I recently received a letter from someone who was concerned about the modern style of worship that we practice at our church. One of the concerns dealt with the lack of theological depth and the repetitiveness of the songs that we sing. It gave me the opportunity to put into writing a brief theological response that I thought would be great for discussion. I’d love to get your insights to the response that I gave….
Dear Frank (not real name),
Thank you for your honesty. Please know that I take every suggestion to prayer and I understand the dynamics of music are deeply personal and often like hitting a moving target.
I feel led to help you catch a glimpse of the theology behind our approach to the worship expression at Ocean Hills Church.
We do include hymns and vintage songs of faith as it applies to the weekly message. Our theology of worship is that worship is prayer set to music and our approach is devotional in nature. We derive this from a study of the Psalms as well as the songs that are written in the book of Revelation and many of the songs included in the writings of Paul. It’s a fascinating study. We do allow for repetition of phrases that we believe capture the heart of what God is speaking to us or through us as a house of prayer. It’s not something that we do because we simply like to do it – it really is an overflow of our love and devotion to Jesus.
I often reflect on the worship songs of heaven where the angels are repeating continuously – Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come. I also reflect on the encounter that Isaiah has with the Lord – where he is left speechless and often in my own personal times of worship I’ve experienced those times of intense communion where the only words I could mutter were simple words of adoration over and over again. Solomon in Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 writes – “You are God in heaven and here I am on earth so I will let my words be few.”
It was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940’s that wrote… “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”
Sometimes this expression of adoration is best captured by a simple prayer set to music sung over and over again. Sometimes one song in itself cannot contain all that I want to say as an expression of adoration. But these are all personal expressions of love uttered from the heart aren’t they? And I am aware that we all have different ways of expressing that love.
Having said that, I do appreciate the rich theology of the hymn writers who used the common song of the day as a means of teaching an illiterate population the key doctrines of scripture. We do include them as it is appropriate to what God is speaking to us as a community of faith. Where I part company with some of the hymn writers – not all – is the lack of intimacy or heartfelt adoration expressed through the lyrics. Theologically correct and packed full of orthodoxy (correct belief), but lacking in passion and intimacy. One pastor once preached, there is no greater theology than this – Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Thanks for sharing your heart. I do take everything to the Lord in prayer and will continue to seek God’s heart and counsel on the matter. Please pray for us as pastors as we seek to shepherd the flock of God. Worship is a crucial element in that process as it is one of the few things that we will be doing corporately for all eternity.