Welcome to the Linwood Worship Podcast! Follow along for weekly episodes about worship, written and recorded by AJ.
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Last week we began our conversation around the question “What makes a good worship song?” and looked at a few categories to consider when looking at the lyrics of a song. This week we’re going to continue that conversation and look into a few categories worth considering regarding the musicality of a song. Just because a song has good lyrics does not mean it is a good worship song. It’s a combination of both lyrics and musicality that make a song good for corporate worship. So how should we consider the musicality of a song?
Lets think about the melody of a song first. What makes a good melody? Or maybe, its more helpful to ask: What makes a melody singable? One thing to look at is the vocal range. If a song has a range of two octaves—chances are that no one will be able to sing it very comfortably. It is trendy recently in worship music to have whole octave jumps in songs… These songs, while they can be very compelling to sing, are pretty difficult for average singers. I usually try to pick songs with a melody that can comfortably fit within a low A up to a high D. Its about an octave and a half range. That being said, just because the melody fits in that range does not mean it is easy to sing. Another thing to consider is the tessitura of the song. Tessitura is fancy music word for where the melody predominantly hang out. If the majority of the melody is up on high Cs and Ds, its going to be pretty fatiguing to sing—melodies that hang out mostly around low A’s and B’s are similarly fatiguing to sing. Songs that have a relatively narrow tessitura, that hang out mostly between D’s going up to C’s tend to be quite singable for the average congregant. This whole idea of range and tessitura are the reason that we rarely ever play a song in the key that it was played on the studio record. These popular modern worship artists have ridiculously wide ranges often spanning multiple octaves; and when they record a song they often record it in a key that sounds good with their unique range. Our goal for congregational worship is different than the goal of the recording artist. We’re trying to make it accessible for average folks to sing—they’re trying to make it sound good for consumers to listen to.
It’s also important to look at the rhythm of the melody. And when considering the rhythm we have to consider our church context—speaking broadly here—some churches, maybe that tend to have younger people who listen to a lot of pop music are probably pretty OK with a lot of syncopation in the melody. Other churches that have a lot of older members that are used to singing hymns tend to better with songs that have more straight rhythms. Our church has some of both—in my experience it seems like we do alright with syncopation, but we learn songs that have straight rhythms much faster.
Now after trying to define singability it is worth noting that there are exceptions to these rules. Go to a U2 concert or a Coldplay concert and you’ll find that singability really comes down to familiarity and how emotionally moving a song is. Chris Martin and Bono have a ridiculous ranges, and they don’t play songs in a key that make them singable for average people, they don't remove syncopation from their melodies to make them more accessible—but look up the song “Fix You” Live in Beunos Aires by Coldplay and you’ll see what I mean. A huge part of what makes that whole concert special is how loudly people sing along to the music—and the songs are not even in the common language of the people in Argentina. This is why when I hear a good compelling song on the radio that our people will likely have heard before, I typically try to use it. It’s few and far between… because I don’t think there are many good songs on Christian radio—but when there are, we use them. There is something about a compelling melody, that is familiar, that breaks the rules of singability.
Which leads to the next question worth thinking about when defining what makes a good worship song: is the melody compelling? This is a bit of an abstract concept—it is felt more than it can be explained. Writing melodies is an art, and just like any art, its hard to quantify why something is beautiful or moving. Being able to write a good compelling melody is really a gift. That being said, It's also easy to tell when you're singing a song that is not compelling. The melody is bland, predictable, and doesn’t really add any emotional weight to the lyrics. I find the song “Good God Almighty” by David Crowder to be a prime example of this—the lyrics are fine, but man, the melody is so bland and boring—its almost obnoxious—and why does David Crowder sound like he’s straining so much to sing that chorus?
Music has a way of moving our emotions—and a good melody set with good lyrics is really effective, good lyrics set to a boring melody is still boring. Another thing worth noting regarding how melody and lyrics relate to one another is how appropriately the melody echoes the emotional place where the lyrics come from. It doesn’t make sense to sing “God be Merciful to Me” to a happy peppy tune. It doesn’t make sense to sing “Joy to the World” to a minor key. Melodies must reinforce the emotional spirit of the lyric—otherwise it’s just confusing.
Probably my favorite melody of all time is an old Irish tune called O Waly Waly... I just find it really beautiful—set with the lyrics of When I Survey, it is really moving. Another that is really excellent is the song “All is Well” by Michael W. Smith. I find that melody to be truly beautiful. The Getty song “The Power of the Cross” is also really great—the lyrics set with the ascending and descending tune and the inverted chords are really compelling and beautiful. Another one worth mentioning is “Build My Life” this song is so simple, but the melody to me is just really compelling. But like I said, all of this is really difficult to define—it is much easier to feel it than to explain it.
Finally, when considering a songs musicality it is important to look at its Instrumental Adaptability. Sometimes songs on the radio sound really compelling because they’ve got a ton of instruments playing which allows for a super wide dynamic range—average churches like ours dont have three electric players, three synth players, and two percussionists… What seems compelling on the radio, when stripped back from all of the musical accompaniment, might actually not be that great. If a song is good, it will be good no matter what the accompaniment. A good melody is a good melody if it’s let by organ or acoustic guitar. Those are the songs that are especially valuable to use in worship.
