*Update* - This article is part of a series on corporate worship which has been put together into one digital book entitled Corporate Worship: Principles & Elements of Worship at Providence Presbyterian Church, PCA (Midland, TX). It is available for free download in pdf or Kindle format here: http://providencemidland.org/resources/helpful-links (it is the second resource listed on this page).

Dear Church Family,

In the discussion of our first hymn, we talked about the uniqueness of singing and the way in which both the words and the music of worship songs help us to engage the whole of our beings in worship – mind, heart, and body. This week, we want to think about what we might call the hymn of response and preparation. It is a hymn of response in that we are responding to our confession of sin and receiving of the assurance of pardon. And, it is a hymn of preparation as we prepare to hear the reading and preaching of God’s Word in the sermon.

Discipleship or Pleasure

At this point, however, this might be a good time to talk a little bit about music as it relates to corporate worship. First, let’s consider the purpose of music in worship. Simply put, the purpose of worship music is to mature God’s saints – to aid in maturing discipleship. One way that I have often heard this put is to think of worship music as plowing the hearts of the worshippers in order to prepare them to receive the seed of God’s Word. Unfortunately, we usually don’t think of the role or purpose of worship music in this way (to prepare or mature us). Instead, we often use the criteria of ‘pleasure.’ Consider these thoughts from Calvin Johannson:

Religious terminology often masks the out-and-out honesty of simply saying, ‘We will respond only to what we like.’ Instead, we say that the criterion for church music is that it ‘bless me,’ ‘move me,’ ‘minister to me,’ or ‘bring me closer to God.’ Such statements camouflage the real criterion by which we judge music’s success – pleasure. Hedonists within the church believe that liking something is the prerequisite for its effectiveness in ministering. Seldom do parishioners tell musicians, ‘I disliked the music today, but it helped me grow in Christ.’ We are so attuned to amusement that worship music must pleasure us – or else! The hard sayings of Jesus, such as, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’ are seldom translated into ‘hard’ musical sayings. No matter what is said, most Christians prefer amusement to discipline…When personal gratification is worship’s objective, worship is invalidated. To leave the service with the query, ‘Now what did I get out of church today?’ is to misunderstand the nature of worship. Such worshipers define it by their own pleasurable self-satisfaction, another way of saying that hedonism is not all that secular. (Johansson, Calvin M. 1992. Discipling Music Ministry, 49-50).


Criteria for Evaluating Worship Music

So, if the purpose of music is to mature God’s saints, then the criteria by which we evaluate that music ought not be influenced merely by whether or not it brings pleasure. Rather, the criteria by which we evaluate worship music ought to be whether or not it accomplishes the task of maturing God’s saints. Here are six helpful questions for discerning the criteria for music used in Christian worship (these six questions come John Witvliet, author of The Conviction of Things Not Seen, and director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship as quoted in Sean Michael Lucas. 2006. On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories, 126):

1. Do we have the imagination and resolve to speak and make music in a way that both celebrates and limits the role of music as a conduit for experiencing God?

2. Do we have the imagination and persistence to develop and play music that enables and enacts the primary actions of Christian worship?

3. Do we have the imagination and persistence to make music that truly serves the gathered congregation, rather than the music, composer, or marketing company that promotes it?

4. Do we have the persistence and imagination to develop and then practice a rich understanding of ‘aesthetic virtue’?

5. Do we have a sufficiently complex understanding of the relationship between worship, music, and culture to account for how worship is at once transcultural, contextual, countercultural, and cross-cultural?

6. Do we have the imagination and persistence to overcome deep divisions in the Christian church along the lines of socioeconomic class?


Hymn of Response and Preparation

The hymn which we sing immediately following our confession of sin and receiving of the assurance of pardon is usually selected as a response to the specific emphasis of these elements that precede it. In this way, our singing reinforces our prayers and God’s Word. Sometimes this hymn is a mournful song that expresses our sorrow over our sin. Other times, this hymn is a meditation on the promises of God to forgive the sins of His people for the sake of Christ. Or, this hymn may be a song of praise for the forgiveness that is ours by faith.

Whatever the case, this hymn also serves in the order and liturgy of our service as a means of preparation to hear the voice of Christ in the reading and preaching of His Word in the sermon.

May the Lord bless you as you prepare to worship Him well, this Sunday!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch