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The people of God
sing. After escaping from the Egyptians and crossing the Red Sea, the people of
Music and song continue to play a vital role in the life of God s people today. Contemporary culture and modern technology bring new possibilities and new challenges to the music ministry of the church. People’s lives are surrounded with music—television and radio, the background music of video games, the muzak of shopping malls, CDs, and synthesizers. Yet much of the time music functions as “background” rather than as an opportunity for serious listening, much less participation. Outside the church there are few occasions or opportunities in North American culture for people to sing together. Much of the popular music (including popular Christian music) composed today is for performance rather than for participation.
The church also has greater access and has shown greater openness to a greater variety of music—from classical hymnody to Christian rock, from European cantatas to South African choruses. Such diversity is to be welcomed and celebrated; it reflects the diversity and richness of God s creation. But greater variety and options in music call for greater discernment and care in planning and implementing the music ministry of the church. The people of God sing; what they sing and how they sing are important issues.
In order to further the dialogue in the RCA about music and worship, and to encourage healthy and vibrant congregational singing as a vital part of ministry, this paper offers some reflections on the theology and place of music in Christian worship. The paper closes with some suggested guidelines for evaluating and selecting music for the congregation’s worship.
1. Music is a gift of God and part of the created order. From its inception, “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), to its consummation, when “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” will sing to the Lamb on the throne (Rev. 5:13), creation is musical. “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.”1 Human music-making participates in the music of creation and reflects the order, beauty, and diversity of God s creation.
2. Of all the musical instruments that may be employed in the praise of God, the human voice has priority. Other instruments are to be used primarily in the service of the singing of God’s people. Reformed theologian Karl Barth points out that singing is not an option for the people of God; it is one of the essential ministries of the church:
The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression....What we can and must say quite confidently is that the church which does not sing is not the church. And where...it does not really sing but sighs and mumbles spasmodically, shamefacedly and with an ill grace, it can be at best only a troubled community which is not sure of its cause and of whose ministry and witness there can be no great expectation....The praise of God which finds its concrete culmination in the singing of the community is one of the indispensable forms of the ministry of the church.2
3. Singing is a ministry that belongs to all the people of God. The congregation is always the primary choir. The role of professional or volunteer choirs and musicians is to aid the whole people of God in their worship. While anthems or vocal and instrumental solos may be offered, they do not have to be. Congregational singing, however, is essential. While it is possible to be actively engaged in worship and in prayer while listening to an anthem or solo, a diet of worship which does not regularly include ample opportunity for all the members of the congregation to join in song will be impoverished worship, and the life of the church and the faith of its people will suffer.
4. Of all the art forms that may be employed in worship, singing is especially corporate. Indeed, it is the art form most suited to expressing the church’s unity in the body of Christ.3 Different voices, different instruments, different parts are blended to offer a single, living, and unified work of beauty. John Calvin recognized the power of congregational singing and unison prayer in helping the church express and experience the unity of the body of Christ. Asserting that the human tongue was especially created to proclaim the praise of God, both through singing and speaking, he noted that “the chief use of the tongue is in public prayers, which are offered in the assembly of the believers, by which it comes about that with one common voice, and as it were, with the same mouth, we all glorify God together, worshiping him with one spirit and the same faith.”4
5. The church’s ministry of song is for the glory of God. The principal direction of congregational singing is to the Lord (Ps. 96:1). Music is made first of all to the Lord and only secondarily to each other. Music should communicate and express a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of God; it should lead our thoughts toward God rather than toward ourselves.
God can be glorified by beautiful sounds and spirits may be uplifted by a pleasing melody, but it is primarily the joining of the tune to a text that gives meaning to Christians’ songs. Not only should both text and tune glorify God and be consistent with each other, but the tune must serve the text. Music is always the servant of the Word.5 Calvin cautioned that “we should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words....[S]uch songs as have been composed only for the sweetness and delight of the ear are unbecoming to the majesty of the church and cannot but displease God in the highest degree.”6
6. The church’s ministry of song is for the edification of God’s people. Through congregational singing Christian faith is not only expressed; to a very real degree it is formed. Since people tend to remember the theology they sing more than the theology that is preached, a congregation’s repertoire of hymnody is often of critical importance in shaping the faith of its people. Here again, it is the meaning of the text that is of primary importance. It is through the sense of the words that God s people learn of the nature and character of God and of the Christian life. Noting that if one prays in a tongue, the “spirit prays,” but the “mind is unfruitful,” the Apostle Paul vows, “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:14-15, RSV).
Christian hymnody contains some of the most tightly packed, concise doctrinal and devotional thought of the church.7 Through congregationl song God’s people learn their language about God; God’s people learn how to speak with God. Songs of worship shape faith. It is, therefore, very important that a congregation have a rich “vocabulary of praise.” Simple, repetitive music such as praise choruses and Taize chants are very appropriate in worship and can be very effective in moving individuals to prayer and to praise. But it is also important for the congregation to know some of the great hymns of faith in order to have a sense that the Christian faith is both relevant and enduring, and to be enriched by the faith of the “great cloud of witnesses.” Hymns, both ancient and modern, which stretch minds, increase vocabulary, rehearse the biblical story, and teach of the nature and the mighty acts of God are essential for the congregation s growth in faith.
7. The emotional
power of music, rightly employed, is a vital and moving aid to worship.
Music, quite apart from an associated text, is capable of evoking powerful
emotions. Hearts are stirred and feet set to tapping by a rousing Sousa march,
while another melody may move people to tears. Calvin recognized the emotional
power of music and for that reason included the singing (rather than the
saying) of Psalms in the church in
Evaluating and choosing music for Christian worship should be a careful process, guided primarily by theological considerations. Pastors, consistories, musicians, choir directors, and worship committees may be aided in this process by being attentive to the following suggested guidelines. The commission also invites responses to these guidelines, especially from those congregations that can suggest additional or alternative criteria for selecting hymns or a hymnal.
