Category Archives: Worship – Definition
For many the word theology is an intimidating term. It conjures thoughts of highly trained professors (in suede jackets) pouring over Hebrew and Greek text, unearthing the mysteries of God’s word which lay hidden to the lay person’s reading. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2008) does not form such an intimidating picture when it defines theology as, “religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed” (Soanes & Stevenson, p. 1495). Theology is what we do. Essentially, every Christian is a theologian. The challenge is whether, as Bob Kauflin (2008) states, “am I a good theologian or a bad one?” (p. 28). Before theology – that which is practiced; is doctrine – that which is taught.
There are two widely practiced approaches to the study of Christian doctrine, systematic and biblical (Bryant, 1982, pp. 616–617). Simply, biblical theology commences its study of scripture objectively allowing scripture to reveal its themes. Systematic theology approaches Scripture subjectively extracting text in order to define a theme. It’s from these two principles that we might draw some insight into the differing approaches when selecting material (songs) for Sunday’s corporate gatherings. For some believers it’s a matter of the means needing to justifying the ends. I.e. the lyrical content (doctrine) should determine the manner in which we worship. For others the end point validates the means. I.e. the worship expression (theology) and experience form the foundation on which to structure the choice of songs; both lyric and melody.
Paul Zahl (2004) in his apologetic for Liturgical worship further defines the two different approaches in his thoughts on the construction of liturgy for corporate gatherings,
The Latin phrase that covers the philosophy of worship I am presenting here is this: lex credendi lex orandi. That means: What we believe determines how we pray. Quite a few liturgical scholars and theologians today want to reverse the order and write: lex orandi lex credendi, or how we pray (i.e. worship) determines what we believe [emphasis in original]. (p. 25)
Kauflin (2008) makes the statement, “Songs are de facto theology…‘We are what we sing’” (p. 92). Many would agree with Kauflin’s statement (Basden, 1999; Carson, 2002; Dawn, 1995; Peterson, 1992; Wiersbe, 2000). Warren Wiersbe in his book Real Worship: Playground, Battle ground or Holy ground? (2000) takes the thought a step further warning, “Naïve congregations can sing their way into heresy before they even realize what is going on” (p. 136). In observing the vast array of worship styles I find Wiersbe’s warning to be a sober reminder that what goes in generally comes out. At this point I must stress that this discussion does not centre on the prejudicial war waged between those who preference hymns over modern choruses or vice versa. It goes much deeper than an individual’s partiality to one musical style over another.
So how does this affect the garden variety Contemporary Worship Singer? The first question to be asked is do you think about the lyrics that you sing? Secondly have you considered that by virtue of your being on stage you inadvertently support the doctrine and resulting theology of what is being sung? Singers love to give voice to flowing melodies, but is a beautiful melody enough qualification for the use of a song in the corporate gathering? I agree with Marva Dawn (1995) when she writes “It is crucial, then, that leaders of the Church study carefully our underlying theology of worship and the specific worship practices that result, for they do, indeed, determine who we are” (p. 106). Here I reveal my own view. The means must justify the ends. Like Wiersbe (2000) “I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear” (p. 136). However (and on this point I close), this does not mean that we can focus so heavily on the lyrical content that we forget to develop melodies and arrangements thereof that best deliver the doctrine. It must be sing-able! Sadly, too many ‘great lyrics’ have been set to ‘sub standard’ music – surely we can have both. I think that if we were to apply this rule to the repertoire list of most churches it would result in a significant cull of songs, but what would be left would be rich in doctrine and produce good, in a word – Theology!
Basden, P. (1999). The worship maze: Finding a style to fit your church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Bryant, T. A. (Ed.) (1982) Today’s dictionary of the bible. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
Carson, D. A. (Ed.). (2002). Worship by the book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Kauflin, B. (2008). Worship matters: Leading others to encounter the greatness of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
Peterson, D. (1992). Engaging with God: A biblical theology of worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2008) Concise oxford english dictionary (11th, Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2000). Real worship: Playground, battle ground, or holy ground? (2 ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Zahl, P. F. M. (2004). Formal-liturgical worship. In P. A. Basden (Ed.), Exploring the worship spectrum: 6 views (pp. 21–36). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Worship, in the Christian traditions, has taken on many forms and expressions…but what is it? Bob Roglein, in his book, “Experiential Worship”, makes an excellent point, “Ultimately it doesn’t matter what we are saying or doing in worship if we don’t know what it means” (Rognlien, 2005, p. 88). This is true, when we consider that ‘who we worship’ is foundational to ‘how we worship’.
The editor of “Worship Leader Magazine”, Chuck Fromm applies the working definition of worship across our diverse expressions thus,
It is the opinion of Worship Leader magazine that the centre of worship communities is the preaching of the Scripture, which in partnership with the Holy Spirit of God, becomes the Word. From this central act of worship, a community is formed and constantly reformed. Music serves the reading and preaching of Scripture and ultimately the responsive process, but it is not the main thing. God chose the word “Word” to represent Him. Jesus was thus the “speech of God.” Word is therefore a metaphor for God. Singing, it can be argued, is a form of speech. We often refer to music in God’s house as sung prayer. But speech is a broader communicational concept than merely a song. For example, Psalm 19 speaks of nature pouring out praise to God, day and night. (Fromm, 2007, p. 6)
I like the theological balance conveyed in Fromm’s description of worship. It’s central theme is focused on God’s Word and allows choice expressions, such as singing, to find their way into our ever evolving traditions. It could be argued, however, that we are only ever one step away from disrupting the ‘theological balance’. Gary Parret writes, “Almost every time I hear the word worship used by believers today, it is clear that they are referring to singing praises” (Parrett, 2005, p. 40).
I know that I have found myself ‘over-balancing’ on many more occassions than I would like to admit. Activities, such as singing do play an important role in many of today’s worship traditions, but we must continually assess through self and group reflection whether our focus remains squarely focused on God’s Word or whether other fancies, such as singing, have won our attention.