Have you ever stopped and wondered, "What is the purpose of corporate worship?" Or maybe you have asked, "Why do Christians sing and lift their hands at church?" All of us who profess faith in Christ have surely, at one point or another, asked these questions. For some us, these questions emerged upon first stepping into a church, before we were even converted; "What in the world is going on with these crazy Christians?!" For others, like myself, who grew up in the Church, we attended worship gatherings year after year, going through the motions, without understanding the significance of the various portions of liturgy in light of the Word of God. Fortunately, God gives us the scriptures as "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path" and in Psalm 150, David gives us the who, where, why, and how of corporate worship for the believer.
Psalm 150 reads,
"Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!"
Let's begin with the "who?" Right at the beginning of verse 1 we are told to “Praise the LORD;” LORD in all caps depicts God’s eternal existence as Creator of the universe. Additionally, it stresses His steadfast presence in the redemptive history of Israel. As believers, we are to worship the one true God, manifested in three persons - Father, Son, and Spirit.
In verse 1b, we see we are to “Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in his mighty heavens!” At the time Psalm 150 was written, the people of God gathered for worship in the temple, his sanctuary. It is the centre of the world, the place where earthly praise ascends to Him. The call rings out to Israel to represent the world in praising. Their Hallelujahs blend with those sung by the celestial host in the grand ‘vault’ of heaven. (My first implication will address this question of “where” in further detail.)
Verse 2 tells us we are to “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” Simply put, we worship God because of who He is and what He has done. You see, true worship begins not when the band begins to play, or when the worship leader prays, or even when the pastor begins to preach, but rather our worship begins when we remember who God is and all that He has done.
Verses three through five give us an extended list of instruments we should use to praise the LORD. The list of musical instruments, with its mixture of wind, strings, and percussion, gives the impression of loud song and ceaseless motion -- the worshiper’s whole body offering praise to God. Verse 4 takes it another step further, though, by exhorting the readers to praise Him with dance, which is quite foreign to us Baptists, but that, too, we will further look into as we get into the implications of this text.
So what does this all mean? Let's put it together; everything that has breath ought to praise the Lord (v. 1a, 6) in His sanctuary (v. 1b) and with all their being (v. 4) because of His excellent greatness (v. 2).
21st Century Implications
Now, what does this mean for us, in particular, as 21st century followers of Christ? The first implication I would like to propose finds its root in verse 1 of Psalm 150, which reads, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!” Diodati understands either earthly sanctuary, that is to say, his church; or the heavenly one of his glory; in the first sense the speech is directed to his officers; in the second, to his angels. For the Jew in 450 B.C. “his sanctuary” referred to the physical temple, but for the New Covenant believer it refers to His church gathered, not a physical building, but rather the believers together being built into the spiritual temple of the living God (Eph 2:22; 1 Pet. 2:5). The implication here, then, is that as Christians we should not neglect the gathering of believers, that is to say the corporate worship gatherings of our local churches. This stands in stark contrast with the “Christianity” we see all around us in this present day in age; so much emphasis has been placed on the Christian walk being a “personal relationship” that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that we can live our lives in isolation from other believers. However, the reality is that it’s impossible have a vibrant relationship with the LORD, the head, apart from being connected to His Church, the body. As disciples of Jesus, we are to “praise God in his sanctuary;” we are to praise him in the context of our local church, with other Christians, on a regular basis.
"It's impossible to have a vibrant relationship with the LORD, the head, apart from being connected to His Church, the body."
The second implication that fits within the pattern of meaning that the author willed to convey is that we ought to use modern instruments, such as guitars, pianos, drums, cellos, violins, and so on, in our praise to the LORD. I believe the long list of instruments given in verses three through five encompassing all forms of musical instruments -- wind, string, and percussion -- is there to show us just how diverse the instruments we use to praise the Lord can, and should, be! In light of this text of scripture, it’s quite ironic, to me, how hyper-traditional churches can say pianos and organs are the only instruments that can be used to praise the Lord. Yes, verse 4 does tell us to “praise him with strings and pipe,” but the greater context here calls for much more than that! We ought to use any instrument we can get our hands on to worship our King. (For more on Traditional vs. Modern worship styles, I encourage you to read Pastor Eric Stewart's article titled Why I Left the Traditional Worship Movement.)
