Contemporary Vs Traditional Worship: Theological Concept


Our Baptist church required a revolution in its worship approach and I, therefore, decided to form a worship team that would conduct blended worship services based on the New Testament’s teachings on use of hymns, songs and psalms. The main problem consisted of the mass exodus from the church to other protestant and evangelical churches. The traditional way of worship seemed to be driving many in the congregation away to churches that embraced an integral form of worship free of stringent procedures rules and regulations. In this chapter, the author will find the biblical basis and historical evidence for blended worship. The author will verify which form of worship is biblical through the Old and New Testament, and classify the features of each type of worship from the Early Church to the Reformed Church, showing how these features can apply to today’s worship. Furthermore, the author will argue why blended worship is needed in today’s Baptist Church through examining the history of worship in Richmond VA.



I understand the nature of plagiarism, and I am aware of the University’s policy on this.

I certify that this dissertation reports original work by me during my University project:

Signature                                          Date


I thank the Almighty God for the strength and vision to complete this work. I acknowledge the church leaders and members of the Jerusalem Baptist Church for the undivided support that they offered.

Table of Contents

Abstract………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 2

Attestation…………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3

Acknowledgements………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

Table of Contents…………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

1    Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6

2    Biblical, Historical, Theology and Ethical Foundation……………………………………. 7

2.1    Biblical Foundations…………………………………………………………………………… 7

2.2    Old Testament…………………………………………………………………………………. 10

2.3    New Testament………………………………………………………………………………… 11

2.4    Historic Tradition in the Baptist Church……………………………………………….. 13

2.5    Summary of Theological Considerations……………………………………………… 14

2.5.1  Are they true? -……………………………………………………………………………. 15

2.5.2  Are our songs God-focused? –………………………………………………………. 15

2.5.3  Are they clear?-…………………………………………………………………………… 15

2.5.4  Are they unselfish? –……………………………………………………………………. 15

2.5.5  Singing and Playing Horizontally……………………………………………………. 15

3    Contemporary Worship in the Baptist Church…………………………………………….. 18

References………………………………………………………………………………………………… 19


1         Introduction

Perhaps the hottest issue the Christian church in America faces today is the issue of
church music and worship styles. Many churches have split over the issue, and other churches
continue to deal with the scars and bloodshed of the battle. Some Christians consider the older
church music to be sacred, while they consider the newer music close to the level of blasphemy.
Conversely, other Christians view the older music to be outdated, dry, and dead, while
approaching newer music as if it is the Word of God itself. With such a sensitive issue, there are
many arguments raised from both sides of the issue. Many of these arguments are based on
preference issues, and are not informed arguments from the very outset. As a result, there is a
need for informed answers to these arguments, so that genuine unity in the faith might be

Contemporary music a wide variety of music to choose from that it is impossible to identify a single theme or philosophy that undergirds the vast array of music. There are both good and bad examples of Christian music on the market today. The Christian worshiper can only speculate as to which of these songs will survive the test of time and one day become a classic in the Christian faith.

2         Biblical, Historical, Theology and Ethical Foundation

2.1         Biblical Foundations

In order to understand the dynamics of Christian music, a brief study of the history of
church music will be quite helpful. Throughout church history, there has been an array of church
music available, much like there is today. This variety needs to be narrowed for the present study. Therefore, a cursory overview of the philosophies behind church music from the reformation to present will be the basic theme of the study. Additional trimming will occur, as only those songs, writers, and philosophies that have stood the test of time will be used. Kenneth W. Osbeck is perhaps the leading figure in hymnology today, thus much of the information regarding specific hymns and writers is adapted from his work. As an understanding of the history of church music is gained, the impact of the music on the expansion of the church will be included as a corollary to the study (Karris, 1998).
Before embarking on a survey of Christian music through recent centuries, a
theological basis for worship music should be developed to inform the understanding of history.
Throughout the Old Testament, music was an important part of the worship of God (1 Chron 23:-
27) (Hicks, 2010)[1].

Since the early Christians continued to worship in the temple and in synagogues, there is no reason to believe the historical musical heritage was abandoned in the early church. In fact, many hymn fragments can be identified in the New Testament text, suggesting that the early church relied on hymns and songs to help communicate the message of the Gospel, as well as to disciple believers in their faith. As the Christian movement moved west through the Roman world, influences from other cultures increased. While the theological tenets would need to remain, the methodology would shift in accordance with local societies (Pascuzzi, 2005).

Pascuzzi suggests three essential purposes for Christian worship: first, to glorify
God; second, to inspire, uplift, and transform the worshiper; and third, to draw visitors closer to
an encounter with Jesus Christ. Pascuzzi sets these three purposes up in order of importance. He
makes clear that the primary purpose in worship is not to entertain the worshiper, but to glorify
God both through a sense of awe and a sense of joy (2005).

The second purpose for worship is to uplift believers. Russell describes this purpose as a result of glorifying God, and not a goal in itself. The four results the worshiper can expect from
genuine worship are: a sense of God’s presence, a conviction of sinfulness, a reminder of God’s
grace, and an inspiration to serve[2].

Finally, as a by-product to genuine worship, the believer is built up and encouraged,
therefore unbelievers are attracted and ultimately brought to Christ (Hicks, 2010). Luke writes that the early Christians were “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to
their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47) (Craddock & Boring, 2010).