So in preparation for our discussion this week please spend some time thinking about what your favorite worship song is and why? Also consider if there was anything new in this episode to you, or if there was anything that you disagreed with.
For the next few weeks we are going to look at the question: What makes a good worship song? There are two lenses to look through when answering this question: first it’s important to take a magnifying glass to the lyrical content of the song. Second it is important to examine the musical qualities of the song. This week we’ll dig into a few categories that provide a framework for examining the lyrical content of a song.
First, the idea of singing scripture. The apostle Paul encourages the Ephesians to let the word of God dwell in them richly as they speak to one another using Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs. Some theologians believe that these three categories are the categories that define the songs in the book of Psalms. These types of theologians are typically the ones who argue for exclusive Psalm singing—they often ascribe to the puritan idea of the Regulative Principle. In short this principle says that only what is described and commanded in scripture is appropriate for Christian worship. Thus, they believe that it is only appropriate to sing the Psalms. Note: I’ve been talking about this perspective as something “other” people hold to. I don’t hold to this principle. I don’t even think that biblical characters hold to this principle. There are many songs in scripture that are not Psalms.
That being said, the important thing to note in the aforementioned passage is that Paul—and by nature of the Scriptures being divinely inspired, God—intend for us to use music as a way to allow the word of God to dwell in us. So, songs that espouse scriptural truths, and even better, songs that use the language of scripture directly are exceedingly valuable for corporate worship.
The second category is how the song fits in the Liturgy. If a song works particularly well as a prayer of confession, or as a thankful response to the saving work of Jesus, or as a commitment to living life in response to the Gospel—they are particularly valuable for corporate worship. A couple of particularly effective liturgical songs are God be Merciful to Me (prayer of confession), Behold the Lamb (Communion hymn), Take my Life and Let it Be (sending song), This I Believe (a setting of the apostles creed), There is a Redeemer (a thankful response to the saving work of Christ).
The third category is the Theology of the song. When considering song lyrics it is important to consider what type of theology they espouse. Because the contemporary Christian music industry was essentially started by the Pentecostal/Charismatic church movement there are often contemporary songs that have themes that are contrary to our reformed theological perspective. That being said, there are also many popular hymns that espouse theology contrary to our reformed perspective. What we sing ends up shaping our understanding of who God is much more than what we already “think” we know. The phrase “You are what you eat,” is relevant here. Over time, if our song diet is full of human centered songs—all about our actions, we’ll start to believe we are the center of the Gospel. If our songs all talk about how our faith will lead to break through or some sort of material blessing or some sort of spiritual victory, we’ll start to believe it. This is why it is vital that songs that we use in corporate worship align with our theological convictions.
The fourth category has to do with how the song handles the Trinity. Many times songs focus on one person of the Trinity, usually either the father or the son. There are precious few songs that engage with the holy spirit that are not espousing some type of errant pentecostal/charismatic theology, and even fewer that engage with all three persons of the Trinity. You may be sick of the song There is a Redeemer, but part of the reason we use it so frequently is because it mentions all three persons: father, son, and spirit. Others that mention all three persons include Grace Alone, King of Kings, The Doxology, and God the Spirit… like I said, there are not many.
The final category having to do with the lyrical content of the song is how it retells the Gospel story. Most of the new songs that we teach here at VCRC are songs that could be considered a gospel recitation—songs that recite the story of how God in Christ came to earth, died on the cross in our place, rose in victory over sin and death, and will return again to make all things right. These songs are particularly powerful because like I said before, we are what we eat. If our diet is full of songs that tell the story of the Gospel we will become—more and more— a people who are shaped by that story. Some of my favorite songs that tell the story well are: King of Kings, Living Hope, O Praise The Name, His Mercy is More, In Christ Alone, Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery, Christ the True and Better, It Was Finished Upon that Cross, and How Great thou Art…
Next week we’ll continue along these lines and consider further what makes a good worship song. If a song has good lyrical content, the next thing to consider are some elements of it’s musicality. We’ll look at the range, melody, syncopation, and other similar categories next week.
In preparation for our discussion this week please consider what your favorite worship song is and why. Also consider if there was anything new in this episode that you had not considered before, or if there was something you disagreed with.
So, I teased a couple weeks ago that I had received an envelope from an anonymous church member in my mailbox with an article in it from the Banner (our denomination’s monthly publication) about music style and the use of hymns and the organ in worship. The author of the article was lamenting the fact that many older church members in her congregation were feeling alienated and left out because their music was not being used very frequently in church. The author makes a case for using the organ more frequently, even incorporating it into some of the modern music that their church uses. I’m not sure what the anonymous individual who gave me the article was trying to communicate to me, but honestly, as I was reading, I thought the author of the article would really like our church. I feel like we do a good job of incorporating old hymns, even the organ, on a regular basis; sometimes even having entire services dedicated to the more traditional style of worship.
Admittedly, anytime we begin talking about musical stylistic preferences we get into very murky water. It is a very sensitive topic, that is equally subjective. What feels traditional to me, will very likely feel new to someone else, and vise versa. My mentor, the Rev. Doctor Vince Godfrey, always says, “If you have 100 people at a service you’ll have 101 opinions on it.”
I’d like to propose a different approach when discussing worship style; specifically when discussing how to choose what songs are used in worship because we are never going to appease everyone’s preferences—in fact, I believe we should aim higher. I believe that when I plan worship, and when worshipers come to service, we should bring a posture of preferring one another instead of their own musical preferences.
