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

Order in Worship

For some, an order of worship might feel like a straitjacket, but this is a false assumption. Consider jazz music. Jazz usually features spontaneous improvisation, but it only works because the musicians in the combo are following a regular, predictable, repeated chord structure. Without this structure, the music would be chaos. In jazz, as in worship, genuine spontaneity happens within structure.

—John Witvliet, “So You’ve Been Asked to Plan Worship”

Because…

We don’t worship to make God love us, but because God loves us. Nothing in worship should imply otherwise.

We don’t sing in order for God to be present, but because God already is present. Nothing in worship should imply otherwise.

—John Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice,” in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, 139

Simple Questions

The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation for several criteria that can be used to evaluate and prescribe liturgical practices in many contexts. These criteria can be phrased as simple questions: Does liturgy speak of God with reference to particular actions in history recorded in Scripture? Does corporate worship in a particular congregation rehearse the whole of the divine economy? Are its liturgical actions carried out as means for a personal relationship and encounter with God? Do these actions acknowledge the example and mediation of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Does the community itself model the kind of intimate fellowship or koinonia that is central both to divine life and the Christian life?

One strength of these criteria . . . while they are certainly formulated in a very culturally specific way, they are the kind of transcultural criteria that are useful for contextual ministry on any continent.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship: Perennial Themes in Recent Theological Literature,” 18

Reforming Worship

Throughout the history of the Christian church, periods of significant liturgical reform have almost always featured (1) an intense call to deeper, more intentional participation in worship, (2) a deeper, pastoral concern for the particularities of worship in a given congregation, and (3) a profound awareness of how God works in and through all these particularities in worship to nourish, confront, comfort, and inspire participants.

—John D. Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice” in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry (ed. Dorothy C. Bass & Craig Dykstra)

Trintarian Worship

Ponder Robert Jenson’s evocative image: “The particular God of Scripture does not just stand over against us; He envelops us.” In this vision, we still pray and sing ‘to’ each divine person “Holy, holy, holy. . .blessed Trinity!,” but we are also aware that we pray and sing “through Christ,” “in the power of the Spirit.” This is also a remarkably active vision of God. The picture here is not of God as a passive being up in heaven, waiting for us to sing a little louder and pray a little harder before conferring a blessing. That description better fits Baal! (I Kings 18). No, God is active in prompting our worship [Holy Spirit], in receiving it [Father], and in perfecting it.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Opening of Worship/Trinity” in A More Profound Alleluia, 8