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.
Recently, 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.
Last issue, we looked at three of the songs sung in the worship of God, the texts of Rev. 5: 8-10, 14: 1-3; and 15: 2-4, noting that all of these, in balanced fashion, gratefully praised God for Who He is, by recounting the things He has done redemptively for His People, and by recounting what He has done subjectively for His People (i.e., what His action has effected from the perspective, and in the experience of, the Redeemed themselves). This last, of course, is what has dominated the perspective of modern contemporary worship to the near-exclusion of the other categories of worship demonstrated in the Heavenly Worship. This certainly demonstrates that, though these categories include songs from a subjectively thankful perspective, these must be balanced by those which thank God for both Who He is and what He has done objectively for believers.
This is, at the least, an implication that only one-third of our song of worship are to be subjective, as well as demonstrating, as the songs in Revelation do, that the categories can meaningfully be intertwined (indeed, a danger of not including objective doctrinal elements in our music is that our experience of redemption becomes either dislodged from the very objective content that gives it meaning, and/or that it denigrates the importance of the Objective Acts of Redemption Which are the ground of our subjective experience in the first place, as we’ve seen in past articles in this series).
We also looked at the song not recorded in Rev. 14: 1-3, sung only by the 144,000, the only ones who could learn it, which taught 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). We might also draw the conclusion from the inclusion of this song that only some could sing, that there is a place in worship for what are now known as performance pieces, song offerings which, though meant primarily as an offering to the Lord, nonetheless are also intended (as when a minister prays on behalf of a gathered congregation) to be a representative offering on behalf of all those present, which perforce must be observed and heard if it is to be assented to and appreciated by those not singing it for it to be a meaningful representative offering (similarly to the minister’s prayer on behalf of gathered worshippers).
This (though not directly germane to our observations on the failure of the perspective and content of much modern worship music) also speaks to the practice of instrumental worship offerings (or even to the inclusion of instrumental passages in our worship songs, correspondent to traditional “organ interludes and preludes” in hymn arrangements) as legitimate, since, if there are legitimate songs which can be appreciated and made part of our corporate worship which are only sung by specific groups of the congregation, the principle certainly seems to be applicable to instrumental musical expressions as well.
This would also give expression to obedience to the Biblical commands such as those given in Psalm 150: 3-5, which says:
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Again, though not directly pertinent to the series focus, we should take note that not only is instrumental musical expression commanded (and is thus integral to the worship in Heaven in which the Church is to take part by emulating its patterns on earth), but loud and rhythmic instrumental expression is to be a part of our worship. This, of course, is a stark refutation of those who oppose electric guitar and drums in worship. (And don’t even get me started on the admonition in psalm 150: 4 to praise the Lord in dance…). Selah.
The existence in the Heavenly Worship of different assigned songs (or parts of songs) not only reinforces the concepts we looked at earlier concerning “performance pieces” as offerings, but also illustrates deeper truths as well. It is to those implications we will, Lord willing, turn in the next article.