Passionately Pursing our God in Music and Worship Music is of God’s creation and an integral part of our lives, yet much of the current experience is one of the most emotionally charged and divisive issues facing the Christian Church, families, and individuals in America today. Pastors, worship leaders, trained musicians, and believers in general face new and powerful forces of change – forces that bring renewal to some churches and fear and schism to others.
No one can sidestep the hot debate between such matters as the various styles of music, hymns versus choruses, seeker services versus worship services, choirs versus worship teams, organs versus synthesizers, and flowing praise versus singing one song at a time. With billions of Christians across the world and hundreds of denominations, there is certain to be variations in church worship styles. In this paper, I will introduce and address the most common church worship styles, and then, I will discuss what our response should be to corporate worship.
Traditional church worship style speaks for itself – it is largely based on traditional methods of worship using classical hymns and choruses with no affiliation with contemporary Christian music. Traditional church worship styles are based on traditions and beliefs that stretch back to the beginnings of Christianity which can make it seem more authentic to some. Traditional hymns can often have profound and meaningful histories that many Christians feel a greater connection to than much contemporary Christian worship styles.
Music played at traditional church services are typically based around classical hymns by composers such as Handel, Mozart and Bach. There is often an organ, choir, and a piano to provide the music accompaniment (Pinson). In recent years contemporary church worship style has taken over from traditional styles as churches begin to realize the need to appeal more to a modern generation. During contemporary church worship, the songs sung may be in a contemporary Christian music style such as rock, pop, rap or country.
Often they will have a Christian band using modern instruments such as drum kits and electric guitars. The Christian message is not lost in the contemporary style; however, it is just expressed in a more modern and aesthetically appealing way to some. Contemporary church worship services can be great fun and many are very lively and exciting with great music and a fun-loving atmosphere amongst the congregation. While traditional church worship styles are very scripted and ritualistic, contemporary Christian worship styles are much more laid back and there is much more freedom for expression during the services.
Contemporary Christian worship services often have current popular songs as part of their hymn singing – particularly those that are currently in the Christian Billboards charts. This has helped keep the church alive among the younger generation (Pinson). Blended church worship styles try and make a balanced mix between contemporary and traditional by incorporating elements of both into the service. This is often a good way to bring members of all generations together in one congregation rather than separating the old and the young between contemporary and traditional worship style services.
Culture dictates worship and practice in emerging church styles. This is seen in the fact that the emerging church relies upon incense, art, images, and experiences to draw near to God and to worship Him. God says to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), but the emerging church finds ways other than what is described in the Bible to worship God. Worship consists of praising God through words and phrases that form coherent thoughts and propositions. It is not an emptying of the mind or any kind of mysticism. Yet the emerging church is a breeding ground of contemplative spirituality.
Some use labyrinths to draw near to God. Others marvel at pictures that they paint. Others pray breath prayers which are vain repetitions which seek to empty the mind and literally hear a word from God. These are postmodern methods to “worship” God (Dorn). The problem is that they are actually old Roman Catholic mystic methods, from which the Protestant church distanced itself. In an effort to be cutting edge, new, and conforming to culture, the emerging church is going backwards in time, repeating mistakes of history. This is why the Bible must dictate worship and not culture.
If the church allows the surrounding culture to dictate its practice and means of worship, it will likely be assimilated into that culture, thereby losing its identity, power, and worth (Dorn). Now that we have explored the various worship styles, what should our response to corporate worship be? Worship services are corporate expressions of believers’ love for the God of the Bible. Because worship is an expression of love for our God, we come together not to seek first what we may receive out of worship – although we receive and need much – but how we may first through His enabling grace render our service and worship to the supreme
God. As we ask ourselves why all this controversy about music and worship styles, it may very well be that a lack of biblical understanding is a major contributor to this adversarial experience (Eph. 4:13). It seems that many have not really thought through the biblical theology and principles pertaining to this matter of music. Many have used a proof texting approach of incorporating the Scriptures, without the benefit of addressing God’s Word exegetically and allowing the text to dictate belief and practice.
Hence, they are predominately deriving their musical belief and practice predominately from personal man-made preference, taste, traditions, and culture, which in many cases they have elevated to the level of the authoritative God-made Scriptures and make it a test of fellowship. Hopefully, the church will exercise diligent study of the more than six hundred passages in the Scriptures that will gradually define this issue of musical belief and practice in more biblical terms based on solid exegesis of God’s Word.
The purpose of worship is to attribute worth to God (Psalm 27:6), to praise God (Psalm 150:3-4), to lift the emotions of the heart (Ephesians 5:18-19), to learn Scripture and spiritual truths by singing (Psalm 32:7-8), to introduce others to Jesus Christ (Psalm 40:3), to instruct and convict through the proclamation and singing of scriptural texts (Isaiah 55:11; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 5:15-21), and to encourage obedience (James 1:25). God is the primary focus of our worship endeavors, but we must also consider the effect of our worship upon one another.
John Frame addresses this issue, stating, “The focus of our effort in worship should be on pleasing [God]. From this principle, some might conclude that we should not pay any attention to human needs in worship. Talk like that can sound very pious, but it is unbiblical. In worship, we should not be so preoccupied with God that we ignore one another. For example, worshipers should not ignore the needs of the poor (Isaiah 1:10-17). And we should make sure that our worship is edifying to believers (1 Corinthians 14:26).
First Corinthians 14 emphasizes the importance of conducting worship not in unintelligible “tongues,” but in the language understandable to all. Even an unbeliever, when he enters the assembly, should be able to understand what is taking place, so that he will fall down and worship, exclaiming, “God is really among you” (v. 25). So, worship has a horizontal dimension as well as a vertical focus. It is to be God-centered, but it is also to be both edifying and evangelistic. Worship that is unedifying or unevangelistic may not properly claim to be God-centered” (7-8) (Zahl and Best).