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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Note: this post was first posted at my old blog on 7/24/06, but I’ve copied it here as I was inspired by Cousin Jeremy’s post on worship (linked to here).  It was, as you’ll see, written in response to a question a friend had asked.  Because it was written over 4 years ago (have I been blogging that long?) some of the details (“this past Sunday”) aren’t quite right.  I’ve resisted the temptation to clean this up, though it needs more work. 

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In the comments of my last post, my good friend, Pam, asked this question:

What do you think about speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Can I say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” next time I see you? Would that make you chuckle, or be encouraged? What is the not-so-literal interpretation of that charge? (in your thoughts…)

First, yes, I grant you permission to say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” to me next we see each other. Second, yes, I probably would chuckle, but maybe I shouldn’t.

As for your question, you are no doubt referring to Eph 5:18-19, where Paul states, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…” This passage is similar to Colossians 3:16, where Paul says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I’ll deal mainly with the Ephesians passage, but the Colossians passage is helpful, since they are parallel (Ephesians and Colossians are very similar, which has led many scholars to think that they were written around the same time). Anyway, I think they’re basically saying the same thing.

What can we say about the Ephesians passage? First, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” modifies the main verb, “be filled with the Spirit.” This isn’t obvious in the NIV, which treats all the participles (speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks and submitting) as separate commands. (I really like the NIV, but this is something they consistently get wrong. Thankfully the TNIV has corrected this.) The exact relation between the participles and the main verb can be debated, for now I’ll stick with the idea that the participles (speaking, singing, etc) are results of being filled with the Spirit. Clearly not the only results (Paul elsewhere talks about spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, and so on), but they are the results Paul chooses to highlight. People who are filled with the Spirit are people who speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (I wouldn’t make too much out of the 3 types of songs mentioned here).

So, part of life in the Spirit is speaking and singing songs. This shouldn’t be surprising, since in 1 Corinthians 14 (an extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit and corporate worship), Paul encourages his audience to have a psalm (among other things) when they assemble (v26). And the Colossians verse is really interesting because there songs are used for teaching and admonishing one another. I think that the same idea is present in Ephesians as well (community expressions of the Spirit filled life). So what we have here is the use of music and singing as a means of encouraging and teaching each other.

So what should we do? Well, for one thing, it affirms the use of music in the life of the Church. This, of course, is to be expected, since there is an entire book of songs in the Old Testament meant for God’s people. It also shows us that songs are used for more than just a nice beginning (and end) to our worship service. Songs of worship play a role in teaching the body (in seminaryspeak, they have a “didactic function”). Music has played an important part in most (if not all, I’m not an expert) cultures, why not the Church?

In my opinion, this should influence the music we choose to play in our churches. Do the songs we choose accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible? Do they reflect the character of God? Do they encourage/inspire/rebuke/challenge the people? I’m thankful that my church has a worship leader who puts a lot of thought into the music and chooses songs that are primarily God-centered (which is rarer than it should be).

Let me also say, however, that it has become more and more common to hear people bash modern worship songs as theologically shallow and weak, especially compared to hymns (this is quite popular in some circles, and amongst many in seminary). This bothers me, and I’m clearly a big fan of hymns. First of all, pick up a hymnal and you’ll find that most of the entries leave a lot to be desired. The best of the hymns are unbelievably powerful, but many are pathetic. Anyway, that’s not my main point, so please don’t get caught up in that.

Second, I think there are a higher percentage of quality modern worship songs than many are willing to admit. There certainly have been plenty of bad ones (anyone remember the Hop on the Bus craze of about 10 years ago?). But there are plenty of good ones. I think part of the problem is that people confuse simple with shallow. Jesus Loves Me is a simple song, but it is hardly shallow (that’s why it works so well with children). I’ve even heard people claim that a worship song was shallow, until I pointed out to them that it was taken practically word for word out of the Bible (I wish I could remember what song it was). It’s a matter of song selection, just like with hymns, we need to choose the ones that glorify God and edify the body.

