212. some thoughts on worship
A friend of mine posted a blog about worship. In it, he quotes from an article written by Chuck Colson for the magazine, Christianity Today:
“When church music directors lead congregations in singing contemporary Christian music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We’d been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called “Draw Me Close to You,” which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” he asked. “No!” I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed.I admit I prefer traditional hymns, but even so, I’m convinced that much of the music being written for the church today reflects an unfortunate trend–slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. Evangelicals are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book.”
My friend used this quote as a jumping off point to ask questions about worship, questions like:
“What is worship?
What constitutes worship music?
Is it for our refocus on God?
Is it so we feel good, so we can then feel good about God?
Should worship be only songs with Scriptural significance and reference?
Is the Bible the end all of all that we can say of and to God?”
And the questions got to me because, like Colson, I have issues with a lot of the worship songs that get sung in churches today. And so I posted this response on his blog:
I have to say I understand what Mr. Colson is feeling (or not feeling) about contemporary worship. But I’m in an even more unfortunate position than he because I don’t really care for hymns either…at least not singing them (they do contain some tasy poetry – fun to read – but it’s draped over boring melodies and arrangements – not fun to sing).
I wouldn’t go as far as Colson does in saying that contemporary worship tends towards entertainment. I do agree with him when he describes the song as having, “zero theological content.” With that statement in mind, I can see how he can make the connection between contemporary worship and entertainment.
Perhaps an example would do well here.
Think about the difference between a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and any Van Damme or Stephen Segal martial arts movie. The former is widely regarded as a work of art while the movies of Van Damme or Segal are panned as shallow, meaningless products of the Hollywood production mill.
The difference between the two? CTHD explores themes like loyalty, love, discipline, sacrifice. It handles these topics with subtlety and care. The other movies use plot as a necessary inconvenience – a thread to connect fight scenes together.
Contemporary worship can be compared to the Van Damme/Segal movies in that they don’t provide a lot of material for your mind to chew on. They play solely to the senses and the emotions.
Traditional worship, on the other hand, can be better compared to the films of Antonioni. Although many film critics would disagree, I find his films dry and far too cerebral. They are more of an intellectual exercise than an engaging story. Likewise, I think hymns are great to read and think about but not a lot of fun to sing.
So how do I worship?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. I’d rather take time out to see a sunset or look up at the stars than sing either hymns or contemporary worship songs.
At the house church I attend, we dont sing our worship. We have a time where we go around the room and give people a chance to share what God has done for them that week. We also encourage our members to praise God through acts of service to people in need, and people who do so share what they did during our worship time.
I like what we do, but I do think there is something about song that gets at a part of the heart that mere words can’t get to and so while I like what we do at the house church, I would like something more, I’m just not sure what.
So I wrote all that and now I’m wondering if I need to put more of a priority in finding a way to worship God that makes worship more sincere and real – a worship that speaks to the heart as well as the mind.
Take a look at the kind of worship that Jesus said God wants:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24, NIV)
Colson opts for “traditional hymns,” for their theological content – truth. Lots of other people like contemporary worship music because it’s very emotional – spirit. I’m wondering where it is that I can find worship that has both spirit and truth – worship that “the Father seeks.”
This is a sad confession on my part, but worship doesn’t play a huge role in my life. Certainly not in song, but that’s not the only worship that I can participate in. The wonder of God’s creation is all around us and although Paul cautions us against worshiping the creation rather than the creator (Romans 1:25), we would do well to remember that God’s creation can point us back to him if we look carefully, attentively, diligently (Romans 1:20, my favorite verse of the Bible).
Living in Hawaii, there are times when I’m driving and I look around and think, “I can’t believe I live here.” It’s in times like these when I can’t help but lift up a little prayer to God in thanks and awe. I need to be more aware because the glory of God is all over the place, hiding in plain sight. And I need to soak up as much of this beauty that I can before I move up to Seattle with my band.
Opportunities for worship are all around me, all around us all, all the time. It’s a problem of awareness, not availability.