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  • Writer's pictureKim Arnold

Submission in Worship

Have you ever thought about submission being an integral part of worship? As Americans, I do not think we are keen on the idea of submission in any realm (especially women), but if we truly believe that God initiates every act of worship, then we must submit to his authority. This post will point out some perils of entering into worship haphazardly or carelessly, and then discuss how we should submit to God in worship when we gather. I will rely heavily upon Jonathan Landry Cruse’s text, What Happens When We Worship, especially chapter six.

Unacceptable Worship

Let’s look at a couple places in Scripture where people offered unacceptable worship to the Lord. Almost immediately after creation, we read the first example of unacceptable worship. When Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, brought their offerings to the Lord, one was accepted while the other was not. In Genesis 4:3-7 we read, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.'” Cain and Abel both knew what God required from them for their sacrifices, but only Abel offered what was pleasing to the Lord.

In Leviticus 9, we read the beautiful story of the Lord accepting Aaron’s offering as Priest. After leaving the Tent of Meeting with Moses, “the glory of the Lord appeared to all people” (v. 23). “And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces”(v. 24). What a magnificent story of God accepting the worship of his people.

But in the next few verses, we read about the unacceptable worship offered by Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:1-3). So what just happened? The bottom line is that Nadab and Abihu tried to worship God in a manner which they saw fit, but it did not align with God’s specifications. Again, God initiates every act of worship.He sets the rules. We do not.

In the New Testament, both Matthew and Mark quote Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9; see also Mark 7:6-7 and Isaiah 29:13). Vain worship includes any worship we offer that contradicts Scripture. Our hearts must be submitted to God’s authority where we offer him the acceptable worship that he desires.

Acceptable Worship

It is important to remember that although we do not live under Old Testament law (thankfully!), we carry forward the principles that God emphasizes in worship. From Abrahamic worship, we see that God alone is to be worshiped. In Mosaic worship, we learn that God cares specifically how he is worshiped. From Davidic worship, we see that beauty is important to God. Moving forward into the New Testament, we see that Synagogue worship emphasized a continued gathering of believers where their worship included worship of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:6-11). These practices do not cease simply because we live in the 21st century. We carry the principles forward with us today, continuing to worship God in the manner which he instituted.

Worship Today

So how do we know we are offering acceptable worship to God today? We must begin by understanding that “The workshop of worship is not one in which we are working; rather, it’s one in which we are worked on (Jonathan Landry Cruse, What Happens When We Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020), 66). Removing the emphasis from ourselves and placing it on God automatically helps us move toward acceptable worship. We also need to remember that “worship is always about us responding to what God is doing to, for, in, and through us (pg. 66).” Worship should always be a disciple-making process. The emphasis is not placed on how the music makes us feel; rather, the emphasis is placed on God calling his people to join in heavenly worship, ascribing all glory unto Him.

Once we understand these principles, especially in viewing worship as a disciple-making gathering, then our music must form worshipers to Christ and nothing else. If worship is about the emotional high you receive off the music and lights, then it is not centralized on developing disciples. A good rule of thumb that I like to use when analyzing a song for corporate worship is to ask the question: does this song form my heart more toward Christ or more toward culture? In other words, do I like the beat and the guitar riff in the middle and the words are secondary? Or are the words rich in theology and set to a beautiful tune, thus allowing for pure affection toward God instead of emotionalism?

Do you see where submission is woven throughout all of worship? It is not about us. It is only about God and his desires in worship. We can never bring acceptable worship in our own power or based on our own merits. I will conclude with one final quote from Cruse, “As we come to corporate worship with an intention to please God over ourselves, it’s a way in which we can fulfill the call of the apostle Paul: that we would have the mind of Christ, being humble and taking the form of a servant before God (pg. 67-68).”

Kim has been married to her college sweetheart, Jason, for 24 years and they have one son who is a high school senior. Most recently, Kim completed her Ph.D in Church Music and Worship from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has presented at Evangelical Theological Society and The Society of Christian Scholarship in Music, and her works have appeared in The Hymn, Artistic Theologian, and Baptist History and Heritage Journal.


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