Let me give an example from our worship service this past Sunday. We sang a song written by David Ruis called We Will Dance. I like this song, but I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 or anything. But the imagery used for the people of God really struck me. It relates the Church as people “from every tribe and tongue and nation” and a “pure, spotless Bride.” What an opportunity to teach about the Church! I thought about how I can look around at the people of God and not see a pure, spotless Bride. I certainly don’t feel pure and spotless. But this song accurately portrays the people of God, especially as we will be seen from God’s eyes at the wedding feast. I think this is a great way to teach people about how Christ has redeemed for Himself a people and the true nature of the Church (ecclesiology). And like I said, this isn’t even necessarily a great example of a theology-laden song (although I do think it has more than first meets the eye).

Let me make one final point about the Ephesians passage. Paul also says “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying (in order not to forget) that worship through music exists first and foremost to bring glory to God. It does not exist primarily to provide us a medium through which God can touch us, although He may do that. And the best time for us to learn and be edified is when God is glorified.

Anyway, I’m not really sure I’ve addressed Pam’s question. I thought about this the other night and really wanted to put some great thoughts out, but who has the time? Instead, I’ll throw these out there and hope that someone will respond and refine what I’ve said. Does anyone else have any thoughts about how we can use music to help teach and encourage the Body?

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A few months ago, John Piper paid a visit to Park Street Church in Boston as part of their bicentenial celebration.  I often listen to the sermons at Park Street during my commute to work (indeed, said sermons, in conjunction with the Mars Hill Audio Journal, are among the short list of things that make my commute tolerable).  Piper preached a two part sermon that centered around what is arguably one of the cornerstones of his ministry:  Joy.  Specifically, Piper’s thesis is that God is most exalted and glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.  Similarly, our greatest joy is found in God, so God’s frequent call to worship, adore and love Him is the most loving thing God could do, because God is the greatest good in the universe, and we find maximum satisfaction when we’re satisfied with Him.  Even more, as we fervently pursue maximum joy in life (as we ought), that works out as an unselfish, loving joy that blesses others.  (Piper develops this very well in his sermons, as well as his other writings (e.g., The Dangerous Duty of Delight), so please don’t take my three sentence paraphrase as doing any justice to this powerful message.)

While I thoroughly agree with Piper, I often struggle with what it looks like for our satisfaction to rest in God.  I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode wherein Lisa saw a sign advertising the works of Australian actor Yahoo Serious.  The sign reads “Yahoo Serious Film Festival.”  Lisa remarks, “I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.”  Well, ditto.  I know the words “find your satisfaction in God,” but I struggle with what it actually means.

How does finding satisfaction in God make itself manifest in our lives?  What does it actually look like?  Piper offers answers here, and I have some thoughts myself.  However, I wanted to try a more interactive post, and throw the question out to our reader(s).  What does that mean to you?  How do you find satisfaction in God?  How is God the wellspring of your joy?  Is it a mental exercise?  An intellectual recognition of who He is and what He’s done?  Is it spontaneous praise when you experience some wonder of His creation?

To make matters worse, how does one keep satisfaction in the Creator separate from satisfaction with creation?  I am indeed filled with love and joy when I look into my son’s eyes, or share a special moment with my wife, but am I misplacing this satisfaction in creation and not the Creator?  Am I loving the painting but not the Painter?

I eagerly await your thoughts and comments, and hopefully through our interaction we can flush out these questions some more.  Interaction for mutual edification is one of the goals of this website, so let’s not be shy and give it a go!

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I’ve been ruminating some more on worship, inspired in part by Carson’s essay that I posted about earlier.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking some more about the popular use of the word “worship” to refer strictly to the act of singing praises to God, either corporately or in private.  While many, if not most, Christians will acknowledge that the word “worship” does not only mean singing, the truth is that in popular usage this is precisely what it means.  If I were to say “we had a great time of worship in small group this week,” it will be assumed I am referring to a time of singing.

If we are to be honest, I think the reason for such a restricted definition is convenience: 1) since it’s the popular meaning for the term it’s easier to continue doing it and 2) phrases like “worship through singing” or “worship through music” can become cumbersome.  Thus, it’s easier to speak of “worship” in terms of singing and music.  We throw out the token “but of course worship is more than singing” every now and then, but we probably don’t really mean it.  The simple fact is that when an evangelical says the word “worship” people think of singing, and not much more than that.

