Worship and the Word

To ensure that God’s voice is heard, we might consider the following suggestions:

  1. Devote more time to reading the Scriptures—not just a verse or two from the Psalms as a quick call to worship, or a short text from Paul as a preface to the sermon.
  2. Read large blocks of Scripture at a time. While chapter and verse divisions help us navigate the Scriptures, they are a supreme hindrance to reading holistically and comprehensively.  Chapter and verse divisions encourage treatment of the Scriptures as fragments loosely strung together.  For practical reasons we may want to break up larger books into smaller parts, but this should not blind us to the fact that Deuteronomy 5:1b-26:19 and 28:1-68, for example, were preached as a single, coherent whole.  Paul wrote his Epistles so believers might hear the entire letter in one reading; the same is true of the Gospels and the book of Revelation.  The Psalms and Lamentations, and perhaps some prophetic books, may be read piecemeal, because they are collections of independently delivered and composed utterances, but even then we should be sensitive to the coherence exhibited by the canonical forms of these books
  3. Promote an atmosphere of reverence when reading the Scriptures.  In the First Testament the Israelites stood in awe when God spoke (Exod. 19:17).  It is appropriate to prostrate ourselves in homage before God when we enter his presence, but when he speaks, he calls us to rise (Ezek. 1:28-2:1).  The people’s response to Ezra’s reading the Torah in Nehemiah 8:5 may be paradigmatic for our worship.
  4. Promote the expository reading of Scripture.  Expository reading means reading the Scriptures so that their literary qualities are appreciated, their message understood, and their transformative power experienced.
  5. Prepare spiritually for the ministry of reading.  Reading Scripture in public worship is a sacred task, for the reader serves as the mouthpiece of God.  Ezra exhibited the qualities of a model reader: “He had determined to study the Torah of YHWH, to apply it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
  6. Subordinate the sermon to the Scripture.  Let the voice of God be clear, and let the voice of the human mouthpiece be suppressed.

—Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, 190-191

One Spirit, One Body

The fact that music often brings division reminds us that music does not create the new human, God does—in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit, Paul says, who brings about oneness: “In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Eph. 4:1-6).  Music cannot summon up from within itself the power to “break down the dividing walls” and “abolish the hostility between us” (see Eph. 2:14).  This is the work of God.

—Steven R. Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human, 91

The Church’s Voice

We are made for community and sin is the destruction of community.  Therefore, when God creates “new humanity” (Eph. 2:15) this also means remaking community—“making peace” and “putting to death [their] hostility” (Eph. 2:15-16).  When the church sings together, it announces the new community the Spirit has created in Christ.  But the church’s singing not only announces this new community, it enacts it.  When the church sings together, the creation of “one new humanity in place of the two” (Eph. 2:15) becomes an aural reality—something Paul’s readers could hear with their own ears.  When they sang together in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, they would have heard one voice composed of many voices.  They would have heard a single melody arising from the mouths of men and women, Jews and Greeks, slave and free.  If the church is the new humanity, then here is its voice.

—Steven R. Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human, 80

One Voice

Paul says that the shared life of the church becomes an experienced reality at the communion table: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17).  Shared song . . . is yet another way that this common life becomes a part of lived experience.  In song, the church shares not “one bread” but one voice.  Speaking or singing with one voice is both and instance and an expression of the church’s shared life.  Paul brings these ideas of unity (or “harmony”) and “one voice” together toward the end of Romans (in a passage that also refers to singing):

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

—Steven R. Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human, 80

Be Filled

When in Ephesians 5:18 Paul urges the church to “be filled with the Spirit,” this is not simply an exhortation to individual piety.  It is a charge to be “joined together” (Eph. 2:21) as the people of God, and so, to be the temple.  The command to be filled with the Spirit draws on all of the temple imagery we have surveyed.  Here Paul says, in effect: be the gathered people of God, in whose midst God dwells; be the new temple of God, the place where his presence is made manifest on earth; be the tabernacle of God, the place in the center of the community filled with the radiant glory of God’s Spirit.  The imperative command of verse 18 “is not just another in a long string; rather, it is the key to all the others” [Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 791). Indeed, this command can be seen as the culmination of the entire book.

