Healthy Tensions in Worship (1)

As I have covered the first couple chapters in the “Healthy Tensions” regarding worship in Worship Matters I have noticed a trend in what stands out to me: head & heart.

I think that anyone who knows me can vouch that I am a big fan of both contemporary and traditional songs (though I do dislike some songs in both genres).  They also probably know that I think the so called “worship wars” are stupid and that those who dogmatically hold one style as “superior” to the other are either simply uniformed, culturally ignorant, or…well…it’s best left unsaid : ).  I personally believe that as long as you understand the culture around you, a musical worship team can craft a way to use songs to effectively bring people into the worship of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.  In the culture that I labor, that means a high use of contemporary songs, but the integrating of a traditional song every now and then can be very effective as well.

How does that relate to “head & heart”?  Simple.  Both genres have demonstrated an ability to overemphasize one over the the other and both genres have demonstrated the ability to combine the two effectively.  Not every song needs to be “all inclusive” which is why we often sing multiple songs so that we can effectively reach both head & heart.  Based upon what is standing out to me in my reading, it appears that hitting both in our musical worship is something that I seem to be passionate about lately.

After that lengthy introduction, let’s look at the two chapters that I have read today: Chapter 19 – Transcendent and Immanent & Chapter 20 – Head and Heart.

Chapter 19: Transcendent and Immanent

This was a short chapter that doesn’t require much comment on my end.  I think grabbing a couple quotes can summarize it for you:

Transcendence means that God is independent from and superior to his creation.  As we worship God, we must recognize that he is not us.  He is the sovereign King, infinitely majestic and glorious.  His righteousness is like the mountains, and no one is holy like the Lord (see Psalm 36:6, 1 Samuel 2:2).  God is God, and we are not.  That’s one of the most helpful attitudes we can cultivate when we meet to worship God” (p 159).

“But God is not only transcendent – he is also immanent, which means he’s near to us.  He doesn’t stay distant or isolated from his creation…Though we may feel at times like God is a million miles away, he never is.  He’s right here…God’s immanence takes on radical new meaning for Christians: God is not only with us – he actually dwells in us” (pp 160-161).

“Our corporate worship should reflect [that God is both transcendent and immanent].  Charles Spurgeon once said: ‘I can admire the solemn and stately language of worship that recognizes the greatness of God, but it will not warm my heart or express my soul until it has also blended therewith the joyful nearness of that perfect love that casts out fear and ventures to speak with our Father in heaven as a child speaks with its father on earth'” (p 163).

Chapter 20: Head and Heart

Regarding using our head, here are some short quotes (and a couple of my thoughts):

“Every time we lead the church in worship we’re doing more than singing songs.  We’re leading believers in a battle for the truth…[God] wants us to set our minds, not just our emotions, on things above (Colossians 3:2)…God wants our worship to be intelligent and well informed” (pp 165-166).

“Helping people worship God with their minds also means using songs that go beyond the tired Christian cliches to which we’ve grown accustomed.  Not new truth, but new ways of speaking and presenting truth…It’s helping people clearly apprehend the character and works of God.  We can also explain the meaning of any words, biblical phrases, or terms that might be unfamiliar or too familiar.  Words like justified, Zion, grace, and glory. Unbelievers, new Christians, and regular members can benefit from knowing what we’re singing about.

Obviously, intellect can become an end in itself.  We can become more impressed with our doctrinal formulations than we are with Jesus.  We can end up leading a theologically orthodox but emotionally dead church.  God receives no glory from that combination” (p 166).

I loved the part about cliches and speaking the truth in new ways (not “new truth”).  There is nothing wrong with using words like “Justification” or “Sanctification”.  But people not immersed in Christian culture often don’t know what they mean and those who have been immersed often treat them as cliches and the words lose their meaning.  Describing or defining the words can help bring life to them.

As for cliches, I have noticed that they can become crutches and even distractions from the Spirit’s move.  Every group has their set of cliches.  Whether it is “everyone call on the Lord” or “God is good;  All the time;  All the time;  God is good” or whatever pet terminology or practice is out there.  While these cliches often have a biblical basis, I have seen them used more often in a way that becomes a distraction to what the Lord is doing at the moment (I’ve especially seen this with the “God is good” mantra), or something that causes people to mentally &/or spiritually shut down (as in the “calling” example).  Again, these cliches are not bad in and of themselves, but once they become cliches they have hit the danger zone and we should be careful if and when we use them.

Concerning using our hearts:

“The affections we’re seeking to stir up are more than fleeting, shallow, self-induced emotions.  We aren’t trying to excite people for the sake of excitement…Godly affections are deep and long-lasting.  They’re the result of focusing on what God has done and who he is…When we fail to demonstrate delight and satisfaction in God, we’re not only dishonoring God, we’re disobeying him.  More than anyone else on earth, Christians have a reason to celebrate” (pp 166-167).

In Summary:

“The issue is far more than hymns versus contemporary choruses.  Some hymns are sentimental and feeling-oriented; some contemporary songs are rich with theological content.  The real issue is pastors and worship leaders taking responsibility for what their churches are singing, leading them wisely into truth-based affections, and making sure good fruit is being produced.

Most of all, God intends for us to remember that neither biblical truth nor deep emotion is out of place when we worship God; they’re meant to go together.  Let’s keep the healthy tension strong” (p 168).

As a side note of encouragement, I must say that the regional youth events of Mt Top/Ignite and the local congregations that I help lead and am in fellowship with (Oasis, UA Christian Assembly, & CCA) have done a great job in the area of effectively bringing us into worship with both our head & our heart.  Great job!  Is there room to improve?  Duh.  As with everything, of course there is.  But these worship teams of youth, college-age, and post-college people have excelled in leading us to the Lord in an engaging and heart-felt manner.  It has been an honor and a privilege serving with them.

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