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Evangelical Music/Worship

Greg Strand – May 21, 2014 5 Comments

Jamie Brown recently attended the National Worship Leader Conference and he wrote about his reflections: Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship.

 

What he observed, he concludes, was performancism and it troubled him.

 

It’s the theme of performancism. The worship leader as the performer. The congregation as the audience. The sanctuary as the concert hall.

 

It really is a problem. It really is a thing. And we really can’t allow it to become the norm. Worship leaders, we must identify and kill performancism while we can.

 

It’s not rocket science.

 

Sing songs people know (or can learn easily). Sing them in congregational keys. Sing and celebrate the power, glory, and salvation of God. Serve your congregation. Saturate them with the word of God. Get your face off the big screen. Use your original songs in extreme moderation. Err on the side of including as many people as possible in what’s going on. Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology. Tailor your worship leading, and the songs you pick, to include the largest cross-section of your congregation that you can. Lead pastorally.

 

Two brief comments.

 

First, to be fair, what he attended was not a corporate worship service, so it is not completely accurate to draw hard and fast conclusions from a conference designed for this purpose to the local church. But what often happens is that whatever one experiences at such a conference or event, that experience is brought back and superimposed on the corporate worship service in the local church. That can and often does become problematic. Rather than something like this being the model for who the corporate church is and what the corporate church does, since we are an outpost of heaven we reflect now what is happening there, since, according to Hebrews, “you have come” (Heb. 12:22-24). 

 

Second, the conference and the title refer to “Worship Leader” and “Evangelical Worship.” In both instances the term “worship” refers primarily to music. And yet, biblical worship consists of much more than this: praying and preaching to name just two. One of the problems is that the definition and understanding of worship have become reductionistic. Many good books have written about this, and it is vital to bear in mind.

 

What do you think of this assessment?

One of the best books written on worship, acknowledged by D. A. Carson (“Perhaps the volume that most urgently calls for thoughtful evaluation is the biblical-theological study written by David Peterson,” Worship by the Book [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002], 23), is David G. Peterson’s Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002; originally published by Eerdmans, 1992). It remains one of the best treatments of the biblical teaching and a biblical theology of worship. I read this book when it was originally published and this biblical and theological teaching profoundly shaped my view/theology and practice of worship.

Peterson has just written another book related to corporate worship, this time focusing on the practical outworking of the biblical truths of worship: Encountering God Together: Leading Worship Services That Honor God, Minister to His People, and Build His Church (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2014). It is the follow up book to his earlier one on the biblical theology of worship. One could consider this a companion volume to his earlier work.

About this, Bob Kauflin, author of Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), a helpful book that focuses on those providing leadership to the corporate worship of God’s people, writes,

Almost fifteen years ago, David Peterson’s book Engaging with God rocked my world. I had never read a book that so effectively combined faithful biblical scholarship with a passion for the gospel and liked both of them to what we call ‘worship’. It remains my number one book to recommend on the theology of worship. His new book, Encountering God Together, is a long-awaited follow-up, providing biblical, practical, and insightful guidelines for thinking through how God wants us to meet with him as we meet with each other. He covers a broad range of topics including prayer, Scripture reading preaching, bodily expression, liturgy, evangelism, and emotions. And as you’d expect, the beauty and power of Christ’s atoning work shine throughout. Tight in all the right places and encouraging biblically informed freedom everywhere else, Encountering God Together should be read by anyone involved in planning or leading gatherings of the church. 

The biblical theology of worship is foundational to the biblical and practical outworking of worship; the biblical and practical outworking of worship is grounded in a biblical theology of worship. I would strongly encourage you to read both of these books in the order they were published. Better yet, I would encourage you to read and discuss with others, especially all those who have a part in teaching, planning and leading corporate worship.

The Scriptures are replete with exhortations, illustrations and examples of the importance of singing.

Think of the Psalms.

Think of Paul’s exhortation to engage in worship of our great God through our Lord Jesus Christ by/in the Holy Spirit to the believers in Ephesus: “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:18b-20). And think of his exhortation repeated to those in Colossae: “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 (Col. 3:16).

One could summarize that redeemed people sing.

But there are a number of appropriate questions that arise from this foundational truth. Questions like:

  • What are we to sing?
  • Are we to sing only Scripture?
  • How do we determine what to sing?
  • How do we distinguish between what is fitting and appropriate to sing and be edified, and to edify others, for the Christian, or for a Christian concert, and what is fitting and appropriate to sing for the church, the gathered people of God?
  • Since singing consists of lyrics and melody, how do we discern what is biblical, what is God-honoring, what is people-edifying?
  • How does one discern between one’s own preferences and a biblically faithful theology expressed in music, and, as importantly, how does one respond?

