The False Dilemma of Emotional Worship

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The False Dilemma of Emotional Worship

A false dilemma, also called a “false dichotomy,” is a logical fallacy in which only two extremes are purported to exist. Suppose someone asked me if I adore cats. I’d answer that I do not. If they then retorted, “So you’re telling me you hate cats??,” they would be creating a false dilemma. I don’t adore cats, but neither do I hate them. My official position on feline interaction is somewhere between the two (and I won’t tell you which one I’m closer to).

A similar fallacy may present itself when discussing the role of emotion in corporate worship. Our church has rejected orgiastic emotionalism, crass sentimentalism, and the host of pragmatic contrivances that seek to produce such momentary effects on the spectator. We do so because we believe the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to call for mind renewal as an inseparable link with our worship (Romans 12:1-2).

But it doesn’t follow that the other extreme – cold, stoic formalism – is our only remaining option. Emotion in worship is not wrong. We may rejoice in emotional worship as a gift from God. We can, and should, sing with our minds and our spirits (1 Cor. 14:15). We’re compelled to worship the Lord with the entirety of our being — heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:30). And when we sing to the Lord in gathered worship, we should sing with “all our hearts” (Eph. 5:19). God feels deeply, and so should we.

So another option exists. We can enjoy emotional worship without being dependent on it or pursuing above all else. When our hearts are deeply moved, even overwhelmed so that we cannot sing, we rejoice. And in the moments when we don’t feel, we still rejoice. Our obedience, our “reasonable service,” our worship is rooted in faith, not in feeling. How we feel on Sunday morning is not the measure of a successful worship service. And we may rejoice for that as well.