Can You Worship the Light without Light?

Listening to a podcast this week, I was caught somewhat off guard when the pastor stopped in order to dim the lights nothing that in order to ‘see’ Jesus, they needed the lights down low. Supposedly this is meant to create the right ambiance and mood for people to worship their Lord and Savior. This trend has found a foothold since the turn of the century and continues to become more prevalent . . . at least it appears to be the case the more churches I visit.
The mindset is now, in order to worship the Lord, a person must have the right atmosphere to stimulate worship, and that ambiance is created with low lights. Is this an issue? Does it matter? Frankly, I do not have the full answers to those questions, nor do I have complete understanding. However, there are a few thoughts that should be seriously contemplated when we look at this in relationship to who God is and what God desires of us.
Before anything else, perhaps it is best if I make one point clear. I am not saying the way we have the lights when worship God is of grand theological debate that determines whether one is considered faithful or heretical. And so if one has a preference for the lights down, while others have a preference for the lights neither stands judged in my eyes. However, the issue comes when it is thought that the right illumination of the lights is a necessity in order to worship God.
The mentality of necessity that guides this selection creates an awkward paradox. It seems contrary to rationale, biblical thinking that while God is light (1 John 1:5) and in him is no darkness, and yet in order to worship him, it is necessary to have darkness. Can those points be reconciled? We must consider that the light we have is given directly from God as part of creation (see Genesis 1) and therefore both the night and day (and the light given for each) is a perfect gift providing function and sustainment of our lives (James 1:17). With that said, how does that impact our view of darkness in order to worship the Lord? Simply put, if light is a perfect gift of God, it is perfect for worshiping God as well.
However, there is more at stake when we consider the reasoning for forgoing light when we worship the Lord. When darkness is considered a necessity in order to worship the Lord, it suggests that God can only be worshiped under certain conditions, even more under circumstances that are considered ‘ideal’ by an individual. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says give thanks always. However, even this very basic Christian principle is negated by the mindset of worship we are discussing. Giving thanks is part of worshiping God, however, the trend is now suggesting that God can only be worshiped under certain conditions, then one cannot give thanks continuously (but only when the conditions are met).
This is clearly a point in which theology matters, and even more whether or not one’s theology is God-centered or man-centered. When worship is defined by our emotions, attitudes and thoughts then we develop regulatory ordinances about what worship must look like. However, when worship is a response to God’s activities and attributes, the emphasis is on who we worship not how. Instead how we worship is determined by the person being worshiped and not the person worshiping.
The debate is not merely about is it right or wrong to worship with or without lights. I know of a worship pastor who has chosen to turn down the lights during the singing on Sunday morning. His reasoning is quite simply so that people won’t be distracted by what’s around them and instead will dwell upon their Savior. It is an understandable point dictated not by the preferences of people but by the glory of God. Worship of God is not dictated by circumstances nor people, it is dictated by God. Therefore, our worship is continuous, contemplative, and complementary to God as the object of our faith.

Photo “Lights” courtesy of user Praveen and Flickr.