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Musings on Music

I’d like some feedback on this one. Is there a difference between morally neutral and amoral? I think so. The battle for Christian music has sometimes unnecessarily polarized. One group says that music is amoral. The other insists that it is either moral or immoral and you can’t have it any other way. There is possibly another way to look at it that I’d like to propose.


I’d like to suggest that it is wrong to assume that one can simply ascribe morality or immorality to every morceau simply by evaluating its lyrics and music, but that any musical piece might be morally dynamic. In other words, the same piece of music could be morally positive or negative depending on a host of variables. (Admittedly, there are morceaux that are conspicuously sinful, but that is not what provokes the controversy. It is the music that some believe in all sincerity to be godly, and others with equal sincerity believe to be ungodly that stirs up the emotions.)

There are so many variables in music: the performer, the composer, the lyrics, the music, the context, the culture, and the listener to name a few. The same morceau may be spiritually uplifting to me (morally positive) one day, a spiritual weight (morally negative) the next day, and spiritually uplifting the following day. Variables that don’t affect me make some music spiritually refreshing for me in one context, but ungodly for me in another context. For example, I love Mozart’s Laudate Dominum (KV 339). It has to be one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. But there are so many variables. It is true that the words are directly from Scripture (Ps 117) and when I play it full volume in the privacy of my study my soul is enraptured. The fact that it was composed by a pervert for the feast day of a saint worshipped as a confessor, sung by perverts, and recorded by perverts has little bearing on my soul’s enjoyment and benefit. However, I think it would be immoral of me to use that same work in a local church consisting of converted Roman Catholics who knew the source and purpose of the original composition. The same morceau is either moral or immoral depending on the context. (And context is just one variable that the wise person will ponder over).

As already mentioned, a morceau can be both moral and immoral, positive and negative, at the same time depending upon the effect of the combined variables on an individual or congregation. God may be pleased with the effect that a good song is having on my soul as it is performed by the soloist in church, but the same song may be odious to God from the perspective of the soloist who is singing out of vanity.

For whatever reason, I am not easily offended by various types of music. I’m easily blessed. I can listen to a recording of Sandi Patti singing “Amazing Grace” and be moved to tears. Yet I am fairly sure that I could not be able to benefit from a live concert because of the combined effect of all the variables. I happen to believe that is not hypocritical of me. It is living circumspectly, appropriating godly discrimination to each and every situation.

Face it, we never discriminate consistently. Nor should we. We should discriminate spiritually. “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” doesn’t disturb us at camp. During the Sunday morning worship it would be immoral. The fact is that most music falls into that category. Therefore, it is simply wrong to say that every single piece of music that falls under the CCM category is sinful, but it is equally foolish to indiscriminately delight in certain music anywhere just because we find it appropriate and helpful somewhere.

Being a Baptist, I actually believe in the priesthood of the believer which suggests, among other things, that the believer has the potential to properly discern the rightness and the wrongness of any given piece in any given situation. As a pastor, I carefully consider all the variables that affect our congregation and seek to guide accordingly. The fact that I will not tell individuals what they should listen to or determine the morality or immorality of all their choices may put me at odds with some Fundamentalists, but it makes me pretty consistent as a Baptist. I think that there seems to be a lack of respect going both ways. The “conservative” musician does not believe the sincerity of someone who claims that she is spiritually blessed by a contemporary song or that it is even possible. Nor does the contemporary musician respect the fact that some of us find some of their music to be unacceptable. It is not right to condescendingly assume that we are uninformed, brainwashed, and narrow-minded. We may be making wise decisions based upon the combined effect of the variables on our spirits. We may be the ones walking circumspectly and with maturity.

It makes sense to me that a local church consider as many variables as possible and then prayerfully select its music. Those variables must include more than just tastes. Certain music may appeal to every congregants taste, causing no irritation in that sense, but remain sinful. If I had a totally hip-hop congregation, I would still exercise strong leadership toward the old hymns of the faith because one necessary consideration in congregational music is that it edify (Col. 3:16).

So, is contemporary Christian music sinful or godly? Absolutely. Depending on the piece. Depending on the lyrics. Depending on the performer. Depending on the context. Depending on the listener. Depending….. Depending on all of these combined. May I suggest something radical when it comes to your music choices? “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”.

