Monday, April 28, 2008

The expression of love and devotion

I don't think worship music is supposed to "take" us anywhere. Worship isn't for our benefit, it is to lift up the Name of God in this dark world. We're not supposed to be worshiping to find something from it. We're commanded to worship, we worship sometimes because we feel pleased in the Lord. Sometimes the Spirit urges us to worship. And sometimes the Spirit overwhelms us when we're not worshiping! I just find it difficult to say we're supposed to get to a certain place or feel a certain way when worshiping. What happens when we worship and we don't get to that place? Is it not worship then? I know people who have tried so hard to get that feeling that had once, and then they're focusing on that feeling, not on God.

I would have to do a lot more study to be sure, but I think this terminology is relatively new. I don't recall the historical Church or scriptures to speak of worship as something that somehow brings us closer to God, or "lay open our hearts" to His Spirit.

Music is inherently spiritual and secular concerts move people in a spiritual way. So we must discern what is the Spirit and what is the music.

John Piper writes about "Christian Hedonism" so maybe he would disagree with me. Maybe he feels we should seek pleasure from God through worship. But that brings me back to where I ask what part is God and what part is the music?

The Church used canticles and hymns to embed scripture in their minds because people remember song better than words. The same way they used images to tell Biblical stories.

I don't know when worship turned into an emotional experience. Yes, hymns are emotional to me because it is proclaiming the character and works of the Lord in the congregation. It's stirring. It moves me into greater understanding. But modern worship isn't proclaiming God's character so much as it is an emotional outpouring of how we feel about God.

New Testament hymns:

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

-- Luke 1:46-7 (“Magnificat”)

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel;
for He hath visited and redeemed His people.

-- Luke 1: 68 (“Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel”)

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou has prepared before the face of all people:
a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

-- Luke 2: 29-32 (“Nuc Dimittis Servum Tuum”)

Awake thou the sleepest and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give thee light.

-- Ephesians 5:14

Manifest in flesh,
justified in spirit,
visible to angels,
preached among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up into glory.

-- I Timothy: 3-16

Notice how these hymns are declaring God's work and God's character, and responding in praise to His works.

Notice how David responds in praise:

Psalm 22:22
I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.

Psalm 68:26
Praise God in the great congregation; praise the LORD in the assembly of Israel.

When I see David expressing himself it is because of something going on in his life. He was depressed, so he wrote about his depression. He was joyous, so he wrote about his joy. This is different than going to worship to enact an emotion. I see this modern worship as a way to engage in an emotion, not an outpouring of an emotion in the heart.

An example from life: If I gave a gift to my wife because she is great and makes me happy, she would be pleased with it. If I gave her a gift to please myself, that's a different story.

I won't say that God doesn't interact with us during worship. That would be foolish to say. I believe God is always interacting with us, we're just not paying attention most of the time. We're called to walk in the Spirit. The Psalm says to "enter His courts with thanksgiving and His house with praise." This is when there was a physical court and a physical house, but now we're to "rejoice always" and to "pray without ceasing." We're calling into a spiritual priesthood where God dwells in us.

I don't have a problem with songs to the Lord about how we feel about him. But I can't always sings some of them because I'm not always feeling that way. I know someone who can't sing "I could sing of your love forever" because they feel it would be a lie. I don't want worship to be a lie. I've excluded myself from worship for a long time because I felt like I was dishonest. I'm trying to get back into it now, I need work, I'm a weak guy.

Worship does bring us closer - sometimes. Worship does lay our hearts open - sometimes. I just don't think that's the goal of worship. Maybe I'm wrong. All I know is I need help.


His Name Extoled said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
His Name Extoled said...

As for John Piper, this is how he defines Christian Hedonism:
"My shortest summary of Christian Hedonism is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure—pleasure in him.
By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God." (Parent article)
For a non condensed version of that article, follow the link at the bottom of the article.

Basically, myself being a convinced Christian hedonist, I do believe that worship in general (music, scripture reading, prayer, and liturgy included) should usher us into the presence of God. Now if by that you mean that our emotions and affections MUST be at their apex to truly worship, then I disagree. I think if we are spiritually healthy that they will be at their apex. In order to lve God with all your heart, mind, body and soul (as we are commanded) and in order to worship in spirit and in truth (as we are also commanded) then I believe pleasure in God must be our Goal, even if we can't attain it at any given moment. It should always be our aim to say with David, "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" and "I will delight in your statutes". If this is not our aim, then it is not worship. In the words of Jonathon Edwards "God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in." Now that being said, in regards to music, I think that very emotionally driven music can be a very good thing, since our affections should be at their apex when we worship God in song. There is a point where we get so "caught up" in the music, that we only focus on our emotions, and then we no longer worship in truth. But there is also a point where we only give dry lip service to God devoid of passion and excitement, and then we no longer worship in spirit. What music connects with me is not what connects with my parents and others, but generally speaking I think music is not an integral part of worship (as it is not needed), but we see David's Ps 149 that he encourages us to worship with "Tambourine and Lyre". I conclude from that that music, being spiritual as it is, is a very good means of worshiping and rejoicing in God. Styles are another matter but this is an issue of not seeking to be "lifted up" or "enraptured" for the sake of being there, but being "lifted up" because we desire to honor God and he desires us to take pleasure in him!