1. What theology
is expressed in our congregational singing? Is it biblical? Is it
consistent with theology of the church? Is the range of what we sing
representative of the “whole counsel of God?” What do our songs and hymns say
or imply about the sovereignty and grace of God? About the life, death,
resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ? About the work of the Holy Spirit,
the nature and mission of the church, the sacraments, and the Christian life?
The Book of Church Order specifies that “The hymns used in public worship shall
be in harmony with the Standards of the Reformed Church in
2. Is there sufficient pastoral breadth in our music ministry? Do we sing songs that are appropriate to the many and variable life situations in which believers find themselves? Does our congregational singng include the many moods and types of prayer, including praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, intercession, and dedication? A congregation which sings only “upbeat” praise choruses and hymns, for example, will have a diminished and restricted understanding of prayer.
3. Is there sufficient liturgical breadth? Does our congregational singing include songs and hymns appropriate to each of the seasons of the church year? For the celebration of the sacraments? For the various opportunities for congregational responses in the order of worship? Is the congregation provided with the opportunity to sing those parts of the service that are better sung than spoken?
4. Is there sufficient historical, cultural, and generational breadth? Does our congregational singing express belief in the communion of saints? Are all the saints present encouraged to join in singing, and do our songs also express our belief that we sing with saints throughout the ages and around the world? Do the hymns and songs include contributions from other cultures, languages, and eras? Are songs included which allow for the full participation of children? For those beginning the journey of faith as well as for more mature Christians?
5. Is the language of our hymns inclusive? Do our hymns make use of the full range of biblical imagery for God? Can all believers, male and female, young and old, feel included by the language of our congregational songs?
6. Are we providing our congregation with a sufficient vocabulary of praise? Marva Dawn suggests that a hymn text “is great in proportion to what we can learn from it.”11 What do we learn about God and the Christian faith from what we sing? Can the text stand on its own?
7. Does the music serve the text? “A hymn tune is excellent only as it is subservient to the words, undergirds the thought, and captures the dominant mood.”12 Does the tune help us to recall the words by bringing forward appropriate features of the text, or does the tune call attention to itself and contradict or stand in the way of the words?
8. Does our music encourage corporate worship? Does the music encourage congregational singing or is it designed for the solo artist or does it come across as entertainment? Are soloists and choir effectively leading and supporting the congregation in its worship or are they merely displaying their virtuosity? Do the hymns and choruses we sing express the faith of the gathered community or do they tend toward individual and private expressions of faith?
9. Is the music appropriate to the ability of the congregation? Do our musical selections respect the past practice of congregation? Do we include enough familiar hymns?
10. Do the hymns and choruses we sing assume and encourage growth in discipleship? Is continuing congregational education in music and worship a part of our ministry? Do we take the time and effort to learn new hymns and challenging hymns? Worship is a “living sacrifice,” and therefore our gifts to God should represent some cost to us. Learning more difficult music and coming to understand and appreciate richer theology may be difficult work, but it can also be a source of spiritual renewal and growth.
1. Maltbie D. Babcock, “This is My Father s World,” 1901.
2. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, part 3, chapter 16, par. 72, #4.
3. With apologies to the Apostle Paul, a paraphrase of 1 Corinithians 12, substituting music imagery for body imagery, illustrates the point: There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of notes, but the same song; and there are varieties of voices, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good....For just as the song is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the song, though many, are one song, so it is with Christ....Indeed the song does not consist of one part, but of many. If the tenors should say, we are not sopranos so we do not belong to the song, that would not make them any less a part of the song. And if the altos should say, because we do not sing bass, we have nothing to contribute to the song, that would not make them any less a part of the song. If the whole congregation were sopranos, where would the tenors be?....But as it is, God has arranged the parts of the song, each one of them as he chose. If all sang the same part, where would the harmony be? As it is there are many parts, many voices, yet one song. Now you are the song of Christ, and individually members of it.
4. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III. 20, #31.
5. Howard Hageman, “Can Music Be Reformed?” Reformed Review, 1960.
6. Calvin, Institutes, III. 20, #32. In his list of practical rules for congregational singing, John Wesley offered similar instructions: “Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when He cometh in the clouds of heaven.” Cited by Austin Lovelace and William C. Rice, Music and Worship in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976), p. 157.
7. Harold M. Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 1993), p. 200.
8. Calvin, Institutes, III. 20, #32.
9. William Hammond, “Come, We that Love the Lord,” 1745.
10. Although music evokes deep and powerful emotions, even more important then the emotion of the moment is the way worship shapes our affections, values, perceptions, and beliefs over time. Don E. Saliers notes, for example, that to speak of how worship shapes “deep emotions such as thankfulness and trust in God does not mean simply ‘feeling thankful’ from time to time. Vital liturgy certainly may produce feeling states, but that is not the criterion for praise and thanksgiving to God....Christian gratitude is not so much ‘felt’ or ‘produced’ as it is elicited in season and out of season.” Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), p.37. John Campbell Shairp’s hymn, “From Noon of Joy to Night of Doubt” (1871) also speaks of the need to base our faith on something more permanent than fleeting human emotion.
From noon of joy to night of doubt our feelings come and go;
our best estate is toss’d about in ceaseless ebb and flow;
no mood of feeling, form of thought, is constant for a day,
but thou, O Lord, thou changest not; the same thou art alway.
I grasp thy strength, make it my own, my heart with peace is bless’d;
I lose my hold, and then comes down darkness and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw from my frail grasp of thee:
in this alone rejoice with awe, thy mighty grasp of me.
Thy purpose of eternal good let me but surely know;
on this I’ll lean, let changing mood and feeling come and go;
glad when thy sunshine fills my soul, not sad when clouds o’ercast,
since thou within thy sure control of love dost hold me fast.
11. Marva Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 201.
12. Austin Lovelace and William C. Rice, Music and Worship in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976), p.20.