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20 Responses

  1. I think your morally neutral vs. amoral distinction is a good one. Music is a medium of communication, one that carries additional emotional content to enhance the text. In any form of communication, the message alone contains the moral aspect. Unfortunately, since music, unlike text, is not capable of carrying specific or detailed communication, a wide variety of interpretations of that message are possible due to the listener’s background and ideas.

    Historically, every era for the past thousand years of Western music has made moral and spiritual accusations against newer styles of music, particularly among church-goers. We would view most of those positions as extreme or unreasonable.

    In the 1800’s, the church establishment viewed Sankey and the Gospel Song in general as undesirable, mixing “parlour music” with the worship of God. People criticized the Wesleys not only for their outdoor preaching but for having the people sing hymns to tunes that they knew from everyday life. In the early 1600s, most churches would not sing any text apart from Scripture. They even avoided paraphrases of Scripture as unbiblical and heretical. Musically, they believed that any melisma, the singing of one syllable of text across two different tones in the music, was sexual. (And isn’t “sexual” what we all mean when we use the ephemism “sensual?” The church should say what it means and not fear the letter “x.”) The song “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” was problematic both for paraphrasing and melismas. Servants left masters; masters kicked out servants; churches split–all because of the Tate and Brady hymnal (“psalter”) that contained such progressive songs.

    Going back even earlier, the major musical theorist of the 1500s, Zarlino, wrote in his textbook that the major mode was “licentious.” In the 12 and 1300s, church music needed to be written in a triple meter in order to reflect the Trinity. Duple meter was not allowed. Additionally, that same era called the diminished fifth “the devil in music” because it was strongly dissonant and was difficult to derive mathematically.

    The passing of time tends to soothe tensions and smooth away the wrinkles of the Bride’s wedding dress. Today’s church can switch from duple to triple meter in the middle of a piece. Diminished fifths are a basic structural unit and one of the most powerful key indicators of tonal music. A few years ago the president of a major Christian college demanded that the chapel songs be only in a major key. Hardly anyone sings actual Scripture texts, and no one thinks twice about a melisma (“Amazing Grace”?). The folk tunes of the Wesley’s era have become our “great hymns of the faith.” Many traditional, independent churches sing Gospel Songs well nigh exclusively.

    As far as rhythm goes, since that is the most contentious of current Western church music troubles, the strict rhythms of modern hymns did not appear until Rationalism, a theological movement roughly equivalent to Neo-orthodoxy of the early 20th Century, swept the German churches in the early 1700s. Prior to that, church music–especially Protestant church music–was quite literally “swingin’,” full of syncopations and interesting rhythmic designs. It was a music of the people drawn from their daily life and sung in praise to God. Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” bounced along like artsy pop. The tune for “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” came from a love song and flew on Renaissance rhythms. Queen Elizabeth I of England spoke of the “Genevan jigs,” referring to Continental Protestant church music. Many terrific old church tunes died out because of the stifling effects of Rationalist music reform. (On the plus side for the Rationalists, they reasoned that the syncopations were too difficult for a congregation to sing together. They were trying to aid the corporate side of worship.)

    But while history can be a great teacher, it isn’t Scripture. Frankly, the Bible speaks very little on music in a moral sense. The only potentially negative verse I can think of is a reference to a harlot’s song somewhere in the prophets. It’s dangerous to make strong distinctions where the Bible does not speak. In my own journey through this area, two passages helped me. The first is Christ’s statement that what goes into a person does not defile him but what comes out of him does. What is my response to the music? Can I glorify God by reflecting what I’m hearing? The second passage, and the one that was far more influential to me, is Paul’s warning in Romans not to judge another man’s servant. If a situation is not covered in a clear Scriptural command, I have no right to bring accusations against God’s people. In fact, I am sinning if I do so because there is a clear command NOT to judge that person.

