In this series of articles we have isolated one fundamental element in the church’s worship—music—and we have attempted to examine and evaluate.
In doing this we have looked out at the texts and tunes of our hymns and at ways of singing and playing them which will best instruct and inspire our congregations. We have looked in to discover reasons for our praise. But now, in this our last article, we look up to the object of our praise God. In a very real sense we can say that in all our looking out and in, we have been constantly aware of the upward direction of our praise. But today, with reverence and holy awe, we focus directly on God Himself and our relationship as worshipers to Him. In theological terms we can say that in this article we consider the “theocentricity” of our praise.
Someone may question the appropriateness of such a “theological” topic in a series on music. But what differentiates “church music” from any other music is a qualitatively theological difference. Church music is God’s music sung and played by God’s people in God’s house for God’s glory — a totally God-centered theocentric exercise. Paganism worships the creature, gods of wood and stone. Romanism worships middle links, the Church and the Virgin Mary. But we who are children of the heavenly Father, worship the “Lord of heaven and earth who dwells not in temples made with hands, neither is He worshiped with men’s hands as though He needed anything, seeing He gives to all life and breath and all things.”
But this same God, Lord and Father, has seen fit to put all things, even the church on this earth, under the direct control of His Son Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 1:20–23 we read that God has “seated him (Christ) at his right hand in the heavenly realms…and placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” This fact has tremendous implications for our worship.
It means first of all, that when we worship, when we sing or when we play, we are directly responsible to the King of the church, Jesus Christ. He commands primary attention and central position in our choices of music and our performance. He leaves us no option.
Second, it means that as church musicians we are part of Christ’s body. As such all our musical activities are to serve the function of “building up” that body. There is no room for experimental worship which apes the world and divides the church.
Third, Christ’s headship has binding implications for the “how” of our worship. God Himself instructs us in His Word to worship Him in “the beauty of holiness” because He is holy. He instructs us to worship Him in “spirit and truth” because He is Spirit, He is Truth. Our worship is to be rooted in and patterned after His very being. Let us look at each of these.
WORSHIP IN THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS
In Psalm 96:9 the Psalmist exclaims: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness….” Holiness is a requirement for true worship. But no mere mortal can reflect such holiness in his own person unless he has first been with the Lord and stood in holy awe before Him. In Isaiah 6 we see the prophet trembling before the presence of the Almighty who is “high and exalted.” He sees the smoke and the winged creatures, and feels the shaking foundations, and he cries: “Woe to me! I am ruined! ForI am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah does not rush into God’s presence and embrace Him as an old pal, as does the casual worship of today. He is moved to confession and penitence. Receiving forgiveness and assurance, he dedicates himself to His Master’s service: “Here am It Send me!” Unless we go through the same process of confession a broken and contrite spirit — we cannot worship in the beauty of holiness. We may sing every number in the hymnbook, recite every creed, scourge our bodies and keep long vigils, but unless we have seen and experienced the holiness of God, trembled before Him, received His forgiveness and now reflect His holiness in our own lives, we have not truly worshiped.
WORSHIP IN SPIRIT
Closely allied to the command to worship in the beauty of holiness is the exhortation in John 4:24 to worship the Lord in spirit, because God is Spirit. John 4:24 says: “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.” Because God is Spirit who does not dwell in a house, whom the heavens and heaven of heavens cannot contain, He calls His children to worship Him in spirit, from the heart: spiritual not physical, inward instead of outward, directed toward God in the completed work of redemption by Jesus Christ.
WORSHIP IN TRUTH
In addition, we must worship our God not only in holiness and in spirit, but also in truth: first, the truth of God as He has revealed it in His holy Word and second, in the truth or the integrity of our own being.
The “truth of God” as He has revealed it is encompassed in that word “doctrine,” popularized by the apostle Paul. For far too many Christians, doctrinal soundness is of little or no importance. Paramount to them are their own feelings. But over and over in the New Testament revelation God exhorts us to “hold fast” to sound doctrine. Too many Christians are embracing faulty doctrine couched in catchy tunes. This is a serious offense which must not be regarded lightly.
Worship of God also requires “truth in the inward parts”—personal integrity. It is dishonest to sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and seldom really pray. It is dishonest to sing “I Love to Tell the Story” and never loosen our tongues to witness. It is dishonest to sing “Faith of Our Fathers,” pledging to remain faithful “in spite of dungeon, fire and sword,” and then compromise when the going gets rough. It is dishonest to sing “How good and pleasant is the sight when brethren make it their delight to dwell in blest accord” and then slander our brother and plot behind his back. We could go on and on. But the point is clear. God demands truth in our praise—personal integrity in our worship.
It becomes obvious that worship does not begin when a man enters the church door. It starts when man’s heart is quickened by God’s Spirit, when God’s law is carved upon his heart, when he seeks to do God’s will in every area of his life, when all the elements of his fragmented existence begin to converge on one focus, God, and his life once more achieves the beautiful harmony which threatens to be lost in the stress and strain of daily existence.
For the child of God, all of life is worship. The worship service which he attends on the Lord’s Day is a testimony of the full-time worship which dwells within; it is a reminder by way of praise, prayer and proclamation, of his perpetual duty and privilege to live his whole life in all its dimensions to the glory of God.
Such praise is truly and thoroughly theocentric, God-centered. In daily life it transforms drudgery into delight, sloth into service, tumult into triumph. Its pathway leads through life and culminates in heaven where God is all and in all! Isaiah captured this vision in chapter 35 where he says: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way…the eyes of the blind will be opened…the deaf ears will hear…the lame will leap like a deer…the mute tongue will sing for joy…and a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness…the unclean will not journey on it…it will be for those who walk in that Way…only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads; gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
Oh, what a day that will be! Do you long for it? Do you love to sing the songs of God? If not, cultivate that love for singing. It is the foretaste of eternal bliss, the language of heaven.
Look up, away from the daily cares, to God, and look forward to the day when we will meet Him in the air and surround His throne and join with the Church of all ages in singing the song of redemption: Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and made us kings and priests unto God, and his Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (Revelation 1 KJV).
We will see the angels join us in singing: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive all power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory and blessing…blessing and honor, and glory, and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 5 KJV).
Soli deo gloria! To God be the glory, now and forever! Make this the theme of your life.