Joe Stacker contends that too much of worship has become a spectator sport and must
be returned to the people of God. Stacker explains that since the act of worship is such a
meaningful time, each believer should be actively involved. In the same book, Wesley Forbis
exclaims that whatever worship form is used, it “must help people see God.”

Tommy Walker of Christian Assembly Foursquare Church in Los Angeles comments
that the “seeker sensitive movement” lends itself to the spectator model, whereas genuine worship speaks in the culture’s language but reveals a “genuine, wholehearted relationship with God.”
Ultimately, as Robert Webber explains, contemporary music should “express a cultural
sensitivity to modern needs, without rejecting the best of our heritage.” As a result, an
understanding of the heritage of Protestant Christian music is in order (Karris, 1998).

To begin a study of the history of church music in the Protestant era, the motivations of
the father of the Reformation ought to be understood. Martin Luther’s desire was not to create a
new church that would be separate from the established Catholic church. Instead, his desire was
to be a catalyst for reformation within the Catholic tradition. Luther’s motivation for reformation
was limited by the explicit tenets of Scripture. If there was a practice within the Catholic church
that was in direct violation of Scripture, Luther sought to reform the practice. If a practice was
not clearly rejected by Scripture, Luther did not consider it necessary to abandon the practice.
One area of religious practice that Luther sought to reform was the use of the vernacular language within Christian worship.

Luther considered music to be one of God’s greatest gifts to men, and therefore sought to write hymns in the vernacular language in order to use them in Christian worship. Without a doubt, the one song written by Martin Luther that has stood the test of time more than any other is, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Although the actual circumstances that inspired the writing of the hymn are unknown, the song became the great rallying cry of the Reformation, moving the believers to stand strong in the face of persecution, that God would win the victory by seeing His name carried forth, for His Word will endure forever[3].

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is a song birthed out of the circumstances of
persecution. The theological truths that are poetically rendered in the text are a great
encouragement to the people who sang it first, driving them to persevere in the circumstances, that they could see the Reformation through to victory. The first Protestant believers cherished
the hymn and passed it on to their children as a reminder of the warfare that took place to return
the priesthood to the believer. As a result, the hymn has stood the test of time and continues to
be a reminder today of the battles fought so many years ago[4].

Jumping nearly two hundred years later, the next prominent hymn writer to be
introduced is Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts was brilliant as a young boy, learning five languages by the age of twelve. Watts was troubled by the dry psalm singing in the English churches, which set him on course to produce over 600 hymns. His disdain for the existing church music drove him to comment, “The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship most closely related to heaven; but its performance among us is the worst on earth.”

The impact of the hymns of Watts on the English churches rivals that of the
contemporary music today. The battle waged between traditional church music and the sacred
music of the day often split churches(Bickel & Jantz, 2004). Despite the unharmonious beginnings, many of Watts’
hymns survive to inspire Christians today because they contain a sound theological basis overlaid with a lasting musical setting. The impact of his music may be greater than ever imagined. One of the greatest missionary hymns of all time, “Jesus Shall Reign,” was written by Watts in 1719, approximately 60 years before the modern missionary movement began with William Carey.

A sibling pair of ministers overlapped the influence of Isaac Watts. John and Charles
Wesley impacted both England and America during the mid-1700s. John Wesley was a profound
theologian, but Charles was the better-known hymn writer. The brothers were raised in a strict Anglican form of worship. John responded to a limited view of worship by stating that worship
“must engage our whole person.”

Charles broke from the traditional Anglican form of worship. Despite his formal
training and his missionary service in the colony of Georgia, Charles lacked peace and joy in his
heart and life. After returning to London, Charles met with a group of Moravians. While meeting
with this group, Charles realized that salvation is through faith alone. This experience brought a
spiritual enthusiasm in Charles that reflected in every facet of his ministry.

In all, Charles would write approximately 6,500 hymns. The motivation for his hymn writing was to communicate the many facets of the Christian life to church people in a
theologically sound fashion. As Osbeck explains, Charles accomplished this by writing hymn texts and “fitting them to any popular tune that suited the meter and message of the lines.” In reality, several of Wesley’s hymns were mariners tunes or even bar tunes with new lyrics, which led many lost sinners to sing along and be exposed to the Gospel during evangelistic meetings.

John Newton followed under the influence of John and Charles, also introducing “simple heart-felt hymns” into the services in lieu of the usual psalms. Newton’s most notable
contribution to church music is the short, yet powerful, text of “Amazing Grace.”
Following John Newton, the hymn writers contemporary to D.L. Moody are of
significant note. Philip Bliss is perhaps the best-known of these writers. George Stebbins, a
noted gospel writer, said of Bliss: “There has been no writer of verse since his time who has shown such a grasp of the fundamental truths of the gospel, or such a gift for putting them into
poetic and singable form.”

As with Bliss, most of the notable hymns of this time come out of the evangelistic
meetings led by D.L. Moody, Major Daniel W. Whittle, Ira Sankey, and others. Beyond Bliss,
other authors include Lydia Baxter, known for her song, “Take The Name of Jesus With You,”
and Horatio Spafford, author of “It Is Well With My Soul,” an emotional hymn written in
response to the tragic death of his four daughters.

