1. Worship is intentional. In Acts 24:11 Paul said that he had gone up to Jerusalem “to worship” [proskuneō]. We see that (a) not everything one does in life is worship;1 (b) worship is done intentionally/on purpose; and (c) one cannot worship unintentionally or by accident.2
2. Something that is often done as “worship” in a worship setting might be done in another setting where it does not necessarily constitute worship. For example, prayer is a worshipful act (Acts 2:42; 3:1), but when Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray and shared with them a “model” for praying (Luke 11:1-4), he does not appear to have been worshiping in this particular context. When Paul was on a ship with a large number of unbelievers and he “gave thanks to God in the presence of them all” (Acts 27:35-36), he may have been engaging in worship on this occasion, but those who heard him and were encouraged by what he did were not necessarily participating in worship themselves.
3. While the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is generally directed to God as vertical worship, a secondary purpose is for horizontally teaching, edifying, and admonishing (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17; Hebrews 2:12). In fact, worship to God is not the only biblically-sanctioned reason to sing spiritual songs. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13b).
4. One or more persons singing spiritual songs while others listen without singing is not inherently wrong. “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
5. In a “worship setting,” i.e. an assembly of Christians who have gathered for the express purpose of worshiping, everyone should be participating in worship as a collective activity in accordance with biblical guidelines (1 Corinthians 11:17-29; 14:12-19; 16:1-2; etc.).
6. In an environment that is not intended as congregational worship, would it be appropriate and not inconsistent with Bible teaching for a Christian to receive edification from something another Christian offers to God, whether a heart-felt expression of thanksgiving and praise in a beautifully worded prayer or scripture reading, or a heart-felt expression of thanksgiving and praise in a beautifully worded song?
7. From a practical standpoint, if one deems it acceptable to listen to a recording of Christians singing gospel songs, in what way would it be unacceptable to listen to the same Christians singing the same gospel songs in person (perhaps while the recording is being made)?
8. Based on the above principles, I do not view a cappella choral singing as mere “entertainment” or something that replaces congregational (reciprocal) praise in a worship setting but, in my judgment, as an opportunity for spiritual edification outside the appointed boundaries of a corporate assembly without violating biblical teaching.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 What about Romans 12:1? “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your …” (a) “reasonable service” (NKJV); (b) “spiritual worship” (ESV); (c) “spiritual service of worship” (NASB); (d) “spiritual act of worship” (NIV)? The Greek adj. logikos means reasonable, rational, or spiritual. The noun latreia is “service or worship” (BAGD 467), with emphasis on divine service (cf. Rom. 9:4; John 16:2; Heb. 12:28); the verb form latreuō means to “serve” [esp. the carrying out of religious duties] (BAGD 467). This is not the same concept as what is conveyed by the verb proskuneō, which means to “worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to …” (BAGD 716).
2 Scriptural worship [proskuneō] is something that is done purposefully, involving concentration, consideration, and reverence (John 4:20-24; 12:20; Acts 8:27; 24:11). Not everything one does in life, therefore, constitutes worship (e.g. reading the newspaper, sleeping, watching a movie, et al.).
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