Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship
Articles in Category: Purpose of
Purpose of Worship
by John MacArthur
Christian Research Journal 23/2
This article had a huge impact on me in my early stages of forming my philosophy of worship, and it can be credited for part of the motivation to title this blog--colossians316.com.
I just found out about this Christian songwriter today. Vicky Beeching just came out recently announcing she is lesbian. Coincidentally, this last Sunday we sang a song she wrote, "Glory to God, Forever".
This blog article by Russel Moore is a great perspective on how we should resolve this title question going forward.
Chapter 7: Solid Rock? What the Bible Says about Contemporary Worship
by John MacArthur
Great comments about keeping a variety of musical forms in corporate worship (according to Colossians 3:16) and a call not to forget about great hymns of the faith that typically have that strong didactic approach that is lost in other forms. Here are some great quotes from this book/chapter:
p115-"...Neither the antiquity nor the popularity of a gospel song is a good measure of its worthiness. And the fact that a gospel song is 'old-fasioned' is quite clearly no guarantee that it is suited for edifying the church. When it comes to church music, older is not necessarily better."
p118-"There is certainly nothing wrong with the simple, straightforward personal praise that characterizes the best of today's praise choruses. Neither is there anything wrong with the evangelistic and testimonial thrust of yesterday's gospel songs. But it is a profound tragedy that in some circles, only contemporary choruses are sung...."
p119-"Paul was calling for a variety of musical forms and a breadth of spiritual expression that cannot be embodied in any one musical form. the strict psalms-only view (which is gaining popularity in some reformed circles today) allows for none of that variety. The views of fundamentalist-traditionalists who seem to limit church music to the Gospel-song forms of the early twentieth century would also squelch the variety Paul calls for. More significantly, the prevailing mood in modern evangelical churches-where people seem to want to binge on a steady diet of nothing but simplistic praise choruses-also destroys the principle of variety Paul sets forth here [Colossians 3:16]...the error lay in utterly casting aside the rich heritage of hymns-along with the didactic, doctrinal richness of Christian music that had edified and sustained so many generations."
Should we give people what they want or what they need?
Foundations: How God Evaluates Worship
Good reminders in this article. There is an interesting point about praying in small groups during a corporate worship service.
Notes taken from "Worship-A Way of Life, Chapter 4" by Patrick Kavanaugh
Worship in the Scriptures
Notes taken from "Worship-A Way of Life, Chapter 4" by Patrick Kavanaugh
Private Worship in the Old Testament:
- Suffering - (Job):
- Job 1:20-22
- Psalms 27:10
- Remembrance - (Abraham)
- Gen. 12:7-8, 13:18,22 and 12:7- built altars of rememberance
- Divine Guidance (Joshua)
- Joshua 5:13-15
- Psalm 32:7-8
- Intercession (Moses)
- Ex. 34:5-8
- Gratitude (Gideon)
- Judges 7:9-15
- God's answers to Prayers
- 2 Samuel 12:16
- 2 Samuel 12:20
Private Worship in New Testament
- Joy (Mary)
- Luke 1:46-48
- Praise from repentance (Zechariah)
- Luke 1:19-20, 1:67-79
- Peace w/in worship (Simeon)
- Luke 2:25-32
- Under Persecution (Stephen)
- Acts 7:55
- Dedication - beginning something new
- II Chron. 5:1-7:10 - Solomon's Temple
- II Chron. 29:3-36 - Temple of Hezekiah
- Nehemiah 12:27-43 - Nehemiah's wall around Jerusalem
- Ezra 3:11-13 - 2nd Temple and foundation
- Luke 2:13-14 - corporate worship in heaven
Examples of Corporate Worship in New Testament
- Worship towards Jesus
- Matt. 2:11 - maji
- Matt. 21:9, Mk 11:1,luke 19:28, Jn. 12:12 - Triumphal Entry
- John 5:22-23
- Worship of the Risen Christ
- Matt. 28:9
- Lk 24:52
- Worship associated with Holy Spirit
- Acts 4:31
- Acts 10:44-46
- Disciples' praise
- Luke 24:53
- Worship as witness
- Acts 16:25
- Heavenly Worship
You can purchase his book here at this link.
notes from Donald Hustad book, "Jubilate II"
notes from Donald Hustad book, "Jubilate II"
What is the purpose of music in church?
What is more important: music or lyrics?
music =emotional part, universal means of expression
words=the language part, infuse actual meaning
church music = art music ?
music functions in society as:
- giving identity
- adds significance to important events
- reinforces political, social, religious ideals
music functions in church:
- congregational behavior
- Praise and Worship to God
- healing human spirit
- helps build community
This document was adopted as part of the music and worship philosophies of Faith Baptist Church by the pastors and deacons July 10, 2003. For a more extended discussion on music and worship issues, please refer to Pastor Viars’ Summer 2003 Worship series and our other documents entitled “Corporate Music and Worship Philosophy,” and “Discussion of Music and Worship Issues.”
by Carl R. Trueman
"Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship."
"Perhaps it is ironic, but the church that confronts people with the reality of the shortness of life lived under the shadow of death prepares them for resurrection better than the church that goes straight to resurrection triumphalism without that awkward mortality bit."
by Matt Boswell
"To make hymn-style and chorus-style songs enemies is not wise. The Psalms are filled with many formats of songs that are to be sung. From simple refrains to antiphonal responses, from songs of lament to hymns of remembrance, our hymnal is vast. We must conclude that western worship is one way of orthodox singing, but in no way can we impose on varied cultures around the globe that this is the only way. The modern hymn and the praise chorus are close friends, especially in many churches where the music encompasses both variants of music."
a blog article
July 22, 2013
"...I doubt that most Christians noticed the problem because the song once mentions forgiveness and right before the end mentions the need for Jesus and the cross. But then again, so did Pelagius. This chorus is straight Dr. Phil, Oprah, and Chuck Finney. You would never hear it from Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Jesus...."
