Music As An Act Of Worship

Transient

(This blog is part of a series.  See my blog entitled "Worship Formation" posted on August 31, 2012 for the introduction to the series)

The editor’s of the old Trinity Hymnal said in the preface, “It is well known that the character of its song, almost equal with the character of its preaching, controls the theology of the church.”[1]

The church’s song is about story.  Throughout Scripture we find that when God’s people remember His saving acts, they invariably sing.  After their deliverance from Egypt, Miriam, Moses and the people sang (Exodus 25:1-8).  When David prepared a place for the Ark of the Covenant, he appointed musicians who sang a song of thanksgiving (1 Chronicles 16:8-34).  The angels sang of the glory of God at Christ’s birth (Luke 2:14).  And at the conclusion of the story there is song (throughout the book of Revelation).  The reason for the song is to tell the story of God’s mighty acts.  Music is the means by which the Body of Christ remembers and celebrates what God has done.

The songs in our worship services are to a great degree formative.  “We are far more likely to find ourselves humming something we sang in church when we go home than we are to find ourselves meditating on a phrase in the sermon,” observes Rosalind Brown.  “Words set to music engage the emotions and lodge in the memory.  The refrains of hymns and choruses are even more likely to stick in the mind, simply because they are sung more frequently.”[2]  In the previous chapter we looked at the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi: the way in which we worship is the way in which we believe.  There is an adaptation of that phrase that says lex cantandi, lex credendi: the way in which we sing is the way in which we believe.  The songs we sing in church lodge themselves into our minds as truth.

John Wesley wrote, “I would recommend [the hymnbook] to every truly pious reader: as a means of raising or quickening the spirit of devotion, of confirming the faith, of enlivening his hope, and of kindling or increasing his love to God and man.”[3]  Martin Luther considered his people “theological barbarians” and so taught them basic theology by devoting Thursday evenings to congregational hymn singing.[4]

As the worshiper sings truths found within songs, their faith is strengthened, their theology is founded and their spirit is formed.

[1] Trinity Hymnal (Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1961), vi.
[2] Brown, How Hymns Shape Our Lives, 21.
[3] J. Wesley, Preface to the 1780 handbook, paragraph 8. Quoted in Brown, How Hymns Shape Our Lives, 6.
[4] Bainton, A Life of Martin Luther, 267.

Worship Formation

Transient

As we gather as a community of faith in the presence of God, we gather with the expectation to worship God by responding to His revelations.  Worshiping God in a worship service, amidst all elements of worship, should lead to spiritual formation in our lives.  Yet we have often disregarded the potential of spiritual formation to occur within each element of worship and instead, have relied solely upon the sermon to form us spiritually.  We have relegated all other worship elements (songs, prayers, communion, etc.) to lead to the preaching thus encouraging the mentality that these are preliminaries to the main event – the sermon.

Our lives should be spiritually formed by each element of the worship service, not just the sermon.  The sermon should be seen as one offering among many offerings during the corporate gathering.  There are no preliminaries to get out of the way.  Each element in the worship service is an act of worship offered to God, and as such serves to form us spiritually.  I call this focus “worship formation.”  We are becoming more like Christ (spiritual formation) as we respond to His revelations (worship).

If we are to understand how spiritual formation occurs in each element of worship within the worship service, we must look at each element in light of spiritual formation.

MUSIC
The songs in our worship services are to a great degree formative.  The songs we sing in church lodge themselves into our minds as truth.  As the worshiper sings truths found within songs, their faith is strengthened, their theology is founded and their spirit is formed.

PRAYER
It could be said, worship prays God’s story.  As a result of Christ’s redeeming work, public prayer ushers all of creation to the Father through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.  As we pray we join with God on the journey of Him changing us from the inside out by the power of Christ working within.  Our prayers shape that which we are, both on the inside and on the outside.

SCRIPTURE READING
The use of Scripture is foundational in celebrating God in worship.  The Bible has always been central to the life of the Christian church.  The ancient Hebrew stories, songs, prophecy and wisdom that permeated the Jewish world of Jesus’ day profoundly shaped even Jesus himself as he lived on the earth.  The earliest Christians explored the Scriptures in an attempt to understand what Almighty God had accomplished through Jesus, and as a result, they planned to shape their lives accordingly.  Today, we continue to study the Scriptures to discover how to live and thus, how to worship.

COMMUNION
Our time of worship at the Table should leave us changed.  For when we enter the presence of God, our hearts should burn within us as we remember that the one who was crucified, dead, buried, and rose again, is now alive and within us.  This leads the worshiper to the mysterious greatness of God found at the Table.  Through this process, we are being transformed as we are drawn closer to Christ.

SERMON
The ministry of proclaiming the word of God through the preaching of a sermon must be an act of worship.  The purpose of the Word of God is to reveal the God of the Word.  In Scripture, the people who saw God were never quite the same again.  Their lives were transformed.  So it should be every worship service in which the Word is proclaimed.

SILENCE
Silence has long been an important aspect of personal and corporate worship.  It is a time to quiet the soul in order to become receptive to God’s revelation.  Embracing times of silence in worship allows God the opportunity to speak.  Much of what else we do in worship is directed toward God.  In every element of worship, there should be aspects of revelation and response, yet silence is primarily the time to allow God to be the communicator as we do nothing else but listen to His voice.  As we hear from God we open ourselves to the opportunity to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  In silence, God is given permission to form us from within in a way that only He can.

GIVING
It is within forms of giving which the disciple of Jesus experiences a renewed and transformed life, becoming as the very nature of Christ, becoming more like Jesus, whom Himself gave His life as an act of worship to the Father.

BAPTISM
In baptism we find our identity and are incorporated into Christ’s life and His body – the church.  Through baptism, God draws us near to Himself.  For those who have previously been baptized and are observing someone else’s baptism, the worshiper should remember their own baptism allowing God to refresh the sign and seal of regeneration upon their own lives.  Spiritual formation through baptism should continue to occur instead of being a one-time occurrence.

CONCLUSION
God desires for spiritual formation to occur any time, any place, in every way.  Each element of worship within the worship service should lead the worshiper to be:
transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  
(Romans 12:2)

As we worship God, we are spiritually formed becoming more like Christ and as a result, we engage in “worship formation.”