By Arnfield P. Cudal


Worship in the church has come to indicate that corporate act of adoration whereby music is one modality in which love, honor, and adoration to God is expressed. We associate music with “worship,” and the question here is not so much whether music is an appropriate vehicle of expression (music should be more appropriately referred as “praise”), but church music today has been given roles and functions which were never intended. When music has become sacramental or assumed the role of mediator (“music draws us into the presence of Jesus”), evangelizer (“reach people with our music”), and witness (“they’ll know us by our music”), the outcome is an idolization of the music above the Word, and the usurpation of the ministry of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

The word used for worship in the Old Testament is shetachavah, from the root shachah, which denotes a physical gesture of prostration involving “bowing, kneeling, throwing a kiss, or kissing someone’s feet, or hem of garment.” In Near Eastern (Oriental) cultures, these outward gestures communicate nonverbal connotations of respect, and affirm relationships of direct subservience. The Greek equivalent proskuneo denotes the same physical act of obeisance. The church has mistakenly taken this concept of “bowing down” and substituted it with music, treating music’s emotional effects as symbolic of prostration. But this is not the proper concept of worship in the Bible.


The Proper Realm of Worship

A well-known passage on the topic of spiritual worship is in John 4:21-24:

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship (proskuneo) the Father. Ye worship (proskuneo) ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship (proskuneo) the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship (proskuneo) him.

The realm of the spirit and of truth is not bound by geographical location (e.g. Gerzim versus Jerusalem). Thus adoration (bowing) before the Father will be possible anywhere, and also anytime, whether during the Messiah’s reign (“hour cometh”) or right now (“now is”). Yet, one stipulation remains, the only way we can worship God is with a regenerated spirit, one that is transformed at the moment of salvation.

To enter into this realm, the illustration is much clearer in the Greek. The Greek word used for “in” in this case is “eis” and it means “into” as “from the exterior; moving toward; into the interior of some whole.” The Gospels use the term frequently with regard to salvation. Translated this way, the following reads:

John 3:16, “whosever believeth into Him,”

John 3:18, “He that believeth into Him is not condemned.”

John 6:47, Jesus reiterates, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth into me hath everlasting life.”

The Gospels proclaim that it is our Lord Jesus Christ (not music) who is the one who brings us “into” himself, and into the realm of spirit and truth. Therefore, believe “into” him (by grace, through faith, Ephesians 2:8). This is the moment of salvation. This concept is later affirmed and furthered throughout the Pauline Epistles when he addresses those who are “in Christ,” referring to those who have already believed “into” Christ and are presently positioned “in Him.”


Worship in the Church: ‘Latraei’ is a Priestly Function

The realm of “spirit and truth” is a positional realm. The word for “in” (Greek, “en” + the dative) denotes: “locally; in the interior of some whole; within the limits of some space.” To be “in spirit” and “in truth,” therefore, is to be in God, who is spirit, and in Christ, who is truth. This is the same concept the Apostle Paul uses in illustrating how our soul and spirit are in the body (2 Corinthians 5:6), and how we are in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). Jesus said, “…they that worship him (God) must (emphasized here to show that it is otherwise impossible) worship in (inside the realm or within the sphere of) spirit and in truth.”

Regarding the Church, “the mystery now revealed,” the Apostle Paul prescribes the concept of worship to those who are “in Christ”  as “service” (Gk. latreia – Romans 12:1), and within this realm, a proper understanding of music’s function, role, and relation to the Word, may be obtained. In addition, the three modalities of music in the Bible, the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, will be examined in tandem with an analysis of music.

Because of our position in Christ, “now having the boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19), we are priests identified in Christ. Since all priests [Aaronic (past), Melchizadekian (present), and Zadokian (future)] are relegated the function of latraei as opposed to the function of proskuneo — which pertains to and includes a lay system for non-priests. The Apostle Paul does not use proskuneo to prescribe the kind of activity to believers. From Pentecost (Acts 2:1) until the culmination of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:17), the culture and practice of proskuneo along with its lay system disappears.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul uses latraei, a word used to encompass priestly activity, as the prescription for believers in the Church. Therefore, used in this context, the Apostle Paul gives the following injunction,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,which is your reasonable worship (latraei) (Rom. 12:1).

What were the duties and services of priests? In the Old Testament, the word priest (Hebrew, cohen) denotes ‘one who stands up for another, and mediates in his cause’. The tribe of Levi, chosen to carry out the office of priesthood and represent Israel as a ‘holy nation’, carried out the solemn service of reconciliation through the ‘sprinkling of blood’. The mediation between a Holy God and an unholy people mandated a holy office. This holy office, symbolized by the gold-plate worn on the forehead of the high priest, was inscribed: ‘Holiness unto Jehovah’.

