Archive for the 'Music' Category

True Worship according to Hughs Oliphant Old

April 25, 2009

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image—an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory. The psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19.1) The apostle Paul in the prayer with which he begins the epistle to the Ephesians makes it clear that God created us to praise him.

Ephesians 1.3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Eph. 1:3-6)

This prayer says much about the worship of the earliest Christians. It shows the consciousness that the first Christians has of the ultimate significance of their worship. They understood themselves to have been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12). When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to this same basic principle; God created us to worship him…Worship must above all serve the glory of God.—Hughes Oliphant Old

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Children in Worship–Part Three

February 5, 2009

kids-jumpingOur church is thinking about some big changes. One of the areas under consideration is worship. It’s being suggested that we combine our two services into one. Also, that we combine the various styles of music. And, finally, that we move the time of our children’s Sunday school to the hour before or after the worship service. If we did so, it would mean that our children would be in the sanctuary with us during the entire service. Chew on that thought for a moment. In this post, I’m going to focus on children in worship. Here is an outstanding short piece on children in worship.

Children in Worship–How will we cope?

If you are like me, then the first question is, ‘How will the poor parent of the child who stays in the sanctuary for the full service cope with the change?

That’s a very, very important question. How will parents of young children cope with their little one being by their side for an hour of worship. How will the child sit through four or five hymns, an anthem, offering, prayer, and a sermon?

A Fresh Perspective

It’s good to remember that not all churches have Sunday school. That is, there have always been churches where kids stay with mom and dad or grandma and grandpa (or another loving, caring adult) during the full worship service. These congregations have never dismissed the children. And, these congreagation don’t exist half way around the world, on another continent. They are right here in Canada. The reason I point this fact out is to give us some perspective. The way we have done things in the past is not the only possible way of doing things. There are alternatives that work well. We may be able to learn a thing or two from them. But in order to do so, personal humility is required.

Parenting from the Pew

book-parenting-in-the-pew1Also, there are resources that can help us re-think the situation. One book that Terri, my wife, has found particularly helpful has been Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman, the mother of two sons, now grown. She speaks from experience as she provides advice to parents with little children. Her advice is simple, solid, and practical. Along the way, she offers an extremely valuable insight. Worship is never easy, contrary to popular myth.

Worship is work, hard work. It is also rewarding work. To worship the Lord ‘in spirit and truth’ does not come easily, and it certainly does not come naturally to us. It is difficult to worship on the leftover energy of a long week and a late Saturday. The Sunday morning encounter is worthy of our best energy, not our least.

The Lord of life promises to accompany us in worship. we will come upon unexpected stores of energy when we remember that worship is a joyous privilege. His mighty energy will be at work in us to revitalize our weary spirits. We will find rest for our souls.

The King’s House

cross-and-crownWhen Terri prepares our children for Sunday morning, she begins the process Saturday night by laying out the outfits the children will wear the next day. They see her do this and usually ask what’s going on? She’s then able to explain that we all are getting ready for tomorrow. ‘What’s tomorrow?,’ they ask. ‘Oh, well,’ their mom replies, ‘That’s the day we go to the King’s house, to worship the King of Kings.’ This plants the seed in their mind. Sunday is no ordinary day. Great things await them.

This isn’t a fabrication. Terri is not spinning a tale of make-believe. Her remarks are based on the witness of Scripture. The Lord God is King and his people, who are sealed by the Holy Spirit, are the new temple of the Lord. Christ promised that whenever two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be there. So, in a very real way, when we gather in the sanctuary as the people whom God has redeemed through the shed blood of the Lamb, we are, in fact, in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are in the Kings house.

What an awesome and thrilling, humbling and mysterious thing we do when we come to worship him in our sanctuary. If we convey this to our children, they will slowly begin to appreciate being with you, in the pew, to worship their God, too.

Great Old Hymn–Part Two

February 4, 2009

My Song is Love Unknown

The words, by Samuel Crossman, are, I think, among the best on the atoning work of the cross in English sacred music. I prefer John Ireland’s tune to the other possible ones. I was part of a choir that sang this version at a summer camp many years ago and the words of the final verse have never left me.

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Great Old Hymn–Part One

February 4, 2009

Beginning with this post, I’m going to present a selection of great old hymns. In order to be great, sacred music must be both musically beautiful and theologically sound. Too much of what passes as sacred music fulfills neither one of these points.

Hallelujah, What a Saviour!

P.P. Bliss

P.P. Bliss

The first entry is by Phillipp Bliss, better known as P.P. Bliss (1838-1876). To hear the tune, click here.

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He:
Full atonement — can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Lifted up was He to die,
“It is finished” was His cry;
Now in heaven, exalted high:
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

When He comes, as Lord and King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing —
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

The Covenant of Grace–Part One

February 4, 2009

sunriseWhen does a Christian become a Christian?

This question is worth pondering as we begin to consider a revision of our worship. At the Annual Congregational Meeting on January 25, we voted to begin a process that may ultimately lead to the complete overhaul of our Sunday morning worship service. So, a question like the one above will help to orientate the direction we take as a church. After all, conversion is at the heart of being a Christian, right?