Surveying the literature on worship currently being published, and listening to the conversations currently taking place among the churches, one can quickly discern that worship is now one of the most controversial issues in the local congregation. As a matter of fact, many current book titles in the evangelical world suggest that what the church faces today is “worship warfare.” The very combination of the words “worship” and “war” should lead us to very sincere and sober biblical reflection. What is worship? And what does God desire that we should do in worship?
The symptomology of the current confusion over worship is seen in the fact that now many believe some modifier or adjective must be appended to the word “worship” in order to indicate that will take place. Traditional worship, liturgical worship, contemporary worship, blended worship, seeker-sensitive worship, praise and worship! But what in the world is worship?
It is true that worship has led to some warfare. In local congregations we see not only confusion, but also fighting, controversy and splitting. And what is the meaning of all of this? Jack Hayford, one of the nation’s most eloquent proponents of “renewal worship,” suggests that nothing less than a new reformation is taking place. The reformation of the sixteenth century was a reformation of doctrine. It was a necessary reformation as biblical truth was recovered. But he says we are experiencing in this generation a reformation in worship that is just as necessary and just as historic.
My concern is that the issue of worship will define not only our church services, but also our theology and our beliefs about God. There is no more important issue for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ than that we worship as God would have us to worship Him.
Geoffrey Wainwright of
Theology is by definition not an ivory tower discipline. It is not merely a form of academic discourse. When rightly conducted, theology is the conversation of the people of God seeking to understand the Lord whom we worship and how He wills to be worshiped. So, we might ask in that light, what are the proper conditions of evangelical worship? What is the pattern for worship among those persons who claim to be established in the gospel and submitted to the Word of God?
We know the history of worship through the ages. We know what took place in the Reformation. We know what transpired in the English reforms. We know what took place as features were stripped away that were considered to be unbiblical—and yet we see these same things returning. What is the condition of evangelical worship? It is not an exaggeration to suggest words such as pandemonium, confusion, and consternation.
In the midst of the upheaval, there is a great deal of encouragement to be found from reading the late A. W. Tozer. This is what he said some decades ago: “We have the breezy, self-confident Christians with little affinity for Christ and His cross. We have the joy-bell boys that can bounce out there and look as much like a game show host as possible. Yet, they are doing it for Jesus’ sake?! The hypocrites! They’re not doing it for Jesus’ sake at all; they are doing it in their own carnal flesh and are using the church as a theater because they haven’t yet reached the place where the legitimate theater would take them.
Tozer takes his argument further: “It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend the meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”
This has influenced the whole pattern of church life and even brought into being a new type of church architecture designed to house the golden calf. So we have the strange anomaly of orthodoxy in creed and heterodoxy in practice. The striped candy technique has so fully integrated into our present religious thinking that it is simply taken for granted. Its victims never dream that it is not a part of teachings of Christ and His apostles. Any objection to the carryings-on of our present gold calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them.” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total commitment to Christ?
Of course, the answer to all of these questions is “no.” As
these words were written several decades ago, Tozer certainly saw the future.
But there are contemporary witnesses as well. Kent Hughes, who is Senior Pastor
Hughes is right. Our confused worship corrupts our theology
and our weak theology corrupts our worship. Are these voices alarmist? They do
mean to sound an alarm. But there are others who are saying, “Don’t worry—be
happy—go worship.” One recent church growth author has written, “Worship is
like a car to get us from where we are to where God wants us to be.
Transportation and communication are imperative; the mode or vehicle is not
imperative. Some worship God in cathedrals with the rich traditional organ
tomes of Bach and Faure from the classics of
But surely there is more to worship than the spectrum of taste from a Mercedes Benz to a motorcycle. There must be something weightier here. “Worship is like a car to get us from where we are to where God wants us to be.” Can that be said with a straight face as we listen to the Scripture speak of worship? We know from the onset that there are many different Christian opinions concerning worship. This does not come to us as news. But the real issue for us this morning is whether or not God Himself has an opinion on this issue. Does God care how He is worshiped? Or is He some kind of laissez-faire deity who cares not how His people worship Him, but is resting in the hopes that some people in some place will in some way worship him?
Scripture reveals that God does care. Leviticus 10:1-3 serves as a witness to this point. “Now Nadad and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying, ‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.’”
These were Aaron’s sons. But they did what God had not commanded them to do in worship. They brought strange fire to the altar and they were consumed. Clearly, God does have an opinion about worship. He is the God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ, the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. He is a jealous God—a God who loves us and is calling out a people but a God who instructs and commands His people that we should worship Him rightly.
In one sense, I think you can say looking throughout the Bible that there has been worship warfare even in the Scripture itself. As a matter of fact, I think you can look back to the very first murder and see that it had to do with worship as well. What is an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord? Cain and Abel saw this issue differently.
Well, Scripture makes clear that worship is something that we do, not just something we attend. It is not merely an issue for the pastor and other ministers. It is not just an issue for the musicians and those who will plan the service. It is an issue for the entire congregation, for worship is something we do together. It is our corporate and common responsibility to worship God as He desires.
Where shall we turn for instruction on how we ought to worship? There is only one place we can turn, and that is to the Word of God. The norm of our worship must be the Word of God—this Word that He has spoken. As we turn to this Word, we do see a pattern of worship, a pattern that is replicated throughout the fabric of Scripture from beginning to the end.
Where shall we turn for instruction on how we ought to worship? There is only one place we can turn, and that is to the Word of God. The norm of our worship must be the Word of God—this Word that He has spoken. As we turn to this Word, we do see a pattern of worship, a pattern that is replicated throughout the fabric of Scripture from beginning to the end.
Scripture is, as the Reformers confessed, norma
In this well-known “call” passage of Isaiah, the prophet experienced a theophany: a vision of the true and living God. Out of this encounter, Isaiah received his call as a prophet.
Isaiah recounts that it was in the year of King Uzziah’s death that he saw the Lord sitting on a throne lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.
What does it mean that God sat on a throne? Well, clearly it is a symbol of kingship and sovereignty. The throne indicates that the one who sits upon it is both king and judge. It represents both power and righteousness.