No history of church music is complete without the contributions of Fanny Crosby.
Crosby composed the texts to at least 8,000 gospel songs. Although blind, Crosby was one of the
most prolific hymn writers of all time. Crosby was a master at developing theological poetic verse to fit existing musical themes. A vast majority of Crosby’s texts are an expression of subjective testimony or Christian experience[5].

Moving into the twentieth century, there seems to be a void of church songs with
lasting significance (Benson, 1956). Many issues may contribute to this void. First, with the introduction of
liberal and neo-orthodox theology, the church itself has begun to question the authority of the
Word of God for the first time in history. Without the authority of the Bible to drive the writers,
undoubtedly the authority in hymn writers’ texts have suffered.

Second, perhaps society’s shift toward an entertainment focus has so infiltrated the church that those who would write great music to the glory of God have instead sought to exalt
themselves with sacred music. Perhaps the increased speed at which society is changing has
resulted in an abandonment of great ideas and hymns quicker than they should have been. Still
another suggestion may be that Christians became selfish, losing sight of the evangelistic aspects
of worship, and began to focus only on their own individual benefits. Whatever the reason, the
prolific hymn writers of the early and mid-twentieth century have been few, and their influence has been minimal (Hicks, 2010)[6].

There have been a few sparks in the darkness. Several writers have written one or two
songs that have survived the test of time. Perhaps the most well-known name in Christian music
in the twentieth century is George Beverly Shea. Shea has been the primary soloist with Billy
Graham since 1947. The two continue to lead evangelistic crusades together, even as Shea is into
his nineties. Shea’s music often has an emotional flavor, inspired by comments from people he
encounters. One example of this is: “The Wonder of It All.”

Because of the increasing staleness of contemporary music, young Christians were
restless to find a new identity with Christ (Craddock & Boring, 2010). In the drug-infested sixties, the Jesus Movement began, and would eventually birth a reawakening of genuine worship. Throughout the seventies,
hints of new worship music began to take shape from artists such as the Gaithers, Andre Crouch,
and many others. This new music seemed to have a common thread: the texts were shorter and
the music simple. These songs would eventually ring in the Praise and Worship movement in the eighties and nineties.

In the eighties, a few hymns in similar style to these in the seventies would continue to
appear. Some would manage to become instant classics that would stand the test of time. Jack
Hayford’s “Majesty” was embraced by traditional church and contemporary church alike, even
being printed in many hymn books. While these short contemporary hymns continued to appear, a new type of music was beginning to develop (Benson, 1956).

Keith Green only walked this world as a Christian for seven years, but in
that short time, he revolutionized the way Americans worship. Many consider Green to be the
father of the contemporary Praise and Worship Movement. No one made a clearer call to return
to a genuine heart of worship than Keith Green. Just a few days before his death, Green wrote an
article entitled Why you should Go to the Mission Field. In this article, he makes the case that
genuine worship requires that people be actively involved in world evangelization.

Following Keith Green, many other voices sounded the call to return to genuine
worship. These leaders, like Green, were not quick to let go of the heritage in Christian music.
Green often included contemporary renderings of old hymns on his albums. The contrast came
with the writing of new songs. The new songs were intimate testimonies to the Savior of simple,
childlike faith–a sharp contrast to the majestic traditional hymns. Much of the music of Keith Green has stood the test of time, as it is as fresh in the minds of many believers today as it was twenty years ago. Perhaps this phenomenon is due to the vision of Keith Green. Now, almost twenty years after his death, the Christian community is beginning to grasp the difficult message that Keith Green delivered.

This reality is perhaps culminated in Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship,” published in 1999. This song is a paraphrase of the Old Testament Prophets’ calls to genuine worship such as Amos (5:21-6:7), Joel (2:12-17), and Hosea (6:6). One other key leader in the development of the Praise and Worship movement was Rich Mullins. Mullins carried the movement through the late eighties and into the nineties until he died in a tragic automobile accident in 1997[7].

Many of the arguments against the Praise and Worship movement are related to musical
quality or theological depth. When these contemporary songs are set up against the three criteria
suggested by Bob Russell, most of the songs adequately fit within a definition of worship. In fact, with the tight connection to Scripture that many of these songs contain, they become theologically superior to some of the traditional hymns.

When the history of writing is compared between the traditional hymns and the hymns
that have stood the test of time, the writing philosophies are extremely similar. As a result, any
arguments against the contemporary songs is also an argument against many of the old hymns.
Does the contemporary music glorify God? Although the musical style preference may
appear to some to fall short in this area, the lyric quality meets this requirement. Does the
contemporary music draw the worshipers to a point where they are lifted up and edified? Again, this is limited only by the musical preference of the worshiper. If the worshiper chooses to work
within the given musical style, and to reflect upon the message of the song, there is no limitation
within most contemporary songs (Hicks, 2010)[8].

Does contemporary music draw unbelievers into a relationship with God? This third
criteria, although seldom pointed out, is the one area where much of contemporary worship may
fall short. However, this result is not the fault of the musical writers, but of the worshipers who
use the music, and the pastors and teachers who are supposed to train the worshipers (Hengel, 1985). The fact is,
very few people are brought into a relationship with Jesus distinctly through watching believers
worship. This phenomenon is not exclusive to contemporary worship styles, but is nearly
universal in the Church today, from traditional to seeker-sensitive (Hurtado, 2005).

