Friday, October 19, 2007

My Statement of Music in Worship

As I promised a couple of weeks ago, here are the ideas I hold to about music in worship. Well, these are them as they stood when I wrote this at Westminster about four years ago, before I actually took many courses and read many things about worship itself. I was going to rework them because I think some of these points definitely should be, but I decided to present them and see what comments you might have. For one thing, as I read this I see that my writing style has slowly been changing, but that's another topic. More importantly—no, never mind. As I said, I'm going to post them without more comment.

  1. As God showed His creativity in the act of Creation, and humanity is created in His image (Genesis 1), we should use our creativity to fashion good music and other forms of art (e.g. drama, painting, sculpture, sermons, responsive readings, etc.) for His worship. This is also embodied in the statement that we are to sing a new song unto God (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10).
  2. The act of worship is one of the most important activities in which the church as a community participates. This is also true on a personal level—the act of worship, both communally and personally, gives a greater depth to the spiritual life and the fellowship which one enjoys with God. The focus of worship is God—not our own emotions or desires. It is not something to be merely observed or attended, but is something in which to actively participate. This is one way among many that we can “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice unto God, [as] our spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). Participation is not limited to the music leaders (organist, choir members, music director, etc.), but the congregation's voice should be the main instrument of praise. All are commanded to sing (I Chronicles 16:23-25; Psalm 66:1-2; 96:1,2; 98:1; 147:7; 149:1; Isa. 42:10).
  3. The time that is set aside for the community of believers to come together to worship Him is not the time for evangelism to be emphasized. Although evangelism is also one of the highest callings of the people of God, it has its own time and place. The worship service is just that—a time when the worship of God is the main focus. It is good to be reminded of the gift outlined in the Gospel and have opportunity for those who feel the urging of the Holy Spirit to follow His call; however, the purpose of the music of the service is to glorify God and turn our minds towards Him.
  4. What we offer to God in worship should be to Him as the fragrant incense that was burned on the Altar of Incense in the Tabernacle and the Temple. In describing the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, Aaron is commanded to offer two goats, a ram, and incense, the cloud of which will cover the Mercy Seat so that he will not die. For Christians, the book of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest, through whose eternal sacrifice we are able to enter the presence of God and also into the rest He grants us. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were always accompanied by music (I Chronicles 16; I Chronicles 25; II Chronicles 5:11-14; 23:18). David, in Psalm 69:30-31, even states that praising God pleases Him even more than sacrifice. Our eternal sacrifice, Jesus, also sang a hymn to conclude the Passover meal that we celebrate as the Lord's Supper just before He sacrificed Himself on the cross.
  5. The music that is used should be the very best that can be done. As we are bringing our gifts before God, they should be of the first fruit, as Abel did in Genesis 4:4. This implies that it is the most excellent, not merely something that everyone likes. The priests in the Temple also used the best in music of their time. This is shown in I Kings 5-7—as everything that was done for the Temple was done with great skill, the music must also have been performed as such. II Chronicles 5:11-14 describes the dedication of the Temple, and the priests played instruments and sang praise to God, and His glory came down so greatly that they could not enter the Temple.
  6. The texts of the music in the worship service should be consistent with Scripture, doctrinally sound, and meaningful to the Christian experience. We are told in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (see also Ephesians 5:19). Jesus commanded us to worship God both in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says to pray and sing with both the spirit and the mind (I Corinthians 14:15). Therefore, our music and the texts that are used with it should not just give a nice feeling nor just make good theological sense, but should do a combination of both. Also, just because a particular piece is popular or is known by many people does not make it fitting for true worship. The music is there to glorify God, not for our entertainment.
  7. The ceremony of the church (and the music that's included), whether the celebration of the Lord's Supper or a Good Friday service, must not become so familiar as to become empty ritual. All should be mindful of the significance of everything that is done in the worship service. The service should also be both free and orderly—without the leadership of the Holy Spirit it is dead, but, without order there is chaos.

So, what thoughts might you have? I am definitely open to suggestions. What should be changed? What should be added/omitted? I have some ideas...


WTM said...

What is the relation between worship and proclamation / sacraments? Are they distinct but related? Is one the subset of the other?

What is the relation between worship and mission? Are they juxtaposed, each with its own time and place?

Luke said...

The ceremony of the church (and the music that's included), whether the celebration of the Lord's Supper or a Good Friday service, must not become so familiar as to become empty ritual. All should be mindful of the significance of everything that is done in the worship service. The service should also be both free and orderly—without the leadership of the Holy Spirit it is dead, but, without order there is chaos.

So how does this work in with the incorporation of Early church practices and liturgy? Where is the balance in familiarity (tradition) and the freshness of new expressions of worship?

Lance said...

Sorry for my slow responses...

Travis, that is my biggest critique of my past self, in that I think there's too much of a focus on the worship service itself as worship, rather than living our whole lives as an act of worship. In that situation, proclamation and sacraments are both subsets of worship—in that everything is worship. I'm still considering proclamation's place, though. You might know, Baptists tend to focus solely on preaching, and some say that is Sunday morning's only purpose, which I do disagree with—are we not gathered to give glory to God? This giving glory can take many forms...but I digress.

And, your second point is my other biggest hangup with past Lance. When written, I was still getting over having a long altar call every week. Worship and mission should not be as separate as I had previously indicated. I do still think that some tend to focus too much on mission activities in Sunday morning worship, but, they shouldn't be absent, either.

Luke, your question raises some more questions. By drawing on ancient practices, are you not presenting some unfamiliar things to your church? But, I think just that seeking of "newness" is what led those such as Baptists to reject any sort of written prayer, and to not celebrate communion every week (at the church I grew up in, it was annual).

I think that balance you seek, though, depends on the local congregation. In congregations that have a long history of using ancient liturgies, would it not seem appropriate to use newly-written liturgies that would continue in that tradition? And, in a church which has no such history, would not these ancient forms be new expressions of worship for the congregation?

What is important, I believe, is that churches firstly do have a normal shape to their worship services, but also do not allow themselves to fall into doing and saying the exact same thing every week—even those that do use a specific liturgy. There are many variations available in any family of liturgies that can keep things from getting dull. Might I suggest an article in the book Liturgy and Music, titled "Ritual: Straight Jacket or Dancing Shoes?" It addresses just these questions of balance.