Don't Stop Declaring God's Glory!

January 17, 2018

15 Objections to Worship Renewal...and 15 Brief Answers - As a Worship Development Missionary, I became aware that God was routinely using worship renewal, particularly with contemporary styles, as a tool in transforming peoples' lives - and the corporate lives of local churches.  Like fresh New Wine, new music brought to the table all sorts of discussion and emotions, particularly about what to do with...the Old Wine skins.  In this matter, I've heard many legitimate - and insightful - questions and concerns; such thoughts have gone on to be much help in renewal.  

 

In all honesty, though, the biggest obstacles have been those who preferred debate to revival.  Some people just seem determined to discern when a local Body of Christ is moving toward refreshing, and then mire down every step with unending theological and philosophical tar!   Bless 'em.

 

But whether the motives were sterling or stinky, those concerns began to repeat themselves over time - so did the answers. I've included here my own brief responses to typical questions we fielded for years; they may be helpful or jog your thinking as you deal with the same.

 

 

1.         I don't need your songs to worship God.  Worship is more than a song, it's a whole lifestyle.

 

That's absolutely true, and Romans 12:1 couldn't be more clear.  Our lives should be 24 / 7 expressions of thanksgiving, praise and obedience to the Savior. The life of a worshiper will be characterized by generosity, holiness, evangelism, forgiveness, and all sorts of marvelous things, including the beautiful fruit of the Spirit.

 

Genuine praise, joyful and heartfelt, is the OVERFLOW of a life brimming with adoration for Our Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus.  Those praises will not be silenced; they cannot be held back.

 

Here's where it gets personal: if those praises are NOT brimming from the life of an individual - or a church, it's reasonable to wonder if that "cup" is full, and challenge it to be so.  But it gets sadder than that.  I often meet laypeople - and even shepherds - who find it more satisfying to wrangle and fuss about the definition of worship than to simply and sweetly engage in the activity.  It's a sign that something is deeply wrong. 

 

Dr. Don McMinn takes this perspective:  There is a "narrow" and a "broad" definition of worship, and both are supported by Scripture.  Yes, "whatever you do," must be done to God's glory; that's a broad definition of worship.  But we're also commanded to "declare the excellencies" of God and sing "a new song" to the Lord; that's a narrow definition. 

 

Pointing to a broad definition of worship does not free us of the responsibilities of the narrow definition, nor - as some would prefer - is the reverse true.  Both tend to be escapist ways of not obeying Scripture, and neither is noble.  CS Lewis might have said in this case, "you must have it both ways."

 

How much more delightful to joyfully anticipate and foster times of personal and corporate worship, when we can touch the Father's heart, and have Him touch us.  "Let others wrangle," Augustine said, "I will stand in wonder." 

 

2.         Why do you worship leaders talk about seeking God's "presence" in a worship experience?  You can't make an omnipresent God "more present" by worshiping Him.

 

First, passages like Psalm 139 make it clear that God is everywhere, and since the term "manifest presence of God" can confuse people theologically, I'll gladly sign a petition to have it stricken from our vocabulary.  But before we throw out the bathwater, let's make sure we're not tossing out any perfectly good babies.

 

Some have suggested that we would be wiser to carefully choose words like "acknowledging that Christ is already with us;" while that covers our intellectual assent to His omnipresence, it does nothing to express our response to His personally-or-corporately-expressed glory and love.  Every Christian on this planet knows what it is to be touched by the very REAL SENSE of God's presence.  No one, though, by admitting this, is claiming God to be UNREAL at other times!  It's just that the sheep recognize the voice of their Shepherd. 

 

Perhaps this perspective will help:  Is God present in an inner city "crack house?"  We'd all agree He is, though His heart would be grieved by the wickedness and destruction there.  Is God present on Sunday morning when His children are praising Him?  Without a doubt. 

