What kind of worship music style do you enjoy? I imagine that question would be answered differently depending on if you are in a California mega church, an English Cathedral, a remote African village in Uganda, an emerging church in Portland, a Pentecostal church in Guatamala, a house church in Malaysia, or a tall steeple Presbyterian church in the American south, or an urban slum in Accra?
But let’s turn the question on its head. What kind of worship music style do you think God enjoys? Are his tastes classical like the Anglican church downtown Denver and Orlando? Or more traditional- revivalist like the large Moody Church in Chicago? Or praise/gospel along the lines of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York? Or does He have dual tastes like Redeemer Presbyterian in New York with its classical and jazz praise services? Or is He fond of the large high quality tight worship band led service of Willow Creek and Northland?
The truth is, we don’t know, and the very question is probably not as relevant as some of us think it is. What I mean is that God is less preoccupied with music style than we are.
Why would I say this? Three reasons. First, the Bible simply does not commend one worship style. It doesn’t even commend one set liturgy for how we should construct our services.
Second, He seems to have used a lot of different styles all through history. I know all the arguments why Bach is best, and as a big Bach fan, I am sympathetic to them. But the facts of church history temper my dogmatism. He has used the oriental style of the second temple period. That music, the truly traditional music of the church, would probably send most of us running for cover! He has used the plain song chant of Ambrose and Gregory’s time. He’s used the polyphonic chants of the late Middle Ages. He has used the vigorous psalm singing of the early Calvinistic churches, and the instrument accompanied rich traditions of Lutheranism. He has used the music of Handle, Bach and even Mozart, and the professional choirs of the great European cathedrals. He has used the radical hymns of Watts and Wesley, and the revivalist hymns of Moody and Sankey. He has used the praise choruses of Gaither, and the early rock of Larry Norman. He has used the simple praise choruses of the charismatic movement. He’s used the new hymns of Graham Kendrick and Indelible Grace. He’s used the energy laden songs of Matt Redman songs and Audio Adrenlilen. You can add Chris Tomlin, Keith Getty, David Crowder, Sovereign Grace, Hillsong and many others to the list as well. Was he pleased with the drum driven songs accompanied with dance in the West African churches I preached at a few years back? I suspect so. And Reformed rap, what about that?
But my biggest reason for saying that God is less concerned with style than we are comes from John 4. In that chapter Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman. She was shocked that he, being a Jew, would even talk with her. Jesus then asked her for a drink but then shifted the topic of conversation to living water and eternal life. When he addressed her multiple marriages, she changed the subject to talk about style of worship. She said, “our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” She was focused on mountains, and Jesus made it really clear that these were incidentals, not the main thing.
Mt. Gerizim or M.t Moriah did not matter anymore. So he said, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming whey you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…..a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth., for they are the kinds of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4.21-24)
She wants to talk about mountains, and in that way is much like us. He wants to talk about the heart of the matter. Christ’s coming into the world means that worship is no longer identified with a location, because the Son, the true temple of God is here.
Worship “in spirit” reminds us that true worship demands more than outward motions and forms. It involves an inner submission of oneself to God through the Holy Spirit—a right heart attitude.
Worship “in truth” reminds us that we are to worship the right God and his chosen one, as he is revealed in the Scriptures.
When worship is like that, we may rest assured, that God enjoys it, even if the form happens to be one we may not be familiar with or like very much.
Great article, Don. Biblical, historical and practical. Good stuff. Chuck