Worship, Definition, Evangelicals, and Instruments

Discussion in 'Worship' started by Afterthought, Aug 7, 2010.

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  1. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    *sigh* It seems as though ever since I started Reforming I've come across one painful problem after another within my Evangelical circle, and it isn't fun at all as I feel I am losing some of my nearest friends to one heresy or another while I can do nothing, including one person I had hoped on courting someday.... -__- I can only hope that I am merely being a young (both in age and theology) Reformed person and so am overreacting.

    This thread has to do with singing songs as part of worship. I realize that there is some difference of opinion, but I hope my question is still answerable.

    Firstly, how would you define worship (actually, singing songs as part of worship since "worship" and "singing songs" are equivalent in everyday Evangelical terminology it seems--I may unintentionally slip around in my terminology concerning this)? I've heard it defined as our response to God. Since I am new to this Reformed stuff, I am very suspicious of the use of the first person, so I do not know whether this is what it actually is.

    Next, what role do instruments and personal preference play in worship? I have a friend who is considering leaving a church because the worship isn't "passionate enough." This friend had gone on a trip where they visited and helped a Charismatically run daycare for less-fortunate kids. The people there sung the songs with great passion as they sung them with the little kids there.

    They used hand motions and the songs had lyrics such as (and remember, they were "little kid" songs): "Jesus is my superhero, You're my star, my Best Friend" and "Everything's okay and everything's alright 'cause I've got Jesus in my life." Even the "adult" songs were sung passionately though not necessarily with hand motions. My friend coming back to the church noticed that people there were not as "passionate" in their singing. My friend says "I cannot sing anymore here. I need to leave because I cannot worship God here." As another question then, is this a valid reason to leave a church? I must admit, the kind of songs where you get your whole body into it and sing of God as though He is right there near to you and responding to you outside of His Word is very attractive, but is it true or right?

    Next, as part of all this, I tried to keep my mouth shut, but I was pressed on this issue. How was I to respond? That they were being selfish and not truly worshipping God? That's a pretty hefty accusation considering I know little enough of this issue as it is, and to make it more difficult, I know that none would care for the theology behind any reasons I would have for God choosing how we should worship Him instead of the other way around. I instead asked a question, "What would God want for worship?" My friend answered that He would probably want people to be passionate in their worship.

    Anyway, part of the argument I was given while discussing this with my brother afterwords was that instruments are useful for stirring the emotions so that we can worship God better. Instruments help us focus our attention on God so that we can actually worship Him. Some worship better if their emotions are stirred while others are not, and that is fine.

    I continued to answer in "I don't knows" because I really don't when I was questioned by him as he said, "Do you really believe that people who are unable to worship in one way but are able to worship in another aren't really worshipping? You say that hymns or contemporary doesn't matter, but it certainly does. What about people who do hymns and cannot adjust to contemporary worship? Are they not really worshipping too? Are not the style and instruments allowing to worship better? I myself have an easier time worshipping with instruments such as guitars etc. I am telling you sincerely that I am worshipping God. Are you saying that I am not doing so either? I find it hard to believe that all these people would be wrong considering they are really Christians. However, do you doubt that I am wrong too?" How in the world could I respond to something like that?

    This argument was given to me by my brother as part of a conversation about the church that my friend goes to not being "passionate" enough. He said that they should really get a guitar since although they do contemporary worship they do not have one, and the guitar would allow people to worship better. I said that if they could not worship without the guitar they would not worship any better with it. That's when I was given the argument that instruments are helpful for some by stirring their emotions so that they can worship God. Is this a valid argument? If I get more on this argument from him--since I doubt this will be over any time soon--I'll post it here to make sure we all understand what the argument actually is.

    Finally, are there any resources available on the Internet on this subject which are down-to-earth for laypeople who care nothing for theology because theology is scary since it is "complicated?"

    Am I wrong in any of what I have said above? I hardly understand what's involved in the Regulative Principle of Worship though I know what it is, and my knowledge of what is invovled is currently restricted to worshipping in "Spirit and Truth," worshipping with "thanksgiving" but with "reverence and awe," to worship both with one's "spirit and mind," and to sing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." Once again, because I am new to this Reformed stuff, I am extra suspicious of any mention to "personal preference" in worship or singing songs. Am I wrong on this? It seems to me that there will always be some sort of personal preference, but if so, how much is too much?