 

Now in which of the above examples is God's presence more likely to be "encountered" or "experienced?"  In that answer is exactly what worshipers describe as the "manifest presence of God."  It's a reference to the very desirable, powerful sense of God's obvious presence, when He is "enthroned upon the praises of His people."  (Ps 22:3)  We routinely pray for such services, and our prayers are answered during these times when God moves among us in life-changing ways.

 

The Master - as usual - said it best:  Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."


3.         Too much of what's called worship is actually just entertainment.  It takes the attention from God and places it on people and their talents.

 

Godly, skillful musicianship is no more inherently distracting from our Master than Godly, skillful preaching.  And it doesn't take Perry Mason to make the case that poor musicianship is far more distracting from worship than good musicianship!

 

But the issue isn't really about art, is it?  It's about heart.  And it's about appropriateness.  One musician's "hot licks" can leave us gagging on their obvious fleshy show, and another's fine musicianship can make our hearts swell with appreciation for God's glory.  Same song, same notes, different heart.

 

Discerning pastors, elders and worship leaders will work together to cull "performers" from the platform.  And by the way, it's not only greatly talented folks that love the limelight.  I wonder how often junior high girls (taking 5 minutes of prime worship time to sing along with a Jaci Velasquez background tape) are focusing us on the glory of God.  How many of our "specials" should have been kept for a church family talent night?  If a special can't be woven into a worship service as a true part of the worship tapestry, it probably doesn't belong, no matter how much we love the singer or player. 

 

Is worship a performance?  Absolutely - it's a performance from the congregation directly for God.   I long for the day when every member of the congregation sees him or herself as a member of the great choir, performing passionately and personally for the "Audience of One."  When all worship leaders see themselves as worshipers first, and "choir directors" and "prompters" second. 

 

WARNING: RANT AHEAD

A final thought on this matter, and - I'll admit - a personal one.  If I was a faithful employee at a bank and yet my critics were routinely accusing me of embezzling money, I'd eventually get a little testy.  Those who professionally handle cash understand that a great trust has been extended to them; they also know that theft is a dark betrayal of that trust.  Similarly, worship leaders are called to handle the "currency" of heaven: God's Glory.  Embezzling God's praise by diverting His worship to ourselves is the most serious spiritual crime in the universe.  In a Biblical sense, it is a fully Satanic affront to the glorious God Who is worthy of all honor.   When critics (motivated primarily by their liturgical bigotry) routinely accuse worship leaders of embezzling God's praise, it's a horrific accusation. If these charges are unfounded, I'd fully expect a Just and Righteous God, Who is passionate about the declaration of His glory, to turn His attention to the accusers.

 

4.         Praise songs are shallow and trite, but hymns have depth.  (Hymns are like fine sonnets, but praise songs are like Hallmark cards.) 

 

Before I address this, I wonder how many of us have sent John Donne's sonnets to our parents or spouses on their birthdays! They were probably quite happy with the Hallmark cards we lovingly chose, and I suspect God is the same way. 

 

The charge about the shallowness of praise songs (I hear it all the time) is just plain nasty.  Marva Dawn and others have championed a cry that we've "dumbed down" our praises by declaring God's glory in plain English.  Such generalizations, however, start breaking down the moment we look at specific examples. 

 

Consider this "Sonnet" by Hymnist Will Thompson:

"When I am sad, to Him I go,

No other One can cheer me so,

When I am sad, He makes me glad, He's my Friend!"

 

Compare that to Matt Redman's "Hallmark card:"

"Come down in power - reveal Your heart again

Come hear our cries, the tears that plead for rain

We're knocking, knocking on the door of heaven, crying, crying for this generation

We're praying for Your name to be known in all of the earth...

We're praying for Your Word to bear fruit in all of the earth!"

 

I'll leave you to ponder which is deeper.  Thanks to superb writers like Redman, Tomlin, Jernigan and others, praise songs are today plumbing astonishing depths of truth - in today's language.  The Sovereign Grace movement has contributed powerful lyrics; I've interviewed their authors and learned that many of their songs emerged from the writings of D.A. Carson and R.C. Sproul.

