In worship our music is congregational and a cappella. So is it wrong to listen to a Christian radio station playing hymns with instrumental accompaniment? For that matter, is it wrong to listen to a cappella music sung by a quartet instead of a church?
Some preachers treat worship as if the Bible addresses every question with mathematical precision. And so there’s “private worship” and “corporate worship” (the worship assembly of the church). And there are five acts of worship: singing, praying, giving, preaching, and observing communion. As long as the quartet performs after the closing prayer, it isn’t worship. But if a group performs before the closing prayer, then scripture is violated because Paul teaches that our singing is to be reciprocal (Eph. 5:19).
Denominational preachers generally teach (based on Rom. 12:1) that everything we do as Christians is worship. Going to work is worship. Preparing dinner is worship. Greeting visitors on Sunday morning is worship. And so playing “Amazing Grace” on a guitar Sunday morning is no different than playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on Friday night. From their viewpoint careful worship distinctions are silly.
I, personally, take worship very seriously. I haven’t forgotten the warning of Jesus that some worship is “in vain” (Matt. 15:9). It doesn’t mean anything to God.
But I have a problem with people who know the answer to every worship question and then quarrel with anyone who has a slightly different perspective. Take the five acts of worship, for instance. Supposedly, these are clearly defined. But there isn’t a list of the five acts anywhere in the Bible. And I can think of at least seven: singing, preaching, praying, giving, observing communion, reading scripture (1 Tim. 4:13), and praise (John 9:38).
There is a difference between worship and entertainment. But entertainment doesn’t have to be completely free of spiritual thinking. I’d even say that entertainment is richer when spiritual things are recognized. If a high school band plays “Amazing Grace” at half-time, I’m not offended. It makes me happy when God or Christian thought is honored in any way by our culture.
So if while at home or the church building you’re listening to a quartet for entertainment, then you’re being entertained. In a very wholesome way. But you aren’t worshiping. Worship is intentional. I only worship when I worship on purpose, when my heart turns to God in deep reverence and I present an offering to him — of praise, song, prayer, money.
But if a group (a cappella or instrumental) performed in a worship service, and I listened, whistled, or clapped along, and I did so as a presentation of worship to God, then I’d be worshiping. Again, worship is the intentional presentation of an offering to God. Such worship would be in violation of plain biblical principles, though.