“Music is an outstanding gift of God and next to theology. It is an endowment and a gift of God, not a gift of men. It makes people cheerful; one forgets all anger, unchasteness, pride, and other vices. I place music next to theology and give it the highest praise.” So observed Martin Luther.
Music is a gift of God. So is the Holy Spirit, who produces fruit in the believer, like love, joy, peace, and patience. Luther observed, “He makes people cheerful and helps them overcome pride.” Count those outcomes among the Spirit’s fruit. Spirit-shaped ministries will want to give music a central role in worship services.
I had the privilege of preaching in the castle church of Wittenberg. Luther’s tomb was about twenty-five feet from me on the left and the door on which the 95 these were nailed about 25 feet to my right. What a thrill! In that setting where Luther led worship services, it dawned on me that he made the revolutionary change of introducing hymn singing by the congregation. Before then, the music was Psalms sung or chanted for the people, not by the people.
Luther himself wrote many hymns, chief of which was “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He also composed “Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord” as well as “To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray.” The Holy Spirit was central to his thinking before many commoners revolted in 1525 because, they claimed, the Spirit told them to. The result was about 300,000 dead at the hands of the Prince’s knights. After that catastrophe, Luther was much more subdued about the Spirit.
Participating in a teaching mission, I was told I would be on “after the worship.’ I thought they had put me in last place. But they meant after forty-five minutes of praise and worship singing and the beginning of the teaching part of the service. I have participated several times in such extended singing. It is very engaging and moving. One theory is that it takes about twenty minutes for the brain to cycle from one half to the other and back again. Call it full-brain worship. The Spirit was moving mightily.
Among the many transitions going on in current church life is the move from traditional hymn singing with an organ to contemporary singing with popular instruments of our times, especially drums and guitars. I usually attend the contemporary service to keep track of innovations. But I enjoy singing hymns I grew up on in the traditional service.
Consider two kinds of contemporary music. Call one Presentation Worship in Song. Call the other Bow Down Worship. The first presents the Gospel sung by the worship team, in songs that often have a Nashville style. Often these are songs heard on Christian radio. It is natural for a worship team to want to present the latest in contemporary songs. But there are three limitations. One is that this music is sung by professionals and have rhythms and vocal range that are not easily sung by ordinary worshippers. Another is that the amplification is so loud the worshippers can’t hear each other singing. The third is that contemporary means constant change to keep up with the newest contemporary. The result of all three is that we are back to singing done for the people and not by the people.
Bow down singing is done by worshippers emphasizing their submission to God—they praise him, they love him, he is their all in all. This singing emphasizes a personal relation of first and second person, I and You, God. After establishing the submission to God, a sequence might move on to loud praise of this God whom I love. The first part is quiet leading to loud praise. A sequence is usually at least three songs but often four to six.
Consider this principle. How good a worship team is can be measured by how well the congregation sings. The first step toward meeting that outcome is that the congregation has to hear and reinforce each other singing. This usually means turning down the amplification. It also might involve the worship team not playing for a verse or two.
Bow-down worship involves the worship team seeing themselves as a servant to the worshippers and not the center of their attention.
If the Holy Spirit is expected to move people through music, the approach of Bow-Down worship moving from submission to praise is much more productive for that purpose.
When are you moved best by music in church? What kind of church music turns you off? What is your attitude toward contemporary church music vs traditional hymns?