Sunday, January 22, 2006
A Hungry Worshipper Part 2
Today, I'm continuing my meditation on worship and music. I'll conclude in the next post.
What is your belief concerning worshipping in spirit & mind? (I Cor 14:14-17) Does this verse apply to music? If so, how?
A. I Cor 14:14-17 Paul’s admonition
1. Paul addresses the Corinthian’s practice of using the techniques of the pagans to arrive at a spiritual/emotional state of excitement in worship, which leaves behind understanding. We observe the same techniques today in use among the cults. Use of same chanted or spoken phrase over & over until a trance-like state is induced.
2. The same effect is observed when in Christian worship, a short chorus is repeated over & over to produce elevated emotional responses. The emotion isn’t the problem. The lack of content/understanding, according to Paul, is. God’s Holy Spirit isn’t truly manifested unless our spirits, minds and emotions are fully engaged. Worship ought to be one of the most intense emotional experiences of life, but the emotional aspect isn’t the focus of worship, it is a side-effect of worshipping well.
B. Application to music
1. God has included in His word a hymnal – the Psalms. If we want to learn how God likes to be praised, we ought to look at the songs He wrote Himself. (not advocating only Psalm –singing. But we ought at least to be familiar enough with the Psalms to model our praises on them)
2. Characteristics of Psalms
a. Complex ideas (Ps 136) even when repetition is used.
b. Deep emotions: pain, sorrow (Ps 137, 130), wonder (Ps 8), exultation (Ps 46). Not surface, smiley-faced ditties. Not merely sentimental.
c. Focus on God’s character, work, & intervention rather than our goodness, works, our feelings at the moment, etc. It’s an education in Who God is.
3. These Ps engage the whole person. They do not appeal to any one aspect of our psyches at the expense of any other. In true praise, we offer our whole beings to God as a “living sacrifice.”(Rom 12:1-3)
4. Surely this is part of what is meant by, ”they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth”(Jn 4:23), that is, with mind, spirit, and heart in balance. Jesus said this in answer to the woman at the well, who asked Him to choose between the dead tradition of then-current Jewish worship and the pagan syncretistic worship of the Samarians. We are in a similar position. Much of traditional conservative worship is simply dead, but much of more charismatic worship is a syncretistic blend of modern Hollywood, pagan methodology and Christian lyrics. Jesus refused to choose either, but instead pointed her to the character of God, the truth of His Word, and His work in men’s behalf. (Jn 4:21-24) We would do well to use the same standard.
III. Does biblical worship demand a certain aesthetic in worship music? If so, what are its characteristics? How can we insure that we accomplish this aesthetic norm?
A. Check biblical examples of worship – (I Chron.15,16; Rev) We aren’t bound to some outdated, legalistic reenactment of ancient forms of worship. However, if we want a biblical basis for what we do, “proof-texting” won’t help. We must study the forms God laid out for us and apply the principles of those models to modern life.
1. Biblical songs use great variety of musical forms: antiphony (Ps 136; Neh. 12: 31-43, 2 choruses on each side of the city atop the wall), unison (2Chron. 5:13 musicians played as one at dedication of Solomon’s Temple), processional chanting ( 1 Sam 10:5, Ps 68: 24-26), sonata (Rev 4:8-5:14 exposition, 4:8-11; development 5:9-11; recapitulation, 5:12-13).
2. The Bible records the use of a great variety of musical ensembles: whole congregation accompanied by instruments (I Chron. 15, 16; 2 Chron. 5, Rev 5: 11,12), men’s chorus with instruments (Rev. 5:8-10), men’s & women’s chorus answering antiphonally (Ex 15:20), duet (Judges 5 Deborah & Barak, this was informal worship).
3. Bible is largely silent about music theory, however, there are a number of musical types which are censured. These tend to be described in a manner which is accessible to all kinds of readers, both those who are musically trained and those who are musically illiterate, namely they are described by their effect on the worshippers.
a. Ex 32 – Israelites’ orgy around the golden calf. Music produced chaos, breakdown of morals, frenzy, “noise of war” (v. 17 &18)
b. Amos 5:21-6:6 – Israel offered worship offensive to God including music that encouraged sensuality, selfishness, and self-sufficiency; and suppressed the passion for justice for the afflicted and for righteousness in general. The particular focus seems to be the actual music, rather than the words.
B. Application to modern worship aesthetics
1. As the Bible records with commendation a great variety of musical ensembles, including both vocal and instrumental musicians, and both men and women, we must do likewise.
2. As the Bible records a great variety of musical forms without any pejorative, we must also take care to admit a variety which will musically carry all the themes appropriate to worship. As the Bible also records some kinds of music that are actually offensive to God, we must be careful to discern and exclude those types of music as well.
a. Music, like the entire worship experience, must draw attention to God, not to the performers or worshippers. (See the biblical lyrics we have just studied.) This is why traditionally, choir lofts have been above, behind or screened off from the congregation, and the communion table, cross & Bible have held the center of the sanctuary, with the pulpit for man’s commentary to the side.
b. Music itself must carry the words. Majestic words, majestic music. Sad, disturbing music for mourning over sin, etc. Complex ideas, deep emotions not well suited to simplistic, overly repetitive, or sentimental musical phrases. The music as well as the words must reflect the character and work of God.
c. Just as biblical worshippers had to bring the most perfect offering they could find, so we must bring only the most well-written music we can find, led by the most skilled musicians we can find. Good writing is characterized by
1. Distinctive melodies, without excessive repetition
2. Rich harmonies, without excessive predictability
3. Subtle rhythms, subordinate to and supportive of the melody & harmony