A Blended Worship Philosophy
By Corb H. Felgenhour
With contributions by Jo Anne Petersburg and Millicent Ross
This paper was a worship philosophy statement for a church I formerly served at as Worship Pastor. This paper defines worship, gives a history of music in the church at large, describes the differences between corporate and private worship, overviews the various types of worship (specifically addressing the musical aspect of worship) and presents the way we had chosen to deal with the practical issues surrounding worship.
Worship by Definition
Worship is the act of ascribing worth to God. The term “worship” is from the old English word “woerthscipe” meaning “worthy” or “worthwhile”.1
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering and come before Him; Worship the Lord in holy array.” (1 Chronicles 16:29 NASV)
Worship is the recognition of 1) who God is and 2) who we are in relation to Him. It is an “interaction between the God of Scripture and God’s people.”2 True worship takes place by acknowledging God’s holy attributes.
“Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, and the greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness. (Psalm 145:3-6 NASV)
In a Sunday service, worship is not just the musical aspects of the service order. Every part of the worship service is an invitation to worship God, as long as it is done to glorify God. Teaching from the Word and the associated response are acts of worship; prayers and songs can praise and exalt the Lord. Physical memorials can be used to aid in the worship of God. For example, the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral can draw a worshipper into the might and enormity of God’s character. Worship can occur through body movement, using symbolic gestures like standing, kneeling or raising our hands to reflect our relationship to God. Even dance can be a worshipful expression to our Lord. But it is important to recognize that “Spectator worship has always been and always will be an oxymoron.”3 Worship is all about giving and offering oneself completely to Christ. (Romans 12:1-2)
The Purpose of Our Worship
The foremost purpose of worship is to give glory to God. To give glory to the Lord we must first surrender our pride and our pre-occupations. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that sin has not just marred the surface of our being, but it has corrupted every aspect of who we are. Then we must turn our focus to the works of God. The Gospel proclaims that Christ died for the undeserving, thus we are more deeply loved and unconditionally accepted than we have ever dared to hope. This should motivate us to worship.7 (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) It should prompt us to adore Him, to praise the Lord with our words and deeds and lift up our thanksgiving in song. The more we understand God’s character and works, the more we will worship Him. Therefore, the teaching of His Word and our meditation upon it, result in God’s glory and our worship of Him. “Worship is a fitting response to God’s holiness, power, and grace.” 8
Corporate and Private Worship
The worship of God may take on two forms: private worship and corporate worship.
Private worship is exemplified in the Scriptures. There are examples of private worship associated with suffering and persecution (Job 1:20-22, Acts 7:55), appreciation and gratitude (Judges 7:9-15), pleading for answered prayers (II Sam. 12:16), and joy (Luke 1:46-8). But the supreme directive for personal worship is found in Romans chapter 12. In verses 1 and 2, Paul says we must “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” So what is involved in personal worship? Being holy, being pleasing to God, and living as sacrifices. As we will see later, this will in turn, aid us as we present ourselves corporately to God.
“God’s highest desire is that every one of His children should so love and so adore Him that we are continuously in His presence.”5 Therefore, we must worship God “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:23). As believers, we should submit to the constant filling of the Holy Spirit, allowing ourselves to perpetually commune with the Creator (Ephesians 5:18, Romans 8:6). We should not strive for some mystical, esoteric state of awareness, but we must surrender ourselves to Christ with a fully cognizant mind that is grounded in the Word of God. We live in His presence because, “Worship . . . involves the total human being—spirit, mind, emotions, and body.”6 As we devote ourselves to listen to and meditate upon God’s Word, we worship with our total being, and as a result, we bring glory to God.
There are also countless examples in Scripture of people coming together to worship God corporately. David Kavanagh in his book, Worship, A Way of Life, discusses five major categories of corporate worship in the old testament: Thanksgiving (Ex.15), warfare (II Chron. 20:21-22), feasts (Duet.16:16), celebration (II Sam. 6:12-23), and dedication (Ezra 3:11-13). New Testament examples of the corporate worship of Christ occur in Matt. 2:11 and Luke 24:52, and the disciples’ praise of Jesus in Luke 24:53 4. These Scriptures communicate the value of corporate worship, but the beauty of corporate worship is the effect of an entire congregation, 3 together, lifting up God’s name in praise to Him. Therefore, it is important to guard that “togetherness” to realize effective corporate worship.
God desires us to be perfect as He is (Matt. 5:48). He wants us to be holy as He is (1 Peter 1:16). Jesus prayed for unity in the church, and He desires all of His true followers to be unified in holiness and truth (John 17:11-21). Unity in the church translates into unity in worship. If there is division within a local church body, what kind of worship are they really offering to the Lord? That is why Jesus instructs believers to go to a brother if we have a problem with him (Matt. 5:23-24, Matt. 18:15-20). As individuals, we must work out our problems with others and not allow the sun to go down on our anger (Eph. 4:26). If we do not, we are not dying to self (John 12:24) nor denying ourselves as Jesus commands (Mark 8:34). Harkening back to Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2, we are not offering ourselves as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual act of worship. We remain divided as a church body, and we negatively affect the corporate worship of God. However, if we as a church are unified in truth and holiness, we will be unified in worship and will testify to the holiness of God, the truth about who the church is and what the church stands for. We will not be seen as a hypocritical church, or as a collection of hypocritical individuals. We will not contradict what the Lord expects of us because we will bring glory to God.
