WORSHIP AND CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN MUSIC
By Candace Malcomson
We have built a ‘golden calf’ and it is called ‘worship’. We have sacrificed our children to the ‘fire of Molech’ for we have allowed their ears to be filled with that which is called ‘Contemporary Christian Worship’.
People of God arise and give not your gold to make the idol! Parents of godly homes arise and be good stewards of the souls with which you have been charged!
It is interesting to note that the word singing appears only twice in the New Testament:
Eph 5:18 -19 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
The significance of these two scriptures is their context or pre-conditions to that singing. In Ephesians Paul writes that we should be filled with the spirit and sing and in Colossians he writes that the word of Christ dwell in you richly and then sing. (The ‘word of Christ’ more specifically translated is doctrine, reason.) In other words we should be sure that before we come to sing songs unto God we are filled with His Spirit and that the word of God dwells in us richly (abundantly).
The joy of fulfilling these two scriptures is immense. Songs which rise from a soul filled with the Holy Ghost and a mind overflowing with God’s Word are songs filled with the Spirit and with Truth.
John 4:23 – 24 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
This is perhaps the most quoted scripture with regard to worship and yet the most misunderstood.
IN SPIRIT We can only truly worship God if we are filled with His Spirit; if His spirit is within us and the Spirit of God can only fill a saved, blood-washed child of God. We cannot stand in the presence of God if we are not wearing robes of righteousness.
IN TRUTH our worship must be Truthful in who we say God is, what we say God is and what we say He does or has done. As always our touchstone is the Word of God.
The following excerpt from “The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary” by Alex Rattray Hay, General Superintendant New Testament Missionary Union (3rd Edition) is most enlightening.
p. 206 “…to say…that hymn singing is spiritual when it is merely emotional or that the power of the [Holy] Spirit is in a message that has merely stirred emotion, is superstition. Preaching or singing or any other religious exercise that does not lead us to the true substance which is God Himself in His real presence and active power is superstition – an empty thing and vain that only depraves us of that which is real.”
p.204 “The employment consciously or unconsciously of soulish psychology may produce profound emotional reactions. A religious atmosphere that is purely emotional may be created easily. Emotional singing may intoxicate the senses. A magnetic personality may be used to hypnotize an audience. All this is often mistaken for Spiritual power even in doctrinally sound churches. It is said, ‘We felt the power of the Spirit,’ when what was felt was purely emotional.
Architectural surroundings, ritual, vestured preachers and choirs, sentimental illustrations and singing can produce a feeling of worship that is entirely emotional and only a counterfeit of the true sense of the presence of the Spirit of the living God and true worship in the Spirit.
What is nothing more or less than ‘mob psychology’ may succeed in arousing fanatical religious fervour. This may be purely soulish and not the direct work of any spirit, but evil spirits immediately take advantage of it. The Holy Spirit would never countenance it or use it.”
MUSIC IS EMOTIVE — this is a fairly obvious statement, yes, but one which needs to be highlighted. It is in a nutshell what Mr Rattray-Hay is saying above. But are we aware just how emotive it is? Soviet leader Lenin said “Give me the music of a nation and you give me the mind of a nation.” Under Lenin and Stalin’s rule composers were contracted to write music which would stir the hearts of the public to support the ruling party and failing to do as such proved fatal for some. The composers I am talking about wrote Symphonies — music without words. Music indeed has the power to move.
I have conducted orchestras whether in concert or rehearsal in a beautiful piece of music and have experienced an utterly altered state of being. I was so much a part of the music, so much in unison with the orchestral players that I literally felt that I was levitating. The experience was so moving that I could be sure that it was ‘anointed’!
“But Saul asked David to play - play that is, not sing - when he was troubled and it took away his anxious spirit!” I hear you retort. Well exactly, proof yet again that we best be sure with which spirit we are filled before we take off on our improvisational ‘ministry sounds.’
What we have on the whole in today’s churches is a myriad of folk coming in and because they can tap their foot or dance to the music they feel inspired and they leave church feeling that they have ‘worshipped God’. It is not my own saying but never a truer saying is there than this: “you can get a chimpanzee to tap his foot if the music and beat is just right.”
I have with weighty heart been in churches where sinners, who are happy to tell you that they were in the pub drinking the night before, are in church on Sunday morning dancing up at the front, as the musicians and a worship leader whips up the congregation.
It is a simple fact that music inspires dance. More particularly a marked beat or prominent percussion inspires and drives the human to express their feeling in movement. Sadly, a ‘good dance at church’ is mistaken for the presence or inspiration of God Himself. Folk who dance up at the front of church each Sunday are often thought of amongst believers as very dedicated Christians when their lifestyle, [conversation AV] in no way reflects Christ’s.
