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Thursday, June 12, 2008
Internet Monk on Jesus and Worship Music

What would Jesus think of our worship services? I'm not sure what to make of this idea below, but it's worth pondering a bit.  It's certainly a provocative challenge to the status quo. 

This is from the internet monk who is writing a new blog called Jesus Shaped Spirituality.  

"When Jesus was incarnate on earth, he didn’t produce disciples by large group musical events or music dominated worship. If he showed up today and looked most evangelical churches as outposts of his movement, he’d ask why we are spending so much time getting high on tunes.

Every piece of evidence we have is that Jesus participated in music as an aspect of worship pretty much like any first century observant Jewish person. He didn’t say anything opposing music, and I wouldn’t suggest he opposes what evangelicals are doing per se.

Now don’t hate on me. I’m just telling you that if you spent three years with Jesus, went through the passion, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, you wouldn’t have said, “It’s really important that we sing songs for a couple of hours a week. That’s how we’ll produce the disciples Jesus commanded us to make.”

The Jesus shaped material for the evangelical music fetish isn’t there. It’s just not. The theological foundation for human beings as artistic creatures, and for the use of music in worship is there, but nothing like the contemporary evangelical approach to musical worship is coming out of the ministry of Jesus.

It’s not in the Gospels. It’s not in the epistles. It’s not in Paul or Acts. It’s not in the later New testament. There’s one passage- one- in Colossians that shows the use of music as ministry within the church to Christians.

see the whole post here.    

see Michael respond to one of his commentators here

So what do you think?  Are we over-relying on music in our worship gatherings?

posted by John David Walt | at 6/12/2008 10:50:00 PM



Blogger Ben said...

I'm not sure that we're over-relying on music, but maybe the way that we appropriate the music is misplaced. Think of the earliest liturgies and whatnot... more often than not they were in tone chant. Very melodic and "musical" but chiefly driven by the text not the music.

I think that we tend to over emphasize the music so much so that the content fades and the lyrics shift toward the back. As a sound guy I notice that worship music is often mixed like a nice rock show: emphasis on the bass, kick, and sweet solos. Seldom are worship events mixed with the theological implication of the whole event in mind.

I'm not faulting the sounds techs (or even the worship leaders), I am faulting the ecclesiology that has allowed a cycle to develop that perpetuates poor ascetic and musical theology.

So in a sense I think he's right, though maybe slightly missing the mark.

11:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous b/ said...

I left the below statement on the original post, and just thought I would leave it here for discussion. I may have missed the point, but I wrote the thoughts it caused me to have.

I won't use yes, but language. And it probably won't matter much as I have come in severely late on this conversation.

I'm a lead worshiper just trying to be shaped. Someone else may have already said this, and I may be wording this poorly, but the reason I have no difficulty using music in our modern evangelical service on Sunday morning is because we have been intentional about making certain that people understand that Sunday morning is not the place to make disciples. We've determined it is our opportunity to introduce people to Jesus and music, primarily because it moves people emotionally, is a key component in aiding to this introduction.

The song may include something about the character of God that encourages a believer to go and study deeper what that means, and that is a great by-product, but our intent is the introduction.

There is another intent not spoken and that is the deeper fellowship that believers share as they corporately partake in an emotional experience together. This is not discipleship per se, but one person expressing freely their love of Christ because a song moves them may press the heart of the timid to a place of freedom.

These are some initial thoughts as I'm still processing this challenging post. I hope that I have not completely misunderstood.

10:12 AM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

good analysis ben-- isn't it fair to say that through the ages, particularly in contexts of Christian worship gatherings, the presence of God is primarily mediated by Word and Sacrament in the power of the Holy Spirit. My question is have we become over-reliant on music itself to mediate God's presence and pushed it past its legitimate place to where it approaches sacramental dimensions?

i remember my youth group teachers talking about music as a great gift and also a great danger, pontificating that Lucifer was the angel in charge of music in heaven. I'm not sure what to make of that, but the premise is true about music for sure.

I think the question you raise has to do with how music might possibly counterfeit the presence of God or somehow mediate the presence of a spiritual experience apart from or independent of Word and Sacrament.

i'd be interested to hear you press that a bit further.

10:18 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we have over-used music in that it seems we can't seem to get people engaged in the teaching and work of the Gospel unless we can "draw them in" by satisfying their musical entertainment sweet-tooth.

As someone who grew up with every service being a "pep-rally" for Jesus, I eventually realized that these types of music driven services were really a drug of choice, and unless we had our fix we were useless to the Kingdon.

10:53 AM EDT  
Blogger mattmaher said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:02 PM EDT  
Blogger mattmaher said...

i completely agree with him, in the sense that singing songs is not solely worship (and the dangers of that come with it). However, part of the problem with the current situation is who and what we're singing about - mostly a mono-thesitic, or dual-theistic God. We believe in a Trinity, but most of our prayer language in music has been Unitarian. Jesus came to lead us to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit, "the advocate", or the "spiration of love between the Father and the Son". Our worship, therefore, should have a healthy amount of Trinitarian worship - through prayer, through scripture, through intercession.

3:07 PM EDT  
Blogger JAy. said...

I think that a lot of the debate over the use or over-use of music in a church stems from the intent of the service itself.

Mr. Spencer, in his post, is bringing up the issue of music as it relates to making disciples. I agree with him. Jesus did not attract disciples with music. However, Jesus also did not attract disciples in synagogue. Jesus made disciples as he made his way through the world, by what he did and what he said.

Your question is, "Are we over-relying on music in our worship gatherings?" Different question, so different answer. If our intent in a gathering is worship and praise, then music is a valid expression of our emotion.

