One of my favorite cartoons depicts a father rolling up his sleeve and pointing to a scar across his arm, he says to his young son, “See this, this was from the battle of guitars in the Sanctuary 1972.” Yes, there was a worship war back then.
Those of us who are older remember well growing up when the only musical instrument in churches were organs, or if you couldn’t afford an organ a piano. That changed in the counter culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other musical instruments entered in – guitars, drums, etc. and there was conflict over them, but the new worship music won and a new era of Christian music began.
I thought ‘Worship Wars’ were over after that, but evidently that is not so in some quarters. Earlier this year, Jan Markell, from Olive Tree Ministries, based in Minneapolis, MN who has a radio program on over 800 radio stations across America, did a two-part series on ‘Worship Wars.’ Whilst not criticizing all contemporary music as ‘inappropriate or unsound,’ she raised issues that are worth considering, including the sound level, troubling theology in some lyrics, the constant repetition and the trend toward entertainment, with light, smoke and the like. If you want to check out her program, you can check it out online. Jan Markell told me that she received more responses to these two programs than to any others that she had produced. Now, I realize that this may be a reflection of a generation gap. Possibly older listeners contacted her. Younger people tend to gravitate to louder music etc., whereas older people don’t. Nonetheless, it made me think. Hence, here are some thoughts on worship and music.
PRAISE AND WORSHIP
Worship is an Anglo Saxon word derived from ‘worth-ship.’ In other words, we worship that which is of value and worth to us. God Himself being the ultimate worthy one to worship.
Music is not primarily worship. Worship is adoration; it is most often expressed through music. Music is not worship. Rather music is a means people use to worship God.
Worship is not primarily emotion, although it is inevitable that emotion will usually be involved in worship. Unfortunately, people often confuse the emotional response to worship as being real worship itself.
Worship is the human response to the divine revelation of God in all His awesomeness, His holiness, His love and all the aspects of His nature and character.
Worship is a response that may or may not involve music. See Isaiah 6 for an example of worship without music.
It will help to distinguish praise and worship. They are not the same. Praise is to bless; to speak well of; to boast. Worship is to adore; to give reverence; a feeling of awe. We praise God for what He has done. We worship God for who He is.
MUSIC AND WORSHIP
Most people think of worship in the context of church services as the time when we sing. We need to remember, however, that the songs that are sung in church cover a variety of types such as:
- Songs of Praise – where we sing about God. We are primarily offering praise to God for all that He has done especially in Christ our Savior and Lord.
- Songs of Declaration – where we make declarations of what God has proclaimed in His Word or by His Spirit.
- Songs of Devotion – where we express our love for God and desire intimacy with him when we just want to sit at His feet.
There are many others as well, including songs of invitation, consecration, etc, but what we need to remember is that although we can sing all of them worshipfully, they are not all primarily worship. Let us look at one example.
Generally speaking, most hymns are not worship. In many cases, they are declarations of faith, expressions of doctrine, statement of what we believe. Some writers suggest that hymns arose at a time when people did not always have access to the Bible. So in many ways, hymns expressed basic Biblical teaching. Old-time hymns often followed a pattern.
- They would start with a verse (or verses) about salvation
- They would be followed by verses about God’s grace and love, together with references to man’s sin.
- These would be followed by verses regarding the tribulation, the place of difficulty and God’s grace to overcome.
- Finally, the hymn would end with a closing verse or two about heaven.
You can even see this pattern in the well-known hymn ‘Amazing Grace.’
The Scripture tells us to speak and express worship ‘in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19).’ You need all three to worship God according to His word. So it is scriptural to sing hymns, but let me throw in a curveball. If a church only sings hymns, they are probably not worshipping in a fully Biblical way. As stated before, most hymns are not primarily worship.
THE HEART OF WORSHIP
The heart of worship is the heart. The focus has to be on God. He is the center of it all. A colleague of mine Ian Peters puts it this way:
- Praise and worship is nothing if our focus is not on God.
- God is less concerned with musical styles and volume than we are.
- While we need to pursue excellence, God is more interested in the willing and genuine heart.
So, the heart of worship is “to bring glory to Him, no matter what style or philosophy of music we adopt (Ian Peters),”
TODAY IN WORSHIP
The last ten years the trend in worship music has been devotional songs. I guess it is to be expected. This present generation has put an emphasis on how you feel, so worship to has expressed how believers feel about God. Stop some time and take a look at and listen to the songs churches are singing today. It may surprise you.
Recently, I attended a worship conference at which Jeff Deyo from North Central University made an interesting and challenging comment. He asked who gets changed when we worship? You or God? The answer. It is us.
True worship will bring changes into our lives. You can’t come into the presence of God in a deep way and remain the same.
God is looking for a generation who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Let’s be that generation!