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Worship Music

So I’ve had this here since the beginning of the year, and I’ve decided that I might as well just post it, I might actually come back later and fix up a few things, but probably not U.U

Preliminary Notes:

Before getting into the heart of this blog post, I wanted to give a brief background on my worship background.

I’ve grown up in a church which has by and large done “traditional” hymns as part of the worship service. Such things as Christian rock or of the sort weren’t gray area that was better not to talk about with the members of the congregation. And more contemporary forms of praise weren’t condemned, but neither really promoted. At times, there has been special music that was more contemporary in nature during a special service such as Christmas or Easter.

A few times in my younger years I had attended the Church of grandparents, of a Pentecostal background and there I exposed more to a worship service filled with drums, electric guitars, chorus, and the like. Certainly contemporary, though not usual, at least in my experience. At the Christian camp I attended throughout my teen years I was able to experience the wider gambit of Christian music, and there I would really say I was the most exposed to the common forms of contemporary praise music.

Largely, however, I have grown up around the hymns and these have spoken to me rather deeply.

In college, the various churches I attended and the chapel services, which I had to go to, the hymns were really not a part of worship music at all. What I had experienced in my teenage years at camp were now the norm and the hymns of my youth  the exception. Often when I did hear a hymn it was combined with something contemporary and changed completely.

In college, I had also visited Mass a few times and so I was able to experience that side of worship, where song was more traditional, but not in the vein of my faith tradition. I am now back at the church my youth while I am attending seminary and once more the hymns have become a distinct part of my worship.

A recent paper, and some recent reading has caused within me a desire to examine how my Church does worship. The sort of music that is played and so forth. I’m no expert in the matter and I doubt that whatever I think will actually have an effect on anything. Still I wish to get something out.

As I said, I am not an expert. I’ve never claimed nor desired to be called a worship pastor, although I feel I still have a duty to understand that side of things. I think worship music has a more profound effect on the life of believer than realized. Moreover, I do acknowledge that worship is not tied up in music, that there is more to how we respond to our in Worship than mere poetry and song, but as I said worship music is still an important part.

What I write now, then, are really reflections and thoughts, I admit I may be wrong on some things, or that I should be corrected on others. Yet, here is what I wish to express. Secondly, I must admit my displeasure at not having more sources to look at. Yet as this is reflection based on recent readings, this is what you get.

Centered on God

At the outset of a discussion of worship music, I feel its imperative to see that worship is supposed to be for God. As stated by the Westminster Confession “Religious Worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone: not to angels, saints, or any other creatures.”[1]

Concerning the text of the music Marva Dawn in her book, wrote “Since we are concerned for the formation of the character of believers and community, I would say that this stage must be first. No matter how musically wonderful, pieces must be rejected if the text is theologically inadequate.”[2]

In many ways the following sections will probably repeat this time and time again as I reflect with other authors what is missing in our worship.

Worship as Edifying, not Evangelizing

How many people within my congregation are not saved? Moreover, if I were to take a look at the Church Universal how many people who attend Church for worship are not saved? Dawn I think rightly pointed out that too often, the worship service which is for God is made into a piece of evangelization, which should be reserve for a different service and another time.[3] “The point of worship is to worship God.”[4]

John MacArthur noted that gospel songs, which largely are considered “traditional” now, too often are evangelistic. That they differed from the hymns of an earlier generations as they “were expressions of personal testimony aimed at an audience of people, whereas most of the classic hymns had been songs of praised addressed directly to God.”[5] MacArthur further noted that while evangelistic songs have their place in the Church and they have helped in matters of evangelizes, they have gained too big a place.[6]

“The second common fault of music texts is synergism…. Here we must specifically reject songs that add our efforts to God’s saving work. Songs that stress our searching for God or our success at finding him ignore the total inability our sinful selves to want or to find God and miss the immense searching of God’s gracious love.”[7]

MacArthur once wrote correctly, I think, “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-fashioned” is quite clearly no guarantee that it is suited for edifying the church.”[8]

Shallow Worship Music

Marva Dawn, following on a model provide by Thomas Gieschen describes a flaw that they call “sub-Christian thoughts,” music which while not in error, “do not proclaim any message about God or faith.” There are four subsets, according to Dawn, 1) Music that is “theologically correct, but shallow, 2) Music that is provides “disinformation,” 3) Music that “muddles Christian doctrine,” and finally 4) Camp Song Music.[9]

While not getting as detailed as Dawn did on these issues, (please cf. pp. 170-74), she highlights, rightly I feel, that there needs to be substance to what we sing. Our music needs to be more than technically true, it needs to be as God-honoring as possible, often I think this involves music that is far deeper than most of the songs sung today, and that includes both contemporary and traditional circles.