So in the spirit of aiming at a higher goal, I propose to you five categories by which I choose songs for a service in order of importance. To be clear, this is assuming the song has already passed the test of even being appropriate for worship—but that test is for another podcast.
1. Does the song serve the liturgy? Does it work to tell an important part of the gospel story?
2. Does the song fit with the sermon text?
3. How recently have we done that song? Are we in the process of trying to teach it? If we’ve done a song in the past month, I’ll usually hold off from using it again, unless it’s a new one that we are trying to teach or if it fits particularly well with the sermon theme.
4. Who is on the worship team? Can we pull off this song? Does it require organ, but we dont have an organist? Does it require drums but we dont have drums? Is the horn part really good on this song so maybe we should save it until a week with the horns?
5. Only after all of these categories have been considered do I consider style--is the service already mostly full of modern songs? Have we done a lot of hymns lately? How can we achieve a relative balance?
So, by planning with these categories in mind, the goal is higher than just giving the people what they want. The goal is giving the people songs that tell the gospel story—that proclaim our ultimate hope—in a compelling way.
This week we continue in our survey of our churches worship services by taking a broad look at the Sacrament of Communion. We’ll look at it through three lenses: the sacrament as “Communion”, the sacrament as “The Lord’s Supper”, and the sacrament as “The Eucharist.” Countless dissertations, articles, books, and sermons have been written on the Sacrament. So I am going to sum all of that up for you here in a five minute podcast episode. Buckle up.
First, the sacrament as Communion: the Trinity exists in perfect communion—common union—with one another—this is a relational term. In the celebration of the sacrament as Communion we are taken up into that perfect relationship with God the Father, Son, and Spirit. James Torrance, a theologian, writes, ““Christ baptizes us by the Spirit that we might participate in his cleansing of our humanity and enter into his body, the communion of saints. At the Lord’s Supper, he brings his passion to our remembrance and draws us into wonderful communion—holy communion— with the Father, with himself and with one another, proleptic of our life in the kingdom of God nourishing our faith “till he come.”” Torrance highlights the two relationships that are brought into communion through the sacrament: relationship with the body of Christ, and relationship with the Triune God. In communion, our common union with the body of Christ and with the Triune God are enacted.
Second, the sacrament as “The Lord’s Supper,” brings to mind the scene in the upper room where Jesus is eating with his disciples and he instructs them to eat and drink in remembrance of Him. Of course we know that the meal Jesus and his disciples were celebrating in that room was passover. David Peterson, a biblical scholar writes, “In some respects, the Lord’s Supper functions as a Christian substitute for the Passover, focusing on Jesus’ death, rather than the exodus from Egypt, as the means by which God’s people are saved and brought to share in the blessings of the inheritance promised to them.” Interestingly, when God through Moses inaugurated the Passover meal in Exodus, he told the people that this meal would be a “commemoration” and when Jesus inaugurated the meal he instructed his disciples to eat in “remembrance.” Both of these meals are meant to be an opportunity for the people of God to remember the saving work of God. More could be said about the biblical concept of remembering—but for now it is worth noting that this type of remembering is not simply a cognitive exercise. When you participate in the Lord’s Supper you are doing more than just thinking about what Christ did. Mark Galli, a liturgical theologian, writes that in the Lord’s Supper “we don’t simply recall something that happened, but we re-present it in a way that makes it a present reality.“ The biblical word for this is anemnesis and that will require another episode to dig into.
Finally, the sacrament as “The Eucharist” is likely the most foreign term to us protestants. It sounds catholic to our ear and as such we don’t typically use the term. The term Eucharist simply means thanksgiving. Referring to the sacrament as the Eucharist highlights the fact that we celebrate the meal as a thankful commemoration of what God has done for us in Christ. John Witvliet sums it up, ““Eucharist” (based on the Greek word for “thanksgiving”) names this feast as a meal of gratitude, just as the last supper was, for Jesus and his disciples, a meal of thanksgiving.” With this understanding, even on weeks that we do not celebrate the Sacramental meal, we can still participate in some type of Eucharistic celebration—some type of expression of thankfulness for what God has done for us in Christ. This could take the form of a song, prayer, scripture reading, or most recently, we’ve been participating in the offering as a type of expression of thanksgiving. In fact, in church history it was common for the offering to be a part of the sacramental meal practice—highlighting the “Eucharistic” nature of the meal.
Hello fellow worshipers, Welcome to a special edition of the Linwood Worship Podcast - there will be no midweek rehearsal this week, so there will be no discussion on this episode. But I wanted to drop in on all of you this week and share some holiday thoughts.
Our culture has turned advent—the four weeks before Christmas—into one long-extended celebration of Christmas. Here’s what we miss when we do that: waiting. We don’t wait. We get instant gratification. Once thanksgiving is done, bring on the Christmas music, bring on the cookies, and bring on the presents. I’m as guilty as anyone: my kids have already opened a present and my wife gave me my Christmas present in November already! What a travesty!