    (Also, I do plan on reading up on this, but this is something I very much believe I won't be able to study up on in time to be any good to my friends before they make decisions, or to my brother as I'm sure we will discuss this again.)
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2010
  2. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    This won't address all of your questions, but perhaps will be helpful in defining what we call the "regulative principle."

    Study the Westminster Confession summary, and especially the Scripture proofs. What God's Word reveals is "worship," and the sabbath/Lord's Day is a substantial part of it.

    (Scripture proofs omitted below for sake of space, but are available here: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ )

  3. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Wanting to avoid the exclusive psalmody and instrument debate, Scripture ought to be the guiding rule for worship. That means our songs must be scripturally true and God honouring. I don't think the personal element needs to be an issue. Many psalms are very personal in nature. The key is that the singing element of worship is to be sung in spirit and truth. I take this to mean that worship is to be a spiritual encounter, not only a set of ritual and action (hand gestures or not, it is not the point); truth means it is to be a worship of God as he has revealed himself in his word.

    I've always worshipped at a 'contemporary' church. The problem with many contemporary songs is not that it is personal, but that it makes the individual out to be the hero: "I'm laying down my life", "I will always love you", etc. Also, the problem is not so much that it's trite, but often simply theologically untrue: eg. "you took the fall and thought of me, above all," "I called, you answered, and came to the rescue ...", etc. In the end, given all of these, I would still be wary of judging another person's worship style or authenticity - it is to their own master that they are accountable.
  4. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I never intended this to be about EP and instruments vs no instruments. Rather, it assumes first that contemporary worship is fine in light of the RPW provided, of course, that one is careful about what one sings. So my comment about instruments isn't about whether we should use instruments or not, but whether that particular use of instruments is Scriptural. So to rephrase my questions on instruments: Is using instruments to stir one's emotions up to sing songs to God acceptable? and Should one leave a church because one feels like one cannot sing songs to God properly in a church due to either musical style or people not being "passionate enough" in their singing? and If the answer is no to any of those, what could convince people who care not for theology that the answer is "no"? and If we cannot worship one way, is it true that we would not worship better another way (e.g., contemporary songs w/ guitar vs contemporary songs w/o guitar)?

    I'm not sure what you mean by "personal elements," but I do agree with what you said concerning it and with what you said about contemporary songs. I was concerned however whether "personal preference" played a role in singing songs. If it does, and one of the Westminster Standards seems to indicate that it does to some extent (don't remember where I saw it but something about the "light of nature" being used to figure stuff out for worship), where do we draw the line? Do we look for a church to suit our singing style preference? Do we leave a church if the music style or service or people in it do not suit our preference any longer? If we are members of a church that does not suit our preference, do we attempt to change it so it does? Should a church provide multiple kinds of musical style services so that everyone can have their preference? Should we use contemporary music because it creates "powerful" worship? None of those seem right to me, though I will admit I would love to be wrong about this. =/ From searching the PB, it appears that no one has exact answers to these....

    If there are not answers to these, how should we react to situations like I've given above? :think:

    I agree, but it does raise the questions I asked earlier about "personal preference."
  5. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    God himself is our audience, so any instrumentalist should be seeking to worship and glorify God while assisting the rest of us at the same time. While the instrumentation and singing can stir emotions,its primary purpose is to honor God. To some extent, how we feel really doesn't matter, although we should always guard against a cold heart. It seems that more mature believers do often respond, and sometimes emotionally, to solid theological content in all aspects of worship: the singing, readings, scripture and so forth. Less mature believers seem to like to be stirred up, and sadly, many churches in our day do not feed their people enough to grow and mature beyond this point.

    You cannot argue your way past immaturity. Encourage your friends to feed deeply on God's word, and likely their taste in content-less worship will wane.

    (As for your lady friend, I can encourage you to trust in God to bring the right person into your life in His time. One of the things I treasure most in my own marriage is that we view scripture from an almost identical viewpoint.)
  6. Glenn Ferrell

    Glenn Ferrell Puritan Board Junior

    Worship is a God initiated and commanded meeting with his people on his terms. He speaks, we listen. We respond as he has enabled and directed us to do so in his word.