    The problem, as I see it, boils down to a misunderstanding of the nature of holiness. Do I somehow make my own righteousness? Can I “make God happy with me?” Can I earn his love and favor? No. My righteousness is entirely Christ’s. God loves me through Christ and rejoices in me because he sees Jesus. God IS love and has shown his favor toward us through Jesus. My abstaining from something morally neutral does nothing to aid me any more than my enjoying something morally neutral condemns me to hell. Do I rejoice in God and thank him for his gifts through modern worship music? I certainly have. Do I rejoice in God and thank him for his gifts when I sing ancient hymns? I certainly have. Worship is a believer’s response to what he has seen of God. It is a reflection of God’s goodness. The means of worship tend to be cultural and in some ways individual. Unless others are in clear violation of Scripture, we fellow believers ought to rejoice with other worshippers, not condemn them.

  2. Thank you for a Biblically-driven approach to an extremely sensitive topic. There is a tremendous dearth of teaching that calls the believer to think Biblically. It is so much easier to draw hard lines and live up to the lines, than to take the Word and apply it to every given circumstance in life.

    My great fear for my young generation of Fundamentalism is that we see weakness, turn, and run from both truth and error. Christian music is one of those areas where we see inconsistency and tradition-driven teaching in the church. May each of us not rush wholesale for the “left,” but rather run hard to the Biblical center, where God desires each of us to be.

    Several excellent documents on this issue can be found at:
    http://www.fbclafayette.org/

    Bob, thank you for your insight and stand for the Word. Grace and peace to you all from the great Christ of God.

    Adam Bailie
    Local Outreach Ministries
    Grace Community Church
    13248 Roscoe Blvd.
    Sun Valley, CA 91352
    http://www.gracechurch.org

    The Master’s Seminary
    http://www.tms.edu

    Bob Jones University
    http://www.bju.edu

    But as many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name [Jesus], who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 NASB)

  3. thank you for putting into words a concept that i have struggled for years to clarify. this issue has been a real dividing point when in cases it should not have been. circular reasoning abounds in this area: “he listens to that… so he clearly isn’t walking with the Lord” rather than “he clearly is walking with the Lord. that music must be a blessing to him.”

    I think there is a general fear of letting choices/standards/preferences be different among believers in our fundmental circles. yes, we need accountability among the family, but we also need to allow for the “priesthood of the believer.” the Lord does indeed personalize his work in individual lives!

    thank you so much. my whole day just got better.

  4. interesting effort/results at David Morris’ blog.

  5. Thankyou for your clarity and thought on this issue. My generation needs this. Since the title of this post is “Musings on Music,” I won’t stick to the issue of CCM or the more church oriented debates. (A.k.a. style of worship, instruments used by the church, etc.) Ultimately I think we’ve got to decide what moral aspects there are (if any) in music before we start applying it to worship.

    Sacred or Secular: Just a word before going on, I think we would agree that the only thing that makes music inherently sacred or secular is the words sung with or associated with the music. There are no inherent musical qualities that make one morceau more sacred than another. With text out of the picture the only quality that could possibly make a song sacred is the aspect of general revelation. (Showing the beauty and order of God by observing the beauty and order of music.) Since I will be discussing primarily the inherent qualities of music, lyrics won’t really be relevant.

    Dichotomies: You bring up an interesting concept. I’ve always made the (perhaps false) dichotomy between moral and amoral. I would be interested in knowing the differences between music as an amoral medium and music as a morally neutral medium. Perhaps my discussion on effects of music will further clarify what I mean by this.

    Music, Moral or Amoral: Disclaimer – These are merely my thoughts. I still have much to learn and am in the process of learning so, take what you can and leave the rest to be destroyed when the Lord returns. This discussion is also begging for a definition so here’s one…

    Definition of music as is relevant to man: Any set of sounds within a certain time or space.

    When someone labels music as inherently moral, or amoral they make a claim that is much deeper and complex than they realize. They do not make a claim about the role of music in current society, nor do they state how music affects them. They are rather stating how the fall affected the creation inherently. Here is where I really need some feedback. I’ve heard many views on this. Here are a couple:
    1. When man fell, parts of creation were affected. These folks would say the laws of science, logic, and music were not affected.
    2. When man fell the entire physical creation was affected. (This would include music.)
    3. Then there are those who say music is an attribute of God. This launches our discussion into the depths of subjectivity from which we will never return.
    I think it all has something to do with what exactly happened when man received, “the knowledge of good and evil.” My feeling is that when man fell the entire physical creation was affected. (No. 2) This would put music as a moral medium. (Again, any wisdom here is greatly appreciated.)
    That is where I stop. I can’t begin to tell you how the fall of man gave certain rhythms, scales, or vocal techniques definable moral qualities.