As Thom Rainer’s research has indicated, very few churches are genuinely evangelistic.
Those that are evangelistic are not of one particular musical preference, but are nearly equally
divided between traditional, blended, and contemporary. Therefore, the issue in regards to
church music is not related to musical preference, but in reflecting a genuine heart of worship,
turned toward the will of God.

In conclusion, only songs that have met all three of the criteria suggested by Bob
Russell to some degree or another have truly stood the test of time in Christian worship.
Therefore, as new songs are written and introduced to the church, worship leaders must choose
wisely, in order to guarantee the continuance of a great heritage of worship music in the Christian church (Karris, 1998). Without genuine worship, the church will become little more than a lifeless social club.

2.2         Old Testament

From beginning to end, the Bible is full of music and song. The first musician, Jubal, makes his appearance as early as Genesis 4:21 ) where we are told that “he was the father of all who play the harp and flute” (v.21). As we flip through the pages, we find many who follow in Jubal’s musical footsteps. Moses sang a song of praise after the Exodus; Deborah sang after the victory over Sisera; King David played the harp, and wrote many of the Psalms; Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples at the last supper; Paul and Silas sang a hymn of praise to God in jail; and the book of Revelation tells us that there is plenty of singing in heaven as the heavenly choir joins in praise to God[9].

The Bible makes it clear that we are not to wait until heaven; it contains frequent exhortations to us to sing. For example: “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord” (Ps. 95:1) “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things” (Ps. 98:1) “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19)
The question we are addressing in this chapter is, the “Why?” Why does the Bible encourage us to sing and make music to the Lord? Later in the chapter, we will address the question: we are to sing to praise God and to encourage one another (Craddock & Boring, 2010).

First and foremost, I will consider an answer that is often given today, but which has no basis in Scripture. “Entering God’s Presence.” Music has a powerful influence in our societies and lives. There is an exponential increase of the music that is produced today. So we can easily see how much music has play in people’s lives with all the radio stations, media and productions happening these days. The world has it’s sound, but God has His own sound. Just as all kinds of negative influences are released on the mind through the combination of words and music so music influenced by the Holy Spirit can have a much more powerful effect on the minds and hearts of people. What we really need is more music that is anointed by the Holy Spirit (Bickel & Jantz, 2004)[10].

The light that proceeds from the glory of God’s Presence is much greater than the darkness that is released into the airwaves. We have all at one time or another heard the example of how just a little light casts out the darkness. You can light the smallest of candles in a room and it drives the darkness away. How precious is that little light! Genesis 1:3 “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.”

It is also very interesting how sound and light go together. From the beginning God said(sound) “Let there be light!” and it was so. So light was created with a sound, the very sound of heaven – the sound created by His voice. How amazing is that?! And how perverse it is that sound should create darkness in people. But that is exactly the case. Darkness is continually being released upon multitudes that listen to music inspired by demonic sources. How much more then do we need the sound and light of God in our music (Craddock & Boring, 2010).

1 Samuel 16:23 “And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.” We see how the power of God was released even through the music of David the Psalmist. The Bible says that when he played his music that distressing demonic spirits would leave Saul. It was just instrumental music. It just goes to show that it is the influence of God’s Presence that makes the difference. You can even have all the right words but if the spirit behind it is wrong then it changes everything (Hicks, 2010). This story of David is a wonderful Old Testament example of the power of music anointed by God.

With the Holy Spirit now indwelling us, we can experience just how powerful God’s glory be flowing through our music today. I would venture to say that it is much, much more powerful. The same anointing that was upon Jesus is given to us by the Holy Spirit. In I John we are told that we have an anointing from the Holy One that teaches all things. That same anointing bring light, revelation and understanding to us. His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Here again we see the connection between light and sound. When we speak God’s Word it is light. It has innate power. And through the power of the Holy Spirit it is even more magnified in our lives.

2.3         New Testament

Biblical worship has some emphasis on the use of music. The two mentions of music in the New Testament epistles focus as much on edifying the saints as on singing unto the Lord (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). In fact, biblical worship emphasizes that God is worshipped through everything done in the church rather than merely through one particular type of worship offered to Him via a praise time (1 Pet. 4:11). In direct contradiction to this, contemporary worship focuses almost exclusively on one type of worship to God, that being the worship that is associated with contemporary music (Pascuzzi, 2005).

Biblical church worship is submitted to the apostolic commandments, which require that everything be done decently and in order, that there be no confusion, that women cannot lead, etc. (1 Cor. 11:2; 14:37). This means that all of the unscriptural things commonly associated with contemporary worship, particularly in charismatic circles, are rejected (Karris, 1998).

Biblical church worship emphasizes the understanding rather than the emotions (1 Cor. 14:15). The emphasis is not on “feeling God” but on understanding and knowing God through the truth of His Word. We see this reflected in the traditional hymns. The old hymn writers aimed to edify the understanding rather than to create an emotional high (Pascuzzi, 2005)[11].

Biblical church worship emphasizes the unity of the faith rather than the ecumenical concept of unity in diversity that is so common in contemporary Christian worship (Rom. 15:6; Matt. 15:9; John 4:24). There can be no true worship unless there is complete commitment to sound Bible doctrine. The hodgepodge of doctrine present in the typical ecumenical setting does not glorify God and is not acceptable to Him, regardless of the zeal and enthusiasm exhibited during the worship sessions (Hengel, 1985).

