A Defense of Exuberant Worship in the New Testament Church


Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.

 The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God

and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.
-the psalmist, King David

I recently received a message from a friend asking me an important biblical question.

The message, in part, read; “Is there any place in the New Testament that supports exuberant worship, like clapping hands and shouting to God?”

Many Christians say they want a close relationship with Christ but don’t want to be passionate, expressive or exuberant in it’s demonstration. But the Scriptures describe our relationship with Christ as that of a bride to her groom. Imagine if your spouse said to you, “I want to be close to you, I jst don’t want to express it in an exuberant, passionate or expressive way.” Wouldn’t you be concerned for your marriage? Don’t you expect Christ is concerned with His relationship with such a bride?

When one considers the whole counsel of scripture, it is apparent that God desires exuberant worship.  The Psalms of David in particular are replete with passages charging the congregation to clap their hands, shout aloud, sing for joy, dance to the Lord and play loudly on wind, string, and procession instruments.  In practice today, denominations have approached this subject as a bag of trail mix, applying what portions of it are comfortable for them and disregarding the rest. Most often, the tool used to shuck the commissions to exuberant worship, is the notion that it is Old Testament worship and not applicable therefore to the Church.
Let me set forth, before I go further, that there is New Testament basis for exuberant worship in the Church. Those proofs will be set forth a little later in this article, but first let me deal with the notion that something has to be reiterated in the New Testament to be of value to the modern believer.

The burden of proof is on those who would suggest that the New Testament has done away with the demonstrative worship so evident throughout the Old Testament. Put another way, Jesus nailed the Mosaic Law to the cross, not the Psalms. And Jesus did not come to destroy even the Law of Moses but to fulfill it. So again, one would need to show conclusively how the ministry of Christ fulfilled the worship set forth in the Psalms in order to argue that God for some reason no longer desires the passionate worship He once craved.
Any religious group wishing to use such an argument would be bound to it for other forms of worship as well to be consistent and honest. Many groups will use this pass to explain why they do not clap their hands or shout in the congregation while continuing to use musical instruments and teaching the principles of tithing to their congregations- both principles that many argue are not explicitly reiterated in the New Testament. One cannot have it both ways.  If Davidic worship is “Old School” then the organs must also be removed from the places of worship.

That being said, there is ample New Testament support for the type of exuberant worship set forth in the Psalms.
The Apostle Paul wrote on two occasions that we were to sing Psalms (from the root “psalo”- to pluck a musical instrument) Hymns (songs about God rather than directed to Him) and Spiritual Songs (those sang under the creative and inspirational unction of the Holy Spirit. He goes on to say that he will not only pray in the spirit, rather than with his understanding, but that he will also sing at times in the spirit rather than with his understanding. James also, the half brother of Jesus writes to the congregation that if there are any sorrowful, they should pray and if there are any joyful, they should sing.

While we are looking at James, I feel there is no greater argument for exuberant worship in the New Testament Church than what he declared in the counsel at Jerusalem when he declared that the New Testament Church was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos that declares that the Tabernacle of David would be rebuilt. It was not the tabernacle of Moses, but the tabernacle of David that choirs, orchestras, gowns, dancing shouting, and the like were incorporated into the formal worship of the congregation. Here James declares that the Church is the tabernacle of David rebuilt.
This, all other evidences aside, makes us certain that the worship King David prescribes in the Psalms is not somehow done away with in the New Testament Church, but is rather restored, rebuilt and reinstituted.

There is truly nothing new under the sun. People mock what they have not experienced or do not understand. Just as David’s wife mocked her husband for dancing so exuberantly in worship in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the onlooking Jews, after having been drawn by the ruckus of worship, mocked those who were being filled with the Holy Spirit on the feast-day of Pentecost saying they were drunk with wine, in Acts 2. Is it not so today, that those who are fervent in their worship are mocked by those who look on and wag their heads?

One Response so far.

  1. admin says:
    A Muslim reader and friend sent a message in response to this post, which read, in part:
    …When we have conversations about worship, regarding any religion, Tonya always says it’s a lifestyle, that worship is intentional focus, time, behaviors and your thoughts…
    Where in your scriptures are the rules and guidelines for worship or prayer? Islam is very specific and there are rules to follow, that makes it easy. I find the Christian path is not always so seemly specific in its process…

    I apologize. I write so often for a Christian audience that is so familiar with the Bible that I need only reference a passage without citing it. In such a case citations can be cumbersome to the reader and interrupt the flow of the article.
    Also, I often feel that truth is truth, and should resonate with the reader without need for citations. As Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” If it is true, it will resonate with those who are His. If not, it will not.
    That being said, I like you am a student of truth and love to research the things I read. For someone trained to read technical documents, citations are not so cumbersome. I would be glad to give you a list of the Scriptures cited in this, and any other of my articles if you would find them useful.
    Let me lead off by adding that I completely concur with Tonya, that the term worship encompasses the entirety of a devoted Christian life. Everything that we do in word or in deed is to be done as an act of worship unto God. Our kindness, manual labor, giving, etc is as much a part of our devotion as is the demonstrative acts of corporate worship(when multiple believers come together to praise God as a body of believers).
    The point of the question posed, and therefore the focus of the article, is the latter, namely exuberant corporate worship.
    First, some of the Psalms relating to our topic.
    Psalm 95, Psalm 47, Psalm 150,
    Passages about the Church being the bride of Christ are many but include Ephesians 5:25-27, II Corinthians 11:2 and Revelation 19:7-9
    Concerning the fultillment of the Law of Moses through the finished work of Christ, passages include Matthew 5:17 and Ephesians 2:14-15
    Ephesians 5:19 and Colosians 3:16 both admonish the Christian Church to sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs unto the Lord.
    The reference to praying and singing both with understanding and in the spirit is from I Corinthians 14:15
    James refers to the Church as the Tabernacle of David rebuilt in Acts 15:16. In this James is declairing a fulfillment by the Church of the prophecy of the prophet Amos, found in Amos 9:11. For more on the Tabernacle of David, you may wish to search terms “Davidic Worship” and Tabernacle of David.”
    King David’s wife ridiculed his exuberant worship in II Samuel 6:14
    and the onlooking Jews ridiculed the Christian’s exuberant worship in Acts 2:13
    I pray you find these passages useful in your further study of this topic.
    Assalamu alaikum