Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Worship Planning: Prepare the Way of the Lord

[I've decided to start posting the orders of worship for the times I am leading in an effort to share my thoughts and perhaps provide ideas for others or for myself at a later date. I have all the details saved in Google Docs, but I want to capture any reasoning behind why I chose certain songs. We'll see how this goes. Song #'s are from Songs of Faith and Praise. The letters after the title are the song key and starting note (if different from the key note). This is a great help to me when I remember to figure it out ahead of time rather than on the fly.]

January 13, 2013
The theme for this sermon series is King of Kings. The theme for this day was "Prepare the Way of the Lord" with discussions of repentance and baptism and the River Jordan figuring prominently.

We started out with a video showing pictures of people being baptized backed by Allison Kraus's rendition of "Down to the River to Pray".

I always like to start with a bunch of praise songs and these were all centered around the idea of kingship. The song "There's a Stirring" has the concept of laying my crown at Jesus wounded feet. When we were singing this phrase, I could barely keep myself from choking up. Something about that idea was just so powerful and emotional. Not only laying the crown, but at his feet that were wounded because of all the things I've done.

"Days of Elijah" and "On Jordan's Stormy Banks" were requests from Jim and I never pass up a chance to lead "DoE".

I don't always finish with a closing song and it varies from before the prayer to after the prayer. I'm starting to lean more towards a song as I think it sends people off on a high note. And I think after the prayer works better as if there are responses then the prayer for those usually serves as a closing prayer as well.
167 Hosanna G
Prayer & Announcements
Please Stand
Today we are granted an audience before the great King of the Universe. I stand here before the throne as a performer for an audience of one. All Glory and Praise to our God in whom we have the Victory.

278 Victory Chant Bb
166 He's My King Ab
There's a Stirring Bb
484 You Are My All in All F
I Stand Amazed (1 bread, 4 cup) Ab/Eb
781 Thank You Lord Eb/Bb
Days of Elijah Ab/Eb
Scripture Matthew 3:13-17
886 On Jordan's Stormy Banks (1, 3) F
Shout to the Lord A/C#
After the service a lady came up and said that most of the songs we sang were her favorites. I later apologized for the ones that she didn't like.

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Worship: Singing in Context

I love singing. I love to sing in worship to God, with or without others present. I was a bit shocked to learn this week that after years of thinking otherwise, there are really no commands pertaining to singing in the corporate worship in the New Testament. After hearing a lesson on the subject, I did some quick searches on the words "sing," "singing," "song," and "hymn" in the New Testament. I was quite surprised how few hits came up (as opposed to the many hits in the OT, most of the NT ones are in Revelation). I was looking for the commands to "sing" for the church as a whole, for worship services. There is a verse in Hebrews that mentions the congregation but it is not a command to sing (Hebrews 2:12). It is a declaration of someone singing and it sounds more like a solo.

Two of the main proof texts for advocates of a cappella-only, full congregational singing (no solos, no choirs, no instruments) are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. There are lots of points made about the Greek words, history, and culture. As in my previous article, I do not feel the need to debate those points as there is another issue that precedes even having that discussion: Context. What is the context of each of these verses?

Ephesians 5 in context is talking about the Christian's daily walk through life. There is no mention of the assembly. There is no mention of a "worship service." If you want to stretch this to the worship time then you have to look back at verse 18 and wonder why Paul is telling them not to get drunk during the worship service. Is it okay other times? And no coarse joking during worship. Nah, he is talking about our daily lives. Rather than filling our lives with filth and spewing that out to everyone, spill praise all over them with songs to God and be thankful. Colossians 3 reads much the same way. The context is our lives in Christ, not just Sunday, but every day.

In all the New Testament, the only reference I found to singing where instruction is being given pertaining to the assembly of the body is 1 Corinthians 14:26. In the midst of discussions about tongues and prophecy and other spiritual gifts, Paul lists some things that people bring with them to worship to share: "a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation." A couple things jump out at me here. He is not commanding them to sing or to bring any of these things. It seems he is allowing, accepting, validating the things they are already doing (based on culture, heritage, tradition, teaching) and setting up some guidelines so that they are respectful of everyone. We learn early on in school to raise our hands when we have a question and not interrupt others when they are talking. Paul is playing a bit of teacher/principal here and setting some rules for the classroom. But not the rules we often spout. Again the context is so important. This whole section of 1 Corinthians starting in chapter 11 through chapter 14 is about treating each other with respect and love. Something we have no issues with today, but apparently the Corinthians did.

So where does that leave us as far as commands to sing? As individual we should use our songs to God to encourage others. So if I am out and see you around town, or call you on the phone, or we meet for coffee, I am to encourage you by sharing a song. Maybe just a kind word would do. People get uncomfortable for some reason when you burst out in song in public unless you're part of a flash mob (then it goes on Youtube). When we gather together as a body to break bread and talk about Jesus are we allowed to sing? It certainly seems so. What form should the singing take? What are the rules concerning how we sing? Well if I have a song, I should wait till you're done with yours before I start. And the whatever I bring should be done for the purpose (whether it works or not is a different story) of building up the body. Those seem to be the only regulations specific to the assembly. There is no indication that everyone would sing along with me if I were to start a song. I might end up singing a solo. There are additional regulations around the tongues and prophecy, but none around the singing.
Can we bring the individual commands to sing into the worship? Well probably in some form. We certainly want to respect the commands to not get drunk and tell crude jokes. Just because we are together as a body does not mean those go by the wayside. In fact, we are not supposed to treat our time together as a holy time and the rest of the time as secular time. That is what those letters are about, living a holy life before God all the time.
My point is that in context, those passages are not about laying out a pattern for worship. There seems to be a lot of freedom and very little pattern. What there is not freedom to do is to create rules and divide Christ's body because someone disagrees on the rules. What there is a pattern for is how we are to treat other people.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Worship: Innovations

The past 2 weeks at Southern Hills, we have played a short video to kick off the worship (technically just before starting, if you consider worship to have a definitive start and end time). I would imagine that some would consider this an "innovation" and not appropriate  I have only talked to a couple of people about it and have not heard much positive or negative (other than the poor image quality from our current and soon to be replaced projector).

