Kemper Crabb

Worship. Art. World.

Observations on Worship and the Arts (Part 2)

We saw in the first part of this article that worship was primarily for the Pleasure of God, rather than for our own pleasure.   We saw also that the Evangelical Church in America has largely lost this belief in the heat of the quest for their own pleasure.

Understand that this quest for pleasure is normally called by more spiritual-sounding names like “seeking a Blessing”, “having an experience with God”, “feeling the Glory fall”, and other euphemisms.

Please realize that, when God’s Pleasure in worship is primarily sought, blessings will inevitably result, worshippers will experience the Presence of God, and His Glory will fall.   However, if we are only seeking to please God because what we really want is the by-product of pleasing Him, then those by-products (even if they are good things like blessings, or an experience with God and His Glory) become idols, things we want and value more than we want to obey, love and please God.

To most American Evangelicals, this idolatry (all wrapped in spiritual, Biblical terminology) seems so normal and natural that we begin to mistake it for the true Biblical worship that Jesus demands in His Word.   This has been the case for so long that we have deformed the forms of our worship to elicit emotional, self-fixated good feelings with little or no thought for forming the holiness in the worshipper that enables the type of worship that truly pleases the Lord.

This de-formation of our worship has also inevitably resulted in deformed content, focus, and (even) style concerning the songs used in our services of worship.

Understand that the Church has historically drawn from Scripture’s teaching an understanding that three general types of worship-song content are to be used in formal worship: (1) Songs that tell God Who He Is [such as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Our God Is An Awesome God”, and “Agnus Dei”], (2) Songs that tell God what He has done (does) objectively [such as “Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us”, “Thou Art Worthy”, and “He Leadeth Me”], and (3) Songs that tell God subjectively what He has done , e.g. what He done for me [such as “Amazing Grace”, “This Is My Father’s World”, and “Amazing Love”].

These three types of worship-songs frequently mix content genre, with some both telling God Who He Is as well as telling Him what He has done [such as “Thou Art Worthy”], or telling Him what He has done both objectively and subjectively [like “The Old Rugged Cross”]. We shouldn’t find this surprising, since this genre-mixing of worship-song content is common in the Psalms, which both the Old Covenant and New Covenant Churches used as their formal-worship hymn-book for thousands of years (cf., Psalms 22, 25, 27, 33, 34, etc.)

The reader will notice that there is a proper place to tell God how what He has done has affected the worshipper, even to the point of how God’s Actions make the worshipper feel.   However, as in the Psalter, this is balanced by, and interspersed with, songs which tell God Who He Is and what He has done objectively .

Even the more subjective Psalms, however, are aimed at praising God for what He has done, not to simply elicit good feelings or an emotional experience from Him by bribing Him with worship to manipulate Him to do so.

In the next column, we will (God willing) look at some examples of how today’s self-orientation in worship has affected the style and content (and aim) of many of our worship-songs.