Here’s the problem with skipping Advent and engaging in an instantly gratifying Christmas season—its dishonest. It is not true to our actual experience of being Christians. You see, we live in Advent, not the first advent, obviously Christ has already come, but we are living in an extended liminal space of waiting for his return—A second advent. When we skip straight to Christmas, we disregard the reality of the situation we’re in—Christ has not yet return—things are still not right. We’re waiting. Constantly waiting and longing for Christ’s return. We’ve got to press into that waiting—allow ourselves to practice it as a Christian community during the season of advent because it will enable us to live into the reality of advent in our regular lives.
That being said, if we actually do engage in the season of waiting, the payoff at the end must be sweeter than just one day of celebration. That’s why historically the church has celebrated twelve days of Christmas. Christmastide lasts from Christmas until Epiphany on January 6. Im sure you’ve heard of the Twelve days of Christmas—of partridge in a pear tree fame. Its not just a silly song, it’s actually the historical practice. I’m not sure about all the gifts, but at least the twelve days of celebration is. What if we saved the Lessons and Carols service until the twelve days? What if the kids program was during the twelve days? I know, it would never work. But it seems like it would be appropriate on some level.
Speaking of epiphany, what is that? In the ancient church, Epiphany was celebrated regularly even before Christmas was added to the church calendar. Epiphany is the celebration in the church year where we mark the revelation—that is, the epiphany—of Christ as the savior.
James F. White is a worship theologian, he writes, “The Epiphany, then, is older than Christmas and has a deeper meaning. For instead of simply being an anniversary of the birth Christ, it testifies to the whole purpose of the incarnation: the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, beginning both with his birth and with the beginning of his ministry.”
The gospels are full of epiphanies, but the main one that we celebrate on Epiphany is the wisemen coming to worship Jesus. They were gentiles, not Jews, but God revealed to them that the child was the savior. Even the cosmos—the stars—told the story of Christ coming to earth, and the Magi from the East heard the story and came to worship. So, if you remember, this year on January 6 read Matthew 2 about the wisemen, and you’ll be reading it along with the church universal—celebrating the coming of Christ to the gentiles.
On a personal note, I’m really thankful for all of you. This year our team has undergone a lot of changes. Losing the Keep’s, the Vink’s, and Larry, was really sad for me, and Im sure many of you. But I am so thankful for those of you who have joined in the past year and have stepped into those empty gaps. We’ve added a ton of new members including new drummers and new organists, new tech volunteers, and new vocalists. It is truly a joy to worship with all of you every week. I know that our congregation is blessed and God is glorified through our work together.
I will be gone for the next two Sundays. The next time you’ll hear my voice will be the week of January 16. We’ll be hearing part two of my conversation with Pastor Joel about sermons. See you then.
As you may recall, we’ve been working our way through the liturgy of our worship services. A few weeks back we talked about the gathering which included the greeting from God, mutual greeting and opening song. The following week we discussed the confession and assurance. Then we had the week off for thanksgiving. Now we are back and will take a look at the offering.
In the past it has been our practice to have the offering directly following the assurance of pardon. In that liturgical location the offering provides an opportunity for worshipers to respond to the grace of God, so displayed in the assurance, through the giving of their tithes. Along those lines, John Witvliet, a worship theologian and Calvin professor writes, “The money given at the offering is a token and symbol of our desire to devote our whole selves to God’s service in response to God’s loving faithfulness to us.” Important to note here is that we do not give in order to gain some type of right standing with God or brownie points with the church; rather, we give in thankful response to God’s saving work.
In church history the offering was an act of worship that was closely associated with the Lord’s Supper. According again to John Witvliet, in the early church worshipers would bring forward gifts of bread and wine for use in the Sacramental meal and any left over gifts would be distributed to the poor. To reflect this historical practice, some congregations today bring the gifts of money and the communion elements to the front at the same time.
More common though is the separation of the offering from communion—like in our congregation. This separation occurred in the middle ages—there was a period of time in church history where church members were not allowed to participate in communion regularly. Instead, communion was practiced predominantly by the clergy. Because of this the offering was separated from communion… Worshipers weren’t allowed at the table, but they were still expected to tithe I guess.
In our context we’ve recently been participating in the offering following the sermon. This is not just a time saving tactic—in fact there are some theological reasons for it. It goes back to what we talked about in episode four—Christ centered form. To summarize—our worship service’s order should retell the four movements of the Gospel story: creation, fall, redemption, and the return of Christ. Our liturgy does a good job of telling the first three movements: creation, fall, and redemption. Where we are weak is in telling the fourth movement: the return of Christ.
We believe that when Christ came to earth he established his kingdom—it is already here, but it is not yet fully realized as it will be when he returns. You may have heard the the term “Already, but not yet” before. So, while we wait for Christ to return and fully establish his kingdom, it is our work as His body here on earth, to be kingdom ambassadors—representing the kingdom of heaven to the world—and to also participate in the building of that kingdom. Further, one way to participate in building the kingdom is through giving money to ministries that are doing kingdom work—we have that opportunity weekly in the offering. So in essence, the offering is a chance to participate in building the Kingdom that is “already” here as we also wait for the Kingdom that is yet to come—and in so doing we engage with the final movement of the Gospel story: the return of Christ.
Last week we took a deep dive into the gathering movement of the liturgy—this included the greeting from God, mutual greeting, call to worship, and opening gathering song of praise.
This week we’re going to continue our deep dive into the liturgy and talk about the Confession and Assurance.