Biblical church worship requires moral purity and separation from the world (Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 1:11), in contrast to the contemporary worship which typically ignores separation and which builds bridges to the world through the use of the world’s music, dress, etc (Old, 2002). Typical contemporary worship also ignores the necessity of moral purity and is very careless about how Christians live (Hurtado, 2005). It is enough that they enter into the “worship times” with great enthusiasm. If they divorce their spouses and commit adultery and are crooked in their business practices and dress like harlots and watch filthy television programs and Hollywood movies, that is overlooked. Among churches that incorporate contemporary worship styles, there is little or no preaching against the world in any plain and practical sense and little or no church discipline exercised. There are exceptions, but this is the rule.

Biblical church worship is constantly vigilant of spiritual dangers (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:1-4). At least 11 times the Apostles warn Christians to be “sober.” Pastors are to be sober (Titus 1:8); aged men are to be sober (Titus 2:2); the women are to be sober (Titus 2:4); young men are to be sober (Titus 2:6); the wives of pastors and deacons are to be sober (1 Tim. 3:11). 1 Thessalonians 5:6 and 1 Pet. 5:8 explain what it means to be sober; it means to be spiritually alert and watchful and vigilant (Craddock & Boring, 2010)[12].

To the contrary, though, contemporary worship teaches people to open up unreservedly to spiritual influences without any sense of danger or fear of deception. They instruct the people to “let go and let God,” to “be open and vulnerable,” to “open oneself to the Spirit,” to “invite the Holy Spirit to come and do his thing,” to “be ready for the unusual.” The Apostles and early churches did not practice anything like this. When the Corinthians began to dabble in similar things and were allowing confusion and disorder to reign in their midst, the Apostle rebuked them and corrected their error.

In many Churches and Christian gatherings it is not unusual for God’s Word to be short-changed. Music gives people the elusive “liver quiver” while the Bible is more mundane. Pulpits have shrunk and even disappeared while bands and lighting have grown. But faith does not come from music, dynamic experiences, or supposed encounters with God. Faith is birthed through the proclamation of God’s Word (Rom 10:17) (Craddock & Boring, 2010).

If we associate God’s presence with a particular experience or emotion, what happens when we no longer feel it? We search for churches whose praise band, orchestra, or pipe organ produce in us the feelings we are chasing. But the reality of God in our lives depends on the mediation of Christ not on subjective experiences[13].

When music is seen as a means to encounter God, worship leaders and musicians are vested with a priestly role. They become the ones who bring us into the presence of God rather than Jesus Christ who alone has already fulfilled that role. Understandably, when a worship leader or band doesn’t help me experience God they have failed and must be replaced. On the other hand, when we believe that they have successfully moved us into God’s presence they will attain in our minds a status that is far too high for their own good.

If we identify a feeling as an encounter with God, and only a particular kind of music produces that feeling, then we will insist that same music be played regularly in our church or gatherings. As long as everyone else shares our taste then there is no problem. But if others depend upon a different kind of music to produce the feeling that is important to them then division is cultivated. In addition, because we routinely classify particular feelings as encounters with God our demands for what produce those feelings become very rigid. This is why so many churches succumb to offering multiple styles of worship services. By doing so, they unwittingly sanction division and self-centeredness among the people of God.

We should sing to praise God – Praise should be one of the characteristic activities of the Christian. The apostle Peter tells us: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). We have been called to belong to God for the purpose of declaring his praises.

Praise is natural – C.S. Lewis wrote: “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside” The Christian’s praise of God should be just as natural. We should be so excited about who God is and what he has done for us that we want to tell others.

When we praise God, we are engaged in the activity which is most authentically human, for we are doing that for which we were created. We are made in God’s image to reflect his majesty. God’s goal in calling us to belong to him as Christians is that we might be “for the praise of his glory” A friend of mine has said: “A song of praise is like a mirror we hold up to God, reflecting his glory back to himself”

2.4         Historic Tradition in the Baptist Church

If it is natural to praise, it is also natural to sing. James writes: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (Jas. 5:13). Singing is one of the ways in which we express our emotions. I said earlier that we should not equate emotions with the presence of God. I might get ‘the liver shiver’ when my side scores a goal at a football match or I listen to some beautiful music at a concert, but I do not say, “I’ve met with God”. We should not assume that we have encountered God just because we get emotional. It might simply have been the skill of the musicians or the beauty of the songs that moved us. But please do not conclude from that that we should be wary of all emotion[14].

We should be emotional about our faith. Those of us who come from the United Kingdom can be more British than biblical. We tend to be scared of showing any emotion. We can sing of the most wonderful truths with an expression on our faces that would be appropriate in a morgue. But why do we think God tells us to sing? Surely it is because singing enables us to express our emotions. It is not the means by which we enter the presence of God, but it is one of the ways in which we can express our joy at the wonderful truth that we are already there in Christ (Hurtado, 2005).

Sometimes songs will help us to express the emotion that we already feel. On other occasions, they will begin to trigger emotions, as the music helps us to feel something of the wonder of the truths we are singing about. The words “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” might not move us especially when we see them written on a page; but they can come alive as we sing them and reflect on all that they describe.

