Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Our Swiftly-Shifting Views of Worship:

I’m never more acutely reminded of the changing mindset of the Church than when I listen to hymns. It saddens me indescribably to see them being sung less and less often, and replaced by modern pseudo-worship music. Now, although I do personally prefer the sound of older hymns to modern worship, the musical style isn’t solely what I’m looking at when I make this critique. The negative impact this switch in music is having on the church is a message (both lyrical and subliminal) that seems to have been lost when we made the transition.

In the third verse of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”, the last two lines read,

“We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.”

This line specifically lists doctrine as an element that binds Christians together. We are “One” in doctrine. But . . . are we? I cannot look at the church in America today and honestly say that we, as a body of believers, value the conservation of doctrinal purity. We’re grasping hungrily at whatever sounds right to us, instead of being so intimately familiar with the Word of God that, at the faintest hint of false doctrine, we immediately recognize it as such and reject it. Let us not be so eager to call everyone who claims “Jesus is my Homeboy” a Christian! By doing this, we are not being “seeker-friendly” by making the way to the Kingdom look more attractive, but instead making it much more difficult for anyone to see the true path. Does our worship music reflect our firm stance on pure doctrine, or does it skirt the details? Does it talk about nothing else but the fact that “God is love”, so as to avoid boring people, or turning them off?
When we read the lyrics of this specific hymn, it’s obvious (to anyone with an IQ that doesn’t make Forrest Gump’s look high) that it describes the leading of a Christian life as a battle, and the Earth as a war-zone. We’re “soldiers”, as the title tells us. I charge you to find one popular modern worship song that sings of the battle that is our faith . . . and sings about it with joy and thankfulness! For that matter, find one that sings of the importance of sound doctrine. Not only the importance of it, but the unity it offers! “One in hope and doctrine…” Doesn’t culturally-popular Christianity like to tell us that the way to create unity among believers is to not discuss controversial topics? Not disagree with others over “little details”? I love how John McArthur put it when he said this:

“Hymnology is tied to theology and where you have depth you have height. Where you have a shallow theology you have a shallow hymn knowledge. Where you have a superficial understanding of divine truth, you have superficial expression of it. But where you have a people who have come to grips of divine truth and who have grandiose and glorious thoughts about God produced by an understanding of the profound realities of divine truth, they're not content with a shallow expression. We love the old hymns because they are profound. They have a certain poetic genius that reaches into the depths of our theology and gives it expression. We don't need to be seduced by a sort of a saloon melody. It's enough for us to sing great words; we don't need a mantra to induce an emotion. Our thoughts of truth and our thoughts of God catapult us into lofty hymns.”

In all honesty, trashing modern worship music is not a personal vendetta of mine. I truly wish to see God’s Truth relayed in the music that we raise up as humble offerings to Him. Of course there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the word “modern”. After all, every style of music was “modern” at some point, right? Here’s the thing; the vast majority of modern worship music is set to, as McArthur put it, a “saloon melody”. The vast majority are so scant of verses and substance that they end up resembling chants rather than songs of praise. For instance, we sang a song in church last Sunday entitled “His Grace Covers Me”, and it went like this . . .

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
Amazing love, Now flowing down
From hands and feet That were nailed to the tree
As grace flows down and covers me


It covers me
It covers me
It covers me


And covers me
And covers me
And covers me
His grace flows down and covers me

Combine these virtually substance-less lyrics with dipping, swelling, reverberating music, and you have a recipe for an utterly self-focused “worship” session.
To help put things in perspective, let’s use the general outline for a song of adoration about someone else. Say . . . any old generic love song. Even many of these dime-a-dozen floozy-tunes have the right idea, to a certain extent. The lyrics of said songs do not repeat lines about a lover’s forgiveness/ kindness over . . . and over . . . and over. They do not, in general, speak solely of how very much the subject of the song loves the singer, but rather how much the singer loves the subject of the song. These love songs are completely focused on the person that the song was written about; how beautiful her smile is, how gently he speaks, or (…ehem…) how big her booty is. Yes, they aren’t the best that a song can be (by a long shot), but at least their content is focused on the person being worshipped, and not the person doing the worshipping.
Have we forgotten that worshipping the Lord isn’t for our benefit? Although it ultimately is beneficial to us, when this becomes our primary focus we miss the point entirely. No matter what postmodernists try to tell us, worship is not about us “experiencing God”. We worship to glorify the Lord . . . to speak words of adoration about our Savior. He deserves no less; indeed, He deserves infinitely more! Why is it, then, that we don’t see a worship session as successful unless it evokes the correct emotional response from the worshippers? Incredibly dramatic musical arrangements, created to evoke said deeply-felt emotional responses, are (at best) unnecessary and (at worst) a egotism-inducing. When we’re caught up in emotions and feelings, our mindset tends to automatically become more self-focused. Saint Augustine seems to hold this view himself, as evidenced in book X of The Confessions, when he writes,

"At times it seems to me that I am paying {the songs of worship} more honor than is their due, because I am aware that our minds are more deeply moved to devotion by those holy words when they are sung, and more ardently inflamed to piety, than would be the case without singing. I realize that all the varied emotions of the human spirit respond in ways proper to themselves to a singing voice and a song, which arouse them by appealing to some secret affinity. Yet sensuous gratification, to which I must not yield my mind, for fear it grow languid, often deceives me: not content to follow meekly in the wake of reason, in whose company it has gained entrance, sensuous enjoyment often essays to run ahead and take the lead. And so in this respect I sin, and only realize it later." (In this passage, Augustine was writing about his thoughts/opnions on music as a means of worship)

None of this is to say that having an emotional response to worship music is a negative thing—far from it, in fact. The negative aspect comes from misaligned priorities of the worshipper. When our main goal is to use our voices to show adoration for our Savior, whether or not we feel particularly adoring and euphoric at the moment, then we will truly be worshipping. We will realize that this is how God intended our songs of praise to be sung . . . because our hearts are most joyful in the midst of glorious humility.

I Chronicles 16:8-9~
Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of his wondrous works.

1 Chronicles 16:23-25~
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation. Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvelous works among all nations. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he also is to be feared above all gods.

Psalm 66:1-2~
Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honor of his name: make his praise glorious.

I Corinthians 14:14-15~
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sufficient for the Day

Matthew 6:34~ “"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Up until this Christmas, I had never heard this verse in either the ESV or the KJV, which both use the word “sufficient”. Hearing this version of the verse gives it quite an amplified meaning from the NIV, which simply says, “each day has enough troubles of its own.”
First, let’s look at the word “sufficient”. The dictionary defines it as, “enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end”. In other words, no more is required. So, instead of this verse simply telling us to not “overload” on worry and anxiety, it’s actually telling us that God, in His infinite knowledge, has carefully measured out the amount of tribulations each of our days have, and, therefore, the amount of dwelling we should be doing on worrisome situations.
This, then, has rather far-reaching implications for worrying about the future. It would seem that, if this interpretation of the verse is correct, that when we worry about the future, we are throwing off the balance of trials that God has planned.
If the economic recession hasn’t yet hurt you financially, why are you dwelling on it right now? If you still have 3 more years of college left, why are you worrying about whether or not you’ll be able to find a job in your field after you graduate? If your test results haven’t come back yet, why are you fighting anxiety as you consider chemotherapy?
Certainly there will come a time when you are low on funds, out of work, or ill. But perhaps the time to think on these things is while they’re actually happening, and not a moment before. Perhaps anxiety in someone’s heart not only “weighs him down” (Proverbs 12:25), but, even worse, hinders the effectiveness of his handling of problems that need dealt with now.