On using worship to war

As a college dean, few things were more difficult than seeing some college students in corporate worship. I know this sounds awful and cynical, and it seemed so when I felt it. However, as we would meet for our college worship gatherings, I could not help but notice that some of the students who showed the most demonstrative expressions of corporate worship were also some of the students that had trouble passing classes, not viewing porn, and some had really bad attitudes toward authority. I can’t, nor want to, draw some illogical conclusion that college students who are expressive in corporate worship have bad character. No. Not at all. More often, the opposite was true. I’m simply making an observation that was limited to my experience at one slice in time. The observation that a few who felt very free in worship had poor character bothered me for a quite a while. I mulled over why this disconnect seemed to occur. These particular students felt very free in worship and yet they also felt free to trash people on social media, slack in schoolwork, waste massive amounts of unaccountable time, and then blame the institution for their failure.

My tendency, as a professor, was/is to over analyze corporate worship. Is it real? Authentic? Are we creating a “moment” that while emotionally intense, is not intellectually engaging? Are we invoking the body and soul so naively that we do not realize that to engage the soul and the will, you must also engage the mind? Does the frequency of college worship experiences divorce corporate worship from individual accountability to a local church? Perhaps we have crossed over from “dead” worship where no one is emotionally engaged to “alive” worship were we are physically and emotionally engaged but not thinking about the God we are engaging. Perhaps. But, for now, I don’t want to go down that road.

What I should feel for these precious college students is painful empathy. I found these students with the ability to loose inhibition in corporate worship but without the ability to stop sinning. This is a very deep problem. The problem, in their case, was not flagrant hypocrisy. They generally owned up to the sin they wanted to stop. The problem was that whatever they were getting in our corporate worship was not enough to equip them to live outside of the church walls. We need all the things that Scripture says we need to fight sin: the Word, prayer, and an awareness of spiritual darkness and willingness to do spiritual warfare. The problem with my students is that they confused emotional engagement with music for spiritual preparation for battle. A single worship set does not make a warrior. But, for now, I don’t want to go down that road either.

If I were to sit with them again I would not verbally trash their worship practices like some click bait post on Facebook. In truth, their worship practice is not different than mine or a thousand other believers. Besides, the negative approach is not as compelling as this positive truth; this one glorious positive truth. What I would try to get them to do is understand that fighting sin is itself an act of worship. Can you raise your hands in worship? Then you can have victory over sin. Saying no to addiction, to verbally trashing others, saying no to laziness, gluttony and disrespect, all of these negatives are a way of raising our hands to God and saying, “You are God alone, and I will not worship these lesser things.” Which, consequently, makes the songs we sing very important. They should both engage us in the present moment and arm us for future battle.

So, as the predator of sin sneaks up, this is an encouragement that killing that predator is an act of worship. Worship is blessing, but often a bloody one. The sanitized version of corporate worship on Sunday is sweet when we have done the nasty version of slaying vice during the week. Raising our hands is an expression of both resurrection life and death to sin. The bloody hands that have killed sin during the week produce a beautiful picture of the Gospel when raised in worship. They are the picture of Jesus who worshipped his Father by the laying down of his life and in so doing won the battle for us all. This is not worship war, it is using worship to do war. And so we live. Fight sin as an act of worship.




  • Daryl King says:

    Can we say then that to truly worship in a corporate setting without hypocrisy I need first to truly repent of sin and truly give my daily life to our Lord as the one and only God? To the degree that I fail to repent, or to the degree that I fail to live by faith, to that degree my corporate worship is just a hypocritical show which possibly can fool me or others, but certainly not God. How convicting! We must not waste our lives with emptiness!

  • Todd Kimball says:

    I appreciate the honest observation handled with grace and truth. I’m sure the enemy, who likes to stay hidden in shadows, is more exposed now. His tactics need to always be made aware of and his victims stand at each other’s side and our Lord shall advance and we shall follow, already conquerers in Him. Great words, Steven.

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