Sitting here cogitating on the topic of singing in worship again. My good friend Joel Porter commented on my post highlighting a couple of quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he made some valid points. I hold my original position that the corporate worship assembly is not the place to introduce the concept of professional or quasi-professional singing, or any other type of artistic demonstration, for that matter. But still, iron sharpens iron and Joel’s comment inspired me to process my thoughts just a little more.
It occurred to me that in all of our discussions about music in worship (instrumental, praise team, acapella, etc) that we have the cart way out in front of the horse. Maybe so far in front of the horse that the traces don’t even reach. What follows might be a little “stream of consciousness” writing, but bear with me for a few moments.
It seems to me that so much of our debate on the format of worship is focused entirely upon our own estimation of that worship, and then we judge it (favorably or unfavorably) as if we were on God’s throne. Songs that evoke strong emotions are lauded and whether they are performed by a congregation or a soloist the comment is the same – “I was moved to tears,” or “it was just a mountain top feeling.” Thus, because we have such an emotion, the song and the event in which the song was performed had to be a worshipful experience. Likewise, if a particular song repulsed us there could not possibly be anything valuable in the song, because we either felt nothing, or actually felt a negative response.
Do you see the thread? If the song evoked positive emotion then it was worship. If it evoked no emotion or a negative emotion then there was no worship.
The same is true of instrumental music. Many claim that an instrument adds so much to worship because it makes the music portion sound so much better. Others, and I have to include myself in this group, recoil against the use of instruments because far from enriching the music of the worship I feel it actually detracts and diminishes the purpose of the worship assembly (and yes, I also have other reasons I reject the use of instruments in worship). Once again, do you see the common denominator?
Enter my thoughts about the biblical psalms and other recorded examples of Jewish and early Christian worship. Did they use song to create a worshipful experience, or were the psalms and other recorded hymns the result of a worship experience that was then put to paper? To me the question may not solve the issue, but it certainly clarifies it.
If the psalms and hymns were written as a result of a tragic, or a prayerful or an ecstatic experience that has volumes to say about our worship. I suddenly realized that all too often we use our songs and hymns to create a worship experience in our hearts, when we should be communicating to God the worship experiences that we have had all week long. If we use our songs as a tool to create a worshipful experience we are in effect saying that our emotions are the final arbiter of the worship experience. Anything that we can use to manipulate that emotional response becomes fair game. We can use maudlin lyrics. We can use throbbing tunes. We can use special effects (solos, leads for certain registers, etc.) If we as humans set the goal, then anything we as humans can use to hit that goal becomes a legitimate tool for worship.
Except, our emotions are not the final arbiter. Whether we feel ecstatic, sad, joyful, remorseful or any other emotion is utterly meaningless if our gift is an offering to God. The result might be sadness or joy or relief, but that is not the gift itself. The gift is the worship, the emotion is the result.
At what point was the ancient Israelite sacrifice actually considered worship? Was it when the carcass of the animal was burned? Was it when the throat of the animal was cut? Was it when the animal was being led up to the altar? Or was it when the farmer or shepherd walked out to his field, looked over his group of yearling sheep or bulls and selected the best, most fit animal for the offering? The actual sacrifice took place when the farmer removed that prize animal from the lot and he knew he would not have its services to strengthen his flock. Then, as he watched that animal die he could make the connection (or not) to his relationship with God. Was it a fellowship offering, a sin offering, a thank offering? The sacrifice came first – the emotion could only come as a result of the sacrifice.
You see, we teach that our songs and prayers and sermons and fellowship are all “worship.” We go to extravagant lengths to make the “worship” meaningful. But, if we have not prepared the gift long before we arrive, all we are doing is manipulating our fickle human emotions with gimmicks, whether we use instruments, praise teams OR simple acapella singing.
I am still working and processing this question in my mind. But I have hit upon a new direction for my future thoughts. I do not want my offering in the corporate assembly to be manipulated by cheap tricks. I want to bring God the best of my possessions, and that includes songs and hymns. But that process begins on Monday and will only be final on Sunday as I share with God what I have experienced through the week. That includes joy, sadness, questions, fears, doubts, repentance, and thankfulness.
Sorry for the rambling nature of this post. I am simply an apprentice in the journey toward spiritual maturity. I appreciate your thoughts as we walk the path together.