Some say a Christian is converted when and if he confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes with his heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10.9). For a long time I was convinced that that answer won the gold star for being perfectly (that is, biblically) correct. At the time I was mostly hanging around a group of super-white-hot Baptists, who stressed believer’s baptism. Only adults can be saved, their line of reasoning went, because the Bible says you must confess your faith in Jesus with your mouth and believe in the resurrection with your heart—and clearly, only adults (anyone whose conscience is mature) have the capability to do those two things.

I love my Baptist friends, but…

I am grateful that since then God has widened my circle of Christian friends to include a richer cross-section of believers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Baptist friends. They were the ones who shared the gospel with Terri and me. But I don’t believe their view of adult conversion and, consequently, infant Baptism is correct. Their view, to my mind, is not biblical. Or, more precisely, it is not based on the full scope of passages that deal with these matters of conversion and Baptism. The Baptist view of these matters is based on a selective reading of the relevant passages.

Now before you throw something hard at my head, let me make something clear. I’ve heard Baptists preach their views and I’ve read articles on the Baptist concept of adult conversion and infant Baptism…believe me, I’m aware of their arguments for their veiws. I’ve read the best stuff their best scholars and preachers have produced and I’m still not convinced they’re doctrine is correct.

The Rule of Faith

bible1I once heard John Piper, an extremely gifted Baptist scholar and preacher, say that when considering the proper interpretation of a biblical doctrine (that is, a teaching on a particular subject), we should bear in mind what the early church believed. It’s not the final authority, but it can shed some light where needed. (NOTE FROM ME: The tradition of the early church can never be our final and ultimate authority, only Scripture holds that rank. But a factor that may help to point us in the right direction is the tradition of the early church. This is what the early Reformers called the rule of faith. The rule of faith does not replace nor may it contradict Scripture. It is a secondary light that shines as a good but inferior light, to the greater, brighter, and truer light of Scripture.) What Piper said made sense. I would love to ask him, though, what he would make of the evidence of infant Baptism in the early church. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of infant Baptism. It’s very obvious that infant Baptism was  practiced regularly. So, what happened? Did the early church get it wrong from the start? Or did they get it right? I now believe they got it right. They were acting on a ‘quiet’ belief in the covenant of grace.

Many Early Reformers Championed Infant Baptism

Knox, the great Scottish Reformer

Knox, the great Scottish Reformer

The term, ‘covenant of grace’ wasn’t coined, as far as I know, until the Reformation. The early Reformers studied Scripture and saw the important part that the covenants played in the plan of salvation. They saw that the new covenant of Jesus Christ was based on God’s grace and they understood that the covenant of grace must be the foundation of their theology. Now let’s turn our thoughts back to the Christians of the early church. Although they may not have known the  exact term ‘the covenant of grace’ (frankly, I don’t know when it was coined), they were still operating with that gracious covenant in view when they baptized infants. They implicitly understood that all the members of a believer’s family were members of the covenant of grace, including the youngest, most vulnerable members, the newborns.

If you are interested in reading more about the important role that the rule of faith has played in the Protestant and Reformed faith, check out the book The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith Matthison.

Click here for three short but outstanding talks (in written form) on the covenant of grace. The first and second talks are particularly good.

Rebuilding the Worship Service from the Ground Up

February 3, 2009

2007-from-jan-to-nov-626

In a very real way, the proposal for a new way of doing church (the first stage of which was approved at this year’s Annual Congregational Meeting) means that we will be ‘rebuilding’ the church in three areas: worship, group, and service.

How will we ‘rebuild’ the Sunday morning worship service? If we think of the various things that make up the worship service (the hymns, prayers, sermon, etc) as ‘elements’ (or the basic building blocks of the worship service) then the question is: How do we know which elements should stay as part of the worship service and which ones should go?

 

What Standard will We Use?

But before we can answer that particular question, another more basic question needs to be answered. What will our standard be? It doesn’t take long to see that the ‘rebuilding’ process will include judgments about the elements (the hymns, prayers, sermon, etc) of worship. ruler2And judgment, in order to be both good and sound, requires a standard from which to work. We don’t want the decisions to be arbitrary, after all. A standard that everyone can agree on beforehand would mean that we would all have the same starting point and point of reference in common. A universal standard would clear up a lot of needless confusion. Imagine if every carpenter had his own standard of measurement. It would be bedlam at the lumber yard, at the work site, and at inspection time.

What should the standard be?

 

The Basic Standard

I would make the positive expression of the Bible the standard by which we measure the elements of worship. This is the most obvious and simplest standard. It works easily: if Scripture includes an element, then it’s right to include that element as part of worship. If it’s not mentioned in Scripture, then it has no right to be included in worship. The positive expression of the Bible is known as the Regulative Standard. It says, ‘Let the Bible stand as the standard that regulates the worship of God.’ This makes sense to me, since it is God’s word that clearly expresses what God’s intention for worship is.

book-worship-in-spirit-truthA book that I have found extremely helpful in this matter is Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame. It’s published by P & R Publishing. It is clear, simple, but very intelligent in its handling of the various elements of worship. Frame explains the value of the regulative standard and how a church can use it to build a worship service that glorifies God and is a pleasure to the worshipper. And aren’t those twin goals the chief aim of humankind?