But there is more to this high and exalted Lord who revealed himself to Isaiah. The one whose train filled the temple with His glory is not alone. Isaiah is not alone. There are beings here with him. Verse two tells us that “seraphim stood above him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”
These seraphim (literally, “burning ones”) had six wings, and these six wings convey a great deal of symbolism. “With two he covered his face.” That must certainly indicate humility. They dared not look at the holiness of God. “And with two he covered his feet.” Surely this represents purity. “And with two he flew.” But these winged creatures are not merely flying. “And one called out to another and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory.”
We know the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy” as the “trisagion.” In the Hebrew language there is no adequate comparative or superlative form, so the pattern of repetition is used in order to make a point. We see this thrice-repeated pattern again in Revelation 4:8-11: “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
The early church saw in this pattern a Trinitarian understanding. As we look back with New Testament eyes, we can certainly see that affirmation, but the central point of this construction seems to be the same as in Genesis 14:10. There we find reference to the construction “pit, pit,” which may be translated “deep and great pit.” It is one thing to fall into a pit. It is another thing to fall into a “pit, pit.” But here we see God’s essence, identity, and being characterized by the attribute of holiness.
What does the holiness of God mean? It means certainly His separateness from his creation. He is what we are not. We are finite; He is infinite. God is transcendent. God’s separateness certainly reveals the difference, the infinite contrast between His moral nature and ours. Holiness also certainly refers to His majesty and power.
J. Alec Motyer defines holiness as “God’s total and unique moral majesty.” It is a wonderful expression—God’s total and unique moral majesty. E. J. Young suggests that holiness is the entirety of the divine perfection that separates God from His creation. That which is almost beyond our definition is what makes God, God. Holiness includes all God’s attributes. His holiness is that which defines him.
I wonder if the vision of the God held by so many who come to worship is anything like what the seraphim are telling us here. Do we worship with the understanding that God is holy and that “the whole earth is full of His glory?” I fear not. I wonder if in our worship we encounter anything like this vision of God. Do those who come to our services of worship come face to face with the reality of God? Or do they go away with a vision of some lesser God, some dehydrated deity? Worship is the people of God gathering together to confess his worthiness, his “worth-ship.” How can we do that if we do not make clear who God is? Our very pattern of worship must testify to the character of God.
There is a polarity between the objective and the subjective. There is the subjective in worship. But what Scripture makes clear is that the subjective experience of worship must be predicated on the objective truth of the true and living God, and on an experience of the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture.
Roger Scruton, a well-known British philosopher, has suggested that worship is the most important indicator of what persons or groups really believe about God. These are his words: “God is defined in the act of worship far more precisely than he is defined by any theology.” What Scruton is saying is, in essence: “If you want to know what a people really believe about God, don’t spend time reading their theologians, watch them worship. Listen to what they sing. Listen to what they say. Listen to how they pray. Then you will know what they believe about this God whom they worship.”
My haunting thought concerning much evangelical worship is that the God of the Bible would never be known by watching us worship. Instead what we see in so many churches is “McWorship” of a “McDeity.” But what kind of God is that superficial, that weightless, and that insignificant? Would an observer of our worship have any idea of the God of the Bible from our worship? I wonder at times if this is an accidental development, or if it is an intentional evasion.
George Hunter III suggests that a thriving church must practice “celebrative worship.” He offers two reasons: “1) To provide a celebration to which pre-Christians can relate and find meaning. 2) To remove the cringe factor by providing a service our people would love to invite their friends to, rather than a service they would dread inviting their friends to.” Here is a fascinating reversal. The purpose of celebrative worship, first, is to provide “a celebration to which pre-Christians can relate.” But, second, he suggests removing anything he identifies as “the cringe factor” by providing a service to which our people would love to invite their friends and not one that they would dread to invite their friends to attend. But, as we read the Scripture, it is clear that there is a great deal of the cringe factor in there. In fact, if you are going to remove the cringe factor from Scripture, then you are going to end up with a very thin book.
Hebrews 10:31 reveals, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I wonder if there is anything that could even be remotely suggested as a terrifying reality as we present the God we claim to worship in what we do and what we say. Just look at the decline in our hymnody.
Scripture tells us that we should speak “to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19). But how are our hymns to be measured? We must measure them by their content, by the God they reveal, and here we see a decline in evangelical hymnody. We see a surrender of conviction and accommodation to the culture. We see nothing less than a “dumbing down” of its contents. We have gone from “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “God the Swell Fellow.”
In her book, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn has suggested that so much of contemporary music is an evacuation of Christian conviction. It is not just a matter of taste and style, it is not just the abandonment of meter and form and hymnody and structure— it is the abandonment of content. We must avoid such an abandonment. But we must also be clear that not all that goes under the label of “praise and worship music” is an abandonment of doctrinal truth. Much of it is richly biblical. Much of it is taken directly out of the Psalter and other biblical passages. But the salient question is “By what standard are we to judge worship?” Is it simply the taste or style of the congregation’s choosing? So much of what passes for music, for praise, in our congregations comes down to endless repetition of choruses which, as one critic has suggested, comes down to this: “one word, two notes, and three hours.” We have all been there.
What is the result of this accommodated Christianity? I quote Tozer again: We have simplified until Christianity amounts to this: God is love; Jesus died for you; believe, accept, be jolly, have fun and tell others. And away we go—that is the Christianity of our day. I would not give a plug nickel for the whole business of it. Once in a while God has a poor bleeding sheep that manages to live on that kind of thing and we wonder how.
True worship begins with a vision of the God of the Bible—the true and living God.
Not only does authentic worship begin with a true vision of the living God, but second, authentic worship leads to a confession of sin, both individual and corporate. We see it directly in this passage: “And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” What did Isaiah do? He said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah was “undone,” when he had seen the true and living God, when he saw God in his holiness. He came to know the majestic, moral nature of this God, and he came to see God’s righteousness and his holiness. In reflection, Isaiah automatically saw his own utter sinfulness. He could not otherwise understand himself but as a sinner who was, by his own words here, undone, dissolved—silenced. He saw himself doomed to die.