    Be careful to share your growing insights in a winsome manner. One can hold to distinctive views, asking others to respect our conscience, while not being unnecessarily disagreeable.

    All singing of religious poetry is not worship. My wife and I hold Exclusive Psalmody views. Yet, my wife is very knowledgeable regarding contemporary Christian artists, especially those who are more Reformed in their lyrics. I love the great historical hymns; but will not sing them in public worship.

    Also, everything is not a matter of conscience. I will not sing non-canonical material in public worship and believe such should be sung a capella; but, I will sing Psalms in a church employing instruments, because they do not require me to actually play, just sing, the latter not violating my conscience.

    I want to participate in as much as I can with the people of God without violating what God has commanded or forbidden. One must avoid schism by not breaking fellowship with those who hold to and practice the essentials of biblical faith and ecclesiology.

    On the other hand, it is a great blessing to be able to worship as scripture warrants with a biblical congregation of God’s people. Unless those understanding and holding the RPW seek out and support these by their attendance, membership, giving, and leadership, such congregations will continue to be rare.
  7. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I think personal preference will always play a role, so long as we are human beings. So whether it is right or wrong confessionally, I think people will tend to move in the direction of their preferences. A person whose soul is vexed Sunday after Sunday due to the worship style will likely not stay long. In my humble opinion, God knows how we are and grants us some freedom in this area. Even the Psalms reflect different emotional and situational states that suit different times in the worshipper's season of life. They were also sung to various tunes, presumably with different tempos and key signatures, creating different moods.
  8. Glenn Ferrell

    Glenn Ferrell Puritan Board Junior

    There are “circumstances” attached to worship, not to be confused with “elements” or “parts,” the latter being prescribed by the word. Nevertheless, “circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” [WCF I:6] In regard to the elements or parts of worship, our preferences are to be in submission to God’s command. Worship is first of all to please God, not men. Worship in spirit and truth will ultimately please those who belong to and are being built up in Christ.
  9. JBaldwin

    JBaldwin Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This is an interesting discussion. With regard to style of music and instruments (assuming that these are allowed in worship), I remind myself that often what was "stylish" in music 400 years ago is neither stylish nor easy for today's congregations to sing. Likewise, much of what is sung today would have been a challenge to a congregation in the early 1600s. Some music seems timeless. Therefore, it is not so much the style of music that is important in worship, but the content.

    So much of the lyrics sung in church's today is nothing more than hot air set to snappy music. Music in worship, no matter what the style, can be used to direct the people's hearts toward God and teach them fine points of doctrine, if the lyrics are solidly based on Scripture or better are the words of Scripture. There is nothing more wonderful to me than meditating on the Lord throughout the week using the music I sang in worship.

    I was deeply blessed when I came to church early a week or so ago and listened to an elderly member of the congregation praying the words of the songs we sang the week before. It was then I was thankful that so much care is taken in preparation of music to ensure the lyrics are in accordance with Scripture.
  10. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks everyone! That answers just about all of my questions! You may have answered the few questions I have remaining already, and I am just not seeing it right now, so apologies if that is so.

    So it appears then that instruments are part of the circumstances of worship and that the circumstances of worship are down to our own personal preferences--the first of which should be to allow the congregation to sing with the greatest of ease. Thus, someone could rightly leave a church, choose a church, or attempt to change a church based on one's preferences of musical style or preferences for how the congregation is behaving (showing passion vs not showing passion) because the musical style and/or congregational response (passion) allows that person (or even a group of persons) to worship God better. It also appears from what has been said that it is okay for instruments to be secondarily (though deliberately) used to stir up one's emotions (because the Psalms of old did that) so that one can worship God better provided that the instruments are primarily used for God's glory and for assisting the congregation in singing. Thus, someone could rightly leave a church or attempt to change things in a church so that the instruments which stir up one's emotions are there so that that person (or group of persons) can worship God better.

    Did I understand you all rightly? I apologize again if I am twisting anything, didn't see something, or am misrepresenting anything you all said. Actually, it appears from this...

    ...that at least you say the stirring up of emotions by instruments is not wrong necessarily but also not a goal to aim for.

