Sunday, March 5, 2017

Worship in Song

At the risk of sounding like I am ranting, I have to express my deep disgust at what passes for worship songs today. All worship must be directed at God, the LORD of all, the creator and ruler of the universe. From the Call to Worship until the Benediction, all that is said and done is to be a proclamation of God's glory, His greatness, His mighty works and His gospel. There is no room for acknowledgement and praise of our own good works. God isn't interested in our protestations of our love for Him or promises to praise and worship Him.

Let's have a short grammar lesson. Do you remember learning the parts of a sentence? If so, you know that the subject tells us who is acting in the sentence. The says it like this:
The subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun or noun phrase that precedes and governs the main verb
So, if you are singing a song during the service of worship that includes the word "I", you are most likely singing a song about the works of man. You and/or your fellow worshipers are the subjects of those songs. You are telling God about yourself, as if He doesn't know. What is even worse is that you may very well be telling God lies, which is an abomination. Do we want our worship to be an abomination to God?

Let me give some examples.
Here I am to worshipHere I am to bow downHere I am to say that You're my GodYou're altogether lovelyAltogether worthyAltogether wonderful to me
If you are saying right now, "This is from Hillsong. No one should be singing songs from Hillsong in church." I will agree with you. If your congregation never sings this song, more power to you. Unfortunately, it does happen in others, such as the one where I worship. So let's analyze what is wrong with it.

This is the chorus and is repeated several times. It is basically a personal statement about what a particular person is doing/feeling right then. Let's pretended that the person is named John, and instead of saying "I", we will just substitute John's name and have the congregation sing it like that. Ready?
John is here to worship
John is here to bow down
John is here to say that you're his God
You're altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to John
 Does that seem appropriate for worship? Gathering as a congregation to tell God how John is holy and committed to God? If you don't think God wants you to sing to Him about John, what makes you think that God wants John to sing to God about John? Or, more exactly, that God wants you to sing to God about you?

There are other problems with this song. God is God. Or, as He might say, "I am that I am." It doesn't matter to Him, or anyone else if we say our God. That sort of leaves it open that someone else might have another god. But there is only one God. We don't make Him God, we don't make Him Lord of our lives. He IS all of those things by His own existence. God is also lovely, worthy and wonderful. Full stop. This is true. Full stop. To add that God is all of those things "to me" is to say that His character is somehow dependent upon my belief or upon me recognizing or allowing those things to be true. That's like saying gravity is powerful "to me." No. Gravity is powerful. I don't have anything to do with it. There is no need to mention John, or me, in a worship song.

Another problem with this song is that it turns the congregation into a gathering of individuals, each worshiping in his or her own little emotional wonderland. It doesn't recognize the communal nature of of the Church or the unity of that particular congregation. It is coming together on the Lord's day to worship communally, not as a bunch of individuals. The feelings of one particular person might not be representative of the whole, so singing about our feelings, or our individual actions or motives is not appropriate for congregational worship.

These types of worship errors are not only found in what we might call modern worship songs. They are common in many of the gospel songs written after 1850, which are commonly called hymns in many churches. Here is another example, written in 1892:
I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I'm gaining ev'ry day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
"Lord plant my feet on higher ground."
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith on heaven's table land,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
How does that song speak of the glory or the works of God? Who is the subject of that song? Again, what if we substitute the name of John for the I's in that song? How ridiculous would it be for us to sing it in worship? "John's pressing on the upward way, new heights he's gaining every day;"  Pretty stupid, huh?

Now let's look at an example of a true hymn, one written by Martin Luther:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.
Our helper he amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe
His craft and power are great
and armed with cruel hate
On earth is not his equal.

This song tells the story of the gospel and continuing powerful work of God in the lives of His church. It is about God's power and what HE does.

Here is another from around 1800:
O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
 Both of these songs are sung from the perspective of the whole church, not one individual, and they focus on God, His character, His attributes and His works.

Another type of song that is common to the congregation where I worship is a focus on the misery of life and how great it will be to die. Perhaps those songs are comforting to an old or terminally ill person on death's door. But to young, healthy believers, those songs are depressing and don't represent what the Bible teaches about life and its abundance. Christ didn't save us just so we could sit around and wait to die. There is kingdom work to be done here and now. Christians should embrace the gift of life and rejoice in it. Songs like this don't belong in the worship of God:

Oft times the day seems long
Our trials hard to bear;
We're tempted to complain,
To murmur and despair;
But Christ will soon appear,
To catch his bride away;
All tears forever over
In God's eternal day.
 This goes for songs that have bad doctrine and untruth in them, as well. If the song talks about us having harps in heaven or how God is going to take us by the hand and lead us around the promised land (which is not ever mentioned in Scripture)  it should be eschewed in public worship.

I'm not saying that these songs have no place in the life of a believer. Fanny Crosby's song My Savior First of All is uplifting and not totally doctrinally bereft. But it is about her hopes for heaven, God is not the subject, and it fails as a worships song.

Worship should be participatory for all of the congregation. That is why it should include reciting creeds, responsive readings from Scripture and singing. The Word is proclaimed to the entire congregation and we all enter the worship gates together. Every element of worship should be directed at God or be God's words to His people. There is no place for directing our focus inward and towards ourselves. Every word spoken or sung must be true.

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