Then there are those unsaved who attend church who know that Jesus Christ is to be worshipped. (I am going to presume that you understand that Christians cannot have demons) The Gadarean Demoniac (the demon possessed man of Gadarea in the Gosepl of Mark) ran to worship Christ:
Mar 5:1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit… But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him
In other words, do not be falsely comforted that the gentleman for whom you are praying is ‘going on with God’ merely because he dances during the worship time and appears to be enjoying the music. According to the Word of God, Psalm 149 most particularly, we are to praise God in dance: ( Psalm 149:3) “Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” So dancing itself is not the issue but the issue is rather who does the dancing and from where the inspiration for that dance comes.
At this point we need to talk about the actual musical aspect of worship. Thankfully because it stands in scripture we should be in no doubt as to the place and reason for music. For it is quite clear that:
MUSIC IS TO SERVE THE TEXT.
Psalm 68:25 The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels.
The singers went before because they declared the message of what it was they were singing; because what they were singing is what is most important. The players followed after the singers. We have reversed this today. We have made the ‘players’ walk in front of the ‘singers’. Even more specifically we have allowed the timbrels (the drums) to lead. Most of the ‘worship’ songs used in churches today relies heavily on a leading, driving drum beat and no care is taken when the words are drowned out.
TUNES: Many of the Hymns we find in the Hymn books are set to a tune and we see at the top left corner of the printed music that the hymn tune has a name. Mostly these tunes are named after the name of a town, an area or a church as it was common that each town or place literally had a ‘signature tune’ or folk melody common to that one place or church and as travel and printed music became widely available so too, did each tune. The tunes were only ever needed as settings for the beautiful poetry of the Hymn writers. Melodic shape gives the memory a dimension upon which to rely and the soul a source of expression. Many schools today will teach arithmetic and times-tables in song as it is proven that melody adds a dimension to memory. Similarly with Hymns we have tunes to prompt and give shape to each poem unto God.
TEXTS: It is very sad that much of what is coming through in the new worship today contains very poorly written text. The old hymn writers knew their God and were skilled poets. Today it seems a child could write and remember most lyrics but worst of all, songs could be easily mistaken as love songs for a person! Christ is not mentioned and when occasionally ‘God’ is mentioned, it is not clear which god they are worshipping.
Hymns, more specifically the WORDS (text) of the hymns brought many a soul to Calvary; brought many a soul the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because the texts were filled with doctrine and the Word of God. Again, the hymn tune merely assisted them to remember the rich text and the many verses.
Recently I heard a world-renowned worship leader giving a talk on worship and in speaking about today’s very short, repetitive texts, he made the comment that people today do not want to sing 6 verses. He went on to say that “Mr Plumber and Mr Carpenter” can hardly cope with one verse let alone 6 verses! (Oh dear, very un-PC!) Mr World-renowned is gravely misled, for throughout the centuries, the illiterate have not only understood and managed to sing hymn after hymn, but they have memorized vast numbers of hymns and indeed, it was the singing of hymns which brought the Word of God to many, many hearts.
Short, repetitive choruses certainly have their place and are Scriptural as can be seen in a number of Psalms, but when song after song and the entire song-service consists of only short repetitive choruses, we lose the opportunity to bring the Word of God to hearts through this means.
WORSHIP TEAMS and WORSHIP LEADERS
Criteria for worship leaders should carefully follow the Biblical guidelines for leadership. It should be most basic that those involved with worship have a prayer life and proven walk with God. Sadly, what I see most often is young folk who certainly love the music but it is not certain whether they love God!
We have been in countless churches where the worship leaders or band members depart during the preaching of God’s Word or indeed because those involved in worship are more often at church than the average believer, they become casual in paying attention to the preaching of God’s Word.
One of the most common but greatest atrocities in church ministry today is when a leader finds out that a ‘new convert’ can play an instrument and immediately puts the young convert in to the music team. This move is made in total disregard of Scripture which says:
1Tim.3:6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Many, many worship leaders all over the world have ‘fallen’. On the whole many were raised up as a novice and never knew the importance of being filled with the Spirit and with the Word. Far too much emphasis is placed on this hero-worshipped role of the worship leader.
For the equipping of the saints we have been given the five-fold ministry and nowhere in those five do we see this new exalted position called a ‘worship leader.’ Church leaders need to know that good Musicians DO NOT make good Worship leaders. Good music does not mean that your congregation is worshipping at all!
In closing this section let us remember the most fundamental statement in the Bible about a Worshipper: Scripture describes a true worshipper is one who “does [God’s] will and hears Him.” (John 9:31)
Numbers 25 – FALSE MUSIC
Join me as I read in the Word of God from the book of Numbers chapter 25. The background to this chapter is: Moses has lead Israel out of Egypt and they are camped in a place called Shittim (pronounced shitteem). They can just about see Canaan from where they have set up camp. In other words the promised land is just ahead of them. Moses and Aaron had already carried out a census of Israel and found that they had 603,550 men, or 603,550 ‘that were able to go forth in war,’ – men from the age of 20 and up. (Numbers 1:45-46) Bear this in mind as we read a tragic story of how one quarter or 25% of that number died before they got to the promise-land.