I want to suggest that this must happen in our worship as well, “the cringe factor” aside. If we do not come face to face with our sin as individuals and as a congregation, I do not believe we have seen God, and we have not worshiped Him. How could it be otherwise than that, meeting Him in worship, we see ourselves as sinners? Isaiah spoke both individually and corporately. He said of himself, “I am a man of unclean lips.” His confession is tainted. His testimony is impure. Isaiah saw himself to the core, and understanding himself perhaps for the very first time, saw himself as God saw him. As he stands before God, he says, “I am undone.” True worship takes place among the people of God when we come face to face with our sins and confess them, knowing that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9-10).
Psalm 51:1-4 models this kind of confession: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.”
Any parent knows the difference between a genuine apology and a “get off the hook apology,” a quick “sorry, sorry,” as the child runs off down the hall. There is the contrite broken heart of one who knows he or she has done wrong, has offended a moral standard that is not arbitrary, but fixed, and insulted the one true and living God. That is what Isaiah has done. Yet I fear so much of what we think is confession is not confession at all. It is just a hasty half-apology, not the kind of brokenness we see in Psalm 51. We must be brought face to face with our sin.
Third, authentic worship will lead to a display of redemption. A display of redemption means the proclamation of the gospel. What we see in Isaiah 6:6-7 is a display of redemption: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with the tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.’”
This scene is clearly an anticipation of the work of Christ. It is a unilateral act of God. It is a unilateral propitiatory sacrifice. It is a picture of atonement. Isaiah brought absolutely nothing. Isaiah had been brought face to face with his sin and now realizes redemption is all of grace, and that it is costly. The coal, after all, came from the altar, not from a campfire.
Reflecting on this two-stage movement, Martin Luther said that Isaiah saw himself first as he truly is—a sinner who was undone, and next as one who experienced this redemption. Luther states, “But it turned out for the salvation of the prophet that he was thus thrust down to hell, so that he might be led away and lead others away from that uncleanness of the Law to the purity of Christ, so that he alone might reign. Here now a resurrection from the dead takes place.” That must happen in our worship as well. True worship requires seeing the true and living God and then seeing ourselves as we actually are in our sinfulness. Turning to God through confession, we experience the display and declaration of redemption.
True worship always proclaims the gospel, the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. It proclaims the work of Christ and it centers in the cross. With the apostle Paul we say, “In the cross of Christ we glory.” We proclaim liberty to the captive, grace and pardon to all who believe in His name. If sinners come to Him, He will by no means cast them out.
Fourth, given what God has done, authentic worship requires a response. Isaiah recounts, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (v. 8) We see in this passage a sending out similar to Matthew 28:18-20, when the Lord commanded his disciples, “All authority is given to me under heaven and earth; therefore, go.” He makes very clear in the Great Commission that those disciples were to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them.
Worship calls for an ongoing response seen in the proclamation of the gospel, in evangelism, and in missions. If our worship is weakened, our missionary witness will be weakened as well. We will forget the God who has sent us. We will neglect the content of the message of redemption with which he has sent us.
One recent writer on worship has commented, “It is not how you worship. It’s who you worship.” I would argue that the who determines the how. Does that mean that all issues are absolutely simplified and we can turn to scripture and see a specific outline of order for every week’s corporate worship? No. Does it mean that there is no diversity and should be no diversity in worship? No. Does it mean that styles will change? Yes. Does it mean that there will be a diversity of styles in worship? Yes. We must make a distinction, however, between style and form. The biblical form must be constantly followed. The biblical pattern must always be honored. There will be different styles, there will be different languages, there will be a different vernacular for each people, and there will be different contexts, but the essential marks of true Christian worship must always be present.
We must not be satisfied with a laissez-faire, cafeteria-style worship combination at our pleasure. There is a biblical pattern that must be followed. Will styles change? Yes. But the worship must always be God directed. Will there be a diversity of styles in worship? Yes, but there must be one glorious purpose following this clear biblical pattern: to measure everything by the norm of scripture, in which God has revealed how He wishes to be worshiped. We must learn from each other in this process that as the people of God we must get this right as we stand before God and under scripture.
We were created to worship God. The whole story of our redemption retells how we were created to worship God but by our sin became disqualified from that true and authentic worship. By God’s redemption in Jesus Christ, we were created anew for the purpose of worshiping God. And every glimpse of heaven we have in Scripture indicates that worship will be our eternal occupation. It is for that purpose that we are being prepared even in the present.
by Nathanael Blake
Through the passing strange I fell
To the wide-eyed opposite
My agenda was hidden well
Now I don’t know where I left it
Modern “Christian music” is neither good music nor good Christianity. Musically it’s bland and derivative, lyrically it’s banal, and the general artistry is slightly below an intoxicated lemur clambering about a toy piano. Of course, most music of any sort isn’t very good, but the Christian variety has managed to secure a reputation for especial atrociousness. The reason is that the industry which produces it isn’t much interested in musical quality. Rather, it is by definition more concerned with spiritual content than auditory standards.
But despite this focus, the spiritual value of the products of the Christian music industry (henceforth the CMI) remains minimal. The primary reason is that the construct is inherently flawed. Mark Salomon of the band Stavesacre makes the case elegantly in his book Simplicity, explaining why he left the CMI, “Christianity as an industry is a conflict of interest.”
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However, it’s also a profitable industry. And so we get Christian™ bookstores stuffed with Christian™ books (not just Bibles, theology, and devotionals, but Christian™ romances, and Christian™ action-adventure books, and Christian™ westerns…), Christian™ music, Christian™ movies, Christian™ clothing, Christian™ keychains, Christian™ action figures, and Christian™ nightlights. Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a brand name.
The fundamental flaw of the CMI is that its stated missions are incompatible with each other and with its structure. The creation of genuine worship and devotional music, which Christians most certainly should do, does not lend itself to the rock star business model the CMI adopted from the mainstream. Adulation of a band, arena concerts, pyrotechnics, awards ceremonies, and tour merchandise are incongruous with worship and devotion to God.
