In last week’s posting we saw that the Bible exhorts us to come into God’s presence with silence, but also with loud, thundering worship as well! This can take the form of singing, including songs with rhythm and a beat. Let’s look at these songs a little more closely
1. Verbal worship – contemporary songs vs. traditional songs
A big issue in many churches is the actual nature of the songs sung. First, let me say that many contemporary Christian songs are not corporate worship songs. They are songs designed to be performed by an individual or a group to show off the skill and the ability of the performer, or to appeal to the listener.
Actually, they are no different from any other popular, secular song; the words are just about Jesus instead of “my lost true love.” They are not necessarily “bad,” just as country music, science, economics, athletics, philosophy, our jobs and other worldly pursuits are not necessarily unprofitable. They are worldly activities that the church is in the process of capturing for the kingdom of God. We “do all things heartily as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). But these contemporary Christian songs, that may be excellent in themselves, are not necessarily corporate worship songs.
Worship in the church is to focus us as a congregation on God, not on man. Though the musicians and singers who lead us as we worship may be greatly skilled, true worship leaders understand that the concentration is on Almighty God and not themselves. They choose songs that make Him the center of attention; that exalt and magnify Him and and actually lead us into His presence. They get us “from the parking lot into His presence.” Some contemporary Christian songs do not do that, and frankly, some hymns from the 19th century do not do that either.
That being said, as we saw last week, there is nothing in the Bible that would lead us to believe that only the biblical Psalms can be sung in corporate worship, as do some churches. Also, there is nothing inherently more spiritual about songs written in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries than those written in the 20th or the 21st. Certainly it is wise to learn and sing them and to profit from the wisdom and theological understanding that they contain, but to neglect the singing of the songs of our day is to miss what God has continued to do in His church in recent times.
It would seem that an aversion to contemporary songs is often a legitimate dissatisfaction with the theology expressed by those songs, rather than the fact that they are contemporary. Worship music of the day reflects God’s dealings with His church at this particular time. Has He ceased to move in His church? I think not, but by rejecting all current hymnody, including songs with solid, biblical theology expressed in the musical style of this day, we are saying that God is not continuing to express Himself through the songs of today’s culture.
Did you know that the tune to Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was borrowed from a popular song of his day? Charles Wesley used some tunes from taverns and opera houses in England for several of his hymns. John Calvin hired two secular songwriters to put his theology to music because he knew that “if you sing it you learn it.” The Queen of England derisively referred to the resultant songs as “Geneva jigs.” Even Handel’s Messiah was widely condemned as “vulgar theater” by churchmen of his day.
Christians today often don’t realize that pianos and pipe organs, and even singing at all, were once considered worldly by the established church. Today’s convention in worship made up yesterday’s blacklist.
2.Verbal worship – praising and shouting
As one reads through the Psalms it becomes apparent that singing is not the only verbal component to worship. Along with the admonition to sing unto the Lord, is the added admonition to literally shout verbal praises unto Him.
“Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob” (Psalm 81:1).
“Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious” (Psalm 66:1).
“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” (Psalms 95:1, 2).
“Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of the psalm. With trumpets and the sound of a horn; Shout joyfully before the Lord the King” (Psalm 98:4-6).
We read these Psalms, and the reaction to watching one’s football team win the Super Bowl comes to mind. However, if “all that is within me” (Psalm 103:1) is involved in worship, that includes more than verbal worship. Words alone are not the extent of our worship.
Keep in mind that these admonitions to shout as we verbally praise God is not something we must do, by the numbers, to “be an obedient Christian,” but a promise of what God will do in our lives as He conforms our will to His (Philippians 2:13). There will be a time when we cannot help but shout with all our might of the wonders, power and glory of God, and we see worship leaders who will lead us to do that now! Until we find those leaders we do nothing but repent for not yet freely doing so as the Bible commands, knowing God is at work in our hearts moving us to the time we will not be able to not shout! Hallelujah!
The Bible gets wilder still in laying out clearly for us what God has ahead for us as we worship Him. That’s for next week.