So having set the table, its time to dig into the steak.
Our services of worship have gone down hill. If we were to point fingers, and I don’t intend to; we could point to Finney and Darby, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that what passes as worship music today is failing.
And it is not that it is not good music. In fact the opposite is the case. Never have more people been in the full employment (or support) of the church in the area of music.
There are more professional and professional caliber musicians serving the church with less theological music being written. We have substituted musical excellence for excellent music.
What I mean by that is that we have sacrificed content for style. Our music is good. It is popular. There is little difference between U2 and some of our more popular worship groups. That is no slam on U2, it is a compliment.
The problem is that we have focused so hard on the style and attracting people to worship that we have abandoned that which is just outside our range of vision, God.
A few weeks ago, everyone was scarred that the half of the world’s population was going to die of Swine Flu. Surgical masks in hand, people braved mass-transit. Armed with super-mega-antibiotics people took to the streets hoping not to be victimized by this pig-faced killer. But it was a lot of hype and not a lot of fall out. It was more bacon and less epidemic and apocalypse. Am I guilty of the same thing? Am I making a pandemic out of a minor issue? Is this Swine Flu or simply a strain of Flu called H1N1?
Lets take a look. The following are the top songs from the Christian section of iTunes by downloads. The first is “God in Me” by Mary Mary. Here are the lyrics:
Seriously, I can’t make this up. But lets be fair the next song was by famous worship leader David Crowder. It’s called How He Loves.
This is much better, but there is still some significant problems. Did you catch the line about heaven meeting earth like a sloppy wet kiss. I’m sorry, is this the transcendent God of the universe or Brad Pitt in a romantic comedy?
The third most downloaded song is Matthew West’s “The Motions”:
OK. At this point I need to stop.
I don’t want to sound negative and like everything is awful and bad. I am not trying to say that everything that doesn’t meet my select standard of theology fails.
What I do want to point out is the extreme lack of any kind of theology whatsoever. It is not as if I object to these songs out of my theological vantage point. They have no theological vantage point.
It is also not that I object to these songs because they sound too much like God is my girlfriend. There is theological justification of that style of worship as made clear in the book of Song of Songs.
Here is the point that I am making, and to be pointed that I am putting to you Rich: The music behind these songs is relatively good. The problem is theological. We have to abandon notions of musical excellence until we can recapture the transcendence and a healthy dose of the immanence of God.
We have sacrificed our theology on the altar of music.
Links to the conversation thus far:
As we embark on this conversation, it may be helpful to be clear and narrow in our scope. When anyone brings up the topic of worship, hackles go up and some people immediately take a defensive position. Rich and I want this discussion to be specific rather than vague.
Scotty Smith, a Presbyterian pastor from Tennessee, spoke at a workshop at the Gospel Coalition Confrence this past April. He was careful to distinguish between “services of worship” and “worship services”. This was a helpful distinction, but still lacks a bit of clarity. For the purpose of these blogs and this one in particular, let us set the terms Services of Worship and Worshipful services. Services of Worship are the time we spend on Sunday morning gathered together with our local bodies to express our Worship to the Covenant Lord. Worshipful service is any good and profitable thing we do which brings glory to that same Lord. These themes flow from the pages of scripture from start to finish.
While in Eden our forefathers experienced both services of worship (when they walked with God in the cool of the day) and worshipful services as they carried out the commands of the Cultural Mandate (sometimes called the Covenant of Eden or Covenant of works). They were not simply prohibited from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they were positively commanded to be fruitful and multiply and push the borders of the garden outwards (Gen 1:28-30).
Later as redemptive history moved on, we find Moses and the people of Israel at the foot of the mountain. Here they are given the Ten Commandments by Charlton Heston. These Ten Commandments deal essentially with services of worship and worshipful service. The first four commands instruct Israel in her behavior towards God (or her services of worship). The next six commands deal with the way the people are to treat one another in everything from sexuality to business. Here God is dealing with their worshipful services.
Later still, Christ meets a Samaritan woman by a well. After a lengthy discussion she tries to bait him into declaring one place of services of worship illegitimate and another approved. Jesus masterfully navigates this complex and culturally loaded issue and declares that a time is coming where worshipers will offer services of worship all over the world and offer them in “Spirit and Truth”.
Paul and the writer of Hebrews pick these themes up as well. Paul speaks of our worshipful services in Romans when he calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. The author of Hebrews weaves the tow themes together seamlessly. He speaks of the excellencies of coming to heavenly Jerusalem as opposed to Sinai then urges us to offer acceptable services of worship. (Hebrews 12:18-29) He then launches into a treatment of our worshipful service, tying them together in chapter 13:15-16.
The scriptures even give us a peak into the world that is to come. Revelation continues the dance between services of worship with worship service, giving us pictures of both celestial services of worship and new earthly worshipful service.
So where does that leave us, to be more specific, where does this leave this series of blogs. Rich and I will be focusing on services of worship. We both understand the importance and biblical significance of worshipful services, but are not seeking to address it here. We want to deal with those specific activities that are practiced on Sunday mornings, the world over. The Church has put an emphasis on these since the earliest times. From the Hebrews author urging members not to neglect coming together, to the significance of the mass in the middle ages to the importance the reformers put on the Sunday service to the very models of ministry taught and used today, Sunday morning services of worship are a centerpiece to modern Christianity and we are seeking to address what goes on in them.
As many of you may know, one of my closest friends is Rich Van Voorst. Rich has been an incredible friend to me since we met nearly 5 years ago. Rich is a Jazz composer and talented Saxophonist. He holds two masters degrees from USF (in Composition and Jazz preformance). On top of this he has an excellent mind for theology. He has often been my sparring partner on a number of theological issues. He reads and thinks through a ton of material.
Rich and I share a passion for our Reformed heritage and a desire to see our churches (both local and global) live out the mantra of the reformation, “Soli Deo Gloria”. We both would like to turn our hearts toward improving the quality of worship on our communities.
That being said, we come from different vantage points. Over the next few weeks,we will be corresponding over our blogs. I will be taking the premise, Worship is first theology and second, music. Rich will be taking the position, Worship is equally theology and music.
We understand there is a lot of nuance in worship discussions and we are limiting ourselves to the idea of corporate, Sunday morning worship; specifically music.
In the mean time, check our Rich’s blog at http://www.richvanvoorst.com/