Confession, like the gathering last week, is initiated by God—though in this case in a less direct way. Confession is the natural response of a sinner who encounters the grandeur and holiness of God. Take for example the prophet Isaiah. In chapter 6 Isaiah is taken up into the throne room of heaven and see’s the holiness of God first hand—he comes to a horrifying conclusion, “Woe to me!” he cries. “I am ruined! For I 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.”
When Isaiah see’s who God is, he comes to a deep level of self awareness—and it’s bad news. He’s impure, and when impurity encounters the holiness of God, something usually dies.
So in our worship, when we encounter God whether we’re focussing on his love, his goodness, his holiness, his righteousness in the call to worship and gathering song, we also come to a deeper level of self-awareness. It is in the light of who God is that we come to realize who we truly are. Confession then is a chance for us to be honest with ourselves and with God about who we truly are.
It is common in modern churches to avoid confession or any talk of sin—it’s unpleasant after all. Many seeker sensitive churches get rid of it because it feels awkward to visitors and it is too much of a downer. James KA Smith—a Calvin University professor and author—writes, “What if confession is, unwittingly, the desire of every broken heart? In that case, extending an invitation to confession would be the most “sensitive” thing we could do, a gift to seeking souls. . . . This desire to confess may seem counterintitutive. Obviously the seeker-sensitive movement assumed this was the last thing non-Christians wanted to do. . . .deep down, we already know what’s true about our faults and brokenness. If that’s the case, rituals that invite us to confess our sins are actually gifts.”
I really identify with this—all human souls know there is something in them missing, something incomplete, something broken… what if one of the most hospitable things we can do in church is giving them the language to articulate the reality of the state of their soul.
The next movement in our liturgy is always assurance. We never talk about our sin with out being reminded of the saving work of Christ. Lets catch up with Isaiah again in chapter 6. After he had confessed his impurity, he writes,
“The one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Now what in the heck is the seraphim doing? To be honest, this sounds like a really unpleasant experience. But two things are important to recognize here—first, fire is a symbol of purification. Second, Isaiah’s confession is centered around how dirty and impure his mouth is. The seraphim then takes the coal and touches Isaiah lips. Isaiah’s sin then, by the work of the heavenly being, is taken away—his dirty mouth is made clean. Our assurance presents this same movement—where God assures Isaiah that his sin had been atoned for by the purification of the coal, we are assured that our sin has been atoned for, and we’ve been made pure by the blood of the lamb.
It must be mentioned here—confession is not a means of earning forgiveness—no, in fact we’ve already noted in the gathering that we’re recipients of God’s grace and peace because of his initiative—because of his movement towards us. Confession then is a chance for us to acknowledge that there is nothing that we contribute to our salvation except the sin that makes it necessary. Let me say that again: In confession we acknowledge that there is nothing that we can contribute to our salvation besides the sin that makes it necessary.
In the assurance then, we experience again the forgiveness of Jesus as if it were the first time and we are given the opportunity to thank God for his saving work. You may notice one of my favorite songs to sing after the assurance is “There is a Redeemer.” It’s a perfect way to say thank you to God for his redeeming work through Jesus.
In our previous episode we looked at worship as a conversation. For the next couple of weeks we are going to break down the parts of that conversation and look closely at each element of the Liturgy.
The first thing that happens in our worship is what is called the gathering. This movement is a broad category that includes a couple of elements. First is the Greeting from God.
Why do we have a greeting from God? Because we need to be regularly reminded that it is God who takes the initiative in our relationship with him—in fact all of creation is a result of God’s innitiative. It is he who calls us and sent his spirit to us to make our dead hearts alive to the reality of salvation in Christ, and it is he who strengthens us daily by his spirit for Christian living, it is he who provides for our needs. 1 John 4:19 reminds us that we love because he first loved us…
So when the Pastor lifts up his arms and speaks the greeting from God over us, we are reminded that God is the one who gathered us all together and worship is because of his initiative. We are also reminded in the greeting, that from the outset of the service the theme is grace—and we as the people of God are recipients of that grace—everything that happens thereafter in the service is in response to the grace and peace of God because he has reconciled us to himself by his son.
Next typically is the mutual greeting—we are greeted by God, reminded that he has reconciled us to himself, and then are immediately reminded that God’s grace and peace extends even into our relationships to one another—God has reconciled us to himself and a fruit of that reconciliation is that we are reconciled to one another. The church historically has called the mutual greeting time the “Passing of the Peace.” Instead of just saying good morning, worshipers would greet one another saying something like, “The peace of Christ be with you.” This seems a bit more significant to me… Imagine with me a chaotic morning of getting kids dressed, trying to get the kids to eat breakfast with some level of efficiency, trying to get everyone in the car on time, searching for the toddler’s lost shoe—mediating arguments between kids, patience running thin… The first thing you hear when you come to church is a word of peace from God, and then you have to turn to your spouse, who over slept and left you with the task of getting the kids ready without any help and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” Moments like that in worship provide a new perspective and a different level of significance; a chance to reorient one’s self.
