In the last Langstaff Letter, we started looking at ‘Worship and Music Wars,’ noting the following criticism made in this regard:
- Christian music being written by a handful of songwriters
- Christian music and secular profit
- Christian music and bad theology
- Christian music becoming entertainment
We mentioned some scriptures, but we want to develop them further and look at some Bible passages in the New Testament that give us insight into worship.
THE WISE MEN AND WORSHIP
Matthew 2 has the wonderful story of the wise men coming to Jesus. Based on the later actions of King Herod, Jesus was approximately two years of age at the time of their visit. Concerning the wise men, Matthew records, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house (Note – not the stable where Jesus was born), they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”
A couple of points from this passage:
- Joy is a typical expression in worship – The wise men ‘rejoiced with exceeding great joy.’ People may express ‘joy’ in many different ways. Most often, it is usually more exuberant. People can joyously express themselves with praise, leading them into a deeper expression of worship. This can explain much of the expressions found in Charismatic worship today.
- Giving is part of worship – The wise men did not come empty-handed. Instead, they came with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All were expensive gifts, which reminds us that we should give good gifts to God, certainly not the leftovers of whatever is left at the end of the month. The gifts from the wise men made it possible for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to travel down to Egypt. We live in an age where more people are giving electronically, and consequently, in many worship services, there is no way to acknowledge the act of giving as part of worship.
Let us take this further by seeing the act of living sacrifice in worship.
WORSHIP AS A LIVING SACRIFICE
Romans 12 begins with a call to believers: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” A living sacrifice has its background in Old Testament worship when animals were sacrificed on altars. But here in Romans, Paul refers to a ‘living sacrifice,’ which gives us a picture of worship being a living experience, moment by moment and day by day.
Worship is not just music and singing; it is living our lives as an expression of our response to God and all that He has done for us.
WORSHIP AND THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
In chapter four of John’s gospel, we have the fascinating account of Jesus’ interaction with a Samaritan woman while His disciples were off getting some bread. The encounter involves many things, including some insights into worship. The Samaritan woman pointed out, “our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus responded, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Note the following points from this passage:
- Worship is not restricted to a particular place, such as a church building – When studying to be an architect, my thesis was on Methodist Church Architecture. In it, I argued for having a church sanctuary that would be theologically correct in that it produced reverence. A few years later, when I became involved in the Charismatic Renewal, I was invited to a home meeting in a dingy apartment near Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. The apartment had nothing I had stated was needed in order to worship. While people sat on the floor, someone picked up a guitar and began to lead us in worship. Suddenly the presence of the Lord was in that place as people entered in and worshipped the Lord. As a result, I had to change my views on what was necessary for authentic worship, as Jesus was not restricted to a beautiful building. Jesus had, of course, pointed this out in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. I am not suggesting we abandon constructing beautiful buildings in which to worship. However, I have come to realize that the building alone does not produce worship. It has to come from the heart, the spirit within us.
- You are to worship in spirit and truth – What does it mean to worship in ‘spirit and in truth?’ Let us look at ‘truth’ first. To worship in ‘truth,’ it has to be worship that is in line with the Word of God, that reveals to us who God is and what He has done. Consequently, we should sing songs or hymns that are Biblically based. The danger here is that although they will be theologically accurate, the focus will be on what is sung versus the one we are singing about. You need both truth or intellectual content and the ‘spirit.’ What do we mean by the ‘spirit?’ God has given us the Holy Spirit to represent Christ in our lives. He is life; the Holy Spirit is meant to permeate our worship. Worship is meant to go deeper than what our minds can comprehend; it is intended to bring the very life of the Spirit, which reaches down to our spirit, the deepest part of our being.
- The Father seeks people to worship Him – This is the most precious part of the story: Father God seeks and looks for people who will worship Him in spirit and truth. In other words, God is continually looking for people who will worship Him in the deepest possible way, worship that is biblical and empowered by the Spirit.
There is one clear verse in scripture that recognizes a variety of music in worship: Ephesians 5:19 states, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
- Psalms are scriptural lyrics in song.
- Hymns are humanly inspired lyrics in song.
- Spiritual songs are impromptu rhythmic lyrics given by the Holy Spirit in one’s native language or in tongues (See I Corinthians 14:15). (From the Spirit Filled Bible)
There is a place for all these forms of worshipful music, realizing that some people or groups may favor one style over others. We need them all.
BOOK OF REVELATION
Revelation contains references to worship, such as the declaration in Revelation 4:8:
“Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
Likewise, in Revelation 5:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
All these and more give us a glimpse of worship in heaven—something to look forward to.
I grew up in a traditional denominational church. Our Sunday services were what might be termed ‘hymn sandwiches,’ with an introduction into the first hymn, then psalms and prayer, the second hymn, followed by announcements, offering and prayer, the third hymn, and the sermon, ending with the fourth hymn.
At times we had some good hymn singing, but many times we were not really worshipping; we were just singing. It wasn’t until I got involved with the Charismatic movement that I realized that there was more to worship than just singing. I then learned what it meant to worship in spirit and in truth. I also discovered new ways to worship, such as singing in the Spirit (which, unfortunately, has dried up in many Charismatic churches today).
Come let us worship!
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Well put. It is also worth mentioning that The Law of First Mention regarding worship occurs with the binding of Isaac. But I will address “worship” songs.
I look back on the unique privilege of coming of age in the 70s when there were a great number of Scripture verses put to music. I learned many, many scriptures in that fashion and your interpretation of Ephesians 5:17 is spot on.
Unfortunately, as we moved our KJVs to the bookshelf in favor of newer translations, the melodic form of the KJV psalms became a memory rather than a legacy to the 21st century church.
But rather that bemoaning that fact, there are in fact, many rich songs that have become replacements and they are still scripturally viable.
But now to address the concern that too many newer songs are sloppy and wishy washy with questionable theology and sound like something meant for two lovers, I have two observations:
1. Many of the critics are not favorable to charismatic Christianity and use this as a further way to discredit it.
2. Song of Solomon is thought to be about Christ and His bride yet no one complains about it being disturbingly erotic.
So I will rise up in defense of almost every worship song today and even allow a sloppy reckless verse its own due. But I have been known to say with a bit of cheekiness and a hint of sarcasm, that today’s song smiths are today’s theologians.
Anyway, this all gives Pastors a very fertile field to sow into.
Thanks for the insightful response to the last Langstaff Letter on worship. I have had some good replies from some other people too. Blessings
I loved part 2 even more! : ]