The final implication that I’d like to make is that we should praise the LORD with more than just our minds (v. 4). If we believe God is who He says He is, if we really believe Jesus died for the sins of man, appeasing the wrath of God, bringing total forgiveness, and then rose again and thus claimed victory over death, once and for all, we ought to expel all of our being in our worship of Him. We should raise our hands in worship to Him, we should clap our hands in joyful cheer, we should get on our knees in awe before him, and so much more than I even have words to quantify. Take a Jew from 450 B.C. and show them the majority of our churches’ Sunday worship services - somber, hands in our pockets, barely mumbling the words we’re supposed to be singing, and then show them a college football game - equipped with cheering, shouting, jumping, dancing, and face painting. Who would they say that our God is? Which one best reflects how the Psalms instruct us to worship the King of the universe? Forgive us LORD, Jesus! God wants more than just our intellect, he wants all of our being to be included in our worship of Him.
"God wants more than just our intellect, he wants all of our being to be included in our worship of Him."
That last paragraph alone may prove to be quite convicting as we begin contrasting it with each of one our own lives. Here are some questions I propose we meditate on this week:
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Gathering at ONElife Church in Flint, MI and Founder of ONElife Worship.
A Little History
This is a question I get asked all the time. Let’s be real before we move on though. The question runs much deeper than this. The question behind the question is, “Don’t you know that the Holy Spirit only manifests Himself through the inspired hymn book and the immutable instruments of the piano and organ?” Since we are now clear on the real question, let me take some time to answer it. Here is my explanation as to why I left the “traditional” worship movement and why I did not join the “contemporary” worship movement. Do I have your attention now? What “movement” did I join then?
My background is from a very conservative, liturgical, independent baptist church. In fact many people that attended the church said that at times it actually reminded them of a Catholic Church service. Being from this background I thought the only way to worship God was singing the old hymns with the hymnal in your hands and using the piano and organ for the instruments. Anything else was clearly from the devil.
Two significant things happened to me though while I was attending that church that opened my mind up to the reality that there are multiple expressions of biblical worship and there have been all throughout the history of the Church. First, I was given a book by one of my mentors, ‘Worship Old and New’ by Robert Webber. This book explained the biblical and historical patterns of worship that are essential and the reality that they have been expressed differently in different cultures throughout different generations. There is not a cookie cutter approach as long as the biblical patterns are maintained.
Second, I met a young pastor from Brazil who preached at our church. Man could this guy “bring it home” in the pulpit. In several discussions with him we began conversing about worship. His church expresses worship very similar to how we do at ONElife Church. So I went back and began talking with one of my mentors about this. He said that he had actually attended some of their services in Brazil and said their services were done well and with reverence. He then proceeded to tell me that when I became a senior pastor I could begin to introduce those forms of expression but that he could not because he had spent so many years teaching against it and simply did not prefer it. Having his affirmation to engage in this form of worship began to open my mind even more to the reality that there might be more to worship than what I had known up to that point.
A Little More History
After reading Webber’s book and having some conversations with people that I respected, I began praying, thinking, and doing even more research on the subject of worship. My concern was to honor God in all that I did and if there was something more that I was missing I wanted to know! In my research there was some historical data that was very interesting.
In the “traditional” worship camp they say that you must almost exclusively sing from the hymnal and use only the piano and organ as instruments. The practice of hymn singing was a practice that was introduced around A.D.1700. This new “contemporary” way of worship actually led to splits in certain denominations. So what many refer to now as “traditional” and “biblical” was at one time referred to as “contemporary” and “heretical.” I mean Martin Luther used a bar tune for the music of one of his hymns. That did not go over very well!
Furthermore, the organ has its roots in early Roman pagan culture and was not introduced to be used in the church until A.D. 900. In fact, it actually didn’t become an official instrument of the Church until A.D. 1400. So in case you missed the point, the church actually adopted a “secular” instrument to be used for worship in the Church. Oh my what a radical group of sinners they must have been.
In addition, the piano was not invented until around A.D. 1700. Well, what instrument did they use for their evangelistic songs before that time? Let me be clear as I conclude this point; I am not against the piano and organ, they are beautiful instruments that can be used to honor and glorify God. What I am simply showing is that both were invented throughout the church age and then adopted for worship. Therefore, they were not given by God to the Church through a burning bush experience.