C.S. Lewis wrote of how inanimate objects glorify God by displaying God’s power and design within the object. An inanimate object merely exists; it sits there . . . doing nothing. Yet by analyzing the cellular make-up and the complexity of the atomic bonds within the object, testimony is given to God’s awesomeness and skill in creating. Living beings are the same. C.S. Lewis said, “On that level our wicked actions, in so far as they exhibit our skill and strength, may be said to glorify God, as well as our good actions. An excellently performed piece of music . . . will thus always glorify God whatever the intentions of the performer may be”. 10 Granted, the results of someone’s creativity may not be glorifying to God, but their act of creating does glorify God. We were made in God’s image. God created. Within the constructs of His design, we emulate God by trying to do the same as He: to create. Within the context of worship creativity can be expressed through visual and performing arts, through the spoken word, and through song. Let us first look at music and its role in worship.
Music-what is it?
In modern society, music functions in a variety of ways. “Music is a universal language. It would be more accurate to say that music is a universal means of expression, and that there are many symbolic musical languages, each understood best by its own culture or subculture.”9 Music aids in giving a group of people an identity. It can add significance to important events and can reinforce political or social ideals. In church, music functions in even more ways. Music will inspire congregational behavior. It can be used as a medium to teach doctrine or to facilitate Scripture memory. It helps build the church community. It is a vehicle for worshiping and praising God. Music can even be an aid to healing man’s soul and spirit.
History of Music
Knowingly or unknowingly man has always been creative, and in the early development of the church, believers were creating music. Originally borrowing from Jewish musical tradition, the church wrote and enhanced early chants. Over the next fifteen plus centuries, the church dominated the creation of music. The church employed most of the greatest composers during that time and was able to fund most public performances of composers’ works. The best music at the time came from the church. The music excelled in its development, construction and form, along with its relevancy and respectability. In church services, music (melody) played a subservient role to the lyrics. Music was used to support the themes, the meaning of the Scripture, and poetry wherever possible. Although secular music grew along side the development of church music, church music dominated most of music history.
It is important to note that there was an ongoing debate over the allowance of new ideas into church music: old music versus new music. There was concern whether new ideas (new musical techniques, new harmonies, etc) in music distracted the worshipper from the lyrics. Lyrics were originally the focus of music in the church, and music served to support the lyrics. During the Romantic era the inevitable happened, and music became the focus and lyrics became secondary. Donald Hustad quotes Mark Bangert saying, “the outcome of a gradual transformation of musical experience: preoccupation with the music of heaven ( . . . a Reformation concept) had been turned to preoccupation with the heavenly in music (a Romanticist idea).”11 As this change took place, the church lost its cultural position. It used to be predominant in production and performance of the greatest and best new music. Because composers found they could make a living outside the church, private performance halls flourished, and in most cases, God was completely removed from song lyrics. As lyrics became less important, the music became more important until it was considered its own language, even though it had no linguistic value. Music in and of itself is amoral. Yet, it communicates emotionally or psychologically to entertain the senses. As a result, it was often composed to tickle the fancy of those who value the esoteric.
Dealing with Musical Style
Following the Romantic Era, the church never recovered its position as the primary influence on musical culture. Thus in recent history we have seen sacred forms of music stealing from the secular. In fact, some hymn tunes have been found to originate in saloons. Various secular pop artists set the musical palette for Christian artists. We now have within Christian music styles southern gospel, R&B, black gospel, pop, adult contemporary, Christian hit/ alternative, inspirational, worship, and rap. The majority of these Christian styles can be traced back to some type of secular style. This trend has caused Christians to take offense to the new music because it is patterned after the world. While some Christians love to worship with guitars and drums, others believe it is wrong to use “rock” instrumentation. Even the organ was considered satanic when it was first introduced to worship services. All in all, we tend to idolize the music they love, introducing debates that lead to even greater diversity of musical preferences among believers.
It is no surprise, then, that within every congregation there are a plethora of musical backgrounds and musical preferences. Justified or not, tension arises between individuals in the church when these musical preferences collide. We usually choose our preferred style of worship music in church based on the music we listen to at home. This often makes us form strong opinions about what music is appropriate in church. We are comfortable with our music because we like it, or it has spiritual connections to formative decisions in our lives (aka. giving their lives to Christ). Our choice of music helps define our identity. It reminds us of significant events in our lives and our personal Christian growth. We do not want our identity to be lost in seemingly frivolous trends and new fashions, and so we object to changes that take us away from the music we call our own. In a similar but antithetical way, younger generations are fearful that their identities will be squelched by avid traditionalists. In our culture today, we have the privilege of tuning the radio in our car or home to whatever type of music we want, but not so in church. So how do we deal with this? What is appropriate music for the church?