—Steven R. Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human, 78-79

Filled

Of course, if the temple is to be the dwelling place of God, it must not only be built, but filled—filled with the glory, the presence, the Spirit of God.  We should recall here the Old Testament scenes when the newly built tabernacle and temple were filled with God’s radiant glory in dramatic fashion.  The temple is filled with God’s Spirit; it is the place of God’s fullness.  Paul’s most fervent prayer for the church is that in this sense it would be the temple indeed—that it would be filled with God’s Spirit.

—Steven R. Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human, 78

The Grace of Worship

According to a biblical understanding, from both the Old and New Testaments, worship is an ordinance of grace. . . . the gift of the God of grace who provides for us a way of loving communion. . . . The liturgies of Israel were God-given ordinances of grace, witnesses to grace. The sacrifice of lambs and bulls and goats were not ways of placating an angry God, currying favor with God as in the pagan worship of the Baalim. They were God-given covenantal witnesses to grace-that the God who alone could wipe out their sins would be gracious.

—James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 60

The Treasure of the Psalms

All the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as it is written; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure. . . . Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch, for example, tells of the beginning of the world, the doings of the patriarchs, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the ordering of the tabernacle and the priesthood; The Triteuch [Joshua, Judges, and Ruth] describes the division of the inheritance, the acts of the judges, and the ancestry of David; Kings and Chronicles record the doings of the kings, Esdras [Ezra] the deliverance from exile, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city; the Prophets foretell the coming of the Saviour, put us in mind of the commandments, reprove transgressors, and for the Gentiles also have a special word. Each of these books, you see, is like a garden which grows one special kind of fruit; by contrast, the Psalter is a garden which, besides its special fruit, grows also some those of all the rest.

The Letter Of Athanasius, Our Holy Father, Archbishop Of Alexandria, To Marcellinus On The Interpretation Of The Psalms,13-23

 

Loving God with the Arts

When it comes to loving our neighbors in terms of the arts, our goal is to work within a people’s cultural, expressive languages (signal systems) in ways that foster loving God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.  They should not have to use a different set of expressive languages to love Him.  Like Jesus, we need to move into a people’s culture and work within their expressive languages and signal systems so that the people in that context may come to love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.  Then they will know that God loves them as they are—fully created in His own image.

—Roberta R. King, Global Arts and Christian Witness: Exegeting Culture, Translating the Message, and Communicating Christ, 61

Theology for Doxology

As I often tell my students, theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness. It should therefore be presented in a way that brings awareness of the divine presence. Theology is at its healthiest when it is consciously under the eye of the God of whom it speaks, and when it is singing to his glory.

—J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, xii.

Strength in Silence

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from Him. (Psalm 62:5)

The invitation to silent prayer and meditation may be the more radical request in the frenetic form worship so often takes today.

—David W. Music, “The Glorious Gospel: Our Worship Heritage,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 34.3 (Summer 1992):521

God’s Initiative

Of course, where people do not understand the gospel, it is always perfectly possible for them to suppose that by going to church, singing hymns, saying prayers, or putting money into the collection they have earned favor with God.  This is the risk that the Pauline language of “pleasing God” is bound to run.  But Christian worship from the very beginning has attempted, at the level of structure as well as content, to rule this out, to make it clear that such a thing would be a shallow misunderstanding.  The main point here is the priority given, in Christian worship, to the Bible.

The Bible is not simply read aloud in order to convey information, to teach doctrine or ethics or history, though of course it does that too.  It is read aloud as the effective sign that all that we do is done as a response to God’s living and active word, the word which, as Isaiah says, accomplishes God’s purpose in the world, abiding for ever while all flesh withers like the grass.  The place of scripture in Christian worship means that both in structure and content God’s initiative remains primary, and all that we do remains a matter of response.

—N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship” (lecture delivered at Calvin College January 11, 2002), 11

Transformed Hearts

The key difference between a Pharisee and a believer in Jesus is inner-heart motivation. Pharisees are being good but out of a fear-fueled need to control God. They don’t really trust him or love him. To them God is an exacting boss, not a loving father. Christians have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so they can finally love and rest in the Father.

—Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, 85-86

The Proper Role of a Choir

If, then, we wish to have a choir, it should be given a precise duty; not that of supplanting the faithful in their characteristic ministry, but of educating them in the fulfillment of this ministry.  The choir should thus become the mainspring of liturgical life and worship; it should train the congregation to fulfil their specific ministry.  If its effect is to keep the congregation silent, it may be very beautiful but it is false.

—J.-J. von Allmen, Worship Its Theology and Practice, 196-197

I.e., the main purpose of a choir is to help the congregation sing better!