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
A New (Church) Year’s Challenge to Pastors, Priests, Liturgists, and Worship Leaders….
Devotional/Pragmatic THeological Thoguht of the Day:
18 “But can you, O God, really live on earth among men and women? Not even all of heaven is large enough to hold you, so how can this Temple that I have built be large enough? 19 LORD my God, I am your servant. Listen to my prayer and grant the requests I make to you. 20 Watch over this Temple day and night. You have promised that this is where you will be worshiped, so hear me when I face this Temple and pray. 21 Hear my prayers and the prayers of your people Israel when they face this place and pray. In your home in heaven hear us and forgive us. 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (TEV)
32 “When foreigners who live in a distant land hear how great and powerful you are and how you are always ready to act, and then they come to pray at this Temple, 33 listen to their prayers. In heaven, where you live, hear them and do what they ask you to do, so that all the peoples of the world may know you and obey you, as your people Israel do. Then they will know that this Temple I have built is where you are to be worshiped. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (TEV)
658 We should make no mistake… God is no shadowy or distant being who created us then abandoned us; nor is he a master who goes away and does not return. Though we do not perceive him with our senses, his existence is far more true than any of the realities which we touch and see. God is here with us, really present, living. He sees and hears us, He guides us, and knows our smallest deeds, our most hidden intentions. We believe this—but we live as if God did not exist. For we do not have a thought or a word for him; for we do not obey him, nor try to control our passions; for we do not show that we love him, and we do not atone… Are we going to continue living with a dead faith”? (1)
“After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.” (2)
Tomorrow we start a new year in the church. I would ask that for a moment, like “secular” new years, we think about our lives as those who facilitate the worship of the people of God. (Both those who know they are, and those who will come to know they are in this year)
Tomorrow is also the first Sunday of Advent or the Parousia, that season we spend trying to understand the desire of the peope of God for the Messiah to come, for the promises to be fulfilled, for God to dwell among us. We do this, so that we too can desire God’s presence and His return. That is why the ancient church cried out “Maranatha!” the cry of Come Lord Jesus!
There are days, especially in this last year, where I admit I was crying this out for the wrong reason, And perhaps, leading my people to cry this out for the wrong reason as well.
You see, I cried it out because things were rough, because I was in mourning, or in despair. Where I wanted the suffering of people around me to end, Not that we would die, but that we would be rescued from this place, and brought into the presence of God in Heaven, where there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more cancer, no more death. I wanted us all to be rescued from this life, and brought into the joy, the glory, the peace of God that we shall know for eternity. We have endured a lot these last few years…have had to minister to each other, with seemingly no break. We need rest and healing and a time to breath in deeply, and know the message of Christmas, that God is with us.
Something we already know… sort of.
And that is where the challenge for this New Church Year is going to be found.
Making the experience people have when they come to our churches have be one where they are sure Christ is with them.
Where it’s not about us, where we don’t go through the motions, where we don’t block people’s reception of God’s presence because of our poor-formance (misspelling intentional)
Look at the readings from the Dedication of Solomon’s temple above, there is an assurance in Solomon’s words that they are in the very presence of God. All of Israel, gathered there, assured of His love and that nothing can spearate them from His love. That strangers, people who don’t even know who God is except for his title, would be able to come and know that this place, this altar, where we stand, is where God has gathered them as well.
For the sake of our people – this article isn’t about worship styles, traditional Liturgy, or contemporary. It’s about us, you and I, and how we approach this blessed time we share with the people of God. The time were our voices, our body language, our intimate reverence and joy betray to our people that we KNOW we are in the presence of God the Creator, That He is here. I would desires that our readings are filled with awe, realizing that this is what God has thought through and inspired so His love is revealed to His people. That the readings are also clear, and done in a language and manner that doesn’t require a dictionary to understand. That our prayers, whether pre-written or from the heart, assist them in laying every burden down at His feet, entrusting them to Him, as He desires. That every spoken word be such that thy know this is something we do, but something that is our life. That our music and the way it is played isn’t about leaving them in awe of our talents and voices, but lead them voicing their awe at the God who loves them so much, that for the joy of revealing this to them, endured the cross and all its sufferings. The God that welcomes them and draws them to Him, broken, sinful, needy, that He might heal and comfort, cleanse and encourage.
That every person, whether life-long church goer, or first time guest of God, encounter Christ.
That’s what our ceremonies are designed to teach, whether liturgical or common, whether accompanied by majestic pipe organs, or simple strings, or even acapella.
That’s what makes the difference in our lives, in the expression of our trust in God.
KNowing He is here.
Desiring Christ’s last return, not just to escape the pains of this world.. but because we will see Him, the God who loves us, face to face. That the glory we now see hints of, as we see one baptized, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, as we see the prodigal welcomed home, and the joy of all in celebrating it, that we would see that joy, that glory in its fullness.
In His presence.
So here is the challenge, as you enter the church tomorrow. Breathe deeply, let your nerves calm down, your burdens be dropped, His joy lift you high. For we dwell, as Solomon did that day, in the very presence of God.
The God who has had mercy on us, who has come to us, and in whose presence we live.
Then, as our people see this, may they know and be assured that and rejoice they dwell in Christ as well!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2759-2766). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.(1)
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Augsburg Confession. Article XXIV (p. 56) . Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
- An Impressive Resume (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Is it insane to keep doing/teaching/preaching the same thing over and over, and expecting… (justifiedandsinner.com)
- “We’ll get together then, God. You know we’ll have a good time then! (justifiedandsinner.com)
- A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (joshuareich.org)