Idolatrous Worship Music


idolatryIdolatry is the extreme devotion to or worship of someone or something that is not God. It is when we ignore the commandment to “have no other gods before me.”[1]

In his book, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, Harold Best wrote, “Idolatry is the chief enemy of the most fervently worshiping Christians, even to the extent that some of us may end up worshiping worship.”[2] Worshiping worship is when our primary attention centers on how instead of whom we worship.

Best continued by asking if worship music has become our golden calf. This practice is often manifested when we fight for our musical preferences regardless of the cost or consequences. The entire book, Unceasing Worship is an outstanding read, but for the sake of discussing worship idolatry in your own context, consider the following Harold Best quotes from chapter 11.

“Whenever we assume that art mediates God’s presence or causes him to be tangible, we have begun the trek into idol territory”[3]

“We need to ask ourselves if we, as worship leaders, are giving the impression that we draw near to God through music or that God draws near because of it.”[4]

“Idolatry is the act of shaping something that we then allow to shape us. We craft our own destiny and then act as if it were supernaturally revealed.”[5]

“Idolatry goes beyond the worship of a crafted thing and into the conduct of an inner condition that may call it forth. In this respect idolatry is the difference between walking in the light and creating our own light to walk in.”[6]

“Beauty and quality become idols when they become intermediaries and spiritual screening devices. For us to assume that our versions of beauty, per se, afford quicker access to God is to commit a fatal error.”[7]

“God sees every believer, irrespective of personal taste, exactly the same way: in Christ. It is his cleansing, rather than the quality of our art, that makes us presentable.”[8]

“I am always driven back to this question: is the perfume that I pour over the feet of Jesus the best I can knowingly procure, or is it something less than I am knowingly capable of offering?”[9]

“When I know the artistic difference between excellence and tawdriness and I refuse this difference for one reason or another, the refusal itself is idolatrous, because it, rather than beauty, has come between me and the Savior.”[10]

“Anyone using any kind of art can compromise the gospel by choosing art primarily for the results it produces, rather than to glorify God.”[11]

“The final dilemma with choosing art on the basis of the audiences it draws is that once the audience is drawn they will assume an equation between what draws them and what keeps them. In this condition change of virtually any kind is impossible. Then we find another idol, that of stasis and sleepy continuity, joining up with the idol of immediacy and results. The body of Christ then finds itself incapable of undaunted creativity and faith-driven change.”[12]

“Addiction to style inevitably leads to a fear of variety. Are we afraid to assume that God is the Lord of continuous variety and first-day newness? ‘Not in my style, therefore I cannot worship’ represents this particular idol.”[13]

“The foolishness of style-centered worship is exposed by the nature of God’s creatorhood, namely that he does not confine himself to one vocabulary or one language.”[14]

“If it is true that faithful adventurousness should mark our outpouring, and if it is further true that witness is overheard worship leading to radical decisiveness, why should the Christian be so nervous about style and so obsessed with the idea that it is a crucial door opener and closer?”[15]

“There is a fine but absolutely clarified line between authentic and idolatrous worship. The line is not drawn by the things that we use but by what our mind and heart choose to make of them.”[16]

“When a humanly crafted object is kept in its place as a mysterious and faithful offering (less than the One to whom it is offered, less than the truth it symbolizes and less than the one making, using and offering it), there is nothing ahead but celebration, mystery and the aesthetic imagination. But when the same thing or the same ideal gains preeminence to the point that it mediates, stands in the place of or actualizes the invisible God, then we can speak of, and must prophesy against, idolatry.”[17]


[1] Exodus 20:3

[2] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 163.

[3] Ibid., 166

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 163.

[6] Ibid., 165-6.

[7] Ibid., 167.

[8] Ibid., 168.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 168-9.

[13] Ibid., 169.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 171.

[17] Ibid., 172.


2 Responses to “Idolatrous Worship Music”

  • Paul Isensee Says:

    Thank you for collecting these quotes. They should stimulate hours of thoughtful discussion and evaluation among church leaders (pastors, elders, worship committees,etc.) and those involved in worship design and leadership.

  • Kurt Kelley Says:

    If youth and beauty are part of the required traits and credentials that churches seek out in their worship leaders, one must ask, who then, will they be worshiping?

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