    I'm going through Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 and the wording is so close it's nearly identical. The terminology is all the same. The only difference is that in the Corinthian church it was the issue of idol meat vs. non-idol meat and in Romans it was meat vs. no meat. It looks clear to me that Paul is dealing with two different issues with the same theology. Again, I can find nothing about worship in Romans 14 besides an assumption that vegetarianism and festival days refer to OT worship. But there's no necessity to limit it to that; and given the remarkable similarities between I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, it would appear that they're teaching the same thing. (I also find it curious that you'd assign vegetarianism to OT law. I don't remember any vegan laws in the OT. Why would vegetarianism be an OT law issue?)

    Romans 14 talks about how to relate to those who think, from faith, that they can or cannot do things another is able or unable to do. That's why I said Romans 14 deals with "telling Christians how they should respond to one another when they don’t agree on what makes for holiness." (By holiness I mean sanctification, not justification.) If I approve something and another person doesn't, as long as we're both doing the approval or rejection from faith, we should continue in our respective positions and practice charity towards each other. But, as Galatians and Colossians point out, if anyone tries to require some kind of external observance in order to have peace with God, then they and their position are to be vehemently corrected or they should be rejected.
    Colossians and Galatians both speak of our justification and our continuing trust in our eternal security. The message is clear: Christ is all. There is nothing more to do.

    Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8-10 both speak of our daily living and how we are to relate to others who don't agree with what we think we is or isn't sin (in grey areas). Both parties are operating from faith. The message is clear: since Christ is all–our Master–then He decides what we are involved in; not each other.

    The confidence of both our eternal security and our own conscience lies with Christ.

    And the comment about being out on a limb… I don't mean that you have no precedent for your position, certainly. I mean that the further one gets from the clear text, the less one can reliably say that his position is authoritatively biblical or another's is unbiblical. From my understanding of Romans 14, it appears the RPW is one step removed from the text. So therefore conclusions from the implications of RPW are another step yet again removed. It doesn't matter who has approved the doctrine in the past. It matters what the text says (HT: my pastor, who has been beating me over the head with that principle ever since I started arguing Reformed Theology with him… "I don't care what Calvin said; I don't care what Luther said; tell me what the Bible says.") :)

    I just wanted to get all that on the record before I read the article from A Puritan's Mind. Feel free to disagree. I'm certainly no Bible scholar, so I'm very interested to hear your insights.

  10. Hey, I'll try to answer your objections more fully later, but for now, here are two papers. The first is by me and explains my understanding of the differences between Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10:
    The second is by Mark Snoeberger, and reflects a similar interpretation of Romans 14 and how it is often misused in ways that you articulated above:,%20Weak%20or%20Wise,%20Rom%2014%2015.pdf
    Both seek to understand what the Bible says about these issues! :) And, by the way, so does the RPW article I mentioned. It goes through the critical texts.

  11. Scott,
    Interesting article. I finished Religious Affections a couple weeks ago. I appreciate some of your discussion of it. I think I'll need to read it again before I can lay claim to really understanding most of what JE is saying, though. I'm sure your work here will help me through it. So, thanks.

    I don't know Jeff, but I think I agree with what he's saying.

    I did a review of Mark's paper, which Jeff might also be interested in:
    (post #8)

  12. I appreciate your articles. You have put into words what I have been struggling with most of
    my life. I believe that a lot of people are having a hormonal experience with a lot of the music in the church and they confuse it with a spiritual high. They are not able to differentiate the difference. This music is what is bringing all faiths together. It is what they have in common and it is stronger than truth. It does not matter if truth is being taught, this
    music is stronger. We hear of people who attend churches with strong biblical teaching who go to cultic churches when they go out of town. We wonder
    what they are thinking. The common denominator is the music. Satan is not stupid.
    It is very powerful. It brings in a lot of people. It is the music that causes people to walk
    around with ear phones on most of the time. We went on a mission trip with some teens.
    We took an unsaved girl with us. When she heard the music the youth pastor had put
    on his cd player. She said, "That is not Christian music." "I listen to that." Sometimes
    I wish I could give up this cause. It is difficult trying to find a church that does not have to
    give in to this. It grieves my heart. I cannot, with a clear conscience, put my children
    under this. There are deeper problems in why the leaders give in to this. Now, people
    are writing music with deeper texts and pop music to manipulate the ones who are
    straggling behind in this movement. Again, Satan is not stupid. I am not against new
    songs, but new for news sake? When someone mentions that they have a new song,
    excitement fills the air. We always want to be relevant and up to date. Pastors are
    not aware of what is happening in this world. They are busy looking around at other
    churches and going to conferences and getting ideas. They need to step back, stop
    reading books, stop surfing the net, stop going to conferences, take off their headsets,
    turn off the tv, and turn off the radio. Start studying the Word for yourself and obey it. When is the last time you have met a truly godly man?

    I do not see in Scripture where worship is listed as one of the things a church is to do when they come together. Before the cross, God dwelt in the temple and the people went to
    the temple to worship. Now, God dwells in us and we are to live our lives at all times as worship unto Him. Please help me with this.

    Thank you for this web site.

  13. I’m just going to drop a simple thank you note, especially that diagram was really helpful in understanding of my current reading of JE’s Religious Affections. My two mites: I think plain, quiet, and simple hymns is the way to go, because the Holy Spirit moves ever so subtle. Thanks Scott.

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