    Thank you. That was very encouraging to read.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2010
  11. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Yes, that's a reasonable conclusion. While many modern evangelicals would not readily associate themselves with the liberalism of previous decades, they have unwittingly embraced ideas such as "a personal encounter with God," and "our own personal journey" etc. that come out of that thinking. Our reformed understanding teaches that we come together as a body of believers and express our praise and adoration to God. Sometimes that is personally overwhelming (many times I've had tears of joy in my eyes during worship and sadness when warranted) and other times have had little reaction beyond an admiration for our God. What is unchanging is God Himself, his command that we worship, and the manner in which we approach that worship.

    Music style is a stickier question. The church over the ages has fostered musicians and has taught people to sing specifically so we could bring a more fitting tribute to God. The philosophy of culture is reflected in its music. I think the key is that the music must be sing-able (quite, frankly, the trend toward music marked "unison" does not meet that criterion in my book -- I'm an alto) and the tune should be fitting for the words. Quite often, Christ's passion and the majesty of God are treated way too flippantly, in some "good 'ol hymns" as well as in contemporary music. I'm also concerned about the rootlessness shown in many contemporary services. We stand in a long train of believers and to come together and say the same creeds, to use the same words and music are powerful reminders of our being united in Christ through all ages. One last thought: a good hymnal (or Psalter for those of that conviction) can unite personal, family and corporate worship.
  12. Glenn Ferrell

    Glenn Ferrell Puritan Board Junior

    Instrumental music might be seen as “circumstantial” if it is primarily there to assist the congregation in performing their warranted part of worship, the singing of praise. However, when instruments are multiplied, placed on state to perform, are used as part of special music, or are so loud one can not hear the congregation sing, they become more than a circumstance of worship.

    Circumstances are those things which help the minister or congregation to do the warranted things of worship. Seating, lights, a psalter or hymnal (if hymns are permitted), heat, a pulpit, Bibles, etc. Candles for lighting is a circumstance. Candles with religious significance, e.g. prayer candles, are an unwarranted addition to worship. There should also be a simplicity to circumstances, such that they do not draw attention to themselves but to the element of worship.
  13. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Yes! And such excesses in churches I've seen certainly make hymn and especially acapella Psalm singing seem quite attractive. It's funny though; I never noticed that many contemporary songs were not that great doctrinally-wise until I started learning more about Reformed doctrine. Thanks for patiently clearing up a lot of those questions!

    ...and so would deliberately stirring up one's emotions with music so that one can worship God better provided that the deliberate stirring up of emotions is only a secondary goal. ;) Actually, I'm just kidding; I can see what you are saying on this. The more I think about it, the more a sentence fragment like the one I wrote in reply seems absurd. How can one deliberately do something secondarily when that "secondarily" (stirring up emotions) is a means to do what is done "primarily" (sing praise to God--which, to those in the OP, is best done when done with emotion)? =/ At any rate, I think I'm understanding better what "circumstances" are. Thank you, sir, for your patience and time in answering these!

    I guess that just leaves that last sticky question of whether we should try to change a church or leave a church when our preferences for musical styles are not satisfied...or for that matter to make such a thing an issue to consider when choosing a church. Or to do the same when we find we cannot sing praise to God properly in churches. From our discussions, it appears that the statement is already answered with the answer being "no" so long as our consciences are not violated and so long as the accompaniment allows us to sing easily enough.

    The second statement is trickier to answer, but it appears that the answer is "yes" but only if the reason we cannot sing praise to God "properly" is because the instruments are distracting us or the music violates our consciences or the music style is tough for us to sing to (while all things else are equal at another church except for the music style as far as leaving or choosing a church goes). I suppose "properly" as suggested in the OP also has a somewhat faulty premise in that all singing of praise to God must be done passionately in order to be done properly--which although passionate singing is important it is not necessary for worship in Spirit and Truth to an extent provided that our hearts do not go cold.

    However, it seems to me it is possible to be passionate without showing it outwardly. If the latter is what is meant by "passionate," then "passionate" worship is necessarily proper though it still leaves a question of whether one should leave, choose, or change a church if one is unable to sing songs properly because those around you are not singing properly. From our discussion, it appears that if all things else at such a church are fine, it is recommended to stay at such a church though we shouldn't judge others who do decide to leave for those reasons.

    I don't know, just spouting some thoughts. =d At any rate this has certainly been a fascinating and helpful discussion!
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2010
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