Friday, March 20, 2015

The Importance of Corporate Worship

Some time ago, mid-October of last year, Michael sent me two links, both blogs/articles by a PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) pastor-turned-religion professor at Grove City College. The first was entitled, "The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons"; the second, "The Problem with Praise Teams." The reason behind both of these articles appearing in my email inbox was somewhat of a joke, seeing as Michael and I are both on the praise team at our church, and somewhat of a discussion raiser, seeing as Michael enjoys getting a reaction out of me. As you can tell, they got enough of a reaction out of me to be inspiring a blog post five months later.

This professor was, by no means, good at using scripture in context, or even the right scriptures. He was incredibly biased, and this showed through in his writing and his interpretation of scripture. (If you really want to see what I mean later, look up his second article. His first is just opinion, not trying to be based on scripture.) I even called him "stuck up" to Michael when he eventually got home from work and wanted to discuss the articles. I am equally biased on my side, but that's not what I want to get in to today.

My church is a church that, during my 15 years of attendance, has gone from singing just hymns with piano accompaniment (vocals mic'd), to just contemporary worship songs with an acoustic guitar, piano, and some heavily-contested percussion (all mic'd) as accompaniment, to a fairly even balance of hymns and theologically sound, word-rich contemporary music from places like Sovereign Grace, Chris Tomlin, and the like, with acoustic guitar, piano, percussion (no longer contested), bass, and on alternate Sundays violin or flute (all mic'd). For years my church has been trying to find an acceptable medium where we can incorporate some of the great contemporary songs, and yet enjoy the steadfast richness of the old hymns. We have discussed and changed how loud we have everything mic'd. We don't want to overpower the congregational voices, but we do understand that some people don't enjoy singing if all they can hear is themselves.

I've been a part of this process since 2007, listening and contributing to the conversation. Because of this, I can see what this professor means when he says that he doesn't know if contemporary Christian music can compete forever with the richness of hymns. I understand what he means when he says that it's hard to write lyrics that are "theologically sound, but significant, profound, appropriate, memorable, and edifying (not to mention metrical)." This he says points (in part, there's more in the article) to the decline of contemporary praise music. Another thing he mentions as part of the decline is that you have to have a praise band to accompany contemporary praise music (I've hear some wonderfully simple piano-only versions of contemporary praise songs. This transitions us to his second article, where he attempts to use scripture to point out why a praise band is "not quite biblical".

This was the article that got me the most riled up. I felt backed into a latice-worked corner with his use of scripture, with his use of the phrase "not quite biblical". This is the article that got me really thinking. In it he details what's wrong with the praise band and why it shouldn't (and probably won't continue to) exist. The way he details what corporate worship (or corporate praise) should be is spot on: "Corporate praise . . . should be congregational, together, and vigorous." I agree with this, completely. However, he mentions that if you're using the praise team and no hymnals, people are bound to be more hesitant to sing because the words are printed on the screen without music in front of them. He also mentions that, with a praise team, people can't hear each other which, diminishes both the "together" part, and the "vigorous" part of how we are called to sing our praises to God.

Here's where I get to why I titled this post as I did. One of the things this article challenged me to do was to listen more carefully to the people in church singing around me. The professor made it seem like if your church played music too loud to hear the congregation around you, your praise band was "not exactly Biblical". So, in a small act of rebellion, I determined to listen to the people around me to prove to myself that what my church was doing for worship was okay.

(As a side note, let me just say that technically "corporate worship" should be any time a body of believers is meeting together to glorify God, whether that is through song, listening to the word, prayer, or even service. I, however, am using it specifically in the context of music and song.)

The past few months, I have been blessed. The article that got me riled up, and still does if I read it thoroughly (all my arguments with it are argued by other people in the comments; you can read them there if you wish) - this article has lead to my biggest blessing yet. In my defiance, I came to realize that my church sings. They don't just stand there and hope that the praise team knows all the words. If they are unsure, they listen to a verse, and then try with all their might to hop in to the song. If they know the song, they really sing. They sing loudly, and with gusto. They put their heart and soul into singing their praises to their Creator, their Savior, their Redeemer, their Father. As I look around each Sunday (because having been on the praise team for so long, I know most of the words), I rarely see people just standing there staring at the screen. Even those who aren't certain of their voices know the value of making a joyful noise, and this blesses me.

I have come to realize that corporate worship is so important, if only because you have the chance to look around and see all these other people from various backgrounds and families and situations all proclaiming that God is God, and He is good, just, sovereign, etc. There are so many Bible verses where we are exhorted to worship together, and I'm starting to learn why. Each Sunday I want to stand up in front of church and say "Thank you for singing! Thank you for praising God in my presence and blessing me!" Except, I can't, because you know, order. So this is my thank you. If you go to my church, if you sing, thank you. Thank you helping me see my Savior better. Thank you for showing me different facets of His beauty. Thank you for showing me that God is trustworthy because you trust him. Thank you for showing me many more things about God that I don't have time to list here.

The beauty of this revelation is that this can happen anywhere. If you can see people singing, if you can hear them singing, no matter what your worship style is, whether it's no instruments, or some instruments, or all of the instruments, if you can hear the congregation singing around you, you can hear people praising God for everything. God shows himself to us when we praise him together. When we glorify God, even if it's only the best way we know how, we show him to those around us.

So, if you stand in church, and stare at the screen, or the hymnal, or whatever you use, and just don't sing, I encourage you to listen, and then to lift your voice to the Creator who gave you the voice in the first place. It will encourage others, and it will encourage you. Not to mention, God gets all the glory, because he's the one giving you the voice in the first place.

Thanks for listening!

P.S. There are so many more reasons for the importance of corporate worship, but I don't have time to go into them now. Just know, I realize they're there and regret that I didn't have more time to extrapolate on them. :)

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