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


Dan McGowan said...

I am a music and worship leader and have been for nearly 25 years. I have also been heavily involved in the Christian music industry and am the author of a book on worship as well as a published songwriter. All of this to say that I have "hands on" and "heart-felt" experience with "christian worship" in the church. I share many of your same concerns and look forward to reading more of what you have to say.

I do, however, want to pose a few questions to you based on some comments made at the end of this post. Because many, many believers - especially church musicians - have a completely mis-guided concept of "biblical excellence." So, here are my questions:

1) You say that biblical worshipers were called to offer their best. What are you talking about here? (I know what you are talking about, but I want to make sure we are on the same page...)

2) You say that excellent music must contain rich harmonies. Please provide one Bible verse that speaks to this concept or validates this proof. (Hint - it's not there.)

My point here - while it's find and good to go thru and do such a detailed study on true biblical worship, such a study must be consistant, otherwise it loses credibility.

I'd love to hear back from you - either on this blog or at my own,, or even by email:

Dave said...

This kind of reflective analysis is the kind of thing I've been looking for in the XB-sphere (and don't find often enough). I may print this or at least re-read it to let some of it sink in.

One thing I realized a few years back on the issue of emotionalism was how the use of that word often carries a certain bias. White suburban Presbyterians like myself used it in a pejorative sense to describe other churches, obviously unlike ours, that got "carried away." There was some truth in that assessment, but some self-righteousness as well.

In our circles we had our own form of emotionalism. It was if our emotions were linked to a thermostat and it was set on "cool." If it got too "warm", we looked down on it or got very uncomfortable with it, and you can be sure that the pastor heard about it so it wouldn't happen again. The problem, of course, was that we were deciding for ourselves that certain emotional states were inappropriate in the presence of God, and that included some mentioned (even commanded) in the Psalms (God's hymnal, as you pointed out).

Emotionalism of either variety puts emotions or an emotional state ahead of the Spirit of God's leading and guidance. There are times when the Lord wants us to rejoice and be exuberant; there are other times when we need to think soberly and perhaps sing songs more suited to accompany confession and repentance.

But seeking to re-create a certain emotional "peak" each time we meet or imposing an across-the-board emotional blandness are both wrong, and for the same reason: at their root they both usurp the authority of the Spirit of God to lead worship and to interact with us individually and as a body as he wills. There's a time for everything. But it ought to be the Lord's prerogative to decide when those times are, not simply a decision based on our temperament or emotional preferences.

eph2810 said...

Kim, I like you essay about worship music and yes, I believe too that the focus should be on God in worship and not on anything else.
But, I do have to say that some of the contemporary music I enjoy very much on my way to and from work and some are totally based on Scripture. I do also like 'traditional' hymns we sing during worship and some are just going straight to the heart...I am a very emotinal person, but I don't consider myself as charasmatic (sp?). But sometimes no matter what I sing, traditional or contemporary, the tears flow...

Kim Anderson said...

Dandykatalog, your questions are good ones.

1) From the sacrificial system, we see that worshippers could not offer the lame or flawed animal. From David's example at the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Sam 24:24), we ought not offer what costs us nothing. From the story of the widow's mite, we learn that a humble offering from the humble is more valued by God than the flashy offering of the rich, which cost the rich man nothing to give.

There are circumstances in which God's people do not have the resources to offer opera-quality worship music. We should not scorn the humbler offering that can be made. However, we may not therefore excuse sloppy, cliched, or unimaginative music when we can do better.

2) You are right about no proof-text for the "rich harmony" claim. Some on the most beautiful music I've ever heard is a single melody line unaccompanied. Perhaps the harmony claim would better be worded: When harmony is present, it should be...

The three characteristics of excellent music I listed are based on my understanding of music (that of an informed layman) and inference from the Scriptures under study.

Thanks for stopping by! Nice to meet you.

Kim Anderson said...

Dave, well put!

Kim Anderson said...

Iris, I'm with you! Music has such power to move us.

Mark Kodak said...

I love repetition. Mainly because there seems to be no way to avoid it. Worship can offers a repetition that brings joy and meaning to the otherwise inescapable sisyphean banality of our vaporous sojourn.

Rev 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

All life, and all music is cyclical. Imagine a hymn where the melody for each line never repeats.
Who could memorize it ? A few perhaps, but even then, the minute you sing it more than once you enter a pattern. You mentioned Psalm 136. An excercise in how many ways one can say the same thing. His mercy endures how ? Fill in the blank from any personal experience here. Even Biblical language states the same thing about God over and over and over again. He is catechizing us.

I can appreciate part of your argument, but abussus non tollit usus. We need to reform worship because we stagnate and lapse into idolatry and will-worship. But, at the same time, in order to do that, I think we need to expand our worship vocabulary by implementing new melodies and styles.

Just my two pesos.

Dan McGowan said...

This "bringing musical excellence" issue is so misunderstood. I have studied it in abundance and, yeah, I could still be wrong... but I do ask you all to consider something.

First, these ancient worshipers of which you speak WERE required by God to bring a "perfect sacrifice" to worship. Why? Because God lovingly demanded it. But guess what? You and I are in a very different place than those ancient worshipers. Because WE happen to live on the OTHER side of the cross. Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ BECAME our ONCE-AND-FOR-ALL PERFECT SACRIFICE! That's the so-called Good News we share with our neighbors and friends... that Jesus has SET THEM FREE! Then we bring them to church and show them the hoops they must jump through in order to REALLY be "Good Christians." God still requires a perfect sacrifice from us - however, that sacrifice has ALREADY BEEN MADE in the person of Jesus Christ and if you call Him your Lord, it's a done deal! It is NOT a "Biblical teaching" that we are to strive for perfection in our music. Perfectionism is motivated by a desire to please man. True Excellence is motivated by a desire to please God.

By the way - someone out there is wanting to toss at me the idea of being a "skilled" musicians. Let me nip that one in the bud, too... and I urge you to go study this on your own, too... that word, "skill," does NOT mean "ability" as we typically define it. The word that is used actually means "knowledge" which, though similar, is a very different word. So, "Play Skillfully" suddenly takes on a very differeent meaning... no longer does it mean "Play Well" - what it means is "Play As Someone Who Knows How To Play" but there is NO mention of how WELL you are to play (or sing, etc.) This is because the true HEART of worship is just that - a HEART issue, not a musical performance issue.

Carol said...

I'm trying to follow you, dk.

When I lead worship with our praise band, I want to play skillfully (as one with knowledge to play) and excellently (to please God). But I also want to play with ability. Not necessarily to please man, but that I not become a distraction in worship. When I help lead someone into the throne room, I don't want them to trip over my sour notes, right?

I enjoyed your post, Kim. For me, worship is very personal. I can enter in with a group or all alone. Either way, there are some types of music that touch me deeply and make me run into God's outstretched arms. Then there are others that leave me...lukewarm. I think that's true for most of us.

The saddest thing is seeing how so many refuse to accept the freedom God gives us to worship Him. Maybe we get so worried about how we're going to look or sound to others? Maybe we fear that our worship will be judged by people and found wanting? By people?

It's important that we give to Him the best we have to offer of ourselves in all areas of worship - not just the musical ones.


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