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Worship that Cannot Be Touched

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series

"Worship in Hebrews"

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Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have always been tempted to follow after more physical, more sensory forms of worship because of a misunderstanding of this discontinuity, and this is perhaps no more true than it is in the 21st century Church. When people worship, they strongly desire to feel something; they want to experience something; they want to “encounter” God. Hustad notes the reality that contemporary worshipers “welcome the new, lively, repetitious, and sometimes ‘warm, fuzzy’ expressions, saying that their music meets their emotional needs.”1 Harold Best suggests that many Christians today believe that

music and the arts have a kind of power in themselves that can be falsely related to or equated with the Spirit’s power, so much so that the presence of God seems all the more guaranteed and the worshiper sees this union of artistic power and Spirit power as normal, even anticipated.2

The problem today is what Torrance calls a “preoccupation with individual religious experience, subjectively interpreted.”3 Peter Masters warns against this problem in contemporary worship:

Ecstatic worship is completely different [than true, biblical worship]. This aims at stirring the emotions to produce a simulated, exalted emotional state. Ecstatic worship takes place when the object of the exercise is to achieve a warm, happy feeling, perhaps great excitement, and even a sense of God’s presence through the earthly, physical aspects of worship such as music and movement. Among charismatics this is eagerly pursued, the programme [sic] being carefully engineered to bring worshippers to a high emotional pitch, and often to a mildly hypnotic state. In non-charismatic circles the objective is a little more modest, but essentially the same — to make an emotional impact. Worship leaders want to bypass rationality and get the feelings going by other means. They want to stir up “sensations” in order to produce euphoria.4

This is all the same root problem that these Hebrews were experiencing. Christians naturally want to be able to point to something, whether it is a mountain, a ceremony, a tradition, a ritual, or a feeling, and say, “That’s worship.” But the point in the book of Hebrews is that Christian worship is not physical in its essence—it is metaphysical. When Christians worship, they are joining in with heavenly worship, and since living Christians are not actually there, they are worshiping metaphysically.

When Christians desire some kind of physical experience in worship, they are desiring Law, not Grace. Law is physical; grace is metaphysical. They are desiring the kind of worship that existed before people could actually approach God themselves through the supreme bridge between the physical and metaphysical—Jesus Christ. But Christians have not come to that kind of worship; they have come to the worship of Heaven—worship that is immaterial; worship that is spiritual; worship that is through Christ Himself; worship that cannot be touched.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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. Don Hustad, True Worship: Reclaiming the Wonder and Majesty (Wheaton, IL: Hope, 1998), 43. []
  2. Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 119. []
  3. Torrance, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, 28. []
  4. Peter Masters, Worship in the Melting Pot (Wakeman Trust, 2002), 23-24. []