We sit down at familiar restaurants, pick up familiar menus, and order familiar food. “I’ll have the Chicken Alfredo with a bowl of Gnocchi soup on the side.” We all have opinions about what the best car is, the most comfortable design of a home is, or what the most stylish pair of shoes is. All in all—we like what makes us feel full, satisfied, and content. Capitalism has afforded us the blessing of many choices. Though, simultaneously, our society’s economic structure has trained us to seek what we want and give people what they want.
An individual once said, “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really—you’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Ironically, though many would stand in unison scowling at such a statement, our behavior on Sunday mornings tends to reflect it.
One of the most common and reoccurring conversations about worship in America is the music that is played. In 2016, Pew Research found that 74% of those looking for a new church to attend say that the style of the worship service plays an important role in their final choice.[i] We likely do not need a formal study to tell us that worship style is a topic of deep concern among long-standing members of congregations across America as well.
Worship of Yahweh (God), from the earliest Jewish beginnings, has been connected to music. The Psalmist said to praise God with an array of instruments (Psalm 150:30). Paul told the Ephesians to make music for the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). While music is not all that worship is, we cannot deny the intimate connection music has maintained in the act of worshiping God. Though, what are we to make of the divides among Christendom over the style and selections of music that we worship with?
We tend to get swept up in a worship service when our music is played. We tend to get off-kilter when our music isn’t played. We will make comments about how powerful the music was. We will make comments about how distasteful the music was. We are concerned about music.
An important question that we need to ask ourselves is, “Is it possible to worship God in a service on Sunday morning without music?” I think that Harold Best answers that question excellently when he says,
…it is erroneous to assume that the arts, and especially music, are to be depended on to lead to worship or that they are aids to worship or tools for worship. If we think this way, we fuel two untruths at once. The first is that worship is something that can start and stop, and worse, that music or some other artistic or human device bears the responsibility for doing the starting or the facilitating. The second is related to the first: music and the arts have a kind of power in themselves that can be falsely related to or equated with Spirit power, so much so that the presence of God seems all the more guaranteed and the worshiper sees the union of artistic power and Spirit power as normal, even anticipated. This thinking lies behind comments of this kind: The Lord seemed so near during worship time.” “Your music really helped me worship.” And to the contrary: “I could not worship because of the music.” These comments, however innocently spoken, are dangerous, even pagan…If we are not careful, music will be added to the list of sacraments and perhaps with some Christians become another kind of transubstantiation, turned into the Lord’s presence. Then the music, not the Holy Spirit, becomes the paraclete and advocate. God is reduced to god and music is raised to Music…[ii]
The only thing that is keeping us from worshiping God on a Sunday morning (or any morning, for that matter) is us. Jesus Christ is present in our worship service based on the simple fact that we have gathered together on a Sunday morning to worship Him, His Father, and His Spirit. God is not waiting for us to play the right bridge before He reveals Himself. This assumes that worshiping God depends on us initiating the experience, when, in reality, worship is about responding to God’s invitation to worship. Cherry says, “We may have falsely assumed that we initiate services of worship, that we are responsible to generate our corporate encounters with the living God. But that would be an error in thinking…It was God who called Moses and the elders of Israel to the mountain where he established the covenant with Israel. It was God who acted first on the day of Pentecost…”[iii]
When we label music as a barrier to us worshiping God, we are no longer worshiping God—we are worshiping music. When we find ourselves complaining more about how the music made us feel than what the music praised God for, we are more concerned with ourselves than honoring our God. When we wish the worship team would play our song so that we can worship, we are essentially asserting that we want to give God the praise He is infinitely due only after we feel good about doing it. Worshiping God through music has become less about giving God glory that He is due and more about singing about God in a way that makes us feel good.
It is not wrong to sing a song we like to God, but it is wrong to say we cannot worship when that song or songs like it are not sung. We connect to certain forms of music more than other forms—it’s just the reality of each human having preferences. It’s time that we decide to praise God even if the music we like is not played—because God is present and waiting for us to connect with Him. It’s time to put away our worship menus and focus on the Chef. It’s time we make music a secondary concern and worshiping a primary concern. It’s time that we worship.
Jared M. Webb, Assistant Pastor
[ii] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 119. Emphasis found in original reading.
[iii] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 4. Emphasis found in original reading.