 

This may be a good time to mention a puzzling phenomena.  I've heard otherwise mature Christians denigrate the singing of God's Word, and dismiss it as "trite."  Did Psalm 118:24 suddenly lose its God-Breathed authority when Lincoln Brewster set it to a simple, happy melody?  No, "This is the Day" has caused the Word of God to "dwell richly" (Col. 3:16) in millions of Believers; they memorized a marvelous, life changing Truth: "This is the day that the Lord hath made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it!"  

 

There's plenty of room for Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs without getting nasty.  That brings us to the following concern. 

 

5.         Worship renewal will cause division in our church.

 

True unity (1 Jn. 1:7) occurs when God's children "walk in the light as He is in the light," and that kind of walk will include authentic praise.  Worship and unity are related; 2 Chr. 5 tells us that when the people praised God with "one voice," the glory of the Lord descended upon Solomon's temple.  

 

If  the declaration of God's glory - among God's people -  results in disunity, the solution is certainly not to dampen those praises. 

 

6.         The songs are too emotional. 

 

The Psalms are also very emotional - and that book is our primary Biblical model of praise. 

 

We grieve and lament and repent and rejoice, and do it all before the Lord.  Brimming with the joys and sorrows of life, we come to the Master, and find healing and purpose in that encounter.  We experience God's love and are renewed.  If the whole thing doesn't pack an emotional wallop, perhaps we aren't really paying attention. 

 

I love what Jonathan Edwards said in his Treatise on Religious Affections: "They who condemn high emotions in others, are certainly not likely to have high emotions themselves.  And let it be considered, that they who have but small Christian emotions, have certainly but little Christianity."

 

Of course, our minds must be engaged, too (History is full of heartless intellectuals, AS WELL AS misguided zealots); both our hearts and minds must come to bear under the Spirit of God. 

 

7.         The songs are too repetitive.  

 

The Psalms are also very repetitive - and that book is our primary Biblical model of praise. 

 

The Psalms are also very repetitive - and that book is our primary Biblical model of praise. 

 

Changing or learning ideas often involves repetition; it's why (after 40 years) we still know that  "things go better with ____!"  If repetition wasn't an effective communication tool, advertisers would stop using it, and so would teachers.  Most of the Scripture passages that Christians today memorize can be credited directly to the repetition of praise songs.  As Barnard taught, the line between meditation and worship is a thin one.    

 

8.         People who are drawn to church because of attractive praise and worship come for the wrong reason; they are all about feelings and existentialism, rather than the great - if sometimes unflashy - truths of God's Word.  When people are drawn by God's Spirit, they won't be depending on their feelings.

 

I respect intelligent objections against renewal in worship, but the above statement is not one of those.  

 

Would we leave our nurseries filthy, because parents with small children might otherwise be attracted to our churches for the wrong reason?  Would we provide visitors uncomfortable chairs, or not heat our buildings...so people wouldn't come for the wrong reasons? 

I've actually heard otherwise bright Christian leaders endorse an unattractive approach to worship to make sure that people are drawn to Christ for the right reasons.  Have they never read the clear Biblical command (Ps. 66:2) to "make His praises glorious?"  Or is this - as I suspect - simply a blustering effort to legitimatize our lack of planning and effort?

 

I recommend Sally Morganthaler's Classic Worship Evangelism.  She beautifully shows how genuinely-worshiping churches are reaching the lost in their communities.  People are drawn to the Jesus Who is being exalted in the praises of His people. 

 

But I have yet to hear anyone say it better than my favorite Elder, Bob Franco.  "In China, missionaries offered street people a bowl of rice if they would listen to the gospel.  Those converts were sometimes called Rice Christians, and, if there was no rice, many would not come back.  However, many others came to know Jesus.  Maybe music is like rice, because I know that some people just come to church for the music.

 

God will use the music, though.  Soon, the fellowship and the good news of the gospel will grab their hearts.  We've got to get them in the door first, though."

   

9.         Sure, churches grow when they place an emphasis on excellent worship, but growth isn't the measure of a healthy church.

