More on Worship

In his book “Worship in the Melting Pot”, Dr. Peter Masters of Metropolitan Tabernacle strongly criticized the “contemporary worship”.

He mentioned six new, highly flawed styles of worship:

(1) personal-pleasure worship
(2) worldly-idiom worship
(3) aesthetic worship
(4) ecstatic worship
(5) shallow worship, and
(6) informal worship

“It is as though evangelical churches have caught six viruses at the same time. How can churches survive if their highest occupation is sick? How can God’s people keep themselves unspotted from the world, if the world has taken over the worship? How can we call lost souls out of the world, if we are the same as the world? Worship is certainly the most important topic of the hour.”– quote Dr. Peter Masters.

During the “worship war” people regarded the differences between “traditional worship” and “contemporary worship” styles as nothing but matter of taste, style and generation. Dr. Masters disagreed and he argued that there are Biblical principles of worship. Then, he presented three deviations of the Biblical worship principles, namely: (1) aesthetic rather than spiritual worship, (2) ecstatic rather than rational worship, and (3) profane rather than sacred worship.

PROFANE vs. SACRED

“The word profane focuses the issue more clearly. To be profane is to treat sacred and biblical things with irreverence or disregard, so as to violate and pollute them. Is classical music worldly or profane? Not in the main. It may be beautiful music, not identified with or promoting an anti-God, anti-moral message or culture. Are old-fashioned folk songs profane? Not usually. Many were innocently sung for generations in the primary schools of a more moral age. (Please note that this last comment is about old folk songs, not the new genre.)” — quote Dr. Peter Masters

“Is the modern entertainment scene profane? Most definitely, because it is the most powerful and determined anti-God, anti-moral, anti-authority culture for centuries. It is profane because it treats moral and sacred things with utmost irreverence and disregard. It actively and militantly decries biblical morality, substituting the opposite. It blatantly and vigorously promotes an alternative society, including the worship of self and of lust as normal, reasonable and acceptable, and that is its undisputed standing in the mind of the public.” — quote Dr. Peter Masters.

Here, we need to be cautious on labeling all contemporary worship songs as “profane”. I disagree, for example that the lyrics of “As The Deer” or “Thy Word” to be profane. However, there are some songs if perform outside of church, we would not find their differences from the secular songs if we take “Jesus” out of the lyric.

AESTHETIC vs. SPIRITUAL

“Aesthetic worshippers believe that genuine praise needs a ‘physical’ dimension greater than mere unison singing.” – quote Dr. Peter Masters.

John Calvin was against using organ (or other instruments) in church worship. And therefore, the congregation only sang in unison.

However, Martin Luther loved music and worship that he wrote these fiery words: “Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs!”

His passionate beliefs led Luther to write both words and music for several hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Luther’s first hymnal was published in 1524. It contained eight hymns, four written by himself. Later hymnals were also published for Congregational use. He urged people to use the hymns at home and encouraged parochial schools to teach them to their students.

Working with skilled musicians, Luther also created new music for church choirs, organ, and other instruments during his life. And after his death in 1546, the first line of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” was inscribed on his tomb. (http://songsandhymns.org/people/detail/martin-luther).

“Our first major deviation is the espousal of aesthetic worship, in preference to the Lord’s requirement that worship must exclusively be ‘in spirit and in truth’ (see John 4.23-24). ‘In spirit’ makes worship a product of heart and soul. Aesthetic worship, by contrast, is the idea that things that are beautiful, artistic or skillfully executed should be offered up as an expression of worship to God. It is based on the notion that we worship not just with spiritual thoughts from our minds and hearts, but also with the creative skill of our minds and hands.” – quote Dr. Peter Masters.

With respect to “aesthetic” and “spiritual”, Dr. Masters seems to label them either “black” or “white”. My point is “aesthetic” can be “spiritual” and vice versa. For example, is Handel’s “Messiah” or Beethoven’s “Fifth symphony” nonspiritual? Another point is that we worship with less awe and reverence if we are not taking seriously on our worship and present the best to God Almighty. Can you imaging a congregation singing out of tune?

“Worship must exclusively be in spirit and truth”. This means that when we sing to the Lord, we believe with our whole hearts every word that we sing. Here is the story:

Dr. John Bertalot, a world renowned choir direct and organist shared his personal experience in listening to a junior school choir of deprived black children in South Africa. (Chapter 33 of his book: “How to be a successful choir director“).

The singing was unaccompanied. “There was an infectious vigor and rhythm, and urgency and commitment and pride and self-discipline about their singing which I found hypnotizing.”….“They sang in several African languages; I had no idea what the songs were called, but one thing I did know was that those children were singing to me about themselves, They were singing about the pride they felt in their long heritage in that most beautiful country. They were singing about times of oppression and hardship. They were singing about the triumph of the spirit in times of great adversity and they believed every word they sang, for they had experienced it at first hand and they knew it to be true.”

After the singing, he went up to shake hands with them individually and thank them. “But as soon as I opened my mouth my eyes began to water”… ..”my conception of what can be achieved by choir was forever changed that day.” ….”the choir that I now hold as my ideal – the choir that I try to get my choir to imitate, alas so inadequately – is that choir of deprived black junior school children who were raised in mud huts in a village where no white person dared to walk”…… “They are my ideal not only because they sang with such superb tone and blend and balance and intonation, and stood and proceed so impeccably…and not only because they never took their eyes from their conductor for a second – but I hold that choir as my ideal, primarily and unquestionably because they believed with their whole hearts every word that they sang.” … “…the gift of understanding the Gospel and taking it into their hearts.”

ECSTATIC vs. RATIONAL

“The Lord requires that we worship Him ‘in spirit and in truth’. The ‘truth’ part of this means that worship must be right, and also that it must be understandable or rational.”–quote Dr. Masters.

I would argue that “truth” here means truthful. Besides truthful to God’s words (Bible), we must also be truthful to ourselves. You don’t wear a mask when you worship God. Remember the old hymn “Just As I AM”? When you are sad or mournful, do not pretend that you are happy. When you are happy, shout out. When you feel the God’s glory, open you arms to proclaim. Jesus said “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” [Mark 10:15].

“Ecstatic worship is completely different. This aims at stirring the emotions to produce a simulated, exalted emotional state. Ecstatic worship takes place when the object of the exercise is to achieve a warm, happy feeling, perhaps great excitement, and even a sense of God’s presence through the earthly, physical aspects of worship such as music and movement.” — quote Dr. Masters.

Worship songs do not continue staying in one mood only. Some are vigor and rhythm, some are solemn and awestruck, some are inspirational, some are romantic, some cause you to think deeply, some cause you to tear. Do we hold out our emotions when we worship? Here, I would refer to Michael Card’s book entitled “A Sacred Sorrow”. He will take you through the Scriptures to show the missing part of our worship and prayer life – LAMENT. Failure to lament cuts us off from each other. Failure to lament hampers us to reach to the poor. Refusal to lament separates us from God. Compassion comes not through “reason”. Compassion comes from our “emotional heart”. We need to focus on the whole brain, both left (analytical and rational) and right (intuitive and emotional) hemispheres.

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