Numbers Chapter 25: And Israel lived (abode) in Shittim, and the people began to fornicate with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods. And the people ate and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor. And the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel. And Jehovah said to Moses, “Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before Jehovah against the sun, so that the fierce anger of Jehovah may be turned away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal-peor.”
And behold! One of the sons of Israel came and brought to his brothers a woman of Midian, before the eyes of Moses, and before all the congregation of the sons of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a spear in his hand. And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman, through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the sons of Israel. And those that died in the plague were twenty-four thousand. And Jehovah spoke to Moses saying, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned My wrath away from the sons of Israel while he was zealous for My sake among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, Behold! I give him My covenant of peace. And he shall have it, and his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the sons of Israel.” And the name of the Israelite who was killed, he who was struck with the woman of Midian, was Zimri, the son of Salu, ruler of a chief house of the Simeonites. And the Midianite woman's name who was killed was Cosbi, the daughter of Zur. He was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian. And Jehovah spoke to Moses saying, “Trouble the Midianites and strike them. For they trouble you with their lies, with which they have deceived you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi the daughter of a ruler of Midian, their sister, who was stricken in the day of the plague because of Peor.”
What a story but what relevance has it to us and the subject of Christian music and or worship in the house of God? Firstly, let’s take a look at the meaning of names and places in this chapter.
The name of the place where Israel dwelt or abode was Shittim meaning sticks of wood or acacias which is a kind of tree. Now anywhere we read of wood in the Bible it symbolizes humanity.
Read on and we see that Israel was committing whoredom or fornicating with the daughters of Moab who were the descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Moab came from a forbidden relationship of incest. We could re-word the first verse: And the people of God (you and me) settled down in their humanity and began to give themselves to forbidden things.
Then verse 3 reads “And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor”. The word Baal means master or owner and the word Peor means gap. When we get involved in forbidden things we allow a gap to come between us and our Master - and it kills us. Today people do not physically die when getting involved in forbidden things but they do die spiritually. They remove themselves from the presence of God. We could re-word verse 3 to: And we allowed a gap to develop between ourselves and God.
Others who are not involved in forbidden things may cry out to God for His mercy, for Him to turn the hearts of those involved in forbidden things to repent, reform and return to God. Note that whilst some of Israel were involved in these forbidden things the rest of the people were weeping before the door of the tabernacle (see Joel 2:17) which means they were in the place of prayer, crying out for mercy for those who were in sin.
So far that brings us through one third of this chapter. The remaining two thirds tell us more specifically what the forbidden things are and we are introduced to a real villain and a real hero.
In an act of rebellion and as a taunt to Moses and all the people of God, one very unwise young man called Zimri parades through the ‘church’ (congregation of Israel) with a daughter of Moab or a Midianite woman called Cozbi. Now as a daughter of Midian, this Cozbi is a descendant of Abraham or in other words she descended from a faithful man, but Midian was a contentious man and the name Midian means contentious or brawling. Put that in your picture of Cozbi – she is a contentious girl or one who strives. But more importantly Cozbi’s name means False and Zimri’s name means Music. As they embarked on intercourse they became one: false music. Eleazar’s (meaning God is my strength) son, Phinehas, (Aaron’s grandson and Moses’ grandnephew) put a javelin through Zimri and the belly of Cozbi. Then the Lord instructed Moses to slay those who dwell in this gap.
If we use name meanings, interpretations and now ‘re-word’ this chapter to today’s terms the following might be a ‘II Numbers’ Chapter 25:
And the people of God [name of your church; that is you and me] settled down in their humanity and enjoyed the things of the flesh. They particularly began to listen to worldly music and give themselves to forbidden things. They allowed a gap to develop between themselves and God.
Some of the people realized that there was a separation between themselves and God so they went to church to pray and went on their faces before God to plead with him for the lives of those affected by the worldly influences. They cried out to God. God told the leaders to remove the cause of the contention.
Just as they were praying the sound of false music began to play through the building. One of the members of the congregation, the grandson of the founding Pastor, rose from his place of prayer saying “God is my strength” and took the sword of the Word and revealed the true nature of the false music that was playing through the building. He put a stop to the music and found out who had played the music.
25% of the church was lost through involving themselves or listening to the false music as this music brings death, but that day this young hero saved a further number dying spiritually through this epidemic.
Now since our young hero only exposed and brought to naught the music which was playing in his congregation alone, the Pastor, his great uncle, was charged with the task of informing other churches how much false music distresses the people of God. (v 16-17 And the Lord spake unto Moses saying “Vex the Midianites and smite them.)
After Israel had put away the golden calf and Moses had set the tabernacle in order, he cried, “Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.” (Exo 33:13)
Let us like Moses cry out to God to show us the way to true worship.