The Tyranny of Style

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

Could Be (Has Been) Worse!

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),

Don’t Change for the Sake of Change

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

Song in Its Proper Place

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.”

—John Witvliet

Both

Worship is “both conservative and critical, centered and open, catholic and evangelical, free and bound, local and more-than-local, God’s action and our action.”

—Norman A. Hjelm, “From the Past to the Future: The LWF Study Series on Worship and Culture as Vision and Mission,” in Worship and Culture  Foreign Country or Homeland?, 9

One Mediator

The Christology of Hebrews also undoes forever any notion of mystical communion with God. By this, I mean that communion which bypasses Christ to have a direct experience of divine enlightenment, or some numinous spiritual feeling. This is important when we see many contemporary worship songs, activities and approaches which emphasis the inner psychological/emotional state of the worshipper and use it as the criterion to decide if worship has been effective or not. Hebrews will not let us replace the mediation of Christ with the mediation of the worship leader who is able to engender an effective response, which is then interpreted as direct communion with God.

—Noel Due, Created For Worship:  From Genesis to Revelation to You, 181