The Congregation Does Not Praise Alone

Mark Beuving —  January 29, 2013

Acoustic GuitarOur worship leaders often remind us that worship is more than music. And rightly so. Our worship ought to extend far beyond the five songs we sing on Sunday mornings, and what we do during that time often falls far short of the worship mark.

But we should be careful not to underestimate what happens during a Sunday morning worship service. When God’s people gather and combine their voices to express the praise that fills their hearts, that’s a beautiful expression of worship.

But the congregation does not praise alone. In most of our churches, our corporate singing is set to guitars, pianos, drums, and a variety of other instruments. Have you ever considered that those instruments as instruments are praising God?

Here’s what I mean. A guitar is not an instrument of praise only in those moments when its reverberations are accompanied by praise lyrics. Every time a guitar is strummed, its metal strings and wooden body reverberate in exactly the way that God designed them to. God decided what a piece of bronze wire .012 inches thick, stretched across the length of a guitar neck and body, tightened to vibrate at 329.6 hertz, would sound like when struck. God decided that certain woods would resonate in certain ways when hollowed into certain shapes.

In other words, when I strum my guitar, the materials do what God made them to do, and this brings glory to the God who created these materials. This is true for every instrument ever played.

DrumAnd then the human creativity involved in these instruments praises God as well. First, take the formation of the instruments. The Creator put man, the mini-creator, into this world so that he would “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). And that’s exactly what human beings have done throughout history. We use our God-given creativity for great and awful purposes. Instruments are often put to deplorable use, but in themselves they are wonderful creations that exhibit the best in human creativity (with the possible exception of the kazoo). So the existence of a Fender Telecaster praises the God who made Leo Fender and endowed him with the creativity and ingenuity to craft that unique and wonderful instrument.

Finally, there’s the human creativity involved in the crafting of each musical moment in each song. I have been involved in leading worship for 15 years now, and I have gone through a few phases in which I intentionally avoided prolonged song intros, interludes, and endings. When these moments seemed inevitable, I would hide them with a verse on the screen. I didn’t want any attention on the music itself or on the band. This isn’t all bad, and it’s true that we can go crazy with the music we create for corporate worship in order to draw the attention to ourselves. I don’t advocate this.

But I have come to realize that the music is not irrelevant to our worship as we sing together. It’s more than a convenient way to keep our singing in time and on pitch. It’s more than a manipulative tactic to boost our emotions so that our words mean a bit more. The music glorifies God. It resonates according to his design. The dynamics and interplay of the instruments reveal the creativity of God’s mini-creators, and thereby praise the True Creator.

Next week, as you stand amongst God’s people and voice your praise to God, think about all the other elements at work to bring God glory. Your own worship should be all the richer with these things in mind.

 

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.
  • Nate

    I know I’m probably stepping on some toes with this comment, but, I don’t believe that instruments should be used in worship services. Why I, and oher members of the Church of Christ believe this is for several different reasons. One is that, we have no evidence that showed the 1st century church using them. And it’s not because they werent able to, they had intsruments long before the 1st century.

    Also, Scripture says, “19addressing one
    another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to
    the Lord with your heart,” Ephesians 5:19 ESV
    It says “singing” not playing instruments and singing, not just playing instruments. But singing.
    I’m no theologist or expert or anything like that. But there is a little booklet called, “Where’s the Piano.” I can’t remember the authors name, but it explains in detail, why we shouldn’t use instruments in our worship. I ask that you, and everyone, please read this booklet. It isn’t long, you could read it in a day. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I of course will pray for this school, and that it helps keep many in The Way.

    Edit: The author’s name is Dan Chambers.

    • MarkBeuving

      Hi Nate.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. I definitely don’t want to demean those in the Church of Christ or elsewhere who believe that instrumentation doesn’t belong in their worship.

      What I appreciate most about that approach is the desire to be very careful about what Scripture says. If the New Testament clearly says to sing, but doesn’t say anything about using instruments, then a very cautious approach would be to refrain from using instruments.

      I don’t personally find the arguments against using instruments convincing, however. This amounts to an argument from silence. Since we aren’t told to use instruments we shouldn’t. But couldn’t we just as easily make the opposite case: since we aren’t told NOT to use instruments, we should? I would put the force of the Old Testament and particularly the Psalms—which implies, involves, and often even commands the use of instrumentation—behind the silence regarding instruments in the New Testament. If God seems to delight in instrumentation throughout Scripture, on what grounds do we claim that he suddenly finds the inappropriate?

      Of course, animal sacrifices were a huge part of the Old Testament, yet are done away with in the New, but two things make this different in my opinion. First, something in the nature of what happened in Jesus made the sacrifices inappropriate to continue. And second, the New Testament explicitly tells us to stop sacrificing. I see neither of these things with reference to instrumentation in the New Testament, so I would say that the burden of proof ought to be on those who put the ban on instruments.