Each church is faced with two choices in choosing a musical style for worship: 1) Either we develop some new sort of worship music which transcends all other forms to put everyone on a level playing field, or 2) we draw from a smorgasbord of as many styles as is reasonably acceptable to be relevant to as many people as possible. But here is a caution: if we go with the smorgasbord approach to choosing music for a church service, then there is a possibility of token programming, meaning there will be a temptation to include songs that appease individual musical preference rather than seeking God’s leading in planning the service - regardless of anyone’s musical tastes. However, if to avoid musical catering, we try to do the former and develop a higher form of music that everyone can agree upon, then it begs the question: “What kind of music is that?!?!?!” or “What in the world does THAT sound like?!?!?!” While musicians would love to discover how to create this higher music, and they should always strive to do so, Providence Church has chosen a blended approach to worship. We take the second approach to planning and strive for the first. We strive to use as many different styles as possible over the course of any given year and in that process to develop a musical style of our own.
Hymns vs. contemporary songs:
It may be beneficial to discuss the weaknesses and strengths of the two major styles: hymns (traditional) and choruses (contemporary). It is imperative for the lover of hymns to consider and appreciate the strengths of contemporary songs. And it is equally important for the lover of contemporary songs to do the same by considering and appreciating the hymns. All forms of worship have their place and can bring glory to God and are therefore worthy of our consideration. “Traditionalists have much to answer for their reluctance to understand that tradition does not mean stasis but change. In their reaction against contemporary styles, they fail to understand that what they have gotten used to was once contemporary and often objectionable. Contemporists likewise fail to understand how blunted their tastes are when only “their music” seems to do the trick and when what they are doing has, ever so quickly, frozen itself into a tradition. So we end up with two kinds of shortsightedness, one supposedly old, the other supposedly new, and both wish fulfilling.” 12
“Without the emotion and willingness of the Spirit, our music becomes dry and dusty - without life. Without doctrinal bones as a skeleton, the Body is not enfleshed in a healthy way. It is essential that our worship music-as well as all the other formative elements of our congregation’s life-continuously holds in tension the opposite necessities of both Spirit and truth. These two form a dialectical pair, for they are both important but seem to be pulling in different directions.” 13
Often times, contemporary songs receive undeserved criticism because they lack the theological depth of the “Great Hymns of the Faith”; however, many contemporary Christian songs have often been written as a response to the truths that we find in the Scripture. Some contemporary music is more closely tied to Gospel hymns than to classic hymns. They are more testimonial in lyrical content and describe the writer’s passion and personal encounter with the Savior. They were not written to teach theology but to communicate an experience and a personal response. This statement generalizes the intention with which these songs were written, but it does not preclude that theology can be taught in a praise chorus and hymns can inspire passionate spirituality. Another benefit of contemporary song writing is the inclusion of Scripture within the text. Many of today’s worship songs quote the Scriptures verbatim. Most hymns do not do this. They may refer to a Scripture’s meaning or theme, but it is not the regular practice of hymns to quote Scripture. Quoting Scripture is a great way to reflect and meditate on the Word of God. “Today’s psalm singing is reflected in those songs that are essentially Scripture set to music… [and] has sparked more singing of God’s Word in the last 20 years than perhaps at any earlier time in Church history.” 14
We value the great hymns of the faith because many speak of solid theological truths. These particular hymns require us to sing right doctrine, mandating that our minds do not go on autopilot when we sing the song. We have to stay mentally engaged. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s hymns began to focus on evangelism and salvation with far less theology than some of the great hymns from earlier traditions. The newer hymns were written testimonies of what God was doing – great revivals were happening and people were coming to the Lord. The response to the gospel was tremendous. Out of that movement, came these “Gospel hymns”.
It would be problematic if we eliminated hymns from our worship services. “[Consistently omitting hymns in a worship service] is a crisis and the church is suffering spiritually. Pastors and worship leaders need to see the severity of the crisis and work diligently for reform.” 15 Hymns add great value to our culture, and they possess a certain quality that reaches out to specific generations of people. “Eighty-three percent of the adults in the United States were church goers at some time in their lives, including a walloping 95 percent of boomers who received a religious upbringing. . . .most people in this country born before 1963 have had some experience with traditional forms of worship. . . The unchurched person’s positive religious past is part of his or her vernacular, and it is time those of us on the cutting edge recognize that.”16
Congregations that do not worship with theologically rich hymns or worship songs and rely only on songs that emphasize experience and emotion run the risk of creating worship that is not balanced between “milk” and “meat”. These congregations can become more focused on being entertained rather than being filled with truth. Some think that by removing hymns from their worship services they make their church more friendly to visitors and non-believers. But this is not wise. It is imperative that no one overlooks the importance of including a variety of musical forms in worship and especially the singing of hymns because of the sound doctrine that these great songs offer.
“While we need to be culturally relevant, we need to draw further than it arrives on its own. Christian music produced today is undoubtedly spiritual music with a spiritual message, but because much of it lacks lyrical depth and requires little thought from the listener, it is a poor discipleship tool. The music birthed from the hearts of believers can and should do so much more to strengthen the church.” 17
Hymns chart the course of human interaction with God and His Word. They reveal people’s theological interpretations of Scripture and benchmark the church’s history. Since many of these hymns still engender deep devotion to the Lord, and they teach us theological truths, these songs bind us together with the saints of old unifying us as “the larger body of Christ over the ages.” 18
Defining “Hymn” vs. “Great Hymns of the Faith”
Disagreements may arise over whether there has been enough “play” during the worship services for particular hymns. This frustration arises out of a misunderstanding between what is a “Great Hymn of the Faith” and what is just a “favorite hymn”. But it is also important to consider that “Neither the antiquity nor the popularity of a song is a good measure of its worthiness.” 19 Here is what the Worship Arts Ministry Team has decided regarding the definition of hymn. What is a “hymn”? - Phil. 2:5-11, I Tim. 3:16, II Tim. 2:11-13, John 1:1-14, Rev. 5:9-10,12, 13.