At times I do feel that it is proper for it help stretch the minds of the worshiper, that as we worship God we think of what God has done for us. That we don’t have “Wonder Bread” worship, that while correct is too filled with “sentimentality” to really such much of anything.[10] There was a time, when the songs sung in worship  had behind them “a deliberate, self-conscious, didactic purpose.”[11] But where is this now?

Do we ever really think about the words that we sing? How often is our worship music filled with verses that says one thing, but does another, i.e. we claim in song that we will worship God, but in truth never does.[12] How often is it muddled where we sing in one verse about God the Father or the Holy Spirit, but equate the two distinct personalities of the trinity with Christ’s distinction as savior?[13]

Finally Campfire songs, fun songs that are not incorrect, but neither are they really worship centered, songs that the congregation may be “getting into it – instead of into God – so we could hardly call it worship.[14] Too often our experience during the music portion of worship asks to only feel God, to get into the spirit of the room, but never to ponder too long.[15]

Should not the music of worship engage our whole being? We are called to love God with all our “heart, soul, and mind,” and yet when we go to sing we wish to engage only sectors.[16]

There are songs which we sing which have more to do with a person’s “personal experience and feelings,” than they do God, songs which give sure enough some sort of praise, but it is rather weak both in content and in direction.[17]

Concluding

What am I to make of all of this so far? Looking at these previous sections, and seeing how much I’ve already written, I feel as though I might want to take time to reflection what I’ve written so far. Certainly, there is more to speak of concerning the music of worship. There is more to speak of worship in general. What of different services for different tastes or variety within one services, and other issues?

Yet let’s take a note of the music we use in worship with the above in thought. In his article, MacArthur noted, and rightly I feel that “As a matter of fact, traditionalist critics who attack contemporary music merely because it is contemporary in style – especially those who imagine that the older music is always better – need to think through the issues again.”[18]

How is our music directed toward God? I can think of so many songs where “I” is there too often. “I could sing of your love forever,” for example. Yet while wonderful for me to declare what I can do to praise God, why not just praise God. “Holy is the Lord God almighty.” I really think that worship songs, no matter how new they are or hold they may be, should have at the heart of them the clear truths of the faith.

(This is where I gotten too, like I said, at some point I might take the time to finish my concluding thoughts)…


[1] Westminister Confession, chap. 21, sec. 2.

[2] Dawn, 170.

[3] Dawn, 171.

[4] Dawn, 171.

[5] MacArthur, 112.

[6] MacArthur, 115.

[7] Dawn, 171.

[8] MacArthur, 115.

[9] Dawn 172-73.

[10] Dawn 172.

[11] MacArthur, 116.

[12] Dawn, 173.

[13] Dawn, 173.

[14] Dawn, 174.

[15] MacArthur, 116.

[16] MacArthur, 116.

[17] MacArthur, 115.

[18] MacArthur, 114.

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1 Comment

  1. Matt says:

    I enjoyed your article. Im googling about worship and style.
    Another article I read mentioned the importance of personal worship.
    The Psamls are filled with songs (or psalms) that might not fit into a typical Sunday morning.. But they were, I believe, genuine.
    When I’m at church, I don’t sing the words unless I mean them. When I can’t mean them, I appreciate, in faith, that the person singing means it.
    I appreciate places in corporate worship that, in God, are truly corporate. When this isn’t happening, I appreciate that worship is always individual.
    I believe that the days of everybody NEEDING to sing are numbered. I think God maintains this need in a corporate environment to prevent the guys with the guitars from hurting people with latent disinformation.

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