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Inward affirmation that our worship is acceptable to God?

There is an interesting conversation taking place in response to my post last week about “authenticity” in worship. The question revolves around affirmation from God that our worship is indeed acceptable. The question is, if we choose to do something in worship, and God affirms in our hearts that it is acceptable to him, how can anyone else claim that the act is somehow wrong?

This question reveals an important issue that I would like to comment on just briefly. The question assumes that God somehow affirms our worship through an inward feeling, impulse, or some other kind of impression.

On the contrary, the point I made in response to the question is that the only affirmation we have from God that our worship is acceptable to him1 is his Word. Only the Bible affirms our worship, and it does so when our worship aligns with its standards.

So the underlying presupposition of the question itself is flawed. If someone’s worship does not conform to the standards of the Word of God, then no feeling or peace or impression justifies it. And if someone’s worship does not conform to God’s Word, then those feelings and impressions are certainly not, therefore, affirmations from God.

Therefore, we have every right to question the validity of someone’s worship if it does not conform to Scripture, whether or not they feel peace about what they are doing.

The Word of God is our only and ultimate affirmation of worship that is acceptable to God.

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. I should note that by “acceptable,” I am referring to the Romans 12:1, Hebrews 12:29 use of the term; I am not referring to ultimate, eternal acceptability, which is possible only through Christ, but the measure of acceptability that God expects of his children after he has already judicially accepted them because of Christ. []

9 Responses to Inward affirmation that our worship is acceptable to God?

  1. Scott,

    I'd like to post two questions on these matters.

    First, you state: "If someone's worship does not conform to the standards of the Word of God, then no feeling or peace or impression justifies it. And if someone's worship does not conform to God's Word, then those feelings and impressions are certainly not, therefore, affirmations from God.

    This, to me, raises the question: "What exactly *are* God's standards of worship in the Word of God?" I realize that any idolatry would be against the Word of God. And we have, as scriptural references, Psalms 33:3 (play skillfully, sing to Him a new song, and shout for joy) and Psalms 150 (praise him with the cymbals). And these verses, in turn, in my mind raise a new question: is it alright to praise Him *without* instruments? He evidently commands us to pray *with* instruments: "Play skillfully". And when the Lord says, "Sing to Him a new song", I'm unable to read that any other way than the following: "Don't keep retiring to the traditional hymns: keep composing, keep writing, keep arranging, keep improvising, keep crafting new songs with new lyrics and new chord progressions." (For instance, perhaps we can take a minor-chord hymn and transpose it into a major chord.)

    In short: I'm not sure I can say that God gives a whole lot of specific instruction as to how we should worship.

    I will try to illustrate. Yesterday (and I may have had this thought in previous years), I received a thought/affirmation that I should refrain from worshiping in a tenor voice, and that I should sing baritone or bass instead. My explanation is that when I sing in a tenor voice, I seem to get exhausted, anxious, short-of-breath, and very nervous and anxious. There's no other way for me to explain it. My reasoning is that it's not in *listening* to hymns do I get anxious, but when I sing them in a *tenor* (high) voice, I get anxious and short-of-breath. Thus, the idea (or affirmation) came to me: "Sing in something lower than tenor — whether it be baritone or bass." What do you think? I'm not sure the affirmation was from God. If it wasn't from God, who was it from?

    Secondly:

    You state that inward affirmation — whether the affirmation is a feeling, a thought, or an occurrence within the heart — is not relevant to whether the worship is acceptable and pleasing to God. In other words, an inward affirmation does not qualify to assure us that our worship is acceptable to God.

    Well, then this to me raises the question: "Why is this true, and does this principle apply globally — i.e., in a global sense — to all church behavior and all Christ-following and Bible-studying behavior? Does it apply "across-the-board" to all aspects of Christian life?

    For example (and forgive me for using an instance that doesn't fall within the subject of worship): A Christian friend of mine, shortly after his second son was born, confided to me that the Holy Spirit told him "Don't name your son *that*; instead name your son *this*." There are two names that sound similar. One is longer than the other. God told my Christian friend NOT to name his second son the longer name; instead God told him to give his son the shorter name. Do I know of anything in my feeble understanding of the Bible that would suggest that such affirmations are not valid when it comes to naming your second son, or your firstborn son? I don't. (Again, I'd like to reiterate that I have a limited understanding of Scripture.) Aren't there two types of revelations from God? i.e., those in Scripture and those outside of Scripture that are "empirical", so-to-speak?

