In the end, worship can never be a performance, something you’re pretending or putting on.
I don’t know about you, but for me, music plays a big part in my life. At its bare bones, music influences human life from the smallest child, being sung a loving lullaby, through to a nostalgic moment in old age listening of the songs of years gone by. It can lift our spirits, stir passions for progress, or even comfort us through discontentment and sorrow. So, it’s not a surprise then to imagine that music more than just a perk of life on Earth, or an added extra for shallow amusement at a karaoke bar. Music has been given. It is a gift from our maker to us, to enjoy and use, to bring Him glory. I don’t know if you have ever thought about this before, but- what if the sole purpose of the music we write, play and sing, is for worship? Today I’m going to spend a bit of time exploring this question in relation to the ‘style’ or ‘flavour’ of the music that is written, played and sung in the context of congregational worship. I going to do that through two simple headings:
- 1. Musical Worship is innate
- 2. Musical Worship is diverse
Let’s just take a look at 2 key scriptures to give us a platform for discussion.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD
I find it such a joy to read these two scriptures together, as two parts of the same story. They tell us something beautifully foundational about our creator and his creation that succinctly summarizes the story of Genesis 1&2- Everything; both visible and invisible is drawn to magnify its maker. But how? How should or does creation worship God? Well, the bible gives us many ways to worship, be it through prayer, meditation, dancing, art, or simply reading scripture. But the more I look through scripture, the more I notice one particular way that shines through again and again. It is something that is deeply natural, and essential, and that is music. Psalm 96 says that earth itself; mud… even mud, joins in the song along with the trees and fields and skies and seas to “rejoice before the LORD”. All creation is made by God and for God- what He spoke into being, was designed to bring Him glory and praise.
So what about us? Human beings, like the rest of creation we were created for a primary purpose- to worship our creator. However, the difference between our worship and that of the rest of creation, is that we have been made as image bearers of God. In other words, the way that we worship is personal, relational, and special. It comes with commands/laws, promises, and commissions. As image bearers we have the primary responsibility to display God’s glory and to express the worship that is due his name. And that includes musical worship. In fact I would argue that scripture makes it clear that as imagine bearers, God gave us music as common means to express our gratitude to him.
“The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.”
Even on a physiological level, singing is proven to be good for humanity, and something that brings out the best in us. On a biblical level singing and worship is all of that and more. When we look at the Psalms it is clear that there is a deep connection between the heart behind worship and the practice of musical expression as an outworking of that heart. Worship and music come hand in hand at such an innate level that it wouldn’t be a great leap of imagination to believe that one is made for the other. That music was made for worship. Here’s just a snippet of Psalms written by God’s people to labour the point.
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.
Come let us sing praises to the Lord, let us shout praises to the rock who saves us. Come worship him with songs of thanks, let us sing happy songs of praise to Him.
1 Praise the LORD.Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. 2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
Musical worship is innate! But what about diversity?
How are we, as those made in God’s image, meant to express our musical worship to God? What are the parameters, if any? What is considered appropriate or inappropriate? Is there’s a different between Old Testament and New Testament worship?
Some of these I will be discussing in the follow on blog Charismatic or Contemporary worship’, but for now we’ll delve into those most related to worship styles.
The ‘style/flavour and sound of worship’ has changed in many ways over the centuries, but lets have a quick look at what new and old testament worship looked like.
Firstly, the good news is that biblical worship is diverse.
In the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Old Testament) we see that the people of Israel were given specific instructions on Holy worship, with ceremonial laws on cleansing, sacrifices, offerings, apparatus, and more importantly obedience. Their Worship was both a personal and communal expression that was centred around the glory of God and mediated through the appointed high priest. This continued for centuries and all over the Old Testament we can read of a people who expressed this worship (most of the time) in the manner that was required. In the Psalms especially, we catch a glimpse of the rawness of Israel’s King; King David, as he pours out his heart to God both personally, and for his nation. Song, dance and music were a key part of worship– Psalm 149:3-4 states, “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.”
Musical worship was and still is a common thread through Israel’s history and culture. We can see this in a small way when Jesus’ sung a hymn with his disciples at Passover and even more so in the early Church where Paul encourages the church to be “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”
At its best, Old Testament worship was a raw, reverent and a real expression of love, from the man to God. It could be musical and loud, it could be quiet and reflective, it could be full of tears of lament, or exploding with celebration and thanks.
