Just yesterday I read an article someone posted, which I began to write my thoughts on – as I did, I realized that the content of my response is something that the Lord has been re-revealing to me recently. I thought: this ought to be shared with His beloved church.
My intention here, really is not to do a critique of the article, nor of different worship style preferences. But I see that there is a very prevalent question in the church with regard to worship service, and decline of interest in church services within our culture.
So in preface I will address some of the thoughts, and points which the article writer discussed, as well as some of my own observations (you’ll probably be rather surprised with where I am going with this, but beginning my post here seems the logical foundation for where I am going).
The article I refer to above is from a major evangelical online publication, and its content was the degradation of church worship music. I found it to be an interesting article, and was clearly written by someone with a classical musical education; it also had the flavor of orthodox thinking. The basis of the article seemed to be a response to another question at some time posed, which was ‘Why are so many in the church forsaking worship music?’ The writer’s response was that this is the wrong question, the question rather ought to be: ‘Why would anyone WANT to participate in church music?’
The writer of the article emphasized that he believed music ought to have a chief place in the church service as one of the [even major] forms of worship, but that it has degraded from an earlier liturgical form into something that is difficult for congregants to participate in.
‘We began by changing our understanding of corporate worship. It’s not for the church, it’s for those who aren’t part of the church. The historic liturgy is out, and the 19th-century revival model is in.’
Good thought here (though the third sentence is not entirely accurate with regards to the ‘revival model’ assumption but, probably to most orthodox thinkers this resonates, and has a semblance of truth in the sense of generalities.)
Essentially here, he is saying that the church has been using the worship service as a form of outreach, rather than adoration of the Lord as for edification of the gathered Christian believers. He’s actually quite right in pointing out that this has become backward, by and large in the church. The worship service ought not to take the place of evangelism – too often, the contemporary church is un-knowledgeable of evangelism, and/or unskilled in it. It is, therefore, easier for us to expect the church to do the work of converting sinners. The thought process usually goes something like this: ‘Well, are we not blessed by the presence of the Lord in the worship service? If only non-believers could experience the presence of God as we do in worship, surely they will see the loving-kindness of the Lord, and want to be saved, right?!’
Well… no, actually. You see that this thinking is based on good intentions, and a desire to see the lost saved – those things are good. However, it plays on an ignorant perspective of how the presence of the Spirit of God affects Christians vs. non-Christians. Biblically, the Holy Spirit is the helper, comforter, and counselor… FOR THE CHRISTIAN. Jesus taught that (John 14:16-18; 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-16, etc.).
HOWEVER, the Holy Spirit responds differently to the WORLD than He does to believers. What did Jesus say?
“…the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him“
The world CANNOT receive the Holy Spirit, because the world does not know the Holy Spirit. You cannot, therefore, bring a lost person into the same spiritual experience that you have had in worship because the presence of God is not recognizable to them.
As a matter of fact, when the lost DO experience the presence of God, they experience it differently than Christians do. Jesus said so:
7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. [He’s talking about the Holy Spirit]8 And when he is come, HE WILL REPROVE THE WORLD OF SIN, and of righteousness, and of judgment:9 Of sin, because they believe not on me;10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
According to Jesus the Holy Spirit will REPROVE the lost – other translations say ‘CONVICT.’ See, to those of us who are already saved the Holy Spirit is a comfort. Expose a sinner to the Holy Spirit, however, and he or she will be VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. The Holy Spirit will REPROVE them, they will feel convicted of their sin because they believe NOT in Jesus. If you want to get sinners into the presence of God in order to get them saved, THIS is how the Holy Spirit does evangelism – and it is the perfect, just, and righteous way. He convicts because He wants them not to be cast into the lake of fire in their sins.
I mentioned that the writer of the article generalized the dynamics of modern worship services as the ’19th century revivalist model.’ Well here is where that statement is mistaken: the 19th-century revivalists understood the work of the Holy Spirit as the convictor of sins. Their services were NOT designed for the sinner’s comfort, but to exalt the holiness of God, and work with the Spirit in REPROVING the sinner of their sins. For this reason the old revivalists are often viewed as ‘fierce hell-fire-and-brimstone preachers.’ Yet they also (many of them, anyways) had massively powerful results in their day of winning converts. They were accused of ’emotionalism,’ but the emotionalism was of a different kind than we generally see in the current spectrum, it involved such ’emotional excesses’ as penitents crying out to God for mercy as they saw the True sight of their sin and the horrible plight of their soul without Jesus Christ.