God-focused Songs

The fact that we sing to praise God should mean that our songs are focused on him, not us (Craddock & Boring, 2010). There is certainly a place for telling him how we feel about him. There are plenty of examples of that in the Psalms. Some of them are intensely personal. Psalm 18, begins: “I love you, o Lord, my strength”, or Psalm 89: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever”. But the Psalms of praise are never simply subjective declarations of the Psalmists’ feelings. The objective reasons for those feelings are always given, namely the greatness of God. For example: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer” (Ps. 18:2) or “Your love stands firm, you established your faithfulness in heaven itself” (Ps. 89:2)[15].

Too many of our contemporary songs place an excessive emphasis on us, how we feel about God and what we will do for him, and not enough emphasis on him. We can only express our love for him if we are first reminded of his love for us. That is where our focus must be: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

God-focused Singing

The fact that we are addressing God as we sing should mean that we do so with reverence. That certainly does not rule out joy and fun. Those who object to children’s songs with actions, for example, are surely going too far. But we should remember that, as someone has put it, “We approach the almighty God, not the all-matey God”. He is our loving Father but he is also our awesome, holy creator. We should approach him with both love and “reverent fear”. We can be intimate, but not casual; confident, but not presumptuous. Those of us who lead the singing at Christian meetings should be careful with the words we use and the manner we adopt (Pascuzzi, 2005)[16].

Reverence should also mean that we will pay attention to the words we sing. It is so easy to switch into auto-pilot without letting the lyrics engage with our minds at all. God deserves better than that. John Wesley wrote is his ‘Rules for Methodist Singers’ “Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in very word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more that yourself or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually” (Craddock & Boring, 2010).

Musicians should seek to play, not to impress others, but to bring glory to God. Everything we do can be an expression of praise. We can use all sorts of instruments for the purpose. Psalm 150 alone speaks of the trumpet, lute, harp, timbrel, strings, pipe, and loud clashing cymbals. I take it that was a fairly representative sample of the instruments that were available at the time. Any kind of instrument can be used as a means of praising God (Hurtado, 2005).

“Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18-19). Paul is not urging us to receive a one-off experience when he instructs us to “be filled with the Spirit”. The verb he uses is in the present continuous. A better translation is: “keep on being filled with the Spirit”. He follows that command with a string of participles, which are lost in our English translations, which spell out what it means in practice.The original reads like this: “Keep on being filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; singing and making music in your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (vv.18-21). It is striking that three of those five participles are to do with singing (Karris, 1998).

Speaking does not mean that we are only to read the words; it includes singing. We tend to assume that our songs are addressed only to God, but Paul tells us that we are also to sing to ‘one another’. We saw in the previous chapter that Christians in the New Testament met together primarily to encourage one another, and we are to do that even as we sing.

In Colossians Paul writes: “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” (Col. 3:16). Our singing should be one form of our ministry of God’s word to each other. We all need to be built up in our faith (Hurtado, 2005). That happens through sermons, Bible studies, conversations and also as we sing. Our songs should be one of the ways by which we are taught the truths of the Bible (Bickel & Jantz, 2004)[17].

So, when we sing, we are not simply a collection of individuals praising our God; we are a community addressing one another. There are many examples of that in the Psalms. Psalm 95, for example, is not so much a song of praise to God as an exhortation to his people: “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation (v.1). It then strengthens that appeal by reminding us of reasons why he is worthy of our praise: “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him” (vv.3-4)[18].

The rehearsal of great truths about God simultaneously brings praise to him and encouragement to us. Most songs therefore have two audiences: heavenly and earthly. We should keep both the vertical and horizontal dimensions in mind as we choose songs and as we sing them (Craddock & Boring, 2010).

2.5         Summary of Theological Considerations

If we want to ensure that, our songs are edifying to others we should consider four questions about them:

2.5.1        Are they true? –

It is tempting simply to select the songs which are the most popular. But what do they teach? Are they faithful to Scripture? Is it really true that I can trade in my sorrows and sicknesses for the joy of the Lord, as one song I have been invited to sing suggests? And will God give us all the ground we claim? We should not leave song-writing to those who are gifted musically but who may not have much grasp of theology. The best of the classic hymns, like Charles Wesley’s “And can it be”, are full of profound theology. There is an urgent need for more contemporary songs which follow in that tradition. They need not be long. One truth clearly stated can be enough. The Bible itself should provide many of our lyrics. The Psalms are a rich resource which are not used nearly enough (Old, 2002)[19].

2.5.2        Are our songs God-focused? –

Our songs need to be focused on God, not simply so that we can praise him, but also so that we can be encouraged. If the majority of our songs are focused on ourselves, our feelings and expressions of devotion to God, we will have little to sustain us for the rest of the week. How have I been edified by singing: “I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my King; nothing, Lord is hindering the passion in my soul. And I’ll become even more undignified that this; some would say it’s foolishness, but I’ll become even more undignified than this. There is a place for the subjective, but it should always be a response to the great objective truths about God. Feelings come and go, but the truth never changes. It is the truth about God that drives my desire to keep worshipping him with all my life, even when that is hard (Karris, 1998).