 

Healthy kids grow; if my little girl stopped growing, I'd be extremely concerned and I'd take her to the doctor.  Similarly, healthy churches grow.  People get saved.  People move into the community and discover a great church.  They are excited about their church and bring their friends and family.  We call this "growth."

 

(In all fairness, it's obvious that mature adults don't grow.  Instead, they give birth to children who do grow.  In the same way, we'd expect a church that's achieved its local potential to be about the business of planting churches.)

 

When Jesus is being proclaimed, His praises are being declared passionately, His Word is being taught, and people are coming to salvation, I consider this a good thing.  Does it surprise you that some ministers - at the churches where growth isn't happening - get upset about it?  Do you wonder why they're upset?  I've asked them, and have been told that growing churches have compromised truth for the sake of success.  There's no value in attracting those with "itching ears."

Even though folks are being saved and discipled?  No matter.  The critics have told me that such people are probably responding to a false Gospel, one based on emotions and existentialism.  The critics, you see, have an answer for everything.  In heaven, I suspect they will have a secluded section, marked with a sign that says, "Quiet please!  They think they're the only ones here!"

 

10.       We'll neglect the fine theology taught by the great hymns of the past.

 

You would expect me to say that good, biblical lyrics can be found in the music of all ages, including the present.  It's so.  Poor, sloppy lyrics can - similarly - be found all around, too.  Or controversial ideas; of Charles Wesley's 6500 hymns, many are brimming with Wesleyan theology.  Simply put, good worship leaders are discerning in their choice of material, and poor leaders are not.

 

That's a sufficient answer, but I want to deepen the discussion and take a direction that may surprise some.

 

My Father - a musician, an elder and a teacher -  knew the lyrics of many, many hymns.  On his deathbed, though, he repeatedly whispered the words of only one song:

 

"God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He's so good to me." 

We fuss a lot about the window dressing as we peer through the glass darkly.  "Jesus loves me this I know," brims with theology too astonishing for us to fully grasp this side of eternity. 

 

What is the purpose of praise and worship?  Is it a means to an end?  Do we view worship, for example, as a way to get ourselves "worked up" emotionally so we can have some kind of experience?  Not on my watch.  Neither - please hear me - is worship primarily a means to transfer data.

 

Worship is not a means to an end.  It is an end in itself, and according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the very "chief end of man," which is to "enjoy God forever."

 

When we take our eyes off the devotional, relational aspects of worship, and reduce it to a teaching tool, we've cheated ourselves and robbed God, too.  Mr. Spock might find it logical and efficient to think of worship primarily in terms of putting across information, but it was King David who was a "man after God's own heart."  And David's approach to praise was quite different.

 

Now don't misunderstand.  I'm fully aware of Paul's command (Col. 3:16) to "to teach one another" with songs (it's part of my personal mission statement).  I'm just reminding us that a major teaching of our songs should be the importance of a authentic, ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. 

 

In our conversions, in our convictions, and ultimately on our deathbeds, the personal, devotional aspects of our faith weigh mighty heavy.  

 

11.       People will become musically illiterate from reading lyrics from projection screens, instead of following the notes in the hymnal.

 

Where did we get the idea that the Churches' responsibility included promoting musical literacy? 

 

If we actually had the excess time and energy to do this, wouldn't it be better used reaching the lost and discipling them?  I came from an area where - according to Billy Graham - between 94 and 96 percent were completely un-churched.  Our local missionary has told me that Cedar Rapids is about 90 percent un-churched. 

 

Those seeking Christ did not come for music lessons.

 

We've all seen people bury their noses in a hymnal.  Bless their hearts, they stare down at their blue books and mumble the same lyrics for decades as if they'd never read or sung them before!  Lyrics printed in bulletins are no better; I've watched people cling to their bulletins, painstakingly hanging on the lyrics as they sing Jerry Sinclair's "Alleluia!" (The song has only one word!)

 

Electronic projections get our hands freed to clap and raise.  Seeing those faces upturned and radiant with praise is far more marvelous than a room full of notation sight-readers (did we ever have that?).