The presence of deity in the Temple imposed a heightened sense of fear, and diligent care to maintain symbolic holiness was carried out meticulously, from bodily grooming and personal hygiene, to containing and disposing defilements, to maintaining distinctive clothing and modes of ordination and service, where every function, procedure, and duty in service of mediator between God and man was incumbent on being “set apart” unto sanctity, lest the wrath of God fall upon the people.

The Apostle Paul applies this concept and function to believer-priests as an activity revolving around “the sacrificial service” described in Romans 12:1 which is to “present your bodies holy and acceptable to God.” Just as analogies to service were meticulously laid out by the writer of Hebrews, the duty of priests in maintaining holiness in all aspects of life is enumerated with urgency, considering that the presence of deity now inhabits us. Thus, the believer’s priestly duty is expounded,

He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:22).

Let us cleanse ourselves from the filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:24).

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

The Apostle Paul’s dictum to the Church, therefore, is that this spiritual worship be fastidiously and meticulously attended to. And the Holy Paraclete was sent, by the Father in Jesus’ name (cf. John 14:26), to assist the believer in carrying out this holy office of ‘sacrificial service’ (latreou).

How is this service to be conducted? Our service is to be conducted with prayer and fasting (Luke 2:37), with singularity (Luke 4:8), believing all things written in the law and the prophets (Act 24:14), with the spirit in the gospel of his Son, with unceasing prayer (Romans 1:9), with the spirit, rejoicing in Jesus Christ, with no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3), with pure conscience praying day and night (2 Timothy 1:3), unto the example and shadow of heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5), with a perfect conscience (Hebrews 9:9), with no conscience of sin (Hebrews 10:2), with reverence and fear (Hebrews 12:28).True worship for the believer can take place only in the realm of spirit and truth (cf. John 4:24). These are the mechanics of worship.


God’s Word-based Worship 

It is through the keeping of Christ’s commandments (not through music) that we please God (1 John 3:22), and a key commandment is: “Be ye holy” (1 Peter 1:16). After all, we who are in Christ, “have been chosen…to be holy” (Ephesians 1:4), “for this is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). A believer in spirit and in truth is given specific instruction on how to please God. Our Lord Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Furthermore, “we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3).

Therefore, against this backdrop, we can ascertain the role of music in the life of the believer. A contextual study of Colossians provides directives regarding the ‘service unto holiness’ of music. In Colossians, Christ’s deity and headship is emphasized. The Epistle speaks of Christ in the believer, necessitating the “hold(ing) fast to the Head” (2:18, 19) in submission to Him. Colossians concerns the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (1:2) with the following goals in mind:

That you may…

1:9 be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding

1:10 walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God

1:11 (be) strengthened with all might…unto all patience, longsuffering, with joyfulness


1:26 (because) the mystery which had been hid is now made manifest to his saints

1:28 (so) that we may be perfect

2:8 lest any spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit

2:18 let no man beguile you of your reward

Note that Colossians is addressed 1) to believers — those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, 2) to those who walk worthy, being fruitful in all good works, and 3) to those who are increasing in knowledge of God. Chapter three is a prescription for priestly living and worship.

If someone asked, “Where do you worship?” you may say, “In my body.” Why? See again Romans 12:1, because worship involves the priestly machinations of keeping yourself pure, blameless, and undefiled. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16). It is a theme the Apostle Paul reiterates over and over again in his letters to the Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Galatians, etc. For emphasis, here is the short definition of how we are to conduct our worship,


3:1 If ye are in Christ, seek the things which are above

3:2 Set your affections on things above

3:5 Mortify your members which are upon earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affections, evil concupiscence, covetousness, for you once walked in them

3:8 Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, lie not

3:10 Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him

3:12 Put on bowels of mercy, kindness humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering

3:13 forbearing one another, forgiving one another

3:14 above all, charity

3:15 Let the peace of God rule

3:16 Let the words of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…

This command: “let the words of Christ dwell in you richly” forms the basis for the introduction of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs – the Bible’s music. Understanding these concepts will help us begin to see a dichotomy between music-induced “worship” and Word-induced Biblical worship.

Continue reading: Priestly living through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. How do the “psalms,” “hymns,” and
spiritual songs” of the Bible help us conduct our priestly duties, our reasonable worship?