2.5.3        Are they clear?-

Songs may be true and God-focused, but they will still not build anyone up unless they are also clear. We slip into jargon so easily: “On the wings of eagles, we ride upon the breeze of your Spirit’s lifting, our minds are being freed from the things that have torn us, and taken life away, once more soaring higher, freedom breaking in again”. Of course, we should be able to use imagery and metaphor in our songs. Clarity does not demand dull expression. But the imagery should be such that it conveys the truth of which it speaks, rather than leaving us scratching our heads.

2.5.4        Are they unselfish?

Our songs should encourage us to sing to one another. If they are all in the first person singular they will allow us to think only about ourselves and God. We could do that on our own. Our direction should also be directed to others around us. It is gloriously true that as I “behold the man upon a cross” I see “my sin upon his shoulders.” That personal element has an important place in Christian songs (Craddock & Boring, 2010). But it is also good to be reminded in the same song that God’s love is for all God’s people: “How deep the Father’s love for us”. Unselfishness should also influence our song selection in the sense that we should be thinking about what will most edify others, rather than what we ourselves most want to sing. Love should be the controlling influence in our decisions about what we decide to include in our meetings (Benson, 1956). It is a good sign if the older people in a fellowship are often saying: “Let’s have more modern songs for the youngsters” and if the younger ones are saying: “Let’s have more hymns for the older folk.”

2.5.5        Singing and Playing Horizontally

If we grasp that one of the reasons why we sing is to build up others, we will make sure that we have them in mind. We will be aware of the horizontal dimension and not just the vertical. I should not sing, “This is our God, the servant King, he calls us now to follow him” with my eyes closed. I should be singing to you. And, whatever the words, I should sing up. No one is encouraged by a dirge.

Those who play should also have others in mind. Some musicians are more concerned about their performance than serving others. We have all heard of choirs who have resigned because they have been restricted to one anthem a fortnight, or pianists leaving churches because they are no longer allowed to choose the songs (Benson, 1956).

It can be very hard for musicians. They often have to play music that they do not like or that is not very challenging for them. Other songs might give them a chance to show off their talents better, but that is not the object of the exercise. One of the world’s most gifted organists was a member of our congregation until recently. You would not have known it. That is not because he did not play well, but rather because he resisted the temptation to perform.

We have seen that some have too high a view of music and see it as a means by which we encounter God. The Bible does not teach that. But it does give singing an important role. We are to sing to praise God and to encourage one another. Martin Luther once wrote: “(After) the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world”.

Since Jesus said that true worshippers would worship God in spirit, it is imperative that we understand what that means (Craddock & Boring, 2010). But before we talk about what it does mean, let’s consider several things that it does not mean. It does not mean worship that is necessarily “spirited” (i.e. enthusiastic, excited, and so on.) I say that because the “mood” of worship will be dependent upon the attitude of the heart. At times the heart will be joyous and excited as was the case when Miriam and the women of Israel worshipped God following their deliverance from the Egyptian army (Ex. 15:20-21). At other times the heart may be sorrowful and subdued as surely must have been the case when David worshipped God following the death of his infant son (2 Sam. 12:19-20). In these two examples of worship, the “mood” was very different, but the worship was acceptable in both cases (Benson, 1956).

It does not mean worship that is “spiritual” (i.e. better-felt-than told). Nowhere does the Bible depict worship as some kind of mysterious, esoteric, intangible experience that one cannot understand or explain to other people. It does not mean worship that is miraculously Spirit-inspired. Although the term “spirit” (pneuma) is used in this way in the New Testament (1 Cor. 14:15), Jesus was not using the term like this in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. I know that because all true worshippers must worship in spirit (Jn. 4:24), but even in the first century, when miraculous gifts were available to the church, not all Christians were Spirit-inspired (1 Cor. 12:29-30); therefore, worship in spirit is not some kind of miraculously Spirit-inspired worship (Pascuzzi, 2005).

I believe that worshipping in spirit refers to worship that emanates from the spirit of man. Paul said: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son….” (Rom. 1:9). Because God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24), the true worshipper will worship God with that part of himself that is made in the image of God — his spirit. In other words, worship must spring forth from the inner man, and this inner man, the spirit, includes the intellect (1 Cor. 2:11), the emotions (Mk. 8:12; Acts 17:16) and the will (Mt. 26:41).

True worship then is worship from the inside out (Benson, 1956). In reaction to dull, routine, lifeless, boring worship services, many who yearn for a more meaningful, gratifying religious experience, are crying out that we need more emotion, more feeling in our worship to God. I do not necessarily disagree with that assessment, but there is a real danger in trying to produce with external techniques that which must emanate from the heart. Robert Turner was correct when he said: “Often our efforts to “improve” the worship are only efforts to regulate the form, and have little or nothing to do with improving the hearts out of which true worship must come. Some react to the “cold formality” of worship by proposing bizarre emotion-stirring props[20].

What does it mean to worship in truth? – Jesus also said that the true worshipper will worship God in truth. There can be no doubt, that this means that acceptable worship will be circumscribed by the precepts of God’s word (Hurtado, 2005). When Jesus prayed to the Father on the night of His betrayal, He said: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Since the very beginning of time God has revealed His will concerning the kind of worship that He will accept from His creation, and He has repeatedly judged those who failed to worship Him according to His word. Therefore, the only way that we can acceptably worship God today is to worship Him according to His word. That means that we must worship the right object — God, not men (Acts 10:26), not idols (1 Jn. 5:21), not demons (1 Cor. 10:19-22), not angels (Rev. 22:8-9), not Satan. Jesus said: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Mt. 4:10) (Hurtado, 2005)[21].