1. Hymns in general have a similar form. They have several stanzas with each verse building or expanding on the theme.
2. Hymns can be written at any point in history.
3. Hymns are songs of praise.
What is a “Great Hymn of the Faith”?
1. It has stood the test of time. In general, great hymns of the faith were written before 1900. The main exception is How Great Thou Art which was written after 1940. However, it includes a refrain and some words which were penned in the late 1800’s.
2. It is scripturally and doctrinally sound.
3. It crosses denominational lines, promoting unity in the body of Christ.
4. It is accepted by the Christian culture.
5. It is familiar to the body of Christ, and frequently to the masses in general.
6. It is didactic in purpose.
a. It was written by theologians or pastors who have a grasp on Scripture and sound theology.
b. It is cerebral in nature due to its deliberate intent to teach and reinforce doctrinal concepts.
c. It serves as a medium for teaching and admonishing one another as instructed by Paul in Colossians 3:16: “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.”
d. It praises God by proclaiming His truth in a way that enhances the worshipper’s comprehension of truth (see Mt 22:37; Jn 4:23-24). 20
Biblical Music Styles
Ultimately, it is difficult to know the differences between the music and lyrical styles of the biblical terms: hymn, psalms, and spiritual songs. Harold Best says that “We can only guess at the differences, and guesswork gives precious little direction.” 21
Colossians 3:16 reads this way: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
Ephesians 5:18-19 says it this way: “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”
A psalm referred to a sacred song that was probably accompanied by musical instruments. The texts are obviously from the Psalms of the Old Testament. The hymns were written to honor and praise the Lord. Different people have tried to figure out the musical differentiation of spiritual songs, but the original Greek is just as vague as the English translation. But at least we know that the words are spiritual in nature. It is nearly impossible to know how these three musical forms sounded, but we can deduce that they differed from one another because they are delineated in scripture. However, knowing the types of music described by each of these three terms in Scripture is not crucial; it doesn’t really matter. Kavaunagh says that, “[Music] communicates pathos, passions, and a huge array of feelings- from desolation to exhilaration. But these are oblique and subjective, far more vague even than the medium of words. Therefore, the study of Christian music is the study of any vocal music using Christian texts that has been composed in the last two thousand years.” 22 Jack Hayford goes even farther to deemphasize the musical setting compared to the text by saying “I encourage you . . . to write new melodies for the lyrics to update the style and transfer the wealth of these hymns to this generation of the church . . . .the updating of the melody of the hymn is not a departure from an essential quality of hymnody.” 23 This does not diminish our personal experience with a given song and its musical setting. We often marry themselves to the way a particular song sounds as we have heard it performed. Take for example, the Beatles. Most people do not like it when a band re-records a Beatles tune because it just does not sound like the Beatles. However, the change in musical style, a long as it remains in good taste, does not take away from the derived meaning of the text. We have a scriptural mandate to use a variety of musical forms in worship. Here is what is quintessential to understand from Scripture. John Macarthur says it well: “Paul was calling for a variety of musical forms and a breadth of spiritual expression that cannot be embodied in any one musical form.” 24
Two services—two styles?
When a church decides to have multiple services, and when they have chosen the smorgasbord method for music selection, the temptation is to have the services programmed in different musical styles, having one style for one service and a different style for another service. The Worship Arts Ministry Team believes that this is not the right direction for Providence. We understand that other solid, biblical churches choose service types according to musical style, but we do not want our church to follow suit. We believe that the gathering together of the corporate body should not hinge on people’s personal musical taste. Using distinct styles between services creates an unintentional “red herring” for its congregants. It allows members to form a subconscious value that the worship service is for the attendee’s pleasure. They expect the music to please them or potentially entertain them.
“To divide congregations into age groups, style groups and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. …it is scripturally troublesome to see local assemblies broken into groups, each doing the niche worship, for that is all it really seems to be. It is disheartening to think that church leadership has succumbed to the secondary things about corporate gatherings, that it feels constrained to go in this direction….the divisions are primarily about music…worship is not really about the binding power of Jesus and his gospel but about something earthly, relative, transient. If we took music out of worship would we have the same problem and the same solution? I don’t think so.” 25
We want the service to represent the entire body of Christ. Therefore we do not want musical style to get in the way of participation in a service. Harold Best goes on to say that “The separation into preference groups is everyone’s fault, in that narrow musical satisfaction has turned out to be more important than style-proof outpouring. I encourage people of all practices to become intently and intensely curious about each other’s ways.” 26 (See section entitled “Dealing with Musical Style”.)
Blended Style of Worship
So, in response to the above premises, PEFC has chosen to have a blended style of music. We choose to have liberty over the songs that we select. We decided that it was best to program our services according to theme rather than genre, and to include as many Christian genres as possible to fit the theme. We are open to using many styles of music to help us draw into His presence. But ultimately, and this is the point of going into all of this, . . . there are many styles, and it is understood that we all like something different. However, musical style should not become a stumbling block in our worship or fellowship. We submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ and appreciate the music that ministers to them. As Paul says in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We do not have to like every song that we hear in church, but we do need to maintain our fellowship with one another. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11)”
So with all of the above in mind we ask these simple questions:
Do we have a perfectly blended service each and every individual Sunday? Depending on who you ask, probably not.
Do we intend to have a perfect blend of music each and every individual Sunday? Not really. We want to allow for creativity in programming which frees us to choose what is best for the particular theme of the day and gives the Holy Spirit a chance to guide our choices.