As I think about it some more, I think the danger of using “worship” in such narrow sense outweighs the convenience factor.  For one, you sacrifice biblical accuracy.  Truth be told, most Christians are not that concerned about this point, but why this is so would require more time.  Suffice to say, when we come across Romans 12:1, our definition of worship seems weak and small in scope:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is true worship.  (TNIV)

In the Bible, worship takes into account one’s entire life lived for God.  The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  God’s concern is for the life the Christian lives in its entirety, not the passion with which one sings on Sunday morning.

If one sings with gusto on Sunday morning but does not care for those in need or help build up the body of Christ or proclaim the gospel (and so on), this person is not worshipping.  In fact, this person is no better than those denounced by the prophets for offering their sacrifices while living in a manner that does not reflect God’s character (Hosea 6, Amos 4, Micah 6, and many other places).  The call to worship God is the call to worship Him with your whole life, including but not limited to the time of singing.  Yet we continue to mislead people into thinking they are worshippers because of their act of singing on Sunday mornings.  Singing with passion and fervor is good, and God is worthy of it, but it does not tell the whole story of worship.

Here is where the real danger of the restricted definition of “worship” lies: it is deceptive.  We determine the power and whole-heartedness of one’s worship by the manner in which they sing.  By narrowing the meaning of “worship” we have given people the power to deceive themselves and others into thinking they are truly worshipping God, when in reality they may be doing nothing more than singing with passion.  God is not deceived, nor is He impressed with powerful singing when it is not accompanied by a life lived in the attitude of true worship.

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I’d like to recommend a couple relatively new worship albums.  One, that I heard about only recently, is by Phil Wickham that you can download for free(!) off his website.  Apparently this album has been out for some time, and I’m just late to the game.  That’s not surprising, since I don’t really keep up with all of the latest worship (to be honest, I don’t know how anyone finds the time to keep up with the massive production of worship albums).  This album has a mix of Wickham songs (I knew a couple from church) and some hymns.  I highly recommend it.

Another is one I mentioned a while back put out by Bob Kauflin from the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference.  For the month of February Sovereign Grace Ministries is selling the cd for only $6, or you can download the album for $9.  I recommend you take advantage of the sale while you can.  This cd is a collection of hymns, both old and new, done in a fairly straightforward manner (though you may not love Kauflin’s periodic interjections: “yes!”, “all our sin!”, but I’ll leave that to your personal preference).

But the real reason I’m recommending these worship albums is that they share a similarity that is unique amidst the myriad worship albums released this days: congregational singing.  Both of these albums feature a simple “band”: the worship leader and his instrument (Wickham and his guitar, Kauflin and his piano), and the voices of crowds singing along.  There is no back up band, no guitar solos, no frills.  A man, his instrument and the voices of the gathered redeemed.

It’s telling that such an approach is novel in today’s worship.  Worship has become a highly produced business, complete with tours featuring smoke machines and lazer light shows.  It’s interesting (to me, at least) that even in live worship albums, you only hear the crowd singing at certain points.  But in Wickham’s and Kauflin’s offering, the masses truly carry the day.  Sure, you hear Wickham and Kauflin, but they aren’t the stars of the show.

As I’ve listened to these as I’m working, I’ve had to stop quite a few times because I was powerfully moved by the voices of the crowds (3000 in the case of Wickham, 5000+ for Kauflin) singing praises to God.  I have to admit, I rarely stop working and get on my knees in worship, but have done that while listening to both of these.

Of course, I’m not anti-worship band.  I certainly am moved by the worship at our church (featuring world class drummer and my co-blogger, Brian).  If I didn’t want to hear a band, I’d find a different church.  That isn’t the issue.  But I do wonder if we’ve become dependent on worship bands.  Do we need a power packed band to lead us to a place that we feel like we’re worshipping?  Have we lost the simplicity of letting our voices be our main instrument of praise?

Anyway, I hope you take the opportunity to get ahold of these albums (hey, the price is right) and see what you think.  I encourage you to listen to the voices of those singing together in worship.  It might just give you a small glimpse of what it was like for John to hear the masses singing God’s praises in Revelation.

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