The article writer went on to describe the phenomenon of certain current cultural trends of worship music style – he described (and not in a terribly derogatory way) how the worship service in churches have evolved (or ‘devolved’ as it were) from classic quality music, to essentially low-quality contemporary pop style music. He asserted this was a problem because as a key feature of worship, the liturgy of hymns should be taught better in church, so that all the congregants could enjoy classic quality worship, rather than straining to fit in with the pop-culture (essentially).
Now, I like the idea of quality, and doing everything we do for the Lord with excellence, but I also think that it was a silly presumption that classical liturgical music should be taught by the church. This, really is a cultural problem, not one that the church is responsible for, or should work too hard to remedy. Culturally in the West, SCHOOLS have trained in music – it is actually the schools job as it is a question of academic prowess. Schools don’t typically teach music as they used to, therefore, singers don’t generally know how to read music, and the like.
CULTURALLY, therefore, it makes sense to pander to the majority who does not read music, and make the tunes and lyrics simple enough for people to follow along – that’s what our Western missionaries did when they went out to the ‘un-educated heathen,’ after all. The technical, or classical skill and aptitude of worship music in church and its congregants does not really equate to spirituality. Should the church spend more time educating congregants in classic music so that they can appreciate liturgical music? Certainly not as a central ministry focus.
Lack of training in music really isn’t the church’s fault unless the church is to be held to account for all classic education (which obviously is not the case in our culture). So, really I think that the decline is a cultural/societal issue, and the ‘rock music’ style being prevalent in our culture is a ready replacement – which is why ‘Hillsongy’ [<-direct inference to a statement made in the article] style of worship has ‘taken over’.
That aside, while I enjoy good worship music, and see his points about the hymns, and believe that we should have worship music in church for an opportunity of corporate praise, I guess I generally disagree with the article’s premise on the importance of music in church. The orthodoxy, or contemporary usage of worship music is not really the prime issue in the church, nor really in its growth or decline – it is somewhat of a red-hearing issue, actually.
We have no reason from scripture to believe that music should have such primary importance in the church at all. The Word of God is of primary, and utmost importance in the church. The reason that hymns were often so powerful was less because of their classical composition, and more because they were used as a means to teach the Gospel (contemporary worship songs which do this are often quite powerful as well, even though they are significantly different in style than traditional church music – one that comes immediately to mind is Michael W. Smith’s ‘Above All’ and, yes, certain of Hillsong’s, as well.)
While there are good points on both sides of the argument between orthodox, and contemporary worship styles, the fact is that this argument is, itself non-spiritual. At its core it is really just based on personal preference. Some people can stray into intellectualism and think that it is spirituality, just as readily as others slip into emotionalism, and think it is spirituality.
It is interesting how we have made music of such great import in the church at all. Did you know that there is, in fact, only ONE recorded instance in the New Testament of the church singing AN (single) hymn? We know it happened for sure, because two of the Gospels reference this same, single, instance (Matt 26:30 & Mark 14:26).
I don’t mean to imply that the New Testament church didn’t sing hymns, but it was never a primary highlight as far as we can tell from recorded scripture. We make it a regular part of our services, and I think there are proper, and improper ways of doing it, but there is no record that it took any real degree of import in the early church. The biblical record does not show worship music as important in the ministry of Jesus, OR of John the Baptist, OR the following ministry of the Apostles. …so why does it play such a primary role in ours?
What WAS predominant in the ministries modeled in the New Testament? Firstly It was the TEACHING – specifically biblical exposition, as well as prophetic utterance, then followed the miraculous (healing of the sick, casting out devils, etc. – see, for example Acts 2:42 & 43). Yes, while there is only ONE instance in the New Testament where the church sings AN hymn, there are countless instances of teaching, prophesying, and working miracles. Could it be, then, that in the lack of the church’s spiritual experience we hyper-emphasized music (you know, because we didn’t have any prophets, so we stopped believing in them)?