    Morally Neutral: I guess this brings up my questions about the morally neutral category. It seems that this category is more of how music affects the individual than the inherent qualities of music. Once we’ve solved the fall of man question, we now have only one way to discern what are right and wrong sounds: how the music affects us. I know, immediately, this seems very simplistic but first let me ask this question. Will a deaf man ever struggle with the music question? I think the obvious answer is “no.” He has no capacity to be affected by any set of sounds within a certain time or space. When you start dealing with CCM or any practical situations, you most definitely must consider the “performer, the composer, the music, the lyrics, the context, the culture, and the listener.” However, when you start dealing with things like “the performer, the composer, the lyrics, the context, the culture, and the listener,” you are dealing with very important and necessary issues, but issues that are irrelevant to the discussion of music as a concept or medium.

    What does the Bible Say?
    I think David Morris has a pretty good conversation starting on his blog, but here are my thoughts. I believe the Bible talks about the utterings of a strange woman. “Her voice is as smooth as honey.” While this indicates certainly that this women’s voice has qualities, these qualities are only as effective as they affect the listener. I think most of the Bible passages we deal with are examples of how music affected someone a certain way, which is where my philosophy is coming from. We’ve got to recognize that music does affect us and from there recognize how each morceau is affecting us personally (here also is where the variety of factors comes in.) I think you slammed the basketball through the hoop by quoting Paul.

    “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)

    Grace and Peace to you. I’ll look forward to dialoging more with you.

  6. You can read my further take on the subject (beyond and with a different focus than my comment above) here.

  7. The essay on your site was right on, Jon. For whatever reason I couldn’t figure out how to post straight to that line…

    I took a theory class when I was thirteen, and heard a lot about a certain music philosophy. I’ve been hearing the “sensual” thing since I was pretty young. I agree with his basic premise that music does affect people in many different ways, however, my teacher went on to apply it.

    He said, “all structural syncopation, most melodic syncopation, and all sensual vocal styles always affect people sensually.” The thing that got me was the “sensual vocal styles affect people sensually.” Number one it seemed kind of circular. Number two, I found I couldn’t identify what he was calling “sensual vocal styles,” much as he tried to teach me. I’m a bad student I guess.

    That led me to this whole line of thinking. The idea that yes, music does affect people in many different ways. And while maybe all structural and melodic syncopation and “sensual vocal styles” do affect certain people a certain way, I’ve got to go on how it affects me. Then came the process of finding what I could glorify God by listening to and what was affecting me the wrong way.

    Interestingly enough, it didn’t breakdown by techniques or genres. I enjoy songs from many different genres. Including some that people at my church have labeled as “straight from hell.”

    Where I am now: I look forward to the day when all of God’s saints can enjoy God’s creation without our fallen flesh misusing any of it. It may seem shocking to some, but no, I don’t believe all the music that is played in heaven will be classical music with sacred words.

    Again, thanks for your essay thing. I enjoyed it.

  8. Just looking over my previous post and realizing how derogatory my remarks towards a certain teacher may have sounded. I am sorry and hope no-one will take offense at this. I certainly respect him. It was his class that really got me thinking. I probably tend to be too harsh towards “disagree-ers” when I am convinced of a position. Sorry if it came across wrong.

    Grace and peace

  9. I think I got the comments working on my site. Sorry about the trouble you had posting there, r. kelly!

  10. I was recently perusing this blog and ran across this post from August that I’d like to respond to.

    I readily admit that music has significant iconic or associative meanings. But I do not believe that this denies a bioacoustic significance. Iconic significance is either arbitrary or individualistic based on past experience with a song or genre, personal background, or any number of individual issues. You mention the performer, the composer, lyrics, context, culture, listener, etc. I agree that meaning does occur on various levels as a result of these factors. But what makes music ultimately morally positive or negative is based on deeper meaning.