Should we intend to be a perfect blend each and every individual Sunday? No. At Providence you could attend a smattering of services, and they could potentially be very different from each other. You could raise the concern that the church, then, appears to be inconsistent that it gives a one-time visitor the wrong impression of our church. The truth is, beyond the musical programming, our services do change from week to week due to other elements: sermon formats, prayers, baby dedications, membership inductions, missions, commissioning leaders, communion, etc. If we try to make each service a cookie cutter of the previous week for the sake of consistency and one-time visitors, it would be borderline legalism, and it would greatly reduce the freedom-of-programming needed to choose what is most appropriate for a given day.
BUT could we still consider ourselves blended if worship is not perfectly blended each week? YES. Over the course of any given year, one will see a healthy mix of music.
Ultimately, worship is not for us to enjoy. How many times do we walk out of a worship service and say, “I didn’t get anything out of worship today,” or “Worship was really good.”? We say these things without even realizing that the underpinnings of our comments reek with selfish concern. 27 Worship is for God and for God alone. As we come together as a corporate body, we are to be of one mind within the brotherhood of believers. That one mind should be focused on giving glory to God! Because our church is founded on the truth of the Scriptures, we desire our music to be doctrinally correct. Our music is a blend of the traditional and contemporary music styles. We understand that, “The final measure of our sacrifice of praise, . . . is the sincerity with which we offer our best performance to God.”28 God alone is our audience. We come together as a corporate body with one mind – focused on giving glory to God.
So how do we program our services?
1. We program two identical services each Sunday.
2. We program thematically. Whenever possible we select songs and scriptures that reinforce the week’s sermon. We believe the truth of the Word of God is more easily grasped when it is supported by all elements of the worship service. When it is not feasible to link up with the sermon, we program to a “worship theme”. For example, we did one series on the attributes of God. Each Sunday’s worship focused on a specific attribute. We read about it, we thought about it, we sang about it – all of which drove the truth deeper into our hearts.
3. We choose a variety of styles in programming. We include songs chosen from the hymnals, great hymns of the faith, Scripture songs, modern worship choruses (and some oldies), Gospel songs, classical Christian music, etc. sometimes using songs written by members of our own worship team as we ever strive to “sing a new song to the Lord.” (Psalm 33:3)
4. We choose a variety of styles in performance. We choose varying performance styles to add texture and contour to the worship experience. We will also vary the style in which a song is delivered from week to week. These decisions are based on what best fits the theme and the flow of the worship service. To help us uphold our philosophy, we have developed tools to assist in our planning. We have a data base of all songs, identifying themes within the lyrics and chronicling performance dates and song types. This provides cohesiveness in themes and prevents us from relying too often on a “few favorites”. We also use a planning template that identifies each song chosen, notating its connection with the service’s theme. This, too, facilitates thematic cohesiveness in our planning.
Inner Turmoil: Pleasure vs. Genuine Worship
As we think about worship, we realize that there is an issue that strikes directly at the heart of all worshipping believers and has caused many debates within churches throughout history: Am I worshipping God or am I seeking my own personal pleasure? There will be times when we find the worship music (or other worship elements) displeasing to us. In this case the music could distract the worshipper. Conversely, there will be times when the music is pleasing to our ear and enjoyed—but this, too, could distract the worshipper. Either situation can cause us shift our focus from God to what we see and hear. Augustine addresses this when he writes: “I confess that when melodies that [God’s] words bring to life are sung by a well-trained voice . . . sometimes I think I grant them more honor than is proper. . . But this sensual pleasure, to which the soul must not be delivered so as to be weakened, often leads me astray.” 29
This is a constant battle we fight in our hearts and minds. But at what point does the focus shift away from genuine worship of Jesus to desiring what is pleasurable? At what point does the flawed sinful state of our selfishness swing back to worshipping God in Spirit and in truth? These are excellent questions. We should diligently test our hearts before engaging in corporate and private worship. Hearing a beautiful song in a church service is not a bad thing and does not have to distract the worshipper; it is a matter of the heart for both the performer and the worshipper. Of course all things should be done with excellence to the glory of God (Psalm 33:3).
“Thus I do waver between the danger of sensual pleasure and wholesome experience. I am inclined rather to approve the practice of singing in the church, although I do not offer an irrevocable opinion on it, so that through the pleasure afforded the ears the weaker mind may rise to feelings of devotion. However, when it so happens that I am moved, more by the singing, than by what is sung, I confess that I have sinned, in such wise as to deserve punishment, and at such times I should prefer not to listen to a singer. See how I stand! Weep with me, and weep for me, . . . O Lord my God, graciously hear me, and turn your gaze upon me, and see me, and have mercy on me, and heal me. For in your sight I have become a riddle to myself, and that is my infirmity.” 30
As we engage in worship, we need to set our mind and hears right: the church service is not about us; it is about bringing glory to the creator of the universe.
The Nuts and Bolts of Worship
Emotion in worship
An outpouring of emotion is not the goal of a worship service, and a service should not be designed to conjure up these types of responses. “Emotion not based on full reality . .(emotion for) emotion’s sake- and has to be labeled ‘sentimentalism’.” 31 Yet, understanding our loving Savior with a surrendered heart, and dying to self and living in the grace that He has bestowed on us, coupled with an awareness that we are worshipping the Creator of the Universe, will undoubtedly incite within us an appropriate emotional response. Emotion, for emotion’s sake, is not the goal in worship. Yet emotion that results from an honest and genuine response to God is a wonderful thing. The question then becomes, what do we do with that emotion? What are appropriate ways to communicate our response to God within the context of a worship service?