However, if we acknowledge the reality that most church attendees are only present for 1 hour (or how ever long they can be held in a service), should the service be only about worship and praise?

Teaching, as Jesus did regularly, is very important in the development of believers. Praying and the use of sacraments is critical for the sustainment of believers.

Traditional church services combine the three aspects of worship, teaching, and prayer. Most modern praise and worship services focus on the worship, with some attention to, but not necessarily emphasis upon, prayer and teaching.

I think I will carry on in a post on my blog.

4:16 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

Jay-- to the point of music and disciple-making-- i would have to agree that music is essential to disciple-making; hence, as Ben points out, the singing of the Psalter. We could also say a lot about hymnody and its place in the formation of Christian memory and imagination (i.e. Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement). I guess for me the issue isn't music or no music and clearly I think it is a virtual imperative for disciple-making. For me the issue is whether the music is forming the mind of Christ in us or simply leading us into an intimate experience of felt emotion. Now-- I'm all for the emotionality and intimacy of worship. The big question for me has to do with what we are actually remembering in our songs and how they are being put together in song sets and orders of worship. Is the song freighting a memory, an idea, an image of God or is it simply freighting a certain type of experience?

8:31 PM EDT  
Blogger Lindsay Rae said...

I was praying the liturgy of the hours at mass tonight and as we concluded with the canticle of Mary I wanted to sing it and I thought back to this post and it occurred to me that (perhaps this is a sidetrail of the original notion) in our society we don't tell our stories enough, we don't have the kind of forum for it that some cultures have had more of in the past. In light of that I think writing and singing songs has a more solidly biblical role than internet monk gives it, because its function plays a role that other customs did when paul or peter or james was preaching.

this of course also leans further away from "worship" music that is directed towards God alone and I agree that we often have to many all-about-me-and-fuzzy-pink-elephant-Jesus songs. But songs in the tradition of "the Lord has done great things for me and HOLY is HIS name" I think those are the sorts of songs that are a vehicle we need in our culture.

um, I hope that made any kind of sense.

10:20 PM EDT  
Blogger Ben said...

I agree JD. Liturgy has been governed by word and sacrament, and one could argue (as I would) that the sacrament of Eucharist is the pinnacle of the liturgical service for most of church history.

I also agree with you that we have pushed music to sacramental dimensions. In fact, I would say that much of protestantism treats their music time with more reverence and solemnity than they do the service of the Eucharist; and as you could have guessed I find that practice disturbing at best.

Don't get me wrong though, music is important and the songs are the church are indeed part of the "canonical heritage" of the church. Especially when these songs have been approved by the faithful for generations and contain the substance of faith.

Given that I'm currently reading "Canonical Theism" Edited by William J. Abraham, I can't help but wonder how this phenomenon plays a role. While I'm not finished with the book and thus not willing to jump on board yet, Abraham makes and interesting point, in one of his essays, that may shed some light here.

I apologize for the long quote.

"Generally speaking, the various components of the canonical heritage have their own distinctive role in the economy of faith. Thus, the scriptures do not do the job of the creed, and the creed does not the job of the episcopate....Each has its own function in the healing and restorations of the human soul.

While the various elements in the canonical heritage work ideally together, there is a fair degree of over-determination, of there is overlapping their particular purposes. When one is missing or improperly used, other can take up the spiritual slack. Thus the icons can marvelously convey the content of the gospel and the teaching of scripture."

While he doesn't specifically list the songs of the faith in the canonical heritage I wonder if we should include them. If that is the case then may be can assert that the detrimental over-emphasis of music is a result of not having embraced the larger whole of the canonical heritage (i.e. the tradition, iconography, and the like).

I'll end my comments here to keep from rambling, but I wonder if our emphasis of music is a manifestation of people craving the divine and sadly only knowing of one tool to achieve this connection.

10:45 AM EDT  
Anonymous john page said...

"freighting a certain type of experience": yep, we sure do, and it's done primarily through the over use of music in the worship gathering.

Which leads to "pushing music to sacaramental dimensions."

If churches are trying to use the worship service to make disciples (and it appears it is, viewed by how much money, time, energy and staff are focused on that one hour), then it's no wonder there are many disciples...music and a lecture with slides or video simply isn't going to be enough.

If churches are using the worship service to "bring people in" and introduce them to Jesus, how shallow or superficial do we we make the Lord with what we produce (as it seems heavily dependent on image and "show" to be "good.")?

All that to say that yes, I think we over rely on music in our worship services.

6:46 PM EDT  
Blogger iheartpadrons said...

As I've read this post, I keep coming back to the idea that there are some elements in church that have been given more mystical weight than others... in the sense that culturally, in the broad church and specifically in the younger generations of the church, music has been framed to me a more mystical experience of communing with God than say the sacrament or the reading of Scripture.

Whether this was intentional or not, worship via music has in many circles become "the" vehicle of communing with God. The Scriptures have become instructional, but not communal. Prayer has become about asking and not abiding. The bread and wine have become afterthoughts more than rich symbols of the crux of our faith. The younger generations especially seem to be being brought up with this kind of praxis.

With the worship team at our church, I've began leading them through times of silence and scripture meditation when I first arrived there. Many of them had "never done anything like this." It was odd and weird to them to sit in silence with a psalm and just allow the Lord to speak to them through it. It could be their youth (in the faith), but more than likely it comes from a background where these things were not championed as crucial to their growth and discipleship.

While in no way do i think meeting with and worshiping God through music is not a valuable and needed practice, I do wonder if it needs to be dethroned as the chief means of meeting with God. (or rather, that we could find better ways to champion Jesus as the mediator and security of the covenant we're in, and to show that its the cross and resurrection and not music that makes communion possible in the here and now.)

8:50 AM EDT  

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