Moving onto the New Testament- After the birth of the Church at Pentecost, there were clearly questions over what worship looked like in the personal and gathered setting now that the law (including the Jewish ceremonial laws) had been fulfilled in Jesus. One catalyst for these question’s would have no doubt been fuelled by the inclusion of those of non-Jewish decent into the family (and therefore worship) of God, as a direct result of the new covenant. Amongst the New Testament letters, we read that the apostles wrote instructions to the churches encouraging the Christians both Jew and Gentile, to worship together in an orderly fashion, centred around the use of spiritual gifts, hymns, and encouragements which were gifts from God for the people of God for the building up of the body (1Cor 14:26-40). In many ways New Testament worship and Old Testament worship were similar, worship was still both personal and communal, singing and dancing were still a big part of the expression, the heart of worship and love for God was the same. But the access for worship looked drastically different. Jesus, in fulfilling the law, brought access into God’s presence in a way that hadn’t been experience since before the fall in Eden. Jesus had become the once and for all time sacrifice for the sins of the world, he had become the high priest and intercessor for God’s people and by his blood he has both cleansed God’s people and reconciled them to the Father. The presence and dwelling place of God moved from a physical temple made of stone, to a living temple made of God’s people- the Church. His Holy Spirit had come upon the church, and worship was now also Spirit filled. Worship was the same in heart, yet different in practice.
Since Pentecost and the birth of the church, worship styles have evolved. Over the centuries styles and practices have been influenced by theological beliefs, culture, economics, governments, geography and much more. It is fair to say that global history has a full expression of worship. Throughout that time, even within small villages, towns or cities, worship has been expressed in very diverse ways. Depending on which part of the world a church is located in, musical worship no doubt will have, and still does reflect the culture of the community. Some Churches have a very formal and prescriptive format that is predictable down to the tee, where the voices of the congregation sound out as the most dominant instrument. Some churches have front led performance style worship, where electric guitars, drums shake the rafters. While other Churches prefer quiet reflective worship filled with prayer and liturgy. If you visited an African Church, you would notice that there is a lot of jumping, chanting, and drumming, if you visited a high Anglican Church, the opposite may be true, and you may even encounter the swinging of incense. And, I am sure that there will be combinations of all of them, but one thing is consistent and that is diversity.
As a result of change, the church adopted many traditions and expressions that were and still are additional to those we see in the early church. This includes traditions of styles and practices that are not biblically prescriptive, which though in themselves are not always bad, have tended to become more centre stage than the God in which they were originally designed to point them toward. Today the Church still has a diverse way in which it expresses worship toward God. Some helpful and good, others are less helpful.
So how do we know what is right and good for a Church and helpful for Christians around the world?
Firstly, I believe that worship today should be a holistic reflection of Old and New Testament; yet being clearly new covenant in practice- This means that the Old Testament practices playing music, and singing, the bringing of scripture and encouragements are all included. It also means that the instructions to the early church such as the use of spiritual like prophecy, words of knowledge, tongues, interpretation, and others mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14, are present in order to build up and strengthen the church body.
Secondly, I believe that worship styles today, can and should be diverse. Different cultures will express worship differently. I love that worship looks different for different people, because that shows me that it doesn’t have to been formulaic to be right or worthy worship. I love that some people worship God while whacking drums to their hearts content (myself included), whilst other people like to sing with their brothers and sisters unaccompanied by any instrument at all. Worship styles are diverse across and within denominations, cultures and countries, and there’s a good reason for this- people are diverse, and that’s good and okay. Difference, in this case shows authenticity. Here at ChristChurch we aim to have worship that is biblical and diverse. We are noticing an increase in the divert of our church and with that, I expect that the sound of our worship may reflect that in an increasing measure. That said it’s fair to say we have by no means got it right in all areas but I truly believe that if the heart of our worship is God centred, truth and Spirit filled, where the Church body is strengthen in Christ, where the grace of God is received and Glory to God is given, then we are headed in the right direction. As for the specific style/flavour of our worship musical worship; this is largely influenced by a style of music that is both culturally accessible and congregationally practical- This includes a mixture of songs written by contemporary Christian artists from all over the world, traditional and contemporary hymns, and songs written by ourselves which resonate with the Church community. All of which aim to be full of biblical truth, memorable, and God centred. For us, the use of diverse instruments and singing is a reflection of how we see worship being expressed in the bible, especially the Psalms. In the end substance always takes precedence over style, but if the style compliments the worship and seeks to aid the substance without detracting from it, then I believe there is much room for diversity. Worship ‘styles’ in Hailsham can and probably should be different to those in other countries and cultures in order to serve the people of God well. So, musical worship, I believe is both innate and diverse.