Our Liturgy then continues with a Call to Worship. This element continues to remind us that worship is initiated by God, not by our own volition. The call to worship also reminds us about who God is—usually a psalm of praise is used. The psalm gives voice to the character of God then spurs on the worshiper to worship him for it. Psalm 95 is a great example this:
1 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
The liturgy then continues with a song—giving the congregation a chance to continue to ponder who God is and praise him for it. These psalms and songs usually focus on a particular aspect of the character of God—recently we focussed on God’s faithfulness and goodness in a service. Sometimes we’ll focus on his love, other times we’ll worship God as creator, other times we’ll reflect on God’s holiness and join the hymn of heaven by singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” What is important in the gathering is that we are reminded of who God is and we are given the opportunity to praise him for that. Bryan Chapell, a reformed pastor and author writes, “Just as idolatry begins with improper recognition of God, true worship begins with right recognition of his nature and attributes… Praise has always been the appropriate beginning of worship because in such praise we recognize God’s true nature.”
So this week, in preparation for our discussion please consider what in this week’s episode was new to you, what is something that you already knew, and instead of thinking about why this matters—because the application is pretty obvious—think about what your favorite gathering song is and be prepared to give reasons why.
This week we are going to take a look at the “dialogical principle.” Or more simply put, “Worship as a conversation.”
In our worship there are three conversation participants. God, the worshipers, and the world. We’re going to leave alone “the world” for now.
The conversation also has at least three different directions. The primary voice in worship is not our own, but God’s. He speaks from on high, down to us. We believe we hear his voice through the reading and preaching of scripture. Imagine an arrow pointed downward from God to humanity. This is why every week we begin with a scriptural greeting from God and we end with a scriptural blessing from God. God’s has the first and last word.
The second voice, that of the worshippers, speaks in response to God. We sing songs of praise, confess our sins, and petition and thank God for his help and provision… Imagine an arrow from humanity up to God. This is often the conversation piece that get’s emphasized the most in modern worship—we gather together to praise the Lord for who he is and what he has done in Christ. This is obviously vital, but without the other conversational participants and directions, this movement can easily become very human centered—some streams of worship so emphasize this movement that worship becomes all about how it is experienced by the individual.
These first two conversation participants and the corresponding directions are relatively intuitive. It makes sense that God speaks to us in worship and that we speak back to him. But the third conversational direction, while less intuitive, is equally important. That is worshiper to worshiper. Imagine a horizontal arrow pointing from person to person in the pews. Paul instructs worshipers in the Corinthian church to speak to one another using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. This horizontal movement, from worshiper to worshiper, suggests that worship, at least gathered worship, is not meant to be a solely individual experience. David Peterson, a worship theologian, suggests that much of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is written to encourage the corinthians to recover a communal component in their worship gatherings. In the aforementioned passage, 1 Corinthians 5:19, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs were meant to be spoken to one another to build each other up. In chapter 14, Prophesies and tongues could be spoken, but they had to be interpreted for the benefit and encouragement of all those who were gathered. In chapter 11, the worshipers were instructed to stop gorging themselves and getting drunk on the communion meal before everyone arrive, but to wait so everyone could partake and be nourished. Yes, gathered worship is for the glorification of God, that being said, it is also for the encouragement and edification of the entire body of Christ.
This dialogical principle is uniquely captured completely in the responsive reading of God’s word. In responsive readings we hear God speak as we do any time God’s word is read. We also speak back to God as we proclaim his praise or confess our sins through the words of a psalm. And we also speak to, and hear from, one another, as we hear the voices of those gathered around us. All three directions of the dialogue are accomplished in a scriptural responsive reading. So, don’t expect those to go away any time soon.
To conclude, a brief story.
The summer after my sophomore year of high-school my family went on vacation to Florida where my mom was attending classes for her master’s degree. It was actually at the institution where I am now studying, but that’s neither here nor there.
We left on a Tuesday, and that weekend we got the news that one of my football teammates had died in a tragic car crash. This was my first real encounter with death in my 16 year-old life span. The next weeks were a blur except one very vivid memory. That Sunday we went to worship and in the service we sang the song “In Christ Alone,” or I should say, everyone else sang. I didn’t. But I remember very vividly the final verse “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me…” I heard the voices of my parents and siblings around me, maybe singing a bit louder than usual, and I was reminded in a profound way, specifically through them, of our hope in Jesus and in sharing in his victory over death. To this day this is still one of the most profound worship experiences I’ve ever had.
So when you attend gathered worship, your role as a worshiper is obviously to respond to God and give him glory, but it is also to encourage and build up those around you. So read your parts loudly, when you sing, project so those around you can hear you clearly, someone needs to hear you proclaim to them the hope that we share in Jesus. Someone near you is at a point in their life where they can’t sing—they need you to sing to them and for them.
Last week we talked about how the content of our services is meant to be Christ-centered rather than human centered. This week we’re going to zoom out a bit and take a look at how even the structure or order of our service should also retell the saving work of Jesus.
A theologian named Bryan Chapel uses a really helpful metaphor—he suggests that just as an egg container takes the form an egg, our worship should also be formed by the gospel.
Our liturgical structure is designed to retell the story of the Gospel.
The basic movements of the Gospel are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and The Return of Christ.
1. Creation—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
2. Fall—in Adam all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and even creation groans with the pain of childbirth—the result of the fall.
3. Redemption - For God so loved the entire cosmos that he sent his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish…
4. The Return of Christ-Recreation - Christ will return in the end and all things will be made right—in the meantime the church also gets to participate in Christs redeeming work building the kingdom here and now.