The Final Piece
What I have mentioned up to this point was still not enough to cause me to make the “leap” to adopt new expressions of worship. They certainly opened my mind, but God’s Word was the final authority. There are a few key verses that really struck me and caused me to cross the threshold.
Let me share two portions of Scripture that really spoke to me. The first is found in Psalm 96, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song: sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96:1 ESV). Let me bring some clarity here. The Psalmist says to sing a new song… in order to sing a new song someone must write a new song. The issue then is not when the song was written but the content contained within the song. Let’s be honest, many hymns in our hymnals are complete theological garbage, which is why the churches that still exclusively use hymnals only sing a small portion of the songs in there. To be fair, many of the contemporary worship songs are theological garbage as well. One of the many reasons I love our Pastor of Worship & Creative Arts, Dan Dameron, is that he takes time to study the lyrics of hymns and contemporary songs alike to ensure that they are theologically solid.
Now, let’s consider some more verses, “Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with the timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:3-6 ESV). However you read these verses it inevitably pulls the proverbial rug out from under the “traditional” worship movement. Either way you interpret these you must read them and conclude that 1) only these instruments are to be used in worship or that 2) we are to utilize the different instruments we have for the glory of God. Either way the “traditional” worship movement misses the mark. I do believe the latter interpretation is what the Psalmist had in mind. Let me just point out as well that the Psalmist states that even dancing can be an expression of worship. If any dancing, or even swaying for that matter, took place in most “traditional” worship churches, I think the elders would have been called in to lay hands on that person and cast the demons out, but here it is an expression of worship. Interesting...
So let me bring the final point home. The issue when it comes to worship is not the era that the songs were written in or the instruments that are used; this issue is one of transcendence. Transcendence is “the action or fact of transcending, surmounting or rising above...the attribute of being above and independent of the universe.” Many “traditional” and “contemporary” expressions of worship fail here and many “traditional” and “contemporary” forms succeed here. Here is what we all need to do. We all need to leave both the “traditional” and “contemporary” Christian worship movements and join the “Transcendence” movement and use our songs and instruments of choice for the glory and honor of God. In the words of James MacDonald, “we are to be facilitators of transcendence.”
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor at ONElife Church in Flint, MI.
We are always looking to grow our team! Whether you are wanting to play an instrument in the band, be developed as a worship leader, serve as a sound engineer, or work in media, we would love to create a space for you to use your gifts. To aid in this, we've created a four step process to get you fully integrated into our ministry!
Step 1: Church Partnership
The first step to serving as musician or vocalist at ONElife Church is to become a Church Partner. The church offers a four-week course on Church Partnership on a quarterly basis. Click here for more information.
Step 2: Video Audition
Upon becoming a Partner of ONElife Church, the next step is to submit a video audition. Don’t stress! We don’t expect this to be anything extravagant, in terms audio or video production, this is just to help us gauge where your skill level is at so we know how to best serve you moving forward. (Feel free to use your smartphone!)
Click here for further instruction on auditons.
Step 3: Meeting with Worship Pastor
Upon receiving your video audition, our Leadership Team will review it and our Worship Pastor will schedule a meeting with you to discuss what the team observed. Practically speaking, this works its way out in one of three ways:
Step 4: The Radical Worship Solution
Once you have become a Partner, submitted your video audition, and met with the Worship Pastor, the final step is to purchase The Radical Worship Solution by Austin Ryan. (This book is available at ONElife Church's Next Step Booth on Sunday mornings at a discounted rate of $10.) As you complete each chapter, please write a few sentences sharing what you learned, were challenged by, found insightful, etc. (Nothing needed for Chapter 1.) Once you have finished the book, please e-mail a document with your insights from each chapter to email@example.com.
...Why So Many Steps?
There is a chance that our four-step process is a little more thorough than what you are accustomed to, but there's a very intentional reason for that! We believe each person who is a part of this ministry is a worship leader (whether they're playing bass, running sound, or leading a song vocally). Therefore, we want to make sure each person is:
We believe your completion of our four-step process for joining the team is the best way to demonstrate each of these traits.
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Gathering at ONElife Church in Flint, MI and Founder of ONElife Worship.