In Defense of Worship:
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:18-20 (NAB)
16 Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. 17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:16-17 (TEV)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
Recently, there has been an attack on worship, articles that have challenged it having a prominent role. Some have demeaned it, and denigrated the role of those entrusted to lead and facilitate our praise of God.
Some of the criticisms need to be heard, there are times worship leaders of all styles act like entertainers, deserving to be heard. But I believe most of the criticisms are based in a irrational fear of the emotions we have, which need to be admitted before God. More on that after some basic thoughts
There is a real need for worship, an the role of a worship leader/cantor/praise team/choir and the church (while worshipping and praising God) is at its very core, as much of a means of grace and as sacramental as a sermon, as the readings. Here is why I say that;
There are two “kinds” of lyrics, though in some songs you might have both.
1. Horizontal Lyrics teach
Here the role of the music is to teach, encourage, catechize and reveal the glory and grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The very same goal as a sermon, as the people hearing and singing the words realize their absolute need for Jesus Christ, and they share with each other their sorrows, and their joy when Christ is revealed to them.
This is the word of God, being proclaimed in words accompanied by music, but it is the word of God. Look at how it fits into the passage in Colossians, it is part of the teaching and instruction, the mutual building up of the people of God. Melancthon does exclude worship in his words in the Augsburg Confession – the role of the worship service is to gie to people, to teach them, what they know of Christ.
2. Vertical Lyrics Pray…
Worship that is vertical, that is directed to God is either prayer or praise, “Lord, come do what you promised”, “Lord you have rescued me!”, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”. This is second commandment work, the proper use of the Name of God, which He has given to us to talk to Him, to sing to Him. Again, the Lutheran Confession talk of such prayer as a sacrament, as being sacramental, even if only because of that we pray more! We need to seek God more, we need to be found like Isaiah, and the 70 elders, we desperately need to experience the fact that we live in the presence of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is a scary thought, for to be in the presence of God means that all of our fears, all of our anxieties, all of our emotions, are laid bare. They are known. We can’t hide our hearts or our souls from God. We can’t hide our jealousies, our lusts, our anger, our desire to be in control. Music, singing these biblical lyrics, have a way of doing that, of sneaking in through our (arts/emotion) right brain, while distracting us by occupying our left brain (knowledge, logic) and ministering to our complete brokenness.
We don’t like that, it scares us. And any kind of worship can do this, from 4 or 5 guys singing the doxology on a retreat, to a choir putting voice to O Sacred Head, or A Mighty Fortress, to a praise team simply singing Amazing Grace- My Chains are Gone, or a classical guitarist plucking out the Lord’s Prayer. The music opens our souls, letting out that which poisons them, as the Love of God inherent in the words of scripture rush in and cleanse us.
The music moves us…. and sometimes that is scary, but it is a incredible blessing as well.
This is why as we prepare for worship, it needs to be done in prayer, meditating on the word. This is why the instrumentalists and singers need to practice so well, that they can lose themselves in the worship, even as they lead others in it. Any style can be done poorly, to loud, to erratic, to performance driven. When leading the prayers and praises of God’s people is done poorly, it robs them of their voice, it robs them as well of that which can facilitate their prayers, focus their praises, distract them from being in the presence of God…..
But worship leading, done right? It is as beneficial as a well crafted and delivered sermon. For it is the gospel proclaimed, and because it is prayer, it is sacramental.
And to quote our confessions, if we realize it is such, maybe we will engage in it all the more!
(And remember to pray for those who serve you, the people of God, in this ministry, just as you pray for your pastors)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy!)
Alleluia (Praise God!)
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AC XXIV
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. AAC XIII
God’s Commands, or God’s Commission?
Devotional Thought of the Day.
It’s amazing the difference a word makes, or just a few letters ending words starting with “comm”. TO be precise “and” versus “ission”.
As I prepared my studies for this weeks sermon, the difference glares out to me. The word in Greek has, very definitely, the nature of commission. Yet over and over we translate it command. With that translation, we create a load of issues that are not really there.
If you commission something, a piece of art, a building, a musical piece ( I think of Mozart’s Requiem) any project, you give the scope of the work, what your expectations are when it is completed. It draws the boundaries of the work and brings definition to it. It is a project something that takes on beauty over time. And if the work is fulfilled, the one who commissioned it has caused a masterpiece to be created. It is about the end product, and the formation of it – a masterpiece.
A command is something with even harder definitions – I always think of an execute order in computer program. Print X, the sum of 3+4. Or the directive that is specific and immediate. Don’t do this, do that, go here, and that which is commanded must do what is to be done. The command executed, the project finished, then what?
When it comes to God, and what He would have us do, He is commissioning something, He is describing the parameters and vision for a project that is underdevelopment all our lives. His goal is a masterpiece, without flaw, something that will endure, and br praiseworthy and glorious. It’s far more than a moment by moment execution in blind obedience, its being formed and shaped and there is a goal. The goal is simply defined by one word – a relationship. The relationship we recognize when we see that He is our God, and when we also recognize that by His work, we are His people.
Indeed a masterpiece!
Yet how many times would we get in the way of that – would we decide to ignore that which He commissioned – to draw outside the lines, the parameters that a common to the commissioning. (SOme refer to this as disobedience – but its more – the is is that it is an attempt to destroy the masterpiece God commissioned – to ignore or mar His plan with what we want. It is like spraying grafitti over the artwork in the St Peter’s Basilica, it is like having someone “sit in” and overdub “Dust in the Wind” with a Kazoo.
Using commission brings a whole different understanding to why God draws the parameters for our lives the way He does. It reflects on that great verse of Paul in Eph 2:10. “2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
So to does commission create a more vivid picture of sin, as we destroy a masterpiece in the making, as we ignore the beauty that God would see in us…so that we create the havoc we think is …
Luckily we aren’t the one who holds the commission – that responsibility is belong’s to the Artist – to the One Isaiah calls the Potter, the One in Whom we are created. And in Christ, somehow, miraculously, that artwork we once thought was destroyed, is restored, brought back to life and beauty, healed and made whole. That was His commission – and the giftedness it took, literally was an investment of His life.
Thank God for that mercy, shown to us.
His people, His work.
May as we cry out Lord have mercy, respond with our lives, lived within that which He has commissioned.