 

12.       Expressive worship will lead to non-biblical emotional excesses, or at least create a taste for this and cause our people to seek them elsewhere.

 

Scripture tells us that David's praises included bowing, singing, dancing, playing new songs on his instrument (loudly, according to Ps. 33:3) shouting and falling prostrate before the Lord.  As a "man after God's own heart," and our model worshiper, we would do well to emulate him.

There is no indication, though, that David hit the floor twitching or barked like a dog.

 

As we said earlier, Biblical worship is not a means to an end.  I have little patience for those who would use worship to reach an emotional summit and seek to somehow curry God's favor with their fervor.  This technique might have worked for the prophets of Baal, but that is not our God.

 

Similarly, we can't stand by idly and see worship devalued as the "filler" before the Main Event, the sermon.  No, worship is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself; I doubt that any of us will find a better end than Revelation 4 and 5.

 

As to our people seeking worship elsewhere, let's not kid ourselves: Evangelicals have been losing folks to Pentecostal churches for years.

 

Why?  Well, it's not because of our fellowship and teaching; these are often second to none.  Still, many of our evangelical churches are failing to draw peoples' hearts to Jesus OR our fellowships.  Consider that some of our smallest churches are located in the midst of huge metropolitan areas.  

 

Here's the problem:  we tend to be boring.  We're perceived as people with great knowledge and very little zeal.  Visitors come into our churches, view our dull, passionless praises and get the impression that we must not care very much about the Lord we profess. 

 

And while we yawn our way through poorly planned services that fail to connect with people, it's easy to criticize the places where God is actively working.  We pat ourselves on the back and somehow imagine ourselves as God's last great hope (I've been an insider at breakfast meetings and heard this kind of talk for years).

 

Meeting peoples' felt need - to touch the heart of God and experience Him in worship - is not a Pentecostal excess.  It's "doing the Book."   When we refuse to "do the Book," we should not be surprised when willing worshipers walk right past our ministries to attend the church down the street.  There, they may NOT hear the full counsel of God's Word, and if their blood is not required at our hand, it will be by the grace of God.  

 

13.       It's too loud.

 

Then for goodness sake, turn it down!  It doesn't need to be loud to be effective worship (Though Scripture does command loud praises, Ps. 33:3).

 

I challenge musicians to be sensitive regarding volume, and the first smart step in a small, boxy room is often to put away the drums (sorry, drummers).  By the time other instruments "compete" with drums for volume, everything is too loud.   That doesn't mean giving up all percussion instruments; hand percussion, like congas and shakers work beautifully and tastefully.  Tambourines, when played skillfully, are a delight.

 

Finally, here's an appeal for quality sound.  An excellent 1000-watt sound system sounds great, but the same 1000 watts of cheap sound system sounds noisy and cheap;  Radio Shack and JBL are not created equal.  Good sound doesn't just happen, it's planned, paid for, and practiced.

 

14.       Contemporary worship styles are drawn from the music of rebellion and immorality.  The stuff is irredeemable.

 

It's more accurate to say that rebellious and immoral people took the Churches' wonderful music-styles and corrupted them.  We're just taking back what's rightfully ours!   Music historians agree: the Blues grew out of black Gospel, and Rock'n'roll grew out of country music, which had its roots in Appalachian and folk gospel music. The blend of these two styles spawned the versatile sound that for 60 years has been broadly defined as "pop music."

 

(If anyone doubts the country/rock connection, call this to mind: Bill Haley and The Comets, who recorded the first Rock'n'roll song, "Rock Around the Clock," was actually a country-swing band called "The Saddlemen.")

 

But that's all water under the bridge.  Let me cut to the chase: does anyone really think the lovely piano motif  in "Shout to the Lord" sounds rebellious?  Do the guitar chords in "Here I Am to Worship" sound immoral to you?  Both of these songs move me to tears of adoration for God.  "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" was born during Rick Founds' morning devotions; it doesn't sound very evil, either.  It has managed, though, to place the entire gospel on the lips of millions of people!  "You came from heaven to earth to show the way, from the earth to the cross my debt to pay, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky, Lord I lift Your name on high!"  (By the way, Rick told me that musically, he was thinking of The Eagles.)

