Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. ; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
A Blessed Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos!
I believe that praise is a part of prayer. Following the St. Philip’s Prayer Manual and the Jordanville Prayer Book, one can’t help but notice the words of celebration and exaltation to God from the Psalms and church fathers. There ought to be a means for people to express their love and thanksgiving to God for his abundant grace and mercy. Thus, praise is in the liturgy and prayers of Orthodoxy. The Psalms are a part of the Bible and believers are free to use these and other expressions in their walk with the Lord.
But, I firmly believe that prayer, in particular as instructed by Christ in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, takes precedence over praise. Jesus neither instructs nor do the disciples ask for instruction on how to praise. Jesus gives instructions on avoiding desiring public attention and using vain repetitions. In the words he gave us to pray there is a praise. But, it is not praise alone. He taught us to seek to live here as if we were already in heaven, seek basic sustenance, repent and forgive, and plead to overcome the devil’s test. Christ and the later fathers wisely included all of these facets in prayer. To focus too heavily on one at the expense, or omission, of the others limits our spiritual development.
I fear that one of the weaknesses of contemporary, praise focused Protestant worship that it is too easily subject to abuse. Once when emotion and socialized pressure dominate the congregation, whomever leads the worship can then easily introduce un-biblical doctrine and practices. For example, a phrase that is too often repeated these days (even by preachers who were taught better), “When praises go up, the blessings come down.” I beg to differ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly states that heavenly rewards come when we express our faith without drawing attention to ourselves (Matt 6:1-18). Jesus did clearly state that, “If these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:37-40). But, the praises from the disciples came as a result of a disciplined life of following His teachings. These same disciples who did all that praising on Sunday were somehow absent in the face of the crowds shouting for His crucifixion. The only people who spoke of His righteousness during this time of anguish and death were a thief and a non-believing Roman centurion (Luke 23). No, the disciples were not wrong to praise the Lord on Palm Sunday. But, the Passion of Christ shows that human vocal expression is far too fickle and reliant on crowds and conditions to be the central means of growing closer to God.
Here is another example of the abuse that is too easily injected in praise heavy worship. People putting money on the altar during the sermon, lesson, and times other than the regular offertory period. Every church has a time to present tithes, offerings, and a special donation. But once conditioned emotionalism has taken the congregation, it is not hard for a charlatan minister to call for people to come up and “give the seed to the man (or woman) of God.” The first two or three “sowers” may be hired and planted frauds. But, others are sure to follow suit. This is especially true if there are one or two “spirit-filled” people speak in tongues and a “praise team” leads a song or chant as this is going on. The foundational practice of our faith must not be easily exploited expressions.
Is every praised-focused church and minister a heretical thief? Of course not. But, the dangers and temptations of such a worship and faith are real and should be avoided. This is why the disciples sought and the Savior gave lessons on prayer. The early church fathers and mothers stressed the discipline of prayer. Give God the glory, honor, and praise. But, do so in the proper context of seeking him in spirit and truth.