The common defense of these consists of the other proclaimed purpose of the CMI, evangelism. It’s not that they want to seek fame and fortune in the service of God; but they’re forced to it if they want to “reach the lost” and “minister.” This is ridiculous. Christian music is mostly sold to Christians; Christian concerts are mostly filled with bused in Christian youth groups. As far as evangelism goes, Christian music is the epitome of mediocrity.
Consequently, the only way a Christian group can reach a non-Christian audience is to cross over into the mainstream music industry. This creates awkward tensions in the genre. For while one of their declared missions demands that they move into the mainstream, any group that does so is immediately assailed as having sold out.
This tension also devours artistic integrity. The general consensus is that going mainstream requires trimming the overtly Christian content, so there’s pressure to dilute the message; in order to reach the world with Christianity, they disassociate themselves from Christianity. Thus, there is some truth to the complaint that Christian groups sell out when they go mainstream, and the CMI responds by exerting pressure of its own.
Salomon notes that “the Gospel Music Association – giver of Dove awards, the Christian industry’s weak answer to the Grammys – at one point felt the need to make a standard with which they could judge whether or not a ‘Christian artist’ was Christian enough, that included how many times a band said ‘Jesus’ in their lyrics.” On both sides genuine Christianity is subsumed beneath another agenda; one removes Christ to appeal to the masses, the other mandates token use of Christ to maintain credence with the niche market. Neither encourages honest expression of the artist’s faith.
So we find ourselves caught between songs where it’s impossible to tell if the subject is God or a girlfriend, and songs filled with juvenile lyrics dropping the name of Jesus in order to make quota. And in both, emoting wins out over anything of importance. The average lyrics run along the lines of “I’m so happy/because you love me/my life is better/since I read your letter” (note the use of “letter” as code for the Bible, so clever). This has moved well beyond the rock star wannabes in the CMI into the very culture of the American church, with modern worship music trending toward the same level of puerility.
Treating Christianity as an industry, a business with a profit margin, has corrupted the church, and the crowning achievements of the CMI are at the core of the refuse pile. It’s time to end the token preaching to the choir, the coded religious messages, and the charging of money for events that supposedly exist to preach the gospel.
Get out. Those who want to create worship and devotional music, go back to where you belong, which isn’t arenas, festivals, and clubs, but churches. The rest of you, go out into the world; claiming Christianity and presenting Christian messages in your songs won’t prevent you from succeeding…if you have the necessary musical ability (U2, anyone?).
Quit pretending that Christianity is a brand name, because there will be Hell to pay for it, in the most literal sense. If Christianity is true, then there are lost souls dying and going to Hell all around us, while the church sits and sells Jesus to itself.
I’m often asked what I’d do differently if I could start Saddleback over. My answer is this: From the first day of the new church I’d put more energy and money into ensuring a first-class music ministry that matched our target. Music is an integral part of our lives. We eat with it, drive with it, shop with it, relax with it, and some even dance to it! The great American past time is not baseball – it is music and sharing our opinions about it!
In the first years of Saddleback, I made two mistakes in this area. One, I tried too hard to appeal to everyone’s taste (We’d cover Bach to Rock in a single service!) and two, I underestimated the power of music. Because we didn’t have many talented musicians, we minimized the use of music in our services.
A song can often touch people in ways a sermon can’t. Music can bypass intellectual barriers and take the message straight to the heart. It’s a potent tool for evangelism. In Psalm 40:3 (NCV) David says, “He put a NEW song in my mouth ... Many people will see this and worship him. Then they will trust the Lord.” Notice the clear connection between music and evangelism: “Then they will trust the Lord.”
Even Aristotle had some thoughts on this subject. He said, “Music has the power to shape character.” Satan is clearly using music to do that today. The rock lyrics of the 1960s and 1970s shaped the values of most Americans who are now in the 40 to 60 age bracket. Today, MTV shapes the values of most people in their 20s. Music is the primary communicator of values to the younger generation. If we don’t use contemporary music to spread godly values, Satan will have an unchallenged access to an entire generation. Music is a force that cannot be ignored.
Despite realizing I may be walking into an area full of land mines, I want to offer a few suggestions regarding music. Regardless of the style your church chooses, I believe there are a few rules you need to follow.
• Preview all the music you use. Don’t have surprises in your service. I learned this the hard way. Once a guest singer decided to sing a 20-minute song on nuclear disarmament!
If you don’t manage your music, your music will manage your service. Preview with an ear for both the lyrics and the tune. Ask, Is this song doctrinally sound? Is it understandable to the unchurched? Does it use terms or metaphors that unbelievers wouldn’t understand? How does the tune make me feel? Identify the purpose. Is this a song of edification, worship, fellowship, or evangelism?
Even when we invite popular Christian artists to sing at Saddleback we insist on previewing every song they intend to sing. The atmosphere we’re trying to maintain in our seeker service is far more important than any singer’s ego.
• Speed up the tempo. Many worship services sound more like a funeral than a festival. The Bible says, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalm 100:2) John Bisango, pastor emeritus of the 22,000-member First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, says, “Funeral dirge anthems and stiff-collared song leaders will kill a church faster than anything else in the world!”
Remember: Unbelievers usually prefer celebrative over contemplative music because they don’t yet have a relationship with Christ.
• Update songs. Keep this in mind: There’s nothing sacred
about a particular song. If the lyrics are good but the tune is old, put the
words to a new tune. If the tune is great but the lyrics are archaic, update
them with understandable words. Dress up some of those old friends in new
clothes – if only for the sake of the unbelievers in the crowd. Otherwise,
they’re likely to think the balm in
• Encourage members to write new songs. Psalm 96:1 says, “Sing to the Lord a NEW song.” Sadly, in most churches they are still singing the same old songs. Every congregation should be encouraged to compose worship songs. If you study church history, you’ll discover that every genuine revival has always been accompanied by new music. New songs say, “God is doing something here and now, not just a hundred years ago!” Every generation needs new songs to express its faith. Rather than choosing songs for nostalgic reasons, choose them based on your target. And choose songs that sing to the Lord instead of songs that sing about the Lord.
