Bob Kauflin, director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries has a new book called Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Crossway, 2008, ISBN 1-58134-824-X). I have just finished reading this book and think it is a wonderful resource for worship leaders focusing on biblical principles for worship and practical instructions for effective worship leading.
One of Kauflin’s main themes when he discusses worship is the role of the Cross in worship. In a chapter devoted to this topic Kauflin makes a number of helpful comments on the importance of a Gospel-centered worship service:
“The role of the Cross in worship isn’t merely a matter of singing the right lyrics. No facet of God’s truth should move our affections more than the gospel. How could the death and resurrection of the Son of God ever seem irrelevant or be sung about in a dull, uninterested way? But it happens every Sunday. Because of our sin and negligence, we lose sight of the glories of Calvary. That’s why pastors and worship leaders must make sure Calvary is always in our view. One of the most important aspects of biblical worship we desperately need to recover today is a passionate, scripturally informed exaltation of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work.
Every time we step up to lead our congregation, we should present a clear picture of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). We come together to retell, remember, and respond to the Gospel and all it has accomplished.” Kauflin, 78-79.
I appreciate Kauflin’s emphasis on the Cross in corporate worship. It is the center of all that we do in the Body of Christ but I am afraid it is a theme that is forgotten or not clearly presented in worship. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of Kauflin’s new book, Worship Matters.
Martin Luther wrote a letter in 1523 to his pastor friend Nicholas Hausman that expressed his desire to have more songs for the congregations to sing in worship. During this period of time in church history most of the vocal music in worship was sung by a choir made up of priests with the congregation only listening to the performance. In this letter Luther states:
“I wish that we had as many songs as possible in the vernacular which the people could sing during mass, . . . But poets are wanting among us, or not yet known, who could compose evangelical and spiritual songs, . . . worthy to be used in the church of God.”
Giving the worship songs back to the congregation was a high priority for Luther. These songs had to also be in the language of the people not in Latin the official language of worship in the Roman Catholic Church. Today we do not have as much of a problem with the songs being in another language but we do need our songs to be intelligible and clear in their meaning. Have you ever finished singing a worship song and wondered exactly what its real meaning was?
Luther also mentioned the need for poets who could write song texts worthy to be used in worship. Through the ages these poets have often been pastors. This is evident in many of our well-known hymns today. Part of the problem with some modern worship songs is that theologically they do not have much to say and sometimes they are biblically vague. On a rare occasion some of these songs are heretical when they suggest meanings that are opposite of biblical teaching.
We need poets today who have theological training to pen the words of our worship songs. I am not advocating that a person has to have a seminary degree to qualify, but I do believe song text writers need a strong theological foundation to be writing songs for worship. So much of our Christian faith is expressed in our songs. We need to make sure that these songs are clear and communicate the Gospel to our congregations. We have the truths of God’s Word to express in our worship songs. Let’s make them biblically faithful with the message loud and clear.
A call to write the texts of worship songs is a call to theological training!
(Martin Luther quote from Ulrich S. Leupold (ed.), Liturgy and Hymns, vol. 53 of Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 36.
A number of years ago I had an interesting discussion with another staff member of a church where I served as minister of music. The church was contemplating starting a new service that would be contemporary in style. The staff member told me that he really liked the contemporary music style for worship. In fact, he said that he really could not worship unless he had that particular music style for his worship music. I was shocked by the comment at first . . . “can’t worship unless he has a particular music style?”
A quick look through the Scripture will reveal that a number of music styles were in use in Bible days. The music style used by Moses and Miriam at that spontaneous worship service on the banks of the Red Sea was much more developed featuring skilled musicians in King David’s day. The music style of Jesus’ day was probably different from that of the early church in the Apostle Paul’s day. The culture of these different time periods I’m sure had a large influence on the style of music used in the worship of God’s people.
How is it that we have these preferences? Most often the music style we grow accustom to in our teenage years becomes our musical heart language – our preferred music style. All of us have preferences in the area of music style. Yet, if someone today “requires” a certain style of music in order to worship, it is almost as if the preferred music style becomes like a god or idol to them. They think they are hindered in worship without this style of music. Let’s be reminded that we worship God the Father through the mediation of the Son in the power of the Spirit – we need nothing else in order to seek the Father in worship. In fact, we can worship without music.
The mature worshiper can worship God in many different settings and music styles. We should choose a style of music that works best for a majority of our people. We should teach the principle of deference in our congregations – “I do not have to have my way on this music style issue - what works best for others?” As long as the content is Scriptural, focused on the Gospel and presented in an intelligible, orderly, clear way with reverance awe for our Great God – the music style is not the deciding factor on how I worship.
Yes, I have my preferences like anyone else – but I care more about what is best for my church over my personal preferences. Let’s not allow a music style to become a god or idol in worship. Let’s “tame the music” and strive for unity and peace in the Body of Christ, young and old together worshiping the Lord!