Posted in Theologically Speaking

(The articles in this category are offered to expand our appreciation and that of our children for our Christian faith. Its history is incredibly rich. Its foundational contributions to the best of our Western culture are immeasurable. Searching out its implications for every area of our lives will occupy every day of our lives. Use these contributions as they are, as springboards to further family study, or as a catalyst for debate through the pages of this Blog.)


The word itself comes from an old English word meaning “Worth”. We attribute worth to God in worship. We worship Him because He is worthy of this. He, and He alone, deserves all glory and praise. In worship we are seeking to give Him the honour which is His due. “How pleasant and fitting to praise Him!” exclaims Psalm 147:1.

Just as the chief end of man is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” so too the worship of God is the highest calling of the church. We can, of course, worship God on our own. Yet there is something special, something unique about the gathering of God’s people for His praise. Many times over the Psalms call God’s people together for the corporate adoration of the Lord. “We can never know the full richness of worship unless we unite in common worship with other members of the body of Christ …God has so created man that there are deeper delights and more intense inspiration in the worshipping congregation than in individual devotion. “1

This is not to deny that the worship services of the church also have some benefit for us as individuals. But the primary goal of worship is not that we might feel a glow, but that God may be given glory.

It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life that a sharp focus on God enables us to get ourselves in better focus. Concentration on God in worship has the effect of lifting us out of our depression and difficulties. A proper view of God helps us to view ourselves and our problems in a clearer light. Coming to worship enables us to put our lives in perspective.

Another paradox is that we feel better for having felt worse. This is contrary to a current popular emphasis on making people feel good about themselves. Some suggest that in worship we should not discourage people with depressing talk about sin, we not should not burden them with feelings of guilt. Instead we should be making them feel happy.

But true happiness comes from a proper recognition of who we are before an Almighty and Holy God. Real blessedness arises out of a sincere acknowledgment of wrong, a heartfelt confession of sin and the assurance that our forgiving God has “tread our sins underfoot and hurl(ed) all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).

The minister is not to be a cheerleader whipping up enthusiasm, nor a psychologist aiming to improve the self esteem of those present. Rather he is a minister of God seeking to lead the congregation into the very presence of the Lord. This in itself has a special effect on us. Martin Luther knew this, for he said, “At home in my own house there is no warmth or vigour in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.

One difficulty we face in corporate worship is the varying expectations people have concerning the style and format of the service, especially in regard to music. Many churches hardly sing an old hymn, and could thereby lose their sense of continuity with the past. And yet in our singing we can draw from the best of the entire history of the church : Psalms, ancient and modern hymns, modern choruses. Such singing gives us an identity with the church of Christ of all ages and places. Unfortunately there is a tendency for the musical “conservatives” to gather in one church while the musically “innovative” meet in another.

Is this a good thing? I doubt it. Wouldn’t it be better if we could consider one another? Let the conservative (and often older) members allow for some change while the modern (and often younger) members be prepared to take things more slowly. If we stayed together we would learn a lot from each other as well as tempering the extremes. “…in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:2-3) .2

When we come together to worship the God who seeks worshippers we come together to worship the triune God, the God of the universe, the God of our salvation and the God who will return to judge the living and the dead. Realising this should determine the very tone and quality of our music and our words.

This casts doubt on the suitability of many popular expressions of “worship”: the sentimental type of subjective evangelical songs with highly questionable theology; the full-blast pipe organ sound with the tremulant shaking the very building; the exuberant guitar-strumming of something akin to a catchy advertising jingle; the jolly repetitive sound of a chorus round. All these do not form part of the mature worship of God; indeed all these forms of music-making are contrary to worship.

I want to also deal with the often heard argument that music cannot be divided into good or bad music; after all, some say, music is only a sequence of notes, (you better check that up in your dictionary), music is neutral, not intrinsically good or bad, and so it does not matter what sort of music we use.

Unfortunately, and sadly, this attitude tends to result in the use of all conceivable musical instruments playing all conceivable sorts of music, from the so-called Christian rock to the murdering of traditional Christian hymns and songs, yea, even the psalms.

We need to be reminded here that music is not only a tune or melody — i.e. a sequence of notes it also has harmony and rhythm. That is why I want to make a plea for church music to be music of excellence; excellence in tune, in harmony and in execution (not a haphazard, mediocre combination of all three), music of joy and seriousness, cheerful solemnity, stateliness and majesty to convey worshipful texts.

The church has always been on pilgrimage. At this point in our journey we have available to us 20 centuries of praise and prayer. We can and should select the best out of this treasure trove. Of course the church has been selecting the best throughout the ages and we would be silly — yes, it would be at our peril — to ignore that treasure.

Talking about that treasure trove, there is much to learn from the fascinating story of the music of worship: the original Songs of Praise, i.e. the Hebrew “Sefer Tehillim” or Psalmoi (the Book of Psalms); the Jewish synagogue chant (based on the temple songs of the Levites); the development of the early church music; the hymns written by the very early church fathers; the development of Gregorian and other chants; the stunningly beautiful cathedral choral anthems of Byrd, Wesley, Lassus, Bruckner; fascinating also to read about the different directions taken at the Reformation by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli; to learn of the various early psalm translations in the languages of the people; and to study the history of the Genevan Psalter. This Psalter is one of the best books of psalm settings, composed (albeit to the French text) by Christian composers at the behest of Calvin, yet now sadly neglected.

In his book “O Come Let Us Worship” Robert Rayburn says: “The hymnbook is not only the repository of the devotion of the saints of the ages, but it also provides materials, gathered from the church universal, for the offering up of the sacrifice of praises and thanksgiving. It is a prayer book as well as a song book. It also provides a popular commentary on the creeds of Christendom. A good hymnbook gives a more balanced view of the Christian faith than do many theological volumes … We are faithful to the highest motivations for corporate worship when we are careful to sing those great expressions of praise and devotion which have stood the test of time in the worship of multitudes of believers.”3

For worship is not only that which takes place on Sunday morning, but throughout the week as we live in the presence of God, for the glory of God. Every believer is a priest called to serve and worship God in all he does. To live the Christian life in obedience to God IS worship. When the Apostle Paul urges us to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”, he informs us that this is “spiritual worship”.

On the first day of the week the people of God gather to give God what is due to Him. In the rest of the week we scatter into the world as members of Christ’s church. We must go to the worship service so that we are then ready to go from it renewed in faith, hope and love, committed to worshipping God in all we do.4


1. Robert Rayburn, “0 Come Let Us Worship”, p.29-30.

2. John Haverland, ‘Reflections on Worship”, from Faith in Focus, Nov. 1994, pp. 3-4.

3. Art Snoek, “Music in Worship”, from Faith in Focus, Nov. 1994, pp. 7-9.

4. John Haverland, p.4.

From Keystone Magazine
November 1996 , Vol. II No. 6
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
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email: craig