Our liturgy retells these same movements—
1. In the gathering we recognize that God is the one who initiates worship by his word, just as he initiated creation by his word. We gather together and get a picture of who God is in the call to worship and we praise God for that in the first few songs.
2. in the confession we engage with the reality that we are all sinners and fall short of the holy standard that God has called us to. We are honest with God and ourselves about who we are and how yes, indeed, in Adam all have sinned—even us.
3. we are reminded of the saving work of Jesus in the assurance of pardon who has taken our sin upon himself and made us holy and righteous in the sight of God. We respond in thankfulness through singing and giving our gifts and offerings, we show our dependence on God in our congregational prayer when we lift up our churches concerns to him. The liturgy continues with the Sermon. God reveal himself to us by his Spirit through the preaching of his word. We are again reminded of the saving work of Jesus and our ultimate hope in him.
4. and finally, we are sent out into the world with God’s blessing, encouraged to look to the return of Christ and live as people saved by him—participating in his redemptive work in the here and now, and assured that Christ is with us even to the end of the age.
So ultimately, the point here is that both liturgical content—what we talked about last week—and liturgical structure, or order of worship—matter. Both content and structure should be centered around Jesus and his story of salvation.
To conclude, a brief story of how order communicates.
I was at a congregation that had a really great orphan ministry that raised funds, supported an orphanage, and supported adoptive families. Each year we would have orphan Sunday, a service where the Orphan ministry would plan and lead, and highlight the work that they had been doing.
Orphan Sunday began with a call to confession, acknowledging how God calls christians to care for Orphans, and then confessing that often we fall short of this command.
Following the prayer of confession a number of statistics and highlights were read, outlining how effective the Orphan ministry had been at caring for orphans that year. We heard about how much money was raised, we heard about how the committee was instrumental in helping families who had adopted orphans etc…
and I don't remember anything beyond that.
This service failed in both content and structure. The content was focussed on what the orphan ministry had done for orphans and for God instead of what God has done for us. The structure began with confessing failure to uphold God’s commands but never reminded the people of how where we fail, Christ succeeds. Instead, it told the people that where they may have failed, the Orphan ministry has succeeded.
The content and structure of this liturgy tell the story of moralism—that God calls us to a holy standard, and we can accomplish it, thereby achieving righteousness by our own work. It is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the orphan ministry or people involved with it were self-righteous and self-glorifying. In fact I know they aren’t and I know they were doing their vital ministry work out of thankfulness for what God has done for them and out of faithfulness to what God called them to do. My only point here is to highlight the fact that when these liturgical details are overlooked we can accidentally tell a much different story than what we intend.
A much better Liturgical structure may have told the story of how God reveals himself to us as a loving father and that we were once orphans, lost with no inheritance and no hope, and God adopted us into sonship and made us heirs with Christ—giving us hope and an inheritance that can never spoil or fade. We then, knowing the value of being brought into a family and given hope, are then motivated to proclaim that same hope to and care for the orphans in our world. I’d like to say that we did it this way the next year, but I cannot honestly remember.
So to beat the horse and make sure it’s good and dead: the content of our worship AND the order of our worship tell the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about now the word Liturgy encompasses the regular routines or form that our Sunday gathering takes.
Over the next two weeks we are going to dig into how both the structure of the Liturgy --ie the order of events, and the content of the liturgy —ie the songs, prayers, and scriptures—tell the story of the Gospel.
To start, it is worth mentioning that in the Pslams, and indeed in much of the OT, worship was oriented around retelling the saving work of God. In Deuteronomy 26, God instructs the Israelites on how to worship him when they enter into the promised land. Those instructions include retelling the story of Israel and how God redeemed the them from Slavery in Egypt and delivered them to the promised land. In Exodus 15, the song of Mariam (composed on the banks of the Red Sea) tells the story of how God saved his people from the Egyptians. In Psalm 77 the Psalmist retells the same story. Worship for the Hebrew people was always a recital—or a retelling—of the work that God performed on their behalf.
We approach liturgy similarly. All our songs, prayers, and scripture readings are designed to retell the story of what God has done on our behalf through the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. This is important to keep at the forefront of our minds when we consider what type of content we use in our services. I always want our songs and prayers to focus on what God has done on our behalf, not necessarily what we do for God. As an example, let's consider the song “Great Things” by Phil Wickham. I love this song because even though the verse encourages the worshiper to come and worship—to DO something for God, it primary focus is on what God has done for us. God is the primary actor in this song, not the worshiper. Verse 1 says “Come let us worship our king, come let us bow at his feet—he has done great things… See what our savior has done, see how his love overcomes— he has done great things.”
So, to summarize, our worship must primarily be centered around what God has done for us in Christ, over and against worship that talks primarily about what we are doing for God. Christ centered worship makes Jesus the hero of the story—human-centered worship makes us the hero of the story.
One final side note to add before we close for this week—our concept of retelling and remembering is much more cognitive and mind focussed than the people of the bible, and even Christians of the past. In our culture, if we were remembering our wedding anniversary we might pull out an old photo album and reminisce about how the day went and who was there—who stood in the wedding and how it was the hottest day Michigan had seen in 20 years. In Hebrew culture, remembering the anniversary of one’s wedding might include getting out the old wedding gown, seeing if it fit, and maybe even re-confirming the wedding vows. Remembering to the people of God was not so much a brain exercise, they wouldn’t just think about it the event, they would re-enact the event. This is also what we do in Christian worship. We don’t just think about the saving work of Jesus, we re-enact the story and in so doing find our part in it, as if we were there when it all happened.