These are all important questions to consider as we think about music and singing in our own lives as Christians, the place of music in our own spiritual lives and the singing of music corporately as the people of God.

Recently The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) sponsored a conference on “The Worship of God.” During a panel Q & A a question was asked about Reformed rap artists, the questioner pointing out that though the style may be offensive to some, the doctrine contained in the lyrics of the songs is sound.

This form of music was condemned by all of the panelists. The conclusion was that these artists are “disobedient cowards,” they are “serving their flesh,” and through this means of artistic expression “follow the world” and manifest “a picture of weakness and surrender.” In many ways, these panelists reveal how not to think through such matters.

If you were asked this question, how would you respond? Why? How would you support your response biblically?

Here are a number of responses from those who defend this form of music and musical expression. Though this sort of music and musical expression is not my preference, though it is my son’s, and though it is a form that is not particularly conducive for corporate singing, it is a form that abides by Paul’s exhortations above. This is also affirmed by the statements made by these respondents below.

Mike Cosper, “Creation, Culture, Redemption, and Hip Hop: A Response to the NCFIC Panel

Ligon Duncan, “The Holy Hip Hop Hullabaloo

Carl and Karen Ellis, “A Letter to Our Young Brothers and Sisters

Al Mohler, “Thinking about Thinking about Rap – Unexpected Thoughts over Thanksgiving

Owen Strachan, “Did a NCFIC Panel Really Say That Reformed Rappers Are ‘Disobedient Cowards’?

Douglas Wilson, “Rap Tide

Here are two posts that attempt to summarize some of the major rejoinders to the panel’s response, both defending and affirming Christian rap.

Thabiti Anyabwile, “A Round-Up of the Holy Hip Hop Squabble

Joe Carter, “Debatable: Is Christian Hip Hop Ungodly?

I appreciate Mohler’s explanation of how he processes this followed by his summary:

No, I allow myself those arguments in my head when I want to absolutize my preferences and satisfy myself in the righteousness and superiority of my own musical taste and theology. The problem for me is that my theology of music will not allow me to stay self-satisfied on the matter, and by God’s grace I have not made arguments out loud that would violate that theology.

Rap music is not my music. I do not come from a culture in which rap music is the medium of communication and I do not have the ear for it that I have for other forms of music. But I do admire its virtuosity and the hold that is has on so many, for whom it is a first and dominant musical language. I want that language taken for the cause of the Gospel and I pray to see a generation of young Gospel-driven rappers take dominion of that music for the glory of God. I see that happening now, and I rejoice in it. I want to see them grow even more in influence, reaching people I cannot reach with music that will reach millions who desperately need the Gospel. The same way that folks who first heard Bach desperately needed to hear the Gospel.

The good, the beautiful, and the true are to be combined to the greatest extent possible in every Christian endeavor, rap included. I have no idea how to evaluate any given rap musical expression, but rappers know. I do know how to evaluate the words, and when the words are saturated with the Gospel and biblical truth that is a wonderful thing. Our rapping Gospel friends will encourage one another to the greatest artistic expression. I want to encourage them in the Gospel. Let Bach’s maxim drive them all — to make (their) music the “handmaid of theology.”

Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G Minor is playing as I write this. It makes me happy to hear it. But knowing that the Gospel is being taken to the ears and hearts of new generation by a cadre of gifted young Gospel rappers makes me far happier.

For the final statement on this matter, I encourage you to read the testimony of one of these Reformed rappers, Lecrae Moore in “Lecrae’s Arresting Call to Serve Christ.” God miraculously spared and saved him by the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was literally arrested for possession of drugs and it was through that experience that the Holy Spirit arrested him spiritually as well.

Lecrae’s conversion resulted in the conversion of everything about him and his life. This is true and real transformation. All is made new (2 Cor. 5:17). He began serving through singing at juvenile detention centers. He has since served at numerous Billy Graham crusades. He notes,

It is very humbling that I get to do this, and I don’t want to get used to it. People are hungering and thirsting for something. I want to serve them with quality music, and more importantly, deliver a message that will challenge and inspire change in their lives.

He prepares for the gospel message through song at these crusades in the following manner:

I spend time in prayer and meditate on God’s truth, and allow that truth to penetrate my heart. If I don’t believe it can change anyone, they are just empty words.

Though Lecrae is one of the better known Christian rap artists, he never wants to forget what he once was, and what he now is through what God has done for him.

have to remember what God did for me. He loved me when I was unlovable. I feel fortunate to have a huge family that extends beyond race and culture. Now, I also have a Father who shepherds us all. When I think about that, it blows my mind. There’s nothing like it.

