Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORSHIP
Megatrends That Have Guided Us
Attending church for the first time, a stranger is struck by the fact that here, alone in his experience, adults sing. They enjoy singing and have ceremonies about singing. So unique is a group of people singing in Church that without the congregational singing Australians would never learn to sing. People sit as an audience and listen to others sing. But when they go to the cinema they do not join in singing. Sporting spectators do not sing except for a bit of “Waltzing Matilda” and a National Anthem interspersed by drunken cheers. Yet at church we sing in worship, at weddings, at funerals, at celebrations, at Easter, at Christmas, in homes, groups and schools. Singing is integral to Christian worship. Why?
1. THE BIBLE ENCOURAGES SINGING.
The history of music goes back to the person who heard rhythm as he beat a stick. As people realised they could make music, they created more complex instruments. David invented a number of instruments, and formed a chorus of 4,000 to offer praises to the Lord “with the instruments which I made to praise.” 1 Chron. 23:5 David composed songs such as most of our present Psalms. The soothing strains of David’s lyre refreshed a tormented Saul. 1 Sam. 16:23 Music became an important part of everyday life. Merrymaking, weddings, and funerals were accompanied by music. Merrymaking called for the light, happy tones of pipes or flutes. Judges 11: 34–35; Matt. 9:23–24; Luke 15:23–25 Even war relied on music. The Hebrews developed the shophar, an instrument like a trumpet with piercing tones for use in battle. Exod. 32:17–18 Music accompanied ritual in the Temple. 1 Chron 15:16
David told the Levites to appoint “singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals.” David believed even the universe sings. David set up the Ark of the Covenant in his new capital Jerusalem, to a hymn of praise. Job quoted God Job 38:1–10 “The morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” Sometimes it was hard to sing. The captive Hebrew slaves were depressed thinking of their loss of freedom, their exile into a foreign land, and their removal from their homeland: Psalm 137:3 “ By the rivers of Babylon our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy. They said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”
Christians are encouraged to sing. When Paul and Silas were in jail at Philippi, we read: Acts 16:25 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” The early Christians sang even when persecuted. Paul advised: Ephesians 5:19 “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” James 5:13 advised “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” John described Heaven with believers singing Rev 5:12 “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” The Bible sings! Our God is a singing God.
2. THE CHURCH ENCOURAGES SINGING.
Hymns were used to spread teaching. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, known as the “father of hymnody in the Western church” developed church music known as the Ambrosian chant. Two centuries later, Gregory the Great added four more scales creating the Gregorian chant called “the greatest revolution in the history of Christian singing.” In the Medieval Church, singing became more sophisticated in the chant and hymns. But the singing of hymns in the church by lay people was banned. The Protestant Reformation argued worship belonged to the whole congregation not just priests. The Moravians published the earliest Protestant hymnbook in 1501. Martin Luther used their hymns in his hymnbook. Luther’s influence on music in worship was revolutionary. He was well-trained in music and had the gift of writing clearly and creating music able to be sung by the common people. His work was so effective that one of his enemies wrote, “Luther’s songs have damned more souls than all his books and speeches.”
John Calvin restored psalm singing. Hence Presbyterians sing many Psalms. For him hymns were man-made, whereas the psalms were the inspired Word of God. The Evangelical Revival had a profound effect on Christian singing. Isaac Watts reacted against the limited use of psalm singing. He wrote more than six hundred hymns. The eighteenth century became the first age of hymn singing in England. John and Charles Wesley, wrote 10,000 hymns. They sang of personal experience and as an evangelistic message. The Twentieth Century saw “Scripture in Song” choruses and the rise of churches built round singing and bands like a pop rock concert.
Unfortunately some people associate worship with only bands and singing. They have parts of the worship service marked as “worship” as though we cannot worship in Communion, prayers, preaching and reading God’s Word. I confused Wesley Institute students once by suggesting they develop a worship service without using music. They were struck dumb! They did not realise people can worship without music, without even words. We can worship in our listening to God, in prayer and silent meditation. The “Shakers” were an American ecstatic sect who worshipped with cries, shouts, repetitious singing and dancing. The “Quakers” were an English sect who worshipped God without a word being spoken — in absolute silence. In our day, the “Shakers” have won over the Quakers!
