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

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Defining Worship 19

Definition

WORSHIP: OUR MINISTRY TO GOD

Worship has been defined as being preoccupied with God.

We humans are preoccupied with many things: successes and failures, the gaining or losing of possessions, the hurts and joys of living; but we are rarely preoccupied with God.

And, yet, in a secularized age, which seems to be racing dangerously along in a rapid moral decline, we need to worship more than ever. As the late William Temple said:

The world can be saved by one thing and that is worship.  For to worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.

This exaltation, this adoration does not often happen spontaneously. It takes work on the part of humans, bogged about by the demands of materiality: by the urgent, by the necessary, but not by the spiritual. We must learn to work at our worship so that preoccupation with God becomes delightfully habitual.

Worship is a sacred work in which a people corporately, determined to be enamored with God, find meaningful ways to tell Him of this and to remind themselves as well.

How do we become intentional in worship?  How do we become participants rather than spectators? A friend’s mother taught her to go to church with “A full basket, not an empty one.” We must begin to retrain ourselves to consider during each Saturday evening/ Sunday morning: What have I to give to God and to his people? Am I ready to ready to worship? Am I eager to be preoccupied with Him?  We must learn to transform the age-old, self-centered question, What am I going to get out of the service? to, What am I going to put into the service?

We need to remind ourselves, over and over, that the focus of Sunday worship must be upon the living Christ among us.

In truth, if Christ were bodily present and we could see him with more than our soul’s eyes, all our worship would become intentional. If Christ stood on our platforms, we would bend our knees without asking. If we could hear His voice leading the hymns, we too would sing heartily; the words would take on meaning. The Bible reading would be lively; meaning would pierce to the marrow of our souls. If Christ walked our aisles, we would hasten to make amends with that brother or sister to whom we have not spoken.  We would volunteer for service, the choir loft would be crowded. If we knew Christ would attend our church Sunday after Sunday, the front pews would fill fastest, believers would arrive early, offering plates would be laden with sacrificial but gladsome gifts, prayers would concentrate our attention.

Yet, the startling truth is that Christ is present, through His Holy Spirit, in our churches; it is we who must develop eyes to see and ears to hear Him.

One old man I know always weeps when his church sings the doxology, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”  The tears run down his wrinkled cheeks.  Would that we all could experience that we all could experience that awe, that reality which breaches the borders of the intellect and somehow reaches the affective, the guarded emotional parts of ourselves.

 For truly, one day, one eternal day, we will recognize that divine presence, we will kneel in awe, our hearts will sigh, will shout, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!” We will weep for joy in the Presence of God. We will become utterly preoccupied. We will adore. We will exalt. We will worship. And this time, this one day in time, this Sunday—every Sunday, in fact Sunday after Sunday: we are preparing our souls, practicing for that Eternity when every day will be a Sabbath without end, for that day when we will know most assuredly, Christ is here!

—Karen Burton Mains, Introduction to the hymnal Sing Joyfully!

Be Present Now

Lord Jesus Christ, be present now;
Our hearts in true devotion bow.
Your Spirit send with light divine,
And let your truth within us shine.

Unseal our lips to sing your praise
In endless hymns through all our days;
Increase our faith and light our minds;
And set us free from doubt that blinds.

Then shall we join the hosts that cry,
“O holy, holy Lord Most High!”
And in the light of that blest place
We then shall see you face to face.

All glory to the Father, Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One!
To you, O blessed Trinity,
Be praise throughout eternity!

—”Herr Jesu Christ, Dich Zu Uns Wend” (1648), Hymn # 201 in Lutheran Worship
(may be sung to the tune of “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness,” “Jesus Shall Reign,” or Tallis’ Canon)

Ascended on High! (7)

The Ascension event allowed the disciples and the current worshiper to access the presence of Christ wherever they were located in time and space.

Even the resurrection appearances allowed Christ to be accessed only by those in certain locations. If Thomas was not with the rest of the disciples when the resurrected Christ appeared, the Thomas had no access to Jesus (John 20:24-29). Thomas had to be in the right location to confront the Christ with his challenge and to respond in faith. After the Ascension, access to Christ was open to any worshiper who drew near in heart and soul. In Christ there was full assurance of access to the Godhead wherever the worshiper might be located.

The expansion of the Church has been built on the principle that Christ and the Godhead can be accessed from any point on the globe and at any time in history. The worshiper is no nearer to Christ in the places of the historical setting of the Jesus of Nazareth. Pilgrimage can enliven faith by making real the geography of the Gospels and assuring the disciple that the gospel is not a fable. We know that the life of Jesus is rooted in geography and in history. Yet the access to the exalted Lord is readily available at whatever time and place suit the worshiper. Christians live by this assumption, but it is important to realize that the assumption rests on the doctrine of the Ascension.

—Peter Atkins, Ascension Now: Implications of Christ’s Ascension for Today’s Church,  93-94