Preparing to Worship Corporately

Greg Strand – July 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Stuart Townend, who has been gifted by God to write biblically faithful and theologically rich music, gives “three guiding principles” for “Preparing to Worship” and in this order:

  • Revelation
  • Response
  • Encounter

I include all of what Townend has written in his main points. I appreciate greatly what he has written.

REVELATION

Worship begins with God. That may seem an obvious statement, but it’s something we can miss. We live in an alarmingly self-oriented society, where the bottom line to every choice we make, from relationships to religion, seems to be: “…but does it make me happy?”

If we’re not careful we can bring this attitude into church, and even into our worship. We can come looking for the experience, for the ‘warm feelings’, or looking for God to lift the weight of our burdens and make us feel better. And, of course, none of these things are wrong in themselves. But when they take centre-stage in our thinking, we put ourselves in the place that God should be. Worship needs to be focused on what God requires, not on our own needs or desires.

So what does this mean in practice? Well, the best way to stay God-focused is to sing songs, read Scriptures and pray prayers about Him! I believe that, although we have many new songs that effectively describe our feelings as we worship and respond to God, we need more songs that are about HIM. If you lead worship, look for songs that declare the truth about God, about His character, His actions, and what He has done for us.

But it’s not enough that we just say and sing things that are true. We need to have an expectation that God will REVEAL the truth of these things by His Spirit. When I lead a song, I’m praying that the truth of the words will grip people’s hearts and minds in a fresh way, dispelling the lies that can so subtly invade our thinking and undermine our faith: lies like, ‘God can’t love me’, ‘I’m too sinful to be accepted by Him’ and ‘my situation is too difficult for Him to help me’. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”. As we put truth into people’s minds and mouths through songs, prayers and scriptures, pray that the truth of how God sees us liberates us from the lies of how we see ourselves.

RESPONSE

So truth is important in our church worship. But it isn’t enough to fill our minds with good things. It’s possible to have all the biblical knowledge in the world, but still have a hard heart towards God. We are called not only to declare truth, but to respond in wholehearted worship.

When Jesus says in John 4 that God’s worshippers must worship in spirit and truth, the word He uses for ‘truth’ is interesting. Although it does refer to correctness and accuracy, it also means “truthfulness” or “honesty”. In other words, what goes on outwardly during worship needs to be reflected in what is going on inwardly – and vice versa. Just going through the physical motions of worship, such as singing, clapping and dancing (Isaiah 29:13, quoted in Mt 15:8) is not enough if our hearts are not engaged with God . But at the same time, if our hearts are filled with joy and adoration, part of our worship involves using our bodies to express it. What is in the heart must be expressed in the outward actions. So how can we cultivate more expression in our congregation?

Well, the best way is by example. There’s something about seeing someone expressing their worship that inspires other people. Similarly, when we look bored or detached (even if we’re not) we can inhibit others. And that’s true whether we are standing at the front or in the congregation

ENCOUNTER

So we begin with God, not ourselves. And we respond in an honest, expressive way to God and His goodness. And then, perhaps the most amazing thing we find when we worship is that God is active! As we give ourselves to Him, He has His own plans and purposes that He wants to fulfil among us; he wants to speak to us, to change us, to have fellowship with us. And this is why I strongly believe in the prophetic in the context of corporate worship: whether it’s a shared ‘picture’, a spontaneous prayer, a full-blown “thus saith the Lord” prophecy, or even starting a song that wasn’t ‘on the list’.

I don’t have space here to explore how the prophetic should be weighed or filtered, and I’m not saying that a ‘pre-prepared’ contribution can’t be powerfully prophetic. But I do think that an encounter with God is a dynamic, two-way thing, and we should have an expectation that God will lead us in our worship, sometimes in a direction we didn’t expect or plan for. And as that happens, we need to cultivate hearts that are ready to change, ready to be moulded and shaped by the loving hands of God as we offer ourselves wholeheartedly in worship.

What do you like about what Townend has written? With what do you disagree? What would you add or edit?

Personally, how do you prepare to worship corporately? As a leader, how do you prepare others?

We have to get somehow from mandata Dei [the commandment of God] to Deus Mandans [the commanding God] if our study of Christian doctrine is to mean anything vital. We want a living synthesis where those very facts, which the intellect dissects and coldly examines, are given back to us with the wholeness which belongs to life . . . Instead of putting off our shoes from our feet because the place whereon we stand is holy ground, we are taking nice photographs of the burning Bush, from suitable angles: we are chatting about theories of Atonement with our feet on the mantelpiece, instead of kneeling down before the wounds of Christ.

             J. S. Whale, Christian Doctrine (London: Fontana, 1957), 146.