Now if I point out that BIBLE TEACHING was the primary import of New Testament ministry (as it evidently was, or at least those writing the record of scriptural history thought so, as they seem to have neglected giving much time to writing about musical liturgy), many will assume then that church should, therefore, be filled with boring sermonizing, and pontificating of stuff that we already know. This, however, is due to our cultural bias as well – anyone who has sat under an anointed teacher (I believe there are still a few out there, or at least there are recordings of them) know that this is not the case – that those who preach the Word under the unction of the Spirit of God not only hold one spellbound, but also are imparting vital spiritual nourishment to their hearers.
So much of the problem with un-anointed teaching in churches is that instead of using the bible as the foundation for it, we tackle contemporary topics, and quote lots of smart people (rather than Christ and the Apostles), and intellectualize that which is spiritual in nature. In the same way that music degrades culturally, our orators follow cultural speaking trends – they try to keep up with comedians, or popular lecturers, etc. instead of spiritually expounding the Word of God.
If the Word of God is not the primary ministry of the church, then everything will degrade, and eventually we will forget what the message was, and the importance of it. We might even fall into the trap of thinking that our church music is the pinnacle of the Christian experience! (No, just kidding – we all know that would never happen to us!) The reason that the old hymns were often powerful was not really that their music was of higher quality, and the congregants more educated in using it, but because most of the old hymn writers actually made teaching the Word of God their chief aim in composing their hymns.
Churches never really left off the ‘teaching portion’ of the church service, but they did, somehow, elevate the musical, or worship portion of the service to be somehow nearly equal – indeed, in many churches these days the worship portion is seen to be of greater value or importance because the congregants are ‘participating ,’ and ‘connecting with God.’ Now, I really don’t mean to deflate worship, and I see the above discussion as the semantics of worship as an experience (which has value) vs. worship as instruction (which has greater value – 1 Cor 14:4).
However, if we were to take the biblical models we are given as our guide, the import in church ministry is (in order) 1) Biblical Exposition 2) Prophetic Teaching 3) Prophecy 4) Miraculous meeting of practical needs (specifically healing the sick, casting out devils, etc.).
Music might be somewhere down near handing out sandwiches Saturday afternoon (actually it was of lesser importance than that – we have no record of the Apostles selecting members for a worship-team ministry, but we DO have record of them selecting ministers for food distribution (Acts 6:1-6)).
Now I earlier picked on using worship music as a form of evangelism, and described how the old-time revivalists would use their revival services to exalt the presence of the Lord, and condemn the sins of the wicked – this was their wisdom in understanding, which we have lost: IF we are ever successful in getting sinners into the presence of God, they will be uncomfortable. Generally, they will not know WHY, just that they feel guilty being around you, this will make them not want to be around you.
The only way to make successful conversions out of such a case is to TEACH the sinner by the Word of God. We need to share the Gospel with them – when a sinner is in such a state, and convicted by the Holy Spirit, it is the perfect opportunity to explain to them WHY. They are lost in their sins (their emotions, and mental state now affirm this to them), and they will perish before a Just God because of their sin. Jesus alone can make them righteous, if they confess their sins to God, and receive Jesus Christ, they can be saved. Simple, basic, anointed instruction in the Gospel.
I once knew a very anointed minister who had planted churches, and done some very great things for God. This particular pastor’s primary ministerial focus was worship music – and man did he do it well! It was anointed! He would write amazing songs, and everyone would get caught up supernaturally in his awesome music ministry. I had the opportunity to see this man up close for a few years. He was raising one of his sons to be a worship leader, and there appeared to be quite the cross-over of gifting, talent, and even of the anointing (when his son was using his music for worship). While this particular minister taught the Word of God, he had not made it his primary focus, his primary focus was the anointed worship. It happened that this minister passed away, and when he did the church he had planted seemed to have all but fallen apart. His son whom he had been grooming for ministry founded a rock band, and does not appear to be even attempting to honor God with his music.
I am left wondering what the results would have been of this man’s church, and of his son’s music career if he had made the teaching of the Word the central focus of his life and ministry, rather than the powerful worship experience.