Philip Yancey recently asked in an article: “How did it happen that the word worship became synonymous with music? For several months my church went on a hunt for a “worship pastor,” and a parade of candidates auditioned with their guitars and backup groups. Some of them prayed, “Yes Lord, just, you know, really be here tonight with us, just let us know you’re here.” None showed much knowledge of theology, and assuredly none led us toward anything like awe. Worship today means loudly filling every space of silence with music and noise.” Some congregations have contracted out the task of worship from themselves to a group on the platform. The congregation remain spectators and the musicians treat them as an audience. But in worship God is the audience and all of us are to be participants. The musicians are facilitators. Stephen Baxter writes in the current edition of ALIVE Magazine about worship:
“Given the way we do church today it’s not surprising that many see worship and singing as synonymous. Neither is it surprising to note that the ‘praise and worship industry’, is big business. Sometimes you get the impression that worship is primarily for us — to meet our needs, and that it’s about feeling good with yourself, God and the world. However worship, like a multifaceted diamond, is much more than that… For Christians praise of God is natural, however it is simply not all there is to worship.”
Everything we do and are should be worship. Worship does not begin when the music starts. Worship starts with the way we live, with our thoughts about God, our approach to a church, the silence inside, our praying, confession, being still, scripture reading, listening, taking notes, giving an offering, baptism, playing an instrument, communion, and greeting each other. As Stephen Baxter writes: “Worship is not a part of life, it is life. Paul writes, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” No where in the New Testament is the idea that Christians went anywhere to worship. Archeologically there is no evidence that they had buildings purposely built and set part exclusively for Christian worship. In fact it never says they ‘went to church’!” The early Christians saw their lives as a continuous act of worship. As Paul wrote: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1–2 Why then should we meet together? The Book of Hebrews says to encourage one another. Hebrews 10:19–25
Paul makes it clear that the overriding purpose of meetings is for the strengthening of the people, the church. Most people today would say that we gather together to worship God but the New Testament does not say that. By gathering we do worship God, but that is not why we gather. We gather for the purpose of encouraging each other. As British theologian I.H. Marshall writes, “It is simply not the case that the purpose of Christian meetings was understood as being primarily and directly worship in a ritualistic sense, homage and adoration addressed to God. When we gather together we do so as part of the family of God — to meet with our creator and to meet with others. Our aim is help one another know, believe, and follow him.”
3. WE ARE CALLED TO WORSHIP.
The Bible centres round the worship of God. Jesus said: “The time is coming and is already here, when by the power of God’s spirit people will worship the Father as He really is, offering Him the true worship that He wants.” John 4:23–24 The worship of God is the chief end of man. We are to live before God in praise, adoration, reverence, thankfulness and awe, but also though obedience and holy living. Strong, regular worship services are the powerhouse of the church, for when we gather together we encourage one another to live for God. Christians gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to baptize new members, to read Scripture, to listen to God speak to them through other Christians, to experience healing, to pray and praise God. Where churches neglect the worshipping heart, their ministry fails. Once great churches today have little ministry, because they let their worshipping congregations die.
Once great missions are only shadows of their former selves, not because the need has lessened or because they could not employ good staff, but because they let their worshipping hearts die! Neglect the worship of God and the church or mission dies! It is not enough to go to a home group, a cell group, a Bible study. You need the inspiration of a larger group, the fellowship of people different from yourself, the discipline of the ordered body of Christ to save you running off the rails, and the identification with committed, witnessing people.
In the centre of Sydney’s central business district, the central experience of the thousands of people touched through the life and work of Wesley Mission is the worshipping community. Wesley Mission is different from social welfare agencies operated by denominational boards. For our service to the needy, grows out of the worshipping heart of congregations of people. Worship of God is the heart of vibrant Christianity. The church has the largest membership and attendance of any group, union, political party, club, or association, with one in every five adults attending every week. People need to worship. Large cities dehumanize with crowded factories, impersonal streets and towering blocks of tenements. Concrete replaces lawn. Light poles replace trees. Factories shut off the sunset. Traffic noise substitutes for the song of the birds. Of all people, city people need to worship. And God desires us to worship Him. Worship is central to all we do. If we do not gather for worship, to hear the Word of God, to encourage one another, to teach Christian living and to proclaim the Gospel, all point and purpose to all the good deeds of service we undertake, would be lost. Worship is central.
- Christianity Today. May 2005, Vol. 49, No. 5, Page 80 Phillip Yancey.
- ALIVE Magazine. “IN PRAISE OF WORSHIP” Vol 32, No 5 Oct 2005. Stephen Baxter.