Much of the consternation over changes in the worship centers around "innovations." Things that are added to the way the current worship is performed can be labeled innovations and thus bad (not authorized). Anything not authorized directly by scripture is an innovation... except for the things that we label as expedients, meaning those things that are necessary to get the job done. Musical instruments are innovations but song books, microphones, and pitch pipes are expedients. Praise teams, choral groups, drama, and solos are innovations but 4-part harmony is an expedient. Every good church of Christ member is taught the difference between expedient and innovation, addition and aid from the time they are in cradle roll. But things are changing (as they always do). Today, some churches of Christ use instruments in some or all of their worship services. Many have praise teams, show videos (often with instruments), perform dramas, hold Saturday evening services, etc. There is certainly a lot of innovation going on in our worship. Innovation in the business world is a great thing. Innovation in churches? Well the judges are split on this one (often literally).

So rather than trying to figure out what is an innovation vs. expedient, I want to reframe the debate. I will assert that there are innovations going on in our worship. But I would like to think about whether that is really such a bad thing. Could there be someone we should look to in order to see what innovations might be appropriate for churches in their worship? Hmmmmm....

How about Jesus?

Jesus participated in and validated even at least 3 "innovations" that the Jews added to their worship practices. The Jews are famous for adding traditions and rituals around what God prescribed in the Torah. When Jesus came along, did he slam them for perverting the worship? No. He slammed them for exploiting the poor (clearing the temple, offering corban). Jesus condemned the traditions of men when they were burdensome or used as a power play by the rulers. When the rituals aided in the remembrance or introspection, Jesus upheld, approved and even appropriated them. Let's take a look.

1) In Luke 4 we find Jesus worshiping in the Synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom. When was worship in the synagogue was proscribed by God? Oh that's right, it wasn't. The synagogue was added by the Jews during the Babylonian captivity after the temple was no longer accessible. And it continued even after the Temple was rebuilt into Jesus' time. Apparently, Jesus participated in it regularly. Nowhere do we read anything about God approving or disapproving of the synagogue worship directly. And yet when God came to earth, he went to that innovative place to worship with his community.

2) In Luke 22, we read one of the accounts of Jesus taking the Passover feast in the upper room with his disciples. Here he instituted what we call the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, or Communion. He takes the cup filled with wine and makes that the symbol of his blood that is about to be shed for the forgiveness of us all. But wait, where was the fruit of the vine specified as part of the Passover feast?
Look at Exodus 12 and Numbers 9 and you will find no mention of any form of drink. The unleavened bread is specified. The Passover lamb is specified. There is dipping of hyssop in blood. But there is nothing about what to drink. Some articles I read said that in the wilderness the Jews would not have had easy access to any wine or much more than water and so early Passovers may have been taken with water as the drink. Then when they settled into the promised land and had time to grow some grapes and engage in commerce, wine would have been more available and at some point came to be used. It became part of the Jewish customs and Jesus validated it as part of the meal using it along with the bread to reshape the Jewish Passover into the Christian Communion. Not only did he validate it, he appropriated it.

3) This past Sunday, we talked about baptism. In Matthew 3, we read that John came baptizing for the forgiveness of sins and Jesus came to him to be baptized. John's innovation in baptism was that it was a 2 person affair. The baptism the Jews were used to was a solo event for the proselyte. Again, the act of immersion was added by the Jews. Nowhere do we find God proscribing this as the appropriate method for conversion to Judaism. And again, Jesus appropriated this ritual for conversion to his new community.

The heart of the matter seems to be the remembrance and the worship rather than the particular form of the rituals or the place and time of worship. The heart of the matter seems to be... the heart. As we talked about Sunday night, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Matthew 5:8 In at least these 3 cases, when the Jews brought what they had in worship to God, he approved even though everything was not just as he laid out for them.

My worship is acceptable to God, not because I get everything right, but because I have the right heart. I trust in his grace to cover me in my weakness.


I have been listening to some recordings of recent Harding University and Abilene Christian University lectures dealing with worship. I am always on the lookout for new ideas and resources for planning worship services to try to do the best job I can of leading those assembled to the throne of God. If you do much reading or listening on worship or if you have been around a while, you know that the past decade (and the ones before) has been rife with changes in worship within the religious tribe knows as churches of Christ. Worship is a hotly debated topic and the cause for many fights and splits throughout the years. I was listening to some lectures from West Virginia School of Preaching and one of them was on unity. I was in agreement with nearly all of what he said. He finished with the statement his only caveats to unity were when it came to salvation and when the worship is perverted (that's a paraphrase). At first, I wondered where Jesus had put those caveats in his prayer for unity in John 17. Then I wondered what "perverting" the worship would entail. Based on my experience and reading I can imagine a few things, but not wanting to put words in his mouth I will move on.