We have seen in this series of articles that the Evangelical Church of today has fixated on sentimental, experiential, overly-romanticized worship songs, to the detriment of doctrinal and objective worship music. We have examined the historical and theological developments that has led to this imbalance in modern worship, tracing the rise of experiential emotionalism as the evidence of conversion, all tied to an escapist anti-Incarnational view which sees the spiritual and physical aspects of the world as being opposed to one another.
We then spent some time considering the Implications of the central Biblical truths of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of Christ for our view and exercise of worship, Implications which emphasized the facts that our worship should be both physical as well as spiritual, embodying continuity as well as change, and recognizing that both past and future should equally dictate the parameters of the shape of how and why God wishes to be worshipped.
Last issue, we began to examine the implications of the Bible’s glimpses into the Heavenly Worship (Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1 and 10; Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 4-5) and it’s interior logic for redressing the imbalance in today’s Evangelical worship, seeing that the Church actually worships in Heaven spiritually, beyond (yet within) time and space through the Ascended Humanity of Christ, Who is seated at the Father’s Right Hand.
The passages in Revelation all describe, as we’ve seen, the same Place also written of in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hebrews: the Courts of Heaven in the Throne-room of God, where the Heavenly Worship eternally takes place in His Presence. These Heavenly glimpses in the book of Revelation, which is one long vision of that worship, contain songs used to praise God by the angels, the elders, and the other redeemed saints, and, like everything else in Scripture, these songs have much to teach us, especially as to the focus and content of our worship.
The first song listed as such is in Revelation 5:8-10:
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your Blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
The second song recorded in Revelation is not actually recorded, as Revelation 14:1-3 tells us:
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.
The other song recorded is in Revelation 15: 2-4:
And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are Your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are Holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.”
The song not recorded in Rev. 14: 1-3, sung only by the 144,000, the only ones who could learn it, still teaches us that music is important to God in the worship formation of His People, even in the distinct formation of specific individuals and groups, and that God Himself composes music for worship purposes (since He undoubtedly composed the Song of the 144,000, as no person who was not one of them could even learn, much less compose, the song. There is more, of course, to be learned here, but not as it relates to our topic, so much, so we’re passing over this (but, hey, it is a song, so, for completion’s sake, I included it…).
Turning to Revelation 5:8-10 and 15: 2-4, we note that both the songs recorded there, the first sung by angels and the 24 Elders, and the second by saints who had victory over the Beast, covered the same three basic categories: (1) praising God objectively for Who He Is, (2) praising God objectively for What He Has Done, and (3) the Effects He has had by His Being and Acts.
The first category, the worship of God for Who He is, is addressed in Rev. 5:9 by telling the Lord Jesus (the Lamb) that “You are Worthy,” and in Rev. 15:3, God is called “Lord God Almighty,” and “King of the Saints,” and “Lord” (a title of lordship) in Rev.15:4.
The second category, praising God for What He has done objectively, is addressed in Rev. 5:9 as Jesus the Lamb is worshipped because “You were slain, and have redeemed…to God” people from “every tribe and tongue and nation,” having made those redeemed saints “kings and priests to…God” (Rev. 5:10), which also recognizes that those saints are also enabled by Jesus’ Redemption to “reign on the earth.”
In Rev. 15:3, God is hymned for being a Performer of “Great and Marvelous…Works,” for His Ways being “Just and True,” and in Rev. 15:4 for Alone being Holy, and having manifested His Judgments.
The third category, praising Him for the Effects He has had by His Being and Acts, is seen in Rev. 5:9 as Christ is lauded for His Worthiness (via His Redemptive Sacrifice) “to take the scroll, and to open its seals,” and in Rev.5:10 for having “made us kings and priests to our God,” and effecting the redeemed saints’ “reign on the earth.,” which Actions also affect us subjectively, since we are the recipients personally of those Saving Acts.
In Rev. 15:3, the fact that His Works are seen as “Great and Marvelous,” and His Ways as “Just and True” speak to the effect that they have subjectively upon the worshippers, who are able to discern these qualities about the Lord’s Actions and be driven to delineate those qualities in their paean of worship in His Presence. These Effects can be further seen in the lyrics of Rev. 15:4, where the singers also point out that His Works and Ways wrought through Jesus the Lamb will result in the fear of the Lord and the glorification of His Name by the nations, who further are seen resultantly as coming to worship before the Lord because of the Manifestation of His Judgments.
I’ve gone into such detail here because these paradigmatic worship models enacted in the Heavenly Worship should inform the music we use in our services, since we actually are taking part in the Heavenly Service at the same time we are gathered to worship, as we’ve seen. The three emphases embodied in the lyrical content of these hymns form the basis of traditional lyrics of the Church in ages past, which emphases, as we’ve just seen, are found side by side with each other in the hymn-texts.
There is justification here for some subjectivity lyrically, but those subjective aspects are intertwined with a more objective detailing of Who God Is and What He Has Done. In other word, there is a balance here, which is frequently missing in today’s worship music perspectives. We’ll look more at the meaning of the worship texts in the Book of Revelation in the next article, Lord willing.