If you know me, you’ve probably heard me talking about the article I got to write for The Voice, the school paper I work for as the online editor, at Multnomah University. The article was about worship and some problems I perceive in contemporary worship services.
You’re probably thinking, “Wait, I thought you said this blog wasn’t about just criticizing other views?” That is what I said. But I also said there are certain cases where I have to speak out. This is one issue which I have been thinking about for months, and even after writing the article two months ago, I still think about it daily.
Below, I have posted the full article. But before getting to that, there are some points I want to clarify.
First, I need to say that it’s not just that I am pointing out, say, a certain musical instrument that needs to go. Though I cannot say this for certain, I feel that the conservative reaction to contemporary worship has been targeted at the wrong things. I think conservatives were and are rightly troubled by what is done in Churches today, but what they did with that was to prohibit the smaller things, and in doing so missed the bigger problem (much like trimming your hair but not washing it). They would, as an example, exclude drums from the worship services because they would see that as the problem. Rather, I’m arguing for an almost complete paradigm shift.
Just recently, I’ve come to love some specific verses in the book of John that deal with worship. I don’t know how I missed it before, but I guess reading a book six times (going on seven) for a New Testament Theology class is the ultimate way to force you to notice things! It is the part where the Samaritan woman asks Jesus about worship:
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
(John 14:19-24, NIV)
Note what Jesus is saying here. I find it to be incredibly profound:
- It’s not about the place where you worship (don’t take this to the extreme).
- There is some sort of distinction between “true worshipers” and those who in some way are not true or sincere in their worship.
- The Father actually seeks those who will worship him in this true way! Worship is therefore extremely important.
Primarily, focus on the phrase, “in spirit and truth”. Whether “in spirit” refers to your spirit or the Holy Spirit could be debated, but the Holy Spirit’s involvement seems vital either way (also, the reference to truth might be a hint, since the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth” [John 14:16-17]).
Either way, don’t miss [what I believe to be] the point here: worship must center around a proper understanding and appreciation of the truth of God. This understanding leads to joy, which enables worship to happen in the way it’s supposed to happen, this being “in spirit” (whether or not this refers to the Holy Spirit).
In light of this, try to see what I am getting at in the article. It is short because the article had to be short (exactly 411 words was the requirement!). Therefore, the statements I make are frank and precise. Do not take all of my statements as facts, but read them only as propositions which stem out of my understanding of the verse above that I want you to chew on. As always, comments are definitely welcome.
Everyone has a favorite Christian song that just seems to invoke praise every time it is heard. It is a joy to realize that worship can occur even when one is primarily seeking entertainment and relaxation.
It seems to have been assumed, however, that because one can worship God while being entertained, one should therefore be entertained while worshipping God. Consequently, worship in the church has become the side benefit, making entertainment the focus.
Interestingly, the songs that we sing in chapel are the same ones we listen to for fun while doing homework. Perhaps this is why we cannot shift out of “entertainment mode” in chapel. Conservative Christians have said that only hymns ought to be sung because they have that sense of ordainment that is different from contemporary music. Perhaps the real reason is that no one listens to hymns.
Rev. Paul Washer also addressed this problem, explaining that if the only time the worshiper feels the presence of God is during that delicious and brilliant part of the chorus, he or she has not really felt God at all. It is not surprising that the catchy chorus is when hands are raised to heaven.
What is averting our attention from God? Perhaps it is because we have it all when it comes to worship: lights, technicians, deep bass and skilled musicians. Whether or not there is a proper way to use all of these, we’ve failed to do it. If I were placed in either an average contemporary worship service or a Christian rock concert, and were asked to determine which was the concert, I might as well flip a fair coin.
It seems that the only requirement to become the lead singer is if you can also play the guitar at the same time. Washer says that the leader of the worship service ought to be a man of the Bible and hold to good theology, even more so than the preacher. But no one seems to care what the songs are saying these days, which may explain the usually self-centered nature of their content.
What if we tried a chapel worship service without a band, even without a lead singer? What could go wrong if the congregation merely started singing the words on the screen without anyone up front to avert our attention from God? Probably the only thing you would expect is that it wouldn’t sound perfect. But that would be music to God’s ears.
~Multnomah University, The Voice (February 2011)