    To quote John Makujina in “Measuring the Music” (page 260), “Music communicates bioacoustically by arranging sounds in patters of movement through tiem and by regulating the volume and dynamics of those sounds in order to resemble the same qualities in human emotions or the behavior that accompanies them.” He then quotes an explanation by John Hospers:

    “When people feel sad they exhibit certain types of behavior: they move slowly, the tend to talk in hushed tones, their movements are not jerky and abrupt or their tones strident and piercing. Now music can be said to be sad when it exhibits these same properties: sad music is normally slow, the intervals between he tones are small, the tones are not strident but hushed and soft. In short, the work of art may be said to have a specific feeling property when it has features that human beings have when they feel the same or similar emotion, mood, etc. This is the bridge between music qualities and human qualities, which explains how music can possess properties that are literally possessed only by sentient beings.”

    Now I will admit that associative meaning often overpowers bioacoustical meaning. But the morality of music must be determined first based on its bioacoustical meaning. Then within the realm of what is morally good I will admit that a particular song/genre can then become morally negative for certain individuals, in certain cultures, etc. To deny this opens us up to relativism and subjectivity in this sensitive matter.

  11. Scott,
    You need to re-think what you said. To determine the morality of music based on its “bioacoustical meaning” is ignorant at best. Our moralistic determinations come from scripture. I fear too many people like yourself are really grasping at straws to try make your point.

  12. Scott,
    I trust you are posting on this board b/c you want to learn. While I certainly don’t intend on “teaching” you as of such, I grow weary of “crusaders of a view” rather than thoughtful conversation.
    First, I must address your stated motivation for having such a “defined” view. You stated, “to deny this opens us up to relativism and subjectivity in this sensitive matter.” Now, maybe I misinterpret the pronoun “this,” but my question is “is subjectivity a bad thing?” If you will put aside your presuppositions and let the word govern your philosophy, I think that you’ll come out with a significantly different view on how to approach these issues. The simple fact is, in any area of practical Christian living you will encounter relativity and subjectivity that must be dwelt with by full surrender to the Spirits leading. I know every fundamentalist fiber within us reacts against that, but there simply are areas where we can’t have everything figured out. Besides being literally impossible, to do so is to deny the Spirit of God working in our lives. Also, in addition to what Roger said, I don’t think we are trying to determine whether or not music is a moral issue. (Music became a moral issue when man received the knowledge of good and evil.) We are individually determining how God wants the Spirit filled believer to react to the sounds he hears. (As well as the sights he sees, the food he eats, the places he goes etc.) In so much we are assigning individual moral values to the things we must encounter on the day to day basis while not prescribing a system of morals on which every believer must build his life.

  13. Certainly I agree that “our moralistic determinations come from scripture.” From scripture I determine moralistic principles concerning communication. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,” etc.

    Music is a medium of communication. Both the textual content and the form are vehicles that express meaning. The Bible is not going to tell us how music communicates or what meaning is derived from certain forms of music any more than it will describe the harmful effects of cocaine and therefore why it is wrong to use it. It is therefore up to us to intelligently determine what music communicates and whether or not it lines up with the biblical principles.

    Trust me, I have never been satisfied with typical fundamentalist arguments for music standards. The “new song principle,” “rock music makes plants die” arguments have never impressed me. I also am a strong defender of individual soul liberty. It is every individual believer’s responsibility to determine for himself what is and is not acceptable in this area. I am not in favor of erecting artificial boundaries for others to abide by.

    What I am in favor of, however, is intelligently and honestly looking at the issues and determining what music is truly pleasing to God. So many who label honest examinations of musical meaning as “ignorant” and “grasping at straws” are unwilling themselves to develop a thorough understanding of aesthetics. Instead they ignorantly assert that musical meaning and morality is relative.

    I agree that each individual is responsible for moral decisions. But “responsible” is the key word.

  14. Curiosity:
    I’ve seen Makujina quotes here. I haven’t yet finished reading my copy of John Frame’s book. Anyone read both?