 

WARNING: RANT AHEAD:

For years, I've heard the following story repeated as if it was established history:  Africans pounded on hollow logs in the jungles, working themselves into a sweaty, demonic frenzy.  These pagans - the story goes -  became our slaves and ultimately brought their occultic rhythm to America, where it soon became our favorite music.

The problem with this story is twofold: 1) it's historical hogwash, and 2) it's racist hogwash.  Wicked slave traders stole their human cargo from the Ivory Coast of Africa, and the music of this gentle people was played on a stringed instrument attached to a drum.  It was called a "ban'ya."  These displaced people brought us the "banjo." (This is developed fully in Steve Lawhead's Rock Reconsidered on IVP.)   Many slaves responded sweetly, though, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we owe our precious brothers and sisters in the faith a debt of gratitude as their praise music continues to touch our hearts today!  Those looking for bad guys would do well to untie our redeemed victims from the whipping post and look instead - with broken hearts - to the church that stood by idly while this injustice helped build the economic backbone of a fledgling nation. 

 

Don't you wish we could fix our problems (from Dred Scott to Roe vs. Wade) by changing the way we strum our guitars?  The Master is - as always - so right: The Truth sets us free.  I long for the day we agree, as Francis Schaeffer taught, that there is no Christian music, just True or False lyrics. 

 

We've been worrying about this music-style-stuff for centuries, you know.  While reformers Zwingli and Calvin allowed no musical instruments in the church at all, Luther loved instruments and actually set "A Mighty Fortress" to the melody of a popular German tavern song!  In doing so, he gave handles to the Truth, and the multitudes grabbed it gladly.  He was right. 

 

The church once wrangled about the Waltz, believing it to be crass and sensual (Many words may describe "In the Garden," but "crass and sensual" do not readily come to mind).  Prior to that, the Minuet was thought to imitate the Trinity.  Churches once rejected songs with too many minor chords. Organs were initially dismissed as "the devil's little box of pipes." Isaac Watts' departure from the Psalter and his wild chords drew great criticism.  General Booth's Salvation Army brass bands were denounced as worldly by the church of the day.  Major 7th chords were once considered scandalous.  I heard Bill Gothard tell 5000 people that songs with "fade-out" ending are an affront to God because they mock His eternal nature!  The Body of Christ is damaged daily - and deeply - by this kind of aberrant logic, and I've seen the needless wounds up close.  I, for one, am not afraid to pound my 95 to the door at Wittenberg.  I'm with Luther on this one: The truth is important, and there's no good reason to hide the handles.


15.       The real problem with contemporary worship is a focus on self and not God.  All you have to do is count the personal pronouns, "I," "me," "my" and so on.  It's obvious, and an offense to anyone who honors God.

 

Today's praise song writers have picked up such habits from the only biblical role model they've had: King David, the Sweet Singer of Israel.  Consider Psalm 18:1-3:

 

1          I love you, O LORD, My strength.

2          The LORD is My rock, My fortress and My deliverer;

            My God is My rock, in whom I take refuge.

            He is My shield and the horn of My salvation, My stronghold.

3          I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,

            and I am saved from My enemies.

 

I think that's 14 personal pronouns in 3 verses; our critics might want to rebuke the Man after God's Own Heart. 

 

Our God is not a Deist's distant Creator, but my Abba Father.  He's called us each by name, and created each of us fearfully and wonderfully.  In eternity past, He already planned good works for us, and knew every day of our lives.  He counts every hair on our heads!

 He calls for us to draw near to Him, and promises to draw near to us if we do.  He asks us to walk with Him, to be friends with Him, and even calls us His Bride.

 

If our prayers and our worship don't contain a good share of personal pronouns, it's evidence that we haven't taken time to know Him like David did. 

 

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