That means that we must worship in the right form. Jesus condemned the worship of the scribes and Pharisees as vain, because they taught the precepts of men as though they were the doctrine of God (Mt. 15:7-9). Paul described the worship of some at Colossae as “will-worship,” because they were basing it upon the philosophies and traditions of men (Col. 2:8-10, 16-23). When we come to truly understand what it really means to worship God with our spirits in truth, above everything else God will be pleased, and that is the most important thing, but our lives will also be transformed. May God help the Baptist Church all to be the true worshippers who will worship in spirit and in truth.

3         Contemporary Worship in the Baptist Church

Contemporary Christian music – is it honoring to God? Should it be used in church services?” – The question of contemporary Christian music (CCM) and whether it is God-honoring and appropriate for worship services is one that has been debated for decades. Oddly enough, what should be a source of loveliness and peace—the sweet strains of music—very often produces among Christians hostile disagreements over selections in worship music. In fact, it has become a leading cause of congregational infighting and even church splits! To our shame, there are believers who sulk and fume from their pews if their particular brand of musical taste is not satisfied. Studies in churches are showing that music ministers are among the most stressed people in Christian ministry (Old, 2002)[22].

Musical tastes are as varied as church members themselves. There are those who love the old hymns while others much prefer contemporary Christian music. Some music ministers have attempted to appease everyone by blending the old with the new. Other churches offer two separate worship services each Sunday—one being traditional and the other a contemporary service. Still, there are churches that tenaciously cling to old-fashioned tradition. A local pastor is fond of bragging, “You won’t hear any contemporary Christian music in our church! We remain true to the old hymns!” What he fails to realize is that even the old hymns were “contemporary” when they were first written. In contrast, there are churches in which the music is played at an ear-splitting volume resembling that of an armored vehicle crossing a minefield[23].

There are those who argue the old hymns are a tangible link to our past. This is certainly true, for these hymns have surely withstood the test of time. Many of the old hymns, too, are rich in Christian doctrine. The lyrics of Charles Wesley or Martin Luther, as examples, give magnificent instruction in sound Christian theology. But there are also some wonderful Christian artists glorifying the name of Christ Jesus with their talents right now. Far too often, we allow our own personal taste in music to become the standard for what music is glorifying to God. Instead, we should allow, even promote, Christian freedom and grace in musical preferences. Our primary concern should be for well-being and harmony in the body of Christ, and sometimes that means subordinating personal preferences to the greater good.

People are always asking if drums or keyboards or, yes, if electric guitars belong in the church. All musical instruments are, in themselves, neither good nor bad. So the question is this: Does a piece of music edify believers while bringing honor and glory to Christ Jesus? If so, then what difference does it make if a piano or a guitar provides the accompaniment? Perhaps Ephesians 5:19 is the answer to this issue in that it promotes worshipping the Lord and encouraging other believers in three different “styles” of music: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”


Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,     Annotated edition, 1996
Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
Hengel, Mark. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Minneapolis: Fortress Printing, 1985
Benson, Louis F. The Hymnody of the Christian Church. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1956
Old, Hughes Oliphant. Worship, Revised and Expanded Edition: Reformed According to            Scripture. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002
Craddock, Fred B. & Boring, Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible New Testament Survey.         Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006
Hicks, John Mark. 1 &2 Chronicles (The College Press NIV Commentary. Old Testament             Series). Joplin: The College Press Publishing. 2010
Bickel, Bruce & Jantz, Stan. Philippians/Colossians: Experiencing the Joy of Knowing Christ.       Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2004
Pascuzzi, Maria A. CSJ. First & Second Corinthians: Volume 7 (New Collegville Bible     Commentary: New Testament. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005.

[1] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,       Annotated edition, 1996
[2] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:      Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
[3] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,       Annotated edition, 1996
[4] Craddock, Fred B. & Boring, Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible New Testament Survey.             Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006
[5] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:      Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
[6] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,       Annotated edition, 1996
[7] Hicks, John Mark. 1 &2 Chronicles (The College Press NIV Commentary. Old Testament              Series). Joplin: The College Press Publishing. 2010
[8] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,       Annotated edition, 1996
[9] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:      Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
[10] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,      Annotated edition, 1996
[11] Hicks, John Mark. 1 &2 Chronicles (The College Press NIV Commentary. Old Testament             Series). Joplin: The College Press Publishing. 2010
[12] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,      Annotated edition, 1996
[13] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
[14] Hengel, Mark. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Minneapolis: Fortress Printing, 1985
[15] Hengel, Mark. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Minneapolis: Fortress Printing, 1985
[16] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,      Annotated edition, 1996
[17] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
[18] Karris, Robert J. OFM. A Symphony of New Testament Hymns. Collegeville: Liturgical Press,      Annotated edition, 1996
[19] Hengel, Mark. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Minneapolis: Fortress Printing, 1985
[20] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005
[21] Craddock, Fred B. & Boring, Eugene. The New Interpreter’s Bible New Testament Survey.           Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006
[22] Hengel, Mark. Studies in the Gospel of Mark. Minneapolis: Fortress Printing, 1985
[23] Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids:    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005

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