My hope is that you would listen to each weekly podcast regardless of whether or not you are scheduled for worship team that week. Each week we will discuss that week’s episode, but we will also have opportunity for people to share about previous episodes from weeks that they were not scheduled.
Think of Listening to this podcast and thinking more deeply about worship as a muscle or a skill that we are all developing together. For example, I’m not going to get much better at golf if I only go practice my swing once a month, I might get a little better, but not much. But if I spend time at the driving range once a week I’ll find myself getting better much quicker. Imagine how great of a golfer I’d be if I went every day! Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to golf every day and I don't have time to create a podcast every day, so we’re sticking with a weekly rhythm. Think of this podcast as your weekly practice session at the driving range. Lastly, many of these episodes will build on each other—listening once a month may leave you in the dark, confused about how we got here.
So, last week we did some brief work defining the word worship and highlighted the fact that worship is an “all-of-life” endeavor. This week, we are going to dig in a bit deeper into how to think about what happens on Sundays when we meet with the body of Christ. We’re going to do that by taking a look at the churchy word “Liturgy.”
There are three essential ways to think about the word liturgy.
First, liturgy means “The work of the people.” When we think about this in the context of gathered worship, liturgy essentially means what the people do in worship. This definition reminds us of an important component of gathered worship—that is that gathered worship is meant to be participatory. It is not a performance or concert that people come to watch or consume, it is an event that people come to participate in. The voice of the congregation is an essential part of gathered worship.
Second, the word liturgy refers generally to the structure of a worship service. To some people it has negative implications of stuffy repetitive traditions, and so they throw out the idea of liturgy. But the fact of the matter is, all church’s have a liturgy, even modern non-denominational anti-liturgical churches. For some it may be as simple as a song set, announcement time, and a sermon. For some like our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters it is much more complex. But after a while, every church will end up forming it's own default order of worship: a liturgy is inevitable.
Third, the word liturgy can also mean “The work for the people.” When the term is used this way, it often refers to the priestly work of the Old Testament where the priests would carry out sacrifices on behalf of the people and act as a mediator between God and his people. As new covenant Christians we know that the Old Priesthood was a foreshadowing of the Priestly work of Christ, the great high priest. Thus, the old Liturgical work of the Old Testament priests is a foreshadowing of the completed and continuing liturgical work of Christ for us now.
This definition gives us a clue as to what content should be included in our liturgy; mainly songs, prayers, and scripture readings that point us to the finished and continuing work of Jesus on our behalf. And also gives us confidence because it reminds us that Christ continues to mediate for us. He takes our imperfect prayers and songs and presents them to the father on our behalf.
Liturgical worship is worship that is centered around Jesus. We’ll get more into that idea next week.
So, to begin, I need to start with a confession. In recent a worship committee meeting we were on-boarding some new members and doing some introductory work, explaining some of the why’s behind what we do on Sunday mornings. A few long-time members of the worship team, but new members of the worship committee, shared how a lot of the info I was sharing was new to them.
I realized that while I have done an excellent job of explaining the why’s—the reasons behind what we’re doing on Sunday morning, to the worship committee, I have not done a great job of doing that with the entire worship team. Our rehearsals are focussed only on what we’re doing on Sunday morning with little talk of the reasoning behind it. So this podcast is my attempt to remedy that imbalance. My intention is that you would listen to each episode at some point during the week before rehearsal—ideally on the way to rehearsal so that it’s fresh—and then we’ll begin each rehearsal with a brief discussion on the topic covered by the podcast.
So welcome again to the inaugural episode of the Linwood Worship Podcast. This week we are going to try to define the term worship. The word worship comes from the Olde English term Worth-ship, which implies acknowledging the worth of something or someone. In the Bible there are numerous words that get translated into the English word worship. We’ll briefly look at three.
The word proskynein means to bow down in submission. Imagine a servant bowing before a king. It implies a physical posture of submission—but even more, prosekynein implies an entire life-pattern of submission and devotion to God.
The word Latreuen is another word that often gets translated into the English word worship. It means “service.” Just like a servant would serve a good king because he is worthy of it, we serve our God because he is worthy of it. Like the word proskeynein, latreuen also has all-of-life implications. The Sunday morning gathering is obviously not the only place where Christians serve the Lord.
The final biblical example we’ll look at today is a group of words with the stem “seb.” Words with this stem have implications of reverence, fear, and trembling. I imagine Moses at the burning bush taking off his shoes because he is in the presence of God. This word also has implications beyond just what occurs in the weekly worship service. It implies an entire life posture of reverence for God.
All three of these words imply that worship in the Bible is about more than what happens in the weekly gathering of God’s people. David Peterson writes, “Acceptable worship in Old Testament terms involves homage, service and reverence, demonstrated in the whole of life.” This is important for us to grasp before we dig in deeper to what specifically happens on Sunday morning. Your worship is does not start when Pastor Joel greets you, and it does not end when he gives you the parting blessing. What happens on Sunday is simply one part of your entire life of worship.
That being said, what happens on Sunday is vitally important to the worshipping life of the Christian and as such, it is valuable to give it some deep consideration. We’ll dig in deeper next week.