On being a ‘Worship Critic’…

July 27, 2007

I teach with some regularity on worship being a lifestyle (singing/celebrating with the body of Christ is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’, so to say). And though I do fully believe that, I’m also convinced that the musical aspects of ‘worship’ are a very important part of aiding the Church in loving the Lord with our minds (lyrical content) and hearts (good music strongly affects our emotions), which in response often affects our spiritual lives and actions (soul & strength, respectively).

For some, it’s easy to criticize ‘contemporary’ worship. I used to be the ‘critic’. I’ve discovered, however, that most of my issues with ‘contemporary’ worship music were just that: my issues – stemming from my past experiences – not based on actual truth. As a result I found it very easy to call anyone not using hymns ‘shallow’ and in some cases even call their faith into question.

However, one of the things I’ve been so encouraged by in the past few years has been the availability of new ‘hymns’ that, though they may sound modern in style (like the old hymns did in their day), have the lyrical depth, sound theology, and God-centeredness that has been so lacking in the recent past (80s thru early 00s). Even artists like Tim Hughes, Matt Redman – sometimes even Crowder & Tomlin – hit deep doctrinal nail on the head with some regularity, writing new songs that are not only catchy and singable (like our older hymns was were consider to be, in their time), but doctrinally solid and with serious Biblical content.

We do need to keep in mind, however, that the ‘Biblical hymnbook’, ie – the Psalms – are filled with “I” and “me”. I used to despise those terms in modern songs written for corporate worship, but the more I studied the Psalms the more I recognized that there is a place for both. In fact, corporate worship – as a body – is a very varied thing: “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph. 5:18b-19); “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16). The call of ‘worship’ (only one aspect of it, mind you) in both these passages is the same: individual (directed inward: be filled with the Holy Spirit/Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly), horizontal corporate (directed to those with which you are in fellowship: teaching and admonishing on another in all wisdom/addressing one another in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs), and vertically to God (with thankfulness in your hearts to God/singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart). What I also find interesting is that even the ‘teaching’ and ‘admonishing’ here is clearly a musical worship act – it is all in the context of corporately singing, and not only ‘hymns’ – but ‘psalms’ and ‘spiritual songs’. From what we know of the Psalms alone these would not ALL be ‘God-directed’ self-less hymnody, but a variety of songs, which enable all of the above to occur. Corporate worship, as I understand it from my studies of the Scripture, should enable all of this to take place:
1. The WORD of Christ should be present, so I can be filled with it, and as a result, filled with His Holy Spirit
2. Admonition to serve & worship Him should be present, with lyrics where I am calling not only myself but those around me to direct our attention towards Him, and challenging us to change the patterns of our lives to conform with His
3. God directed PASSION – not simple obedience without our full hearts – and all wrapped up in, yes, SINGING.

On top of that, it’s easy to hate success – it’s easy to point the finger at the churches that are big and which as a result do thing ‘big’, but before we slam spending $50,000 on lighting, which some may think rediculous and outrageous to use in the worship of God before a great number of people (I once did, for sure – and not too many years ago), remember that Mary spent a year’s wages (THAT is a LOT of money – in today’s market that would be somewhere around $60,000!) on a bottle of purfumed oil just to – very publicly – pour it all out for, and over, Jesus. I guess you can personally relate as to why the disciples were offended – was this PROPER? Wasn’t this just a public waste of money which drew attention to Mary’s gift to Jesus – couldn’t the money have been better spent? Legitimate questions, but sometimes God alone is worth doing something that seems rediculous and over-the-top for, and in those settings – properly done – there is something of the Glory of God to be found there. What I once dispised – again, much more due to my past than anything I could find in the Bible – I now not only understand: there are situations where I see that it may be beneficial to do such over-the-top things to glorify Jesus publically.

Yes, there may be false worship out there. There are also a great many churches who abhore ‘false worship’ and attempt to remove the lights, the musicians, and simplify things to just corporate singing and see even instrumentation as a sin. And even there, false worship can, and does occur – that is the nature of our sinful hearts: to think that somehow what we’re giving to God is better. I don’t know if it’s possible to worship God with our lives when we sit in judgement over others whos hearts & motives are pure, who know & love the Scriptures, and are doing their very best to live lives of worship that glorify Him according to what He has required of us in His word, and the temptation to do that is present in any worship setting.

The sin runs deep in us.

Let us be very careful who we criticize, especially when it comes to worship.


One Response to “On being a ‘Worship Critic’…”

  1. […] I wrote a blog some time back on another aspect entirely of being a ‘worship critic’, but while thinking on this one I remembered one situation in particular that still stands out to me though it happened over 10 years ago.  At the time I was attending a fairly conservative reformed church, and our corporate worship consisted of hymns played on piano, and singing – any song less that 150 years old there would be considered ‘that new one’ (and I only partially jest).  I remember one occasion when a Pentecostal friend of mine visited on Sunday, and by the end of the service he was in tears.  He said, “I’d never  felt such a deep sense of the Spirit during worship before!”  We sand songs like ‘And can it be’, ‘On Christ the Solid Rock’, ‘Be Thou my Vision’ (and those were the ‘rockers’!), off pitch and accompanied by a tiny upright – and there weren’t more than 100 of us in the room, and the Holy Spirit ruined that man in our midst. […]

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