  15. I’ve read both. Frame is certainly an easier read (!), but I think Makujina answers many of Frame’s points in his book. Frame has some good points; I guess it just comes down to your definition of what worship is and what place music has in congregational worship. He thinks repetitive, more shallow songs facilitate better worship; I think more solid, doctrinally-oriented hymns facilitate better worship. We both agree that they should be God-centered and God-focused.

    The most interesting points he makes relate to the origins and history of modern praise music. For one thing, he traces its lineage back to gospel songs (something I’ve been trying to emphasize for a while). He also admits its birth with the “Jesus People” of the 1960s:

    “CWM [Contemporary Worship Music] designates a particular movement in Christian music which originated in California in the late 1960s. About that time, many young people from the sixties’ counterculture professed to believe in Jesus. Convinced of the barrenness of a lifestyle based on drugs, free sex, and radical politics, “hippies” became “Jesus people.” . . . And the newly evangelized Jesus people of the 1960s produced CWM”

  16. scott…

    in relation to what you said here:
    “I guess it just comes down to your definition of what worship is and what place music has in congregational worship. He thinks repetitive, more shallow songs facilitate better worship; I think more solid, doctrinally-oriented hymns facilitate better worship. We both agree that they should be God-centered and God-focused.”

    this is something i would both agree with as well as question. if that makes any sense. 🙂

    i actually attended a CCM concert alone recently. i was surprised to hear the first musician stand up and tell the audience (comprised mainly of university students) not to call what they were doing (singing, enjoying a praise concert) “WORSHIP.” they were quite surprised as well.

    the common worshipper’s definition of “worship” over the years has morphed a great deal, some of that morphing thanks to linguistic evolution. what i thought VERY interesting was how this CCM musician laid out the two NT greek words that our Bibles translate “worship” and pointed out that neither of them has anything inherently to do with singing nor music. and yet we in our generation have come to use the terms interchangeably. a “worship leader” is known to be a music director, and the “worship portion of our service” is jargon for the singing time.

    perhaps this comes from an unwise interchangeability between “praise” and “worship” — i don’t know. “praise” could possibly be linked to words with inherently-musical emphases.

    i believe the two key words are “prostheneo” (the idea of coming before/reverencing/prostrating oneself before) and “latreo” or “latreuo” (the idea of slavishly serving, working devoutly for). and that’s what this CCM musician stood up and told his audience — not to make the mistake of thinking their singing necessarily = worship.

    so how do we define worship? is it working/serving/reverencing as a body and individually? is not our corporate, formal WORSHIP distinguishable from the MAGNIFYING that we’re to do with everyday things like eating and drinking and so forth to the glory of God’s grace rather than to the ridicule of it? would one be reserved for more “general” revelation and one be more suitable for “special” revelation?

    just some thoughts.
    joy

    ***************************************

    book stats (if anyone was curious)

    John M. Frame
    Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense
    Publisher: P & R Press; (September 1997)
    ISBN: 0875522122

    John Makujina
    Measuring Music: Another Look at the Contemporary Christian Music Debate
    (out of print)
    Publisher: Schmul Pub. Co.; (2000)
    ASIN: 0880194030

  17. isn’t it funny how difficult it can be to express oneself on this topic without using words like “suitable” and “appropriate” and “acceptable vehicle” and so on to describe our contrivances for glorifying GOD.

    as though losing it emotionally and expressing our love in spite of a loss for words in a way that causes awkward moments and discomfort on the part of observers is any less suitable a tribute to Him who would eat with publicans and whores. as though any two mites we bring isn’t going to be a disgrace to the temple offering lest Jesus CHOOSES to accept it because we have done what we CAN.

    mushy? repetitive? milk, as opposed to meat? perhaps, some songs are so. some psalms are so, as well. (1) what the music/lyrics combination says about Christ, and (2) what the genuine heart motivation, and (3) whether it’s done in a good conscience with faith toward God and love toward the Body — these, to me, seem to be the three things that always TRUMP conventional opinion when it comes to whether or not Christ approves.

    it’s hard to describe thoughts in this area without using loaded words like “appropriate” and “suitable,” which lend themselves so easily to man-centeredness and propagate a misunderstanding of redemptive grace. as much as i love the English language, it’s so limited. i long for the perfect words and perfect wisdom from above.