• Replace the organ with a
• Don’t force unbelievers to sing. Use more performed music than congregational singing in your service for seekers. Visitors do not feel comfortable singing tunes they don’t know with words they don’t understand. It is also unrealistic to expect the unchurched to sings songs of praise and commitment to Jesus before they become believers. That’s getting the cart before the horse.
The bottom line to these rules is this: Make your music count. Music may be the most controversial element of a seeker service, but it’s also a critical element that cannot be ignored. We need to understand the incredible power of music and harness that power by setting aside our own personal preferences and using the music that will best reach the unchurched for Christ.
And the most popular spots in the building are seats on two leather couches that make the church’s entryway feel more like a hip coffee shop.
“We needed to offer something different because people were leaving to find churches where they could express more joy or celebration,” said the Rev. Roger Miller. “The church is just looking for a way to speak to the culture.”
Many mainline Protestant denominations with leveling or declining attendance are considering or experimenting with new ways of worship, following the lead of non-denominational megachurches that are growing quickly with contemporary services that appeal to young people and families.
“Mainline churches are way behind in the ballgame because they were so steeped in their worship traditions,” said Ronald Shifley, pastor at Spencerville United Church of Christ. “Down the road, churches will have to move to contemporary worship in some form or they’ll cease to exist.”
There is little structure in the services. Praise bands take the place of an organ or a choir. There’s dancing instead of kneeling. Skits are acted out. Hymn books are missing. Scripture often still plays a role but in less formalized readings.
of worship is a big reason why Protestant megachurches have grown so much, with
some drawing members away from traditional churches. Megachurches with a weekly
attendance of at least 2,000 have doubled in five years to 1,210, according to
a study from Leadership Network, a church-growth consulting firm in
St. Paul’s, which is in suburban Toledo, holds one contemporary service in a movie theater, getting edgier with skits, flashing lights and rock ‘n’ roll. They call it “church for people who don’t go to church.”
There’s not a suit and tie among the crowd. About 150 people attend each week - more than the number at the 8 a.m. Sunday traditional service. Financially, it’s almost reached a break even point.
People who might be uncomfortable going into a church have no problem going to a theater, said member Patti Rish. A few always wander in late.
“They don’t come in with a quiet reverence,” she said. “It’s just like going to the movies.”
Instead of popcorn and soda, churchgoers grab cups of chocolate silk coffee and jelly doughnuts. The service starts out with a skit about golfing and religion and moves into rock ‘n’ roll music with a heavy drum beat that brings nearly everyone out of their seats.
He also thought Sundays were becoming a little stale. “I remember saying to myself ‘I’m just tired of this. It’s the same old, same old,’” he said.
The results were dramatic.
Attendance increased every year - it grew by 63 percent in the first six years. Many attendees were families with different religious backgrounds. “We had a lot of mixed marriages that ended up settling here,” Miller said.
grew up Roman Catholic, began attending
The growth allowed the church to begin a $2.6 million renovation and addition that included new Sunday school rooms, a new kitchen and an updated sanctuary.
The transition, however, can be traumatic. Churches often lose at least a few longtime members and risk alienating a large part of their congregations.
creatures of habit and messing with their worship service reaches pretty close
to the core of their faith,” said Bill Rindy, a pastor at
His church offers both styles of worship, which has “helped us avoid the worship wars,” Rindy said.
The remaining members divided into the “frozen chosen” who attended the traditional service and the “Christian light” who preferred the new style.
Dave Metzger, director of evangelism, said the church became two totally different congregations.
But that’s started to change.
Some members who attend the early traditional service now linger afterward and have coffee with the contemporary crowd. Some are crossing over to attend both services.
Kosch, a member of
One’s position in the church is no longer determined by income, he said on a Sunday morning, just after greeting a man wearing a leather jacket and blue jeans. “There was a time you didn’t dare wear that,” he said.
Musical Mush, Part II
By Chuck Colson
Confession is good for the soul, so they say. Recently, one “BreakPoint” listener accused me of being a curmudgeon. He had heard a February commentary, in which I detailed my teeth-grinding agitation at what I called musical mush: that is, church music devoid of theological content.
In my response to him, I confessed that there may be a bit of a curmudgeonly streak running through me. As I get older I feel an increasing urgency to get my message to the Church, because I know I have less time left to do it. I think everybody experiences this as they grow older. Even the Apostle Paul’s writings intensified in urgency in his later epistles.
While I’m certainly no Paul, I understand what it’s like to love the Church and care passionately for her well being. That’s why I dared to take on what I knew would be controversial: the tendency to use music more for entertainment than for worship. Too often, we see ourselves as the audience to be pandered to and entertained, rather than a congregation of participants with Christ as our liturgist, or music leader, and God as the audience of our worship. So if that makes me a curmudgeon, well, then, a curmudgeon I shall be.
entertain-me mindset of consumerism that I see in so many churches disturbs me,
I’m thrilled to see that some congregations are beginning to use old hymns set
to new music. I saw it recently in the forty minutes of contemporary worship
music in Ted Haggard’s church in
Many Christian artists have caught this vision. One group that has done it beautifully is Indelible Grace. They noticed something as they worked with college students in the campus ministry of Reformed University Fellowship. According to Indelible Grace’s website, young people were “being touched by the Gospel, gripped by the rich theology and great poetry of the hymns of the Church. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the Gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and [fore]mothers!), and a movement was born.”
In writing about old books, C. S. Lewis noted: “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
Well, I think the same could be said about old hymns. We need them to correct the blindspots of our own cultural context. And we need skilled writers and composers to “sing a new song” to the Lord, taking rich theology and crafting music to honor our King in this new day and age. And perhaps, even curmudgeons like me will like it and join in.
Who knows? Wonder of wonders, we might even arrive at a truce in the worship wars. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.