    Thus, does your view of the lack of affirmation as a viable reason for acting, apply to my friend's naming of his son, too? Surely my Christian friend did in fact receive a message from the Holy Spirit, did he not? I interpret this kind of command to be inward affirmation that the Holy Spirit gave this direct order to my friend. I see nothing sinful in his naming his son the shorter-name instead of the longer-name.

    Thus: must we apply the principle that "inward affirmation is of no use", even when considering items unrelated to worship?

    Thanks, Scott. I welcome any replies, and I hope I've made myself somewhat understandable. If there is anything I can clarify or add, please let me know.

    All the best,

    Todd

  2. Scott,

    You state: Therefore, we have every right to question the validity of someone’s worship if it does not conform to Scripture, whether or not they feel peace about what they are doing. The Word of God is our only and ultimate affirmation of worship that is acceptable to God."

    Over the years, I've been present in various church worship sessions. I've seen and heard people worship in various styles, volume levels, instruments, tempos, lighter or darker rooms, indoor sanctuaries and neighborhood parks, with people wearing church robes or wearing not as much. I've seen regular drum sets, electronic drum sets, and drum shields (glass drum barriers placed in front of the drummer in the attempt to muffle the drum sounds). And I can recall — if my memory serves me correctly — looking at a worship team and noticing that a female in the worship team had somewhat of a bare midriff. I thought to myself, "Gee, I'm not sure why she is baring some of her midriff, but otherwise I'm not aware of anything unbecoming or disagreeable about her at all. Perhaps she's the most holy and true person in this room, for all I know." For some reason, I want to say that she sang in a harmony voice while others sang the general melody of the song. But I can't say that with absolute certainty. My questions, as it pertains to this discussion, are: isn't Scripture silent about bearing part of one's midriff during worship? Or, let's say she was wearing a tank-top. Would that have been sinful? I'm not trying to speak facetiously; I'm trying to be serious.

    I just don't know how much the Bible speaks of specific guidelines God has set in scripture that are meant specifically for communal worship.

  3. Hi, Todd. I'm at a conference all week, so I apologize for the delay in commenting and for the brevity in my answer here.

    I think a lot of this comes down to differing views between us of how the Holy Spirit works. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in any way of by any means apart from his Word. He certainly illumines our hearts to accept the message of the Word (that is his primary function today), and thus he uses the Word to sanctify us, but I do not believe that God speaks to us in any of the ways you mention, whether it is regarding worship or in naming of a child.

    God works providentially to lead us, he gives us wisdom, he may providentially bring things to our remembrance and cause us to use our reason and intellect in the application of his Word, but he does not speak to us apart from the Word.

  4. my basic understanding of the Spirit's work today is the same as Scott's. However, I did recall Romans 8:16 after reading Todd's post. Is His Spirit bearing witness with ours by the Word or is it a direct affirmation?

  5. Thank you Scott and David. I would like to echo David's question (Romans 8:16) as to whether God's Spirit bears witness to ours by the Word and/or by direct affirmation.

  6. I would take this to mean what i have already mentioned. One of the Holy Spirit's primary works is to illumine the hearts of believers such that they accept the truth of Scripture. So here the emphasis is that he moves a believer to accept the biblical truth that those who believe in Christ are forgiven in the merits of Christ.

  7. Where does it say in the Bible that God doesn't provide direct affirmation? I had thought that orthodoxy holds that there are two kinds of revelation: general revelation and special revelation. I had thought that the Holy Spirit can communicate to us in many sorts of ways, and in many different types of situations.

    [Another question, off-topic (I apologise): Does God instruct us that hymns can be used to evangelize, or are they only meant for worship and intended for believers only?]

  8. Todd, this is probably a bigger topic than we have room to discuss here, but once again, a standard, historic cessationist view hold that there is no direct revelation in this dispensation apart from the Word of God.

    Yes, there is such a thing and general and special revelation, but what those terms refer to is the specificity with which that revelation is given. General revelation reveals very general information about God and is available to all.

    But what you are referring to (specific affirmation from the Holy Spirit) is special revelation, and I do not believe that the Holy Spirit gives special revelation apart from his Word.

    Indeed, that question IS off topic!:) I do not personally see in Scripture specific examples of using hymns to evangelize. Hymns are primarily used to teach truth and to respond to that truth in worship.

    However, I do think hymn could be used evangelistically, if they express robust gospel truth in a way fitting to that truth.

    However, most "evangelistic" "hymns" are shallow presentations of the gospel with music geared toward entertainment.

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