OK, so UB today raised some questions that I have been pondering for many months anyways, so here goes:
Should our worship reflect reverence for God, approaching him with sobriety and acknowledgement of his holiness, recognizing our own sinfulness and in humble thanks for his grace, and supplicating him for our needs, or should our worship be more of a celebration of God’s goodness and power, including singing, dancing, clapping, and shouting? (– as the speaker today put it, “Let’s party!”)
After talking to my associates, we agreed that the answer is “both”. Both are certainly appropriate attitudes towards God, the problem comes in when we abuse one to the detriment of the other.
This led to another question, which is something I struggle with a lot: In the celebration style, are we truly celebrating the good things God has done for us and the rest of creation, or are we merely celebrating the good music and clapping and the emotions that go along with it. It would definitely help if the words of the songs focused more on what God has done, rather than the fact that we’re celebrating what God has done. “There’s nowhere else that I’d rather be / than dancing with you as you sing over me / There’s nothing else that I’d rather do / Lord, than to worship you…” or “Clap your hands, all ye people / shout to God, with a voice of triumph … / singing alleluia…” Again, why are we clapping? What are we celebrating? I find it too easy to get caught up in the fun and forget why we’re rejoicing in the first place…
On the tangent of enjoyable music, we got into a small debate about the musical forms in the first place. It’s my understanding that the music of the church, for the first millenium at the very least, was simply monophonic: Just words to a melody. No harmonies, maybe or maybe not a fixed rhythm, no catchy embellishments, or dramatic, emotional harmonies, just something akin to the Gregorian chant. So what’s with the developments in church worship music? In the first, more reverent worship style I described, I find difficulties focusing on the words yet again, because I’ll be caught up in the four-part harmonies. I think it was Bonheoffer (sp?) who talked about the idea of returning to the simple monophony, though I’d had the idea before I read it. I think it might be interesting to try.
But this raises yet another question. Why are we placing so much emphasis on the “worship experience” in the first place? It seems to me that this emphasis is nowhere in the New Testament. The best references we have are the classic Ephesians 5:19 and the similar verse in Colossians. Even Acts 2: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The closest things to worship here are “attending the temple” and “praising God”. But what does “praising God” mean? Did it mean clapping and singing catchy tunes? Was it beautiful four-part harmony? Or were they just speaking to each other or shouting “Amen” or “Hallelujah”? I guess what I’m trying to say is that it seems we’re worshipping worship. And so we get slogans and tee-shirts that say “created for Worship” and teachings in our bible classes about the whole purpose of our existence is to worship God (which translates to the 21st century American “worship service”). It seems to me the purpose of our existence is to glorify God, of which worship is merely a part. Look at all the other things the church did. When it comes to the rest of the New Testament, how much emphasis is on worship, and how much is on the other aspects of prayer, life together, service, theology, or the coming aeon? I worry that the church here in affluent America is associating God solely with the worship experience, emphasizing the experience of it, rather than God. “Worship”, as in me standing individually before God with two thousand people I don’t know and singing songs that make me feel good so I can alleviate a sense of guilt or duty, becomes all the church actually does.
It’s kind of scary. Please post comments.