Musical Mush, Part III
By Chuck Colson
During recent decades, many a church has found itself foundering on the rocks when it comes to what kind of music to use in worship. Cultural change, like a fast moving tide, has left church vessels ravaged, split open, usually along contemporary and traditional divides, with the grey hairs and the pony tails parting ways. It’s a shame.
In yesterday’s commentary, I alluded to what old hymns have to offer the Church. I was also careful to mention that I’m no despiser of contemporary music so long as it has good theological content. But after the outpouring of e-mails and letters I received when I aired the first commentary on worship music back in February, I can only imagine the ones I’ll receive now. Maybe I should learn to keep my mouth shut; my wife, Patty, who has heard me sing, would agree. But the truth is music matters. It has always mattered.
U2’s lead singer, Bono, puts it this way: “Music is worship: whether it’s worship of women or their designer, the world or its destroyer . . . the smoke goes upwards . . . to God or something you replace God with . . . usually yourself.” So while I lament that some Christian radio stations have taken away programs for biblical teaching, that does not mean I discount the ways in which music itself teaches us and the way it moves us.
Dr. Reggie Kidd, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and a worship leader for nearly twenty-five years, has written a book, With One Voice, that truly transcends the “worship wars.” Dr. Kidd talks about how music, or more precisely a community of Christians gathered in true worship, is a scaffolding for faith in a culture that has lost its ability to imagine.
Believing in a Jesus whose bones cannot be found in a tomb seems to be just a little too radical for this generation; so, Kidd argues, “in the face of the deconstruction of the Christian view of reality, the great cultural task of Christians is the reclamation of the imagination. This needs to be worked out on a broad front,” Kidd continues, “from the way Christians conduct themselves in the marketplace and in politics to the way . . . they engage the arts . . . and, of course music . . . Music opens the imagination to the possibility that what we see is not all there is.”
For example, Kidd relates the story of writer Anne Lamott, who was first drawn into a church by the sounds of a singing congregation wafting out into the street as she walked by. Lamott, who was then still a seeker, said: “Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated . . . standing with them to sing . . . I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life.”
Truth set to music, embodied in a singing community, can sometimes seep into the soul and convince us when spoken words fall short. Remember that it was the fiction stories of George MacDonald that moved a skeptical C. S. Lewis to faith; so it’s no surprise that music could also be a way to enlarge our narrow view of reality.
So, okay, we have our differences. You might choose the guitar and praise music. Others prefer the pipe organ and old favorites. What we can agree on, however, is that the music we sing must open the imagination to the reality of God.
The traditional gospel choir in the church, particularly the black church, may be facing a shortage of accomplished music ministers, according to a recent report.
Black churches throughout the country are finding it harder to find skilled musicians to lead music – an integral part of the worship experience – reported Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
“It’s a difficult thing to try to find someone trained. I talked to one of my friends who told me it took him five years to find a musician finally that would be his minister of music,” Dr. Gary Simpson, pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, N.Y., told the TV newsmagazine.
Simpson has also been unable to find a new music minister.
The main competition churches are up against is the mainstream music industry.
“The big money is in producing. The big money is in rap,” said Leo Davis, Jr., minister of music at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, according to Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. “They’re looking at rappers with the million-dollar houses with gold ceilings, and why do I want to work in a church and make $30,000?”
And while skilled musicians may be turning to the multi-billion dollar lifestyle of rap and hip hop, the mainstream industry is also taking many gospel singers out of the church.
“Gospel music is coming to the mainstream. Singers are coming out of the church and introducing the gospel style to a mainstream audience,” said gospel diva Yolanda Adams, according to Real Black Radio.
Still, others have chosen to take rap to the pulpit with such groups as Dem Unknown WarriorZ infusing words about Jesus with a popular beat youths recognize.
While some pastors are embracing hip-hop music to draw crowds and relate to younger believers, Dr. Glen McMillan, interim music director of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, asks where the memorable sounds of music such as hymns are.
Hymns like “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and “Amazing Grace” live on, McMillan told the TV newsmagazine, while many won’t remember a hip hop line, he believes.
Not only are accomplished music ministers becoming harder to find, but soon, even traditional gospel music in the church may become a rare sound.
McMillan wants younger generations to embrace the traditional songs and pass it down, but says that possibly 20 years from now, “hymnal music is going to be obsolete.”
With a nod, she opens them and strides forward to the upbeat tempo of a modern gospel tune. Her gossamer robe flutters as she moves in rhythm with the other dancers gathering before the altar.
She’s thinking about God.
“You say a prayer and ask Him to move through you,” she said.
Liturgical dancing is a form of worship that has always been a part of Christian faith. But in the past 20 years it has gained ground as a way to draw young people back into the church, even moving into the sanctuary as part of regular services.
Dancing to worship takes many names and styles. The adjective in front of the word dance can be liturgical, praise or worship, depending on the church.
increasingly popular in central
Some dance groups incorporate ballet, modern and even hip-hop technique, though you aren’t likely to see anything copied from MTV.
“There are times that we want to speak our love and our relationship with Jesus Christ, and there are not words to say,” said Daryse Osborne, dance ministry director at Christian Assembly.
She leads a dance team of 16 to 18 men and women, ages 18 through their 60s, which performs every Sunday at church.
Movement “really lets you use your whole body to worship the Lord,” Osborne said.
Boyce saw a need to add basic dance instruction after she became dance ministry director for the church in 2002. She realized she needed to teach basic techniques before moving to liturgical dance.
That, added to Boyce’s lifelong dream of owning a dance studio, led to the opening of Leap of Faith Christian Dance and Apparel, in 2004.
“I tell them it’s OK to dance, it’s OK to love God,” she said. “And it’s a beautiful way to worship him.”
When Leap of Faith opened its doors almost three years ago, it started with about 10 students. Today there are more than 100. About 75 percent of them come from other churches.
“That’s my way of expression, for me to worship God and give my all and my heart is through my dance,” Boyce said.