Posture and physical response in worship
Often in worship we may be moved to respond to God in physical ways. Here are some biblical examples of various worshipful motions or body language: bowing the head (Ps. 95:6), standing (Hab. 3:2), lifting our eyes (Psalm 121), kneeling (Phil. 2:10), lifting our hands (Psalm 141:2), prostration (Rev. 4:10), and dancing (Ps. 149:3, Ps. 150:4, Ex. 15:20). Even though our body posture doesn’t communicate all that is going on in our heart, it can be an indicator of where a person’s heart or mind is at during a given moment. Body language is communication. If someone has his or her arms folded during a verbal dispute, that person is sending a message to the other, inadvertently or not. The non-verbal communication of our hands and body typically reveal our heart, mind, and emotions. When we worship God, posture can reveal what is going on in the inside of our being and how we are approaching the throne. Physical gestures that are more common in worship and deserve specific attention are hand raising and clapping.
Barry Leisch says, “The practice of raising hands is modeled not mandated in Scripture, permitted not forced or coerced. The Scriptures don’t command it; they permit it -even encourage it by modeling it.”32 Hand raising is an acceptable form of worship. Some would say that this action during worship is better suited for charismatic churches. If that is the case, then we are eliminating an aspect of worship that has been modeled for us in the Scriptures. Let us look at a few Scriptures that refer to this worshipful posture. “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as an evening offering.” (Psalm 141:2 NASB) “We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.” (Lam. 3:41 NASB) “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands; I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You as a parched land.” (Psalms 143:5-6 NASB) “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (I Tim. 2:8 NASB)
Other Scriptures referencing hand raising are Ps. 28:2, Ps. 63:4, and Ps. 134:2. The raising of hands is a scripturally demonstrated gesture in worship. However, as with all of worship, the heart is the critical factor. If I raise my hands to draw attention to myself, it is inappropriate. If raising my hands to God is an outward expression of what is going on in my heart, then it is appropriate and brings glory to God.
Clapping our Hands
Hand clapping in the scriptures is used to express great joy in the Lord. (Ps. 98:8, and Is. 55:12) Psalm 47:1 even exhorts us to do so: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” These examples suggest that clapping within a worship service is appropriate. It can be done to the beat of a song; it can be a worshipful 14 response after the performance of an outstanding musical special or a brilliant speaker; and it can be a spontaneous expression of joy directed at God alone. At first glance, corporate clapping may seem like praising the performer rather than glorifying God. If this is the intent, then this kind of clapping is obviously inappropriate. However, when clapping is a response to the Lord, an acknowledgement of His truth excellently spoken or performed by the presenter on the platform, it becomes a worshipful expression of our praise to God. Coincidentally, it will give worship leaders and musicians an audible confirmation from the congregation when clapping occurs after a particular song; there is a joint “amen” experienced between the performer and congregation praising Jesus Christ. Clapping should always be for the Lord. The performer should be satisfied by the fact that the congregation has understood, recognized, or responded to what God has said, or to who He is through the performance.
Our Worship Team, who leads the congregation in song during corporate worship, should not treat the experience as a performance. The purpose of bringing the church together is not to listen to music. Worship is not a show, and we should do all that is within our means not to idolize what we see or hear on the platform. As we have quoted before, Augustine said, “I confess that when melodies that your words bring to life are sung by a sweet and well-trained voice, . . . they call for a place of some honor in my heart, . . . Sometimes I think that I grant them more honor than is proper”. 33 Worship Team members should not attempt to draw attention to themselves. Worship is for God and for God alone. Those leading in worship should always play their best, prepare as much as possible for their playing, and constantly give glory to God. However musicians must not let their musicianship get in the way of their desire to lead the congregation in corporate oneness.
At the same time, everyone involved in worship is called to perform well – to give our very best offerings to God. The pastor must perform well, the musicians must perform well, and the deacons must perform well. In fact if the service is not performed well, we would wonder if everyone is doing their job adequately. Musicians can be caught saying things like, “When I perform that tune . . . “ or “The choir will perform on Sunday.” Sometimes when others hear that word in that context they think it has a negative connotation and question the motivation of the musician. But, using the word “perform” best captures the essence of the musician’s mission. “Perform” is defined this way: “To perform is to do something complicated or difficult with skill in public with a view toward serving and ministering.” 34 All Worship Team members are expected to perform their duties as well as they possibly can; it is their mission as musicians.
Non-Christians on the Worship Team
Sometimes there is pressure to place a non-believer on the worship team. The argument follows: “We want to have a high quality worship service, and we don’t have the best musicians at our church. Let us go out and hire professional musicians to lead the music. Then we will have quality music, and non-church goers will hear about our great music and desire to attend our church more frequently. Then we are able to reach more people for Christ…especially the non-Christian musicians will hear the gospel message as well.”
As noble as the above scenario may sound we disagree because it does not put worshiping God first. Marva J. Dawn explains. “Instead of examining how best the worshipping community can praise and glorify God, they began to inquire, ‘What can we do in worship to attract the unbeliever?’ Consequently, numerous congregations made radical worship changes that arose from and reflected panic more than wisdom . . . churches that turn their Sunday morning worship services into evangelistic rallies- and forget that worship is owed to God and not the neighbor.” 35 As we find in James 3: “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” Only a believer has the potential to worship the Lord with his mind, body, soul, and spirit. The role of the Worship Team is to prompt the congregation to worship God. An unbeliever cannot contribute to the worship of a God he does not know nor understand. Therefore, we want all our Worship Team members to be believers.
