“One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” – Psalm 145:4
Guest Post by Matthew Price, Part 3 of 3
Music is vital to both Old Testament and New Testament worship. One cannot read through the book of Psalms, itself a hymnbook, without seeing the obvious emphasis on music both vocal and instrumental. While the New Testament is fairly quiet in regards to music in the corporate worship service, there are two mentions of its use. I think some will be surprised at the emphasis both of these citations make.
Both references to music in the New Testament Church are echoes of one another by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians and the Colossians. In his letter to the Ephesians, in chapter 4, in a short section on “walking in love,” Paul ends by commanding that the church be “filled with the Spirit” (vv. 2,17). One of the ways this fullness of the Spirit is evidenced is that people are “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [their] heart” (v. 19). So, as a sign of our walking in love with one another, we are filled with the Spirit, and as a sign of being filled with the Spirit, we are to sing! But notice the direction of the singing, “to one another.” Again, in a section concerning “bearing with one another,” Paul tells the Colossian church to let, “the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). We may find that a bit off-putting in today’s notion of corporate worship. We’ve been cultivated into seeing all worship, even corporate worship, as nothing more than an individual experience with God, the corporate setting merely being a combination of those experiences. But isn’t it telling that in the only two mentions of music in the corporate worship setting in the New Testament, both references command us to sing, “to one another”? Now I do not mean to negate any individual expression of worship in the congregational setting, the Psalms make continual use of the first person. I only mean to draw attention and place primacy on the togetherness of the corporate setting as we sing “to one another.”
The majority of divisions along the lines of corporate worship today do not occur along the elemental, foundational lines such as the Sacraments or the preaching of the Word, they occur over music or style of music. That, which by its very nature is intended to help us teach and admonish one another, has become a point of division. Issues over musical style or accompaniment have split churches and congregations all over the nation. And let us not be fooled, a division of services for this purpose is a division of the congregation. Perhaps the most poignant loss of this current mindset, is the loss of the importance of the very idea of “assembly,” to gather men and women from every nation, language, and age to worship and glorify God together, “commending” his “mighty works,” from one generation to another (Ps. 145:4). I would suspect that most evangelicals would lament the division of the Body of Christ over any number of things from race to secondary or tertiary issues of doctrine; but for some reason, we find separating along the lines of age or preferences (not even tertiary issues) to be not only valuable, but also helpful! Unity is a hard quality to cultivate, especially in regards to preferences over style, format, and sometimes, even volume; but unity is nevertheless commanded and cherished above most things except truth throughout the New Testament in regard to the body of Christ.
I want to therefore present unity in the body of Christ, the local church, and the corporate worship service, as a prize to be fought for and won. It will not be easy; nothing good comes easy. It will not happen quickly; nothing good comes quickly. There must be strategy involved, a plan made, and a spiritual battle fought.
The first strategy in the fight for unity must be a unity within the Pastoral and/or music staff regarding a philosophy of ministry and worship. There must be an agreement between the Pastoral staff or Elders and the worship or music ministry regarding the importance of the unity in corporate worship. Without this, more disunity may become an issue. In that case, simply wait, pray, and seek God’s wisdom in helping his church come together.
The second strategy is the to intentionally blend your worship services. What I do not mean by this is to simply throw together older songs and newer songs that share common themes. I mean to intentionally incorporate both old and new forms and styles so as to directly communicate the importance of heritage, the value of history, and the promise of the future. This can mean incorporating responsive Scripture readings, scheduled individual Scripture readings, and corporate prayers, all of which will find little to no resistance from any group. This should mean incorporating leaders and participators from different age groups and preferences. Use different soloists, worship leaders, and other participators from different generations and preferences in one service to display the diversity and variety of the gifts of God within your congregation and to demonstrate their cooperation with and love for one another. This might also mean using more modern arrangements of hymns and gospel songs. I say that last one with one caveat. Sometimes, modern arrangements of older hymns and gospel songs may change the melody to such an extent as to render it unfamiliar to those to whom is was intended to be familiar. While use of such modern arrangements is by no means to be frowned upon, be sensitive to making sure old songs sound just that sometimes, old (and old is good).
The third and final primary strategy for intentionally blending your worship services is to intentionally teach and illustrate the principles behind such a philosophy. Again, this is hinged on the unity of philosophy between the Pastoral and music staff. Also note that any attempt to do the second strategy without this third step of teaching, may fall flat for lack of direct communication regarding the meaning and intention of the blending.
This process is not to be taken on for the express purpose of simply “making everybody happy.” I hesitate to even use the word “blended,” because of that very connotation. I do mean by this that our purpose should be to “tickle” every ear and “scratch” every itch, I mean to intentionally and deliberately train your people to see the worth and value of worship, especially through song, of every generation of God’s people.
Worship is a sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Worship is an intentional offering of ourselves to God in service, love, and devotion. Corporate worship is the chief goal and manifestation of the fullness of worship in this life and it requires an even greater sacrifice. Just as we must come to God laying down our pride and preferences, we must also come to God together laying down our pride and preferences. We sacrifice for one another simply because we love one another. We lay aside petty disputes over preferences of style and form in order to unite over the signs of the gospel, namely the Sacraments and the preaching of the Word. Aside from those two elements, everything else is expendable. Understanding that, we should strive and even fight for unity and love within the local church. Admitted, sometimes dividing over preference may seem like a necessary evil in order to simply keep people in your church, but it should be lamented and avoided at all possible cost. I have given some simple strategies for how to overcome issues of division over preference in favor of a blended or inter-generational form of corporate worship. We should willingly sing each other’s songs, we should willingly sacrifice some preferences for the weaker conscience of others, we should willingly live in peace with one another, even if it means not singing our favorite songs all the time. These are ways that we can sacrifice for one another, ways that we can reach out to every generation of our culture, not just a coveted subset. Ultimately, these are ways that we can obey the command of God to “walk in love” and “unity” with one another. In doing so, we may truly see God’s mighty works “commended” from one generation to another so that when children and youth might ask us “what do these stones mean to you?” We might be able to answer them… perhaps even in the same worship service.