Worship Is Central

Worship is central to all that we do. And for that reason, our whole life is both a procession toward worship and a procession out of worship. Life is a cycle of constant return to the source of our new life and to the empowerment for life that we receive from the Christ we meet and celebrate in worship.

—Robert E. Webber,Worship is a Verb: Eight Principles for Transforming Worship, 2nd edition, 213

Our Worship Voice

Neither worship music nor its style should be the primary defining mark of any church. Its real engagement with the living Lord should be that defining mark in both attractions and missional ways. While leaders must give loving guidance to and development of the musical style of their community, there is something more profound to discover: its worship voice.

—Constance Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song, 181

Whole-Life Worship

Sacred times and places are superseded by the eschatological public activity of those who at all times and in all places stand “before the face of Christ” and from this position before God make the everyday round of so-called secular life into the arena of the unlimited and unceasing glorification of the divine will. At this point the doctrines of worship and Christian “ethics” converge. This shows conclusively that the total Christian community with all its members is the bearer of this worship and that not only sacred functions but also cultically privileged persons lose their right to exist. The universal priesthood of all believers, called forth and manifested in the whole range of its activity, now appears as the eschatological worship of God which puts an end to every other cultus. The harshness of this finding certainly seems to contradict the fact that in this passage [Romans 12:1] Paul deliberately and in no way fortuitously employs cultic terminology and, in particular, the language of sacrifice. But in reality it is precisely this which demonstrates the  radical nature of the shift which has taken place here; so far from there being any room left for cultic thinking, the use of cultic terminology becomes itself the means of making clear, through a paradox, the extent of the upheaval. In the eschatological age there is no longer anything “profane,” except what man himself renders profane or demonic: but similarly there is nothing holy in the cultic sense except the community of the holy people and their self-abandonment in the service of the Lord to whom the world and all its dominions belong.

—Ernst Käsemann, “Worship and Everyday Life: A Note on Romans 12” in New Testament Questions of Today, 191-2

Musical Idolatry

How perplexing to think of the burden we have placed on music, this fleeting human construct! . . . The church desperately needs an artistic reformation that accomplishes two things at once: first, it takes music out of the limelight and puts Christ and his Word back into prominence; and second, it strives creatively for a synthesis of new, old and crosscultural styles.

—Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 75

The Big Picture

One criterion to apply to worship in any congregation, regardless of the liturgical style it embraces, is that of historical remembrance and proclamation: Does worship proclaim the whole sweep of divine activity past, present, and future? Does worship induct participants into a cosmology in which God is at work faithfully in continuity with past divine action? Does worship convey a sense of hope for the future grounded in God’s faithful action in the past? For comfortable North American worshipers and worship leaders today, the great temptation is to slip into expressions of petition, thanksgiving, and proclamation that are nearly exclusively focused on the present moment. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of lives and churches that are content with the status quo. Our songs, prayers, and sermons emphasize God’s immediate goodness and even the vitality of our intimate experience of God. For us to experience the riches of fully biblical worship, our prayer, praise, and proclamation should be carried out as if we stand before a cosmic time line of God’s actions, fully aware of divine faithfulness from the creation of the world to its full re-creation in Christ. It is this vast and specific awareness that grounds our hope when days are difficult and that leads us beyond the immediate concerns of our little egocentric worlds.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Former Prophets and the Practice of Christian Worship” in Worship Seeking Understanding, 36

Job Description for Pastoral Musicians

• Frame songs as acts of joyful, life-giving resistance to idolatry. Teach us that songs are an antidote to exploitation and depersonalization.

• Learn to study the Scripture texts in, around, and under the songs you love.

• Do not become so attached to subversion for its own sake that you fail to recognize genuine, covenantal, Christ-shaped forms of subversion. Cultivate the radical theological imagination needed for that discernment.

• Teach us by example what it means to sing as gift and gifting—each song a gift, each singing of a song a gift, each song a witness to gift and giving, each singer a gift in the giving.

• Devote attention to songs that convey the weightiness and hope of hesed, God’s tenacious, covenantal solidarity and loving-kindness.

• Rescue chestnuts from the dustbin of sentimentality. Resist kitsch.

• Pay attention to context—the unique context of each Scripture text, the unique context in which each song was born, the unique context in which it will be sung today.

• Choose not only songs that express what a community already experiences but also songs that will stretch a community toward ever deeper obedience to God, ever more vivid ways of imagining God’s covenantal love and fidelity.

—John Witvliet, “Foreword,” in Walter A. Brueggemann, A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing (Kindle Locations 76-95)

Failed Song

. . . the habit so many communities have . . . of taking world-upending, astonishment-inducing texts and then rendering them with music that is utterly conventional and ultimately sentimental.

—John Witvliet, “Foreword,” in Walter A. Brueggemann, A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing (Kindle Locations 93-94)

Guarding the The Church’s Song

Be vigilant to fight the commodification of the church’s song. Resist anything that blunts the fullness of the Christian gospel. Do not squelch the dimly burning wicks of voices at the margins whose songs may not otherwise be heard. Resist cultural imperialism. Embrace ways of creating, curating, receiving, and singing songs that demonstrate the shalom of God’s way in the world.

—John Witvliet, “Foreword,” in Walter A. Brueggemann, A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing (Kindle Locations 99-102)

The Miracle of Worship

The miracle of worship is that ordinary actions like shaking hands, bowing heads, singing, and speaking words can become vehicles of the presence of God—they are made into prayers, blessing, and instruction. God is willing to take our common actions and words, bless them, and multiply their effects. Similarly, worship incorporates the most ordinary physical elements of our daily lives and elevates them into the architecture of the Kingdom of God. As Christ changed water to wine for a wedding feast and blessed the bread beside the sea and distributed it to the many gathered there, so, in worship, we take water, bread, and wine and declare a new creation.

—William A. Dyrness,  A Primer on Christian Worship, 133

More Ready to Hear

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of Thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), “Proper 22”

Sing to the Lord (2)

Congregational singing, judged by the norms of our market culture, is an absurd enterprise: a group of intrepid people eagerly lining out poetry filled with archaic images and metaphors reflective of a prescientific worldview and singing ancient memories, hopes, and mysteries that contradict the “reason of the age.” Such singing, when done intentionally, is perfectly countercultural.

—Walter Brueggemann, A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing, Kindle Location 123-126




Towards and Out of Worship

Worship is central to all that we do. And for that reason, our whole life is both a procession toward worship and a procession out of worship. Life is a cycle of constant return to the source of our new life and to the empowerment for life that we receive from the Christ we meet and celebrate in worship.

—Robert E. Webber, Robert, Worship is a Verb: Eight Principles for Transforming Worship, 213

Fuel and Fire

The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white-hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit; and resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands and obedient lives.

—John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 82