What about special music and hiring musicians for special occasions (string quartet, dulcimer player, etc)? We allow this to occur even if the professionals are not believers because these people are not assuming a role of Worship Team or Worship Leader. They are simply an addition to the musical flavor of the service. Is it possible for these people to aid in the worship, making one feel more “worshipful”? Yes. It is more than possible, and that is fine. After all, when people use their gifts and talents, whether or not it is meant to glorify the Lord, it automatically brings glory to the Father because he made us in His image and so we create, just like Him. (See the C. S. Lewis quote at the beginning of this essay.)
Participation on the Worship Team
The Worship Team Qualifications
We view our Worship Team as ambassadors of the church. Therefore, we expect that all our Worship Team members are:
1. Christians (see church doctrine)
2. Baptized (or seeking to be baptized)
3. Living a Godly lifestyle
4. Humble, teachable, and servant-hearted
5. Musically talented
6. Willing to serve many hours on a team
7. Members of Providence Church (or seeking membership in one year)
We understand that nobody is perfect, and we do not expect perfection. We want people on the Worship Team who have a passion to serve God and desire to serve Him through music.36
The Worship Arts Ministry Team established the following process for those interested in serving on the Worship Team:
1. Initial informal interview with Corb
2. Music audition with Corb
3. Completion of WT application (attached)16
4. Formal interview with Worship Arts Ministry Team and Corb
Worship Team members need to have access to email communications and the capability to download music files. It is our expectation that emails and podcasts will be checked on a weekly basis. Music files need to be reviewed prior to rehearsals.
Does God care about what we wear? No. God has no preference for penny loafers or wing tips over flip-flops. He is ultimately concerned with the heart of the worshipper. However, there are two reasons why we have put a dress code in place. First, what we wear can be a strong indicator as to where our heart actually is. If we dress in a sloppy or provocative way, it could suggest something about our preparedness or state of our heart. Which ultimately leads to the second reason, if we dress in a sloppy or provocative way, we can be a distraction to the congregation. Therefore, in order to reduce the amount of distraction to those worshipping on Sunday morning, we require the vocalists and instrumentalists on the Worship Team to dress in a modest manner according to the following guidelines:
1. No torn jeans
2. No shorts
3. No sweatshirts
4. No hooded clothing
5. Nothing with writing or screen-printing
6. No low-cut, tight or revealing clothing.
Rehearsal and Performance Schedule
Our rehearsal schedule provides for 2 group rehearsals prior to the Sunday morning worship service. These rehearsals occur on 2 consecutive Thursday nights. In addition, instrumentalists and vocalists are expected to use the podcasts for individual preparation. The group rehearsal schedule is as follows:
1st Thursday Night (10 days prior to Sunday service)
6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Instrumental and Vocal Rehearsal
2nd Thursday Night (3 days prior to Sunday service)
8:00 p.m.-9:45 p.m. Instrumental and Vocal Rehearsal
7:45 a.m.-9:15 a.m. Sound Check/Rehearsal
9:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m. Worship Service
10:50 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Worship Service
Other Creative Aspects of the Worship Service
Speaker volume is consistently kept below 102 decibels in the sanctuary/ gymnasium with an
average decibel level of 94db. The Audio/Visual Team actively strives on a continual basis to
not allow the decibel level to exceed 104 db.
Periodically we show a video to advertise a church-wide special event, promote a missionary we support, or to inform the congregation about an important piece of information. This has proven to be an effective means of communication and we consider the communication of these things to be apart of the community life of our church. We attempt to keep promotional videos to one per service so as not to overwhelm the congregation with too much information at one time.
Visual Arts & Decorations
It is evident through scripture that God loves beauty. The more we discover God’s creation, the more we glimpse the grandeur of His imagination through the vast array of creatures and landscapes, not to mention the vast universe of suns, moons, and planets. Even in the formation of the tabernacle, tent of meeting, the Holy of Holies, and the temple (I Chron. 28, II Chron. 3, I Kings 6-7), His attention to detail is seen in the lavish materials and precious metals that He hand picked for the Israelites to assemble. Many of the decorative items served no pragmatic purpose or even symbolic function other than pure beauty for God’s pleasure and glory. Creative beauty brings glory to God. It is a reflection of God as we are a reflection of God. We are created and creative beings. Our human desire to be creative stems from that selfsame desire in our supremely creative God. However, we must surrender that creative desire to God and place it under the Lordship of Christ. “True spirituality means the lordship of Christ over the total man…if Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect and his creativeness.”37
Color, pictures, and images can all help in describing a part of God or help underscore a key point in a message or series of messages. In Joshua chapter 4, God commanded the Israelites to make a stack of twelve stones so that they and their children would remember how He parted the Jordan River for the ark of the Covenant to cross. In that same way, visual symbols and physical memorials can serve the congregation in reminding them of a biblical truth or special event in the life of the church. “The Lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracks, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.”38 Since God is glorified when we create and he wants us to perform with skill, we want to develop this skill by encouraging the talent by providing opportunities for our people gifted in visual arts. We have begun to do this by hosting our annual Visual Arts Weekend once a year. Our hope and intention is to encourage artists to use their talents for God’s glory, and to bring these talents into our service planning. This will help to promote and underscore the themes of our services in new ways. Our congregation will continue to be edified, and even more importantly, glory will be given to our Creator in Heaven.