True praise is heart work. Like smoking incense, it rises from the glowing coals of devout affection. Essentially, it is not a thing of sound: sound is associated with it very properly for most weighty reasons, but still the essence and life of praise lie not in the voice, but in the soul. Your business in the congregation is to give to spiritual praise a suitable embodiment in harmonious notes. Take care that you do not depress what you should labour to express. Select a tune in accordance with the spirit of the psalm or hymn, and make your style of singing suitable to the words before you. Flippantly to lead all tunes to the same time, tone, and emphasis, is an abomination; and to pick tunes at random is little less than criminal. You mock God and injure the devotions of His people if you carelessly offer to the Lord that which has cost you no thought, no care, no exercise of judgment. You can help the pious heart to wing its way to heaven upon a well-selected harmony; and you can, on the other hand, vex the godly ear by inappropriate or unmelodious airs, adapted rather to distract and dishearten, than to encourage intelligent praise.
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Sword and The Trowel, June 1, 1870, 276-277
Could we rule the service of song in the house of the Lord, we should, we fear, come into conflict with the prejudices and beliefs of many most excellent men, and bring a hornet’s nest about our ears. Although we have neither the will nor the power to become reformer of sacred music, we should like to whisper a few things into the ear of some of our Jeduthuns or Asaphs, who happen to be “chief musicians” in country towns or rural villages. We will suppose the following words to be our private communication:
O sweet singer of Israel, remember that the song is not for your glory, but for the honour of the Lord, who inhabiteth the praises of Israel; therefore, select not anthems and tunes in which your skilfulness will be manifest, but such as will aid the people to magnify the Lord with their thanksgivings. The people come together not to see you as a songster, but to praise the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Remember also, that you are not set to sing for yourself only, but to be a leader of others, many of whom know nothing of music; therefore, choose such tunes as can be learned and followed by all, that none in the assembly may be compelled to be silent while the Lord is extolled. Why should so much as one be defrauded of his part through you? Simple airs are the best, and the most sublime; very few of the more intricate tunes are really musical. Your twists, and fugues, and repetitions, and rattlings up and down the scale, are mostly barbarous noise-makings, fitter for Babel than Bethel. If you and your choir wish to show off your excellent voices, you can meet at home for that purpose, but the Sabbath and the church of God must not be desecrated to so poor an end.
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Sword and The Trowel, June 1, 1870, 276-277
Our incarnating God continues to meet us where we are: as imaginative creatures of habit. So we are invited into the life of the Triune God by being invited to inhabit concrete rituals and practices that are “habitations of the Spirit.” As the Son is incarnate—the Word made flesh meeting us who are flesh—so the Spirit meets us in tangible, embodied practices that are conduits of the Spirit’s transformative power…. The material practices of Christian worship are not exercises in spiritual self-management but rather the creational means that our gracious God deigns to inhabit for our sanctification. So while liturgical formation sanctifies our perception for Christian action, Christian worship is primarily a site of divine action…. Our incarnating God descends to inhabit these practices precisely in order to lift us up into union with Christ.
—James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, 14-15
God has not created the world out of a sense of his own interior need, or to bolster a failing ego. As Irenaeus said long ago, “in the beginning…God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of any man, but that He might have [some one] upon whom to confer His benefit… For this is the glory of man, to continue and remain permanently in God’s service.”
—Noel Due, Created For Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You, 38
Everything we do in God’s name expresses a particular understanding of His character and will, whether we acknowledge this or not. We all have an implicit theology of worship, which may or may not be faithful to Scripture.
—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 15
It’s easier to live by rules than by faith in the Lord who rules.
—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship, Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 58
All too many free-church prayers and hymns have forsaken biblical imagery in favor of a host of frivolous, superficial, pop psychological jargon and cliches that chatter about “celebration,” “becoming human,” “finding ourselves,” “being free to be you and me,” and other amorphous trivialities. This is particularly tragic among those whose forebears once felt that the presence and guidance of Scripture in worship was something worth dying for.
—William H. Willimon, The Bible: A Sustaining Presence in Worship, 14
A look at the average Sunday service today in the average Protestant church reveals, in the words of James D. Smart, a “strange silence of the Bible in the church.” The Bible is not read in the worship of most Protestant churches in any systematic way. The Old Testament is often omitted altogether. Thus, the preacher recanonizes Scripture to suit his or her own taste. When bits and pieces of the New Testament are read, they function mainly as a textual springboard for an often unbiblical sermon. This relative silence of Scripture is surprising, particularly when it is within those churches who pride themselves in being “biblical” churches. We Protestants are supposed to be people of the Book, followers of the Word. But the average Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian church would be put to shame in its treatment of Scripture by the worship of the average Roman Catholic church—which reads three lessons every Sunday.
William H. Willimon, The Bible: A Sustaining Presence in Worship, 14
Am in Africa this week, where connection is problematic. Thanks for your patience!
Designing worship around style, however, can sometimes lead to an obsession with the present to the neglect of the past—or to only one particular past with little regard for the broader history of the church. We can easily forget those who have gone before us, even those who are worshiping earlier in the day than we are; this dishonors them and is unhealthy for us.
—Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 177
One contemporary from 1800 described Presbyterian singing as “serious severe screaming quite beyond the natural pitch of the voice, a wandering search after the [tune] by many who never caught it…the dogs seized the occasion to bark (for they always came to Kirk with the family), and the babies to cry.” Another preacher had to warn a congregation: “Do not whisper, talk, gaze about. Do not practice that unseemly, rude, indecent Custom of Chewing or of spitting, which is very ridiculous and absurd in Public, especially in God’s House” (“The Genuine Presbyterian Whine’: Presbyterian Worship in the Eighteenth Century,” American Presbyterians, Fall 1996, pp. 157-170).
—Harry Boonstra, “The Best of Times? The Worst of Times? Snapshot of Worship Styles,” Reformed Worship 47 (March 1998),
Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was ‘Feed my sheep;’ not ‘Try experiments on my rats,’ or even, ‘Teach my performing dogs new tricks.'”
—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Chapter I
The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual.
—C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost, 17
More important than our experience of Christ is the Christ of our experience.
—James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 34
It is unscriptural to view worship songs as capable of initiating or guaranteeing God’s presence….Songs of worship cannot create, deliver, or otherwise command God’s presence. We cannot sing down the presence of God. The presence is already real. Music is an element in worship, like other elements, that helps us to interact conversationally with the triune God who is present, but music must not be given power on our terms.
—Constance Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 67-68
“That would be more characteristic of Baal worship.”
It is widely recognized that Revelation provides the church with a theology of history, however what is of great importance for our study is that this theology of history is built around the theme of worship. The action of the Son in shedding his blood to free us from our sins (1:5b) was so that we, the redeemed, would be made “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (1:6) The goal of redemption is worshipful service.
—Noel Due, Created For Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You, 221