Evangelistic Worship—Part Two

February 3, 2009

T. Keller

T. Keller

In a recent piece, I looked at what Tim Keller, lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC, has to say about lively, evangelistic worship. Click here to read his thoughts on worship. Why? Because I think his approach to worship is not only biblically faithful, but also very wise—which means, we can probably learn a lot from him.

 

In the second installment of the discussion, I want to look at Keller’s thoughts on historic worship (what I would call traditional worship). My comments will appear in italics below his thoughts.

Keller offered some tough criticism of contemporary worship. To prove he doesn’t have a bias, he now offers tough criticism of historic worship.

First, historic worship can be elitist. People who prefer historic worship may do so only because they view their style of worship as superior to the modern style.

Second, historic worship can be ethnocentric (that is, it may see the style of worship that was produced by one culture or one period of time as the only style that is truly Christian). For example, some people who advocate historic worship believe that only music composed for the organ is legitimately Christian.

My thoughts: An elitist or ethnocentric attitude cuts off and throws out some very rich branches of the Christian church. What about the Christian worship, Keller asks, growing out of the fertile soils of the churches in Asia, Africa, and Latin American? Obviously, if they are part of the genuine Body of Christ, then the same Spirit that works in us (in North America) also works in them (wherever they may be). What do these branches have to offer the wider church?

Personally, I never sing historic hymns at home for pleasure. But, by the same token, neither do I ever sing contemporary praise music at home for pleasure. My personal taste in music runs along different lines. But I am sensible enough to know that my personal taste should not be the standard by which we measure the value of our church music. Worship is not like the Pepsi Challenge—personal taste should have little or no bearing on what we say, sing, or do in worship. We should be operating by a completely different standard.

What the true standard is will be discussed in the next item I post.

Evangelistic Worship–Part One

January 29, 2009
tim-keller-redeemer2

Worship at Redeemer, NYC

Yesterday I posted a link to an excellent article by Tim Keller, lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who writes about evangelistic worship. It is worth reading his thought-provoking words on this important topic. You’ll find my thoughts below:

Contemporary Worship

Keller begins his article by looking at contemporary worship. In another blog, you can read my thoughts on what he has to say about what he calls historic worship (some would call it Traditional worship). Here’s my response to his points on contemporary worship:

First, says Keller, some of the music that is composed for contemporary worship actually does the opposite of its intended effect. Although the composers of contemporary worship music almost certainly hope to compose music that helps to facilitate worship, some current music chokes the life out of the spirit of worship. If contemporary worship music is shallow in its thoughts, sentimental in its feelings, clumsy in its poetry, or awkward in its melody then it will probably stand in the way of true worship. The congregation will focus on the poor quality of the song, rather than on the glory of God.

My thoughts: This criticism may also be applied to some historic hymns, too, if they are dull, dreary, or awkward. So, what is the point of any song that the congregation sings during the worship service? It has to help people worship the God they love.

Next, Keller notes that Christianity has an incredibly rich tradition which a church may lose contact with, if the congregation only sings current music. Keller observes, ‘Part of the richness of our identity as Christians is that we are saved into a historic people. An unwillingness to consult tradition is not in keeping with either Christian humility or Christian community. Nor is it a thoughtful response to the post-modern rootlessness which now leads so many to seek connection to ancient ways and peoples.’

My thoughts: This is a great point. The Church not only includes people from around the world, it also includes people from every period of time. Everyone who has responded to the Good News by receiving Christ as their Lord and Saviour is part of God’s immediate, adopted family. The hard truth is that current Christian music just on its own cannot possibly convey how large and rich and abundant the church is.

But let’s not forget the reverse. Historic hymns have similar restrictions because they, too, are bound to a specific time, place, and style—albeit their time is usually the period between 1650 and 1950; their place of origin is usually Europe or North America; and their style is often a mirror of the style of the culture at large of the period in which they were composed.

Finally, a worship service that is strictly contemporary will become dated pretty quickly. Besides, Keller asks, when Christians talk about the contemporary style, which one do they mean? Do they mean the ‘white, black, Latin, urban, suburban, boomer, or the Gen-X’ version of contemporary culture?

My Thoughts: Keller mentions that a church has to work especially hard if it makes contemporary music and dramatic arts the centre of their Sunday morning worship service. Port Elgin U.C. doesn’t currently put those things at the centre of its worship. Yes, our 9 AM service features contemporary music. But most of the songs are ‘standard’ now. Keller, I think, is speaking of churches that keep their music current, as in up-to-the-minute. So, I’m not sure that this point pertains to us.

Keller makes some good points in his assessment of contemporary worship. These are points to ponder as our congregation plans for the future. In Evangelistic Worship—Part Two, I’ll look at historic (traditional) worship.