  18. This issue of defining worship is one that has interested me over the past year, because I agree, no one really defines it well (or at all) in these kinds of discussions. I’ll summarize the conclusions to which I’ve come and how I’ve gotten there.

    When we consider the topic of worship, it is only natural to first examine Old Testament worship. Full of its forms and rituals, worship in the OT is picturesque.

    The word most commonly used for worship in the OT by far is shachah. The lexicons define this word, “to bow down, prostrate oneself.” I did an extensive survey of the occurrence of this word, and found that in every instance there is some kind of presentation of truth followed by a physic response to an understanding of that truth.

    In the Septuagint, shachah is translated with the word, proskuneo which means virtually the same thing as its Hebraic counterpart. This word is common in the Gospels (26 times) and in Revelation (21 times). Again it is always a physical prostration resulting from truth about God (usually a physical manifestation of Christ in these cases).

    Something interesting, however, occurs with the use of worship terminology in Acts and the Epistles. The word proskuneo, which emphasizes the outward manifestations of worship, virtually disappears! It never occurs in connection with Christian worship. Why would God virtually delete this common Old Testament concept of worship from the language of the New Testament church?

    I think the key to answering this question is found in John 4.20-24. Christ tells the woman that the essence of worship is a spiritual response to truth. So the essence of what worship is hasn’t changed from the OT to the NT, but the localization of worship has been removed. That is why the rest of the NT uses latreuo to define worship; worship is not limited to certain places or times. Worship is all of life. Paul uses this word (latreuo) in passages such as Romans 1.9, 12.1, and Philippians 3.3 to describe all of life.

    From this study, I came to the following definition of the essence of worship: Worship is a biblical response to God resulting from an understanding of biblical truth about God. In its very essence, worship is an inward, spiritual response to truth about God. This can take of form of action or affection.

    With that said, I do think there is warrant to say that something more specific and special happens when the church gathers together for worship. Congregational worship was exemplified in the early church (Ac 2.42-47, 13.1-3). Plus, the NT uses OT worship terminology to describe the church:

    1 Co 3.9 “You (plural pronoun, “you all” as a local church) are God’s field, God’s building (oikos, “dwelling”).

    1 Co 3.16-17 “Don’t you know that you yourselves (plural pronoun) are God’s temple (naos, same word used for the Holy Place in the Temple) and that God’s Spirit lives in you (plural)? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him, for God’s temple is sacred, and you (plural) are that temple.”

    Eph 2.19-22 “”Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple (naos) in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

    1 Pe 2.5 “”You (plural pronoun) also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house (oikos, “dwelling”) to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

    Something more narrowed and special occurs when believers join to worship together. Spurgeon said, “Personal praise is sweet unto God, but congregational praise has a multiplicity of sweetness it it.”

    To summarize, worship is responding to truth about God. This is all of life (1 Cor 10.31), but it is also true for congregational worship. I view the whole service as worship, not just the music. The whole service is comprised of presentations of truth and responses to that truth. So worship can take place with music, preaching, Scripture reading, etc.

  19. Thanks for the read folks. It must take quite a bit of time to correspond like that. Grace to you.

    Ben Eckman

  20. Wow – I’m guessing by now this is an archived post no-one will ever read again, but Joy referred me to this blog, since I had written a similar one a few days ago. After reading all the posts, I’m just so thankful to know where I stand on this issue! It’s really just an issue of preference. Granted – growing up as an Independent, Bible-believing, Fundamentalist and whatever other adjectives you want to put in that title – I’m not comfortable raising my hands in worship and various other things some people do, I like some songs more than others, etc. But you know what? God made us all unique, with our own personalities, like & dislikes. We don’t have to worship as the Catholics do at Mass! But hey – if that’s what you’re more comfortable with, if that’s what draws you closer to God, then that’s the way He made you! To me, it’s no longer an issue – it’s simply a preference. How sad it is that we’ve become so divided on something that God doesn’t hardly even spend anytime on (if any – and that’s another topic!). Worship God in freedom and in truth – however you feel He is leading you to do.

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