      With regard to the early church, perhaps we don’t have evidence of them using instruments, but I also doubt we have evidence that they didn’t. Again, I’d say it’s an argument from silence.

      In any case, I think the silence with regard to this in the New Testament helps us get along in this regard. The point of the New Testament references to worship is that we ought to praise! The silence regarding specifics allows us to discern how to do that best. If we each do that a little differently, I believe that God is still glorified, and probably all the more so because His people praise him from a variety of backgrounds and cultural settings and exalt him with a million variations of method.

      The trouble would come if I were to tell you that you’re sinning by not using instruments, or vice versa. Best to stand firm on what Scripture says and be gracious and Spirit-led about the silences.

      • Nate

        I also see where you are coming from with the Old Testament argument. But I have to disagree with that argument, because, we are no longer under that Law. Jesus came to Earth, and like scripture says, He fulfilled the Old Law. Instruments were a part of the old law. Now of course there are those parts of the old law, such as the ten commandments, which we are still supposed to uphold, but that is because we are explicitly told to do or to not do those particular things. The Old law also was a Law of the physical. It was all about the sacrifices, and ceremonies, and upholding the law perfectly. Which of course nobody can do. The New covenant however, places very little emphasis on the physical. In fact practically none at all. The New Covenantis all about the spirit, and the heart of man. It’s all about our love for Christ, and through our love obeying His commands. Intruments are obviously physical objects, and not part of the inner man. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to up and say that you’re just flat out wrong. Scripture does say “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). So I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. http://preachersstudyblog.com/2010/09/church-of-christ-music-whats-the-big-deal-about-a-piano-anyway/ That’s alink to a sermon from a CoC preacher. I would ask that you at least read it. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments!Subject: [theologyforreallife] Re: The Congregation Does Not Praise Alone

        • MarkBeuving

          Good thoughts, Nate. As you said, it’s important to understand that we are not under law, but under grace. But I would disagree on the relevance of that to music in the worship of God. It’s not that the things that Israel did under the Mosaic Law became forbidden because of Christ. It’s not wrong to compensate someone for the damage your bull has done to their property, it’s just that the specific requirements laid down in the Law are not legally binding on us. It’s not bad to put Scripture on our doorposts, it just ceased to be obligatory. I would say that the exception to this is the sacrificial system, which Hebrews tells us to stop.

          So I don’t see any reason why Jesus fulfilling the Law negates the Old Testament precedent of music as a good gift of God to be used in worship.

          I like the blog post you linked to. He made his case clearly and carried a gracious and respectful tone throughout. I think that is a necessary characteristic of dialogue within the church. And he has some good points, but I don’t personally find his case convincing. He said that “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” is a good foundation, but it seems to me that forbidding music in worship is speaking where the Bible is silent. Allowing each person to choose whether music is a way to express the “worship in truth” that the New Testament calls for would be a better example of “being silent where the Bible is silent.”

          I think we’d have a much easier time forbidding the use of buildings in the life of the church using this logic. In the Old Testament, religious life centered on a building. In the New Testament, however, God’s people are the temple—the temple takes on a spiritual dimension in the person of Jesus and in the lives of His people. There is no mention of church buildings in the New Testament, therefore God clearly forbids the use of these in the church. Now, I’m not actually advocating this, but it seems to me that this is using the same logic.

          To be more specific, I don’t like the distinction between the Old Testament as physical and the New Testament as spiritual. It’s true that some of the physical symbols in the Old Testament find their spiritual fulfillment in the New Testament. But this is still the world that God made and called very good. And I would say that God reaffirmed the goodness of the physical world by sending his Son to be a physical part of this physical world. More than physical, yes, but not less. (If you’re interested, I wrote about this here: http://facultyblog.eternitybiblecollege.com/2012/07/how-plato-messed-up-the-church/)

          I also don’t think the acapella-only approach works with physical versus spiritual distinction. If we are going to take the command to “make melody in our hearts” seriously, then we shouldn’t be vocalizing our praise—it should be truly spiritual and reside in our hearts only. Don’t forget that the voicebox is a musical instrument as well. We would have to argue that this one physical instrument is permissible while no others are.

          All that to reaffirm—I appreciate the desire to be biblically careful, I just don’t find it convincing. But I do find your gracious spirit in discussing this refreshing, Nate (and that goes for the blog post you linked to as well). Too often an honest discussion that treats the disagreeing party with respect is absent from theological debate. But I believe that God is glorified when Christians take the time to discuss disagreements in love and in pursuit of God’s truth.