Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Unsung Spiritual Discipline

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  (Col 3:16)

Guest writer Sean Palmer has written a piece on Scot McKnight’s blog to advocate corporate singing as a spiritual discipline.  His thesis is solid: Sunday morning singing is not an individual event and must be recognized for its corporate nature and purpose.  Palmer ends with five expectations for the local assembly with which I want to interact.
  1. We Wouldn’t Expect Immediate Results.  As the old joke goes: Lord give me patience, and give it to me now.  We want what we want when we want it.  If I can’t get the commodity at my time and place convenience, I’ll take my loyalties elsewhere.  This approach flies in the face of the disciplined life described in scripture.  The entirety of God’s word describes the life of faith as a repetitive process of worship, renewal, instruction, fellowship, etc. in regular daily, weekly, and yearly cycles.  The cumulative effect of this life is growth in faith and Christ-likeness through the Holy Spirit.  Why do we think that decades of repeated, disciplined practice and effort can be condensed into Sunday morning music?
  2. We Could Sing on Behalf of Others.  I assume most everybody who reads this blog has read a psalm, and possibly you have read through all of them.  Ever notice the encouragement to interact with the psalmist or with one another?  It’s everywhere: praise the Lord; magnify the Lord with me; give thanks to the Lord; and many more.  The next time you read Psalms, look for those communal markers.  And for New Testament references, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both address the interactive and communal nature of song as a teaching and encouragement tool.
  3. We Could Be Less Manipulative.  Let’s face the truth.  We want the music to give us a buzz.  Who cares about lyrical content?  Take me to the mountain top.  And therein lies the problem.  Those in charge of this “worship” manipulate the tempo, volume, and instrumentation to evoke the anticipated emotional response.  It’s a win-win situation—or is it?  This makes the experience the goal of worship.  (And, boy howdy, could I go off on a rant about all the contemporary “worship” music focusing on the individual.)  We should not go into worship for this emotional uplift.  Shift the focus from me to the Lord of glory.
  4. We Could Hear the God of the Desert.  Let me return to the Psalms once again.  Have you noticed the preponderant number of laments found there?  Worship expresses the full range of life’s circumstances and emotions with full view that God over all, though we may not see or understand the result.  There is pain, grief, sorrow, and longing.  We are ministered by song that expresses those things and focuses our attention on the One who is over all, knowing that “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3).
  5. We Could Actually Praise God.  We are not worshiping if the point of the music is to manipulate the audience into a certain mindset or experience.  What is intended for the mutual building of the body and glorification of Christ becomes just another tool for keeping the sheep happy.  While I disagree with the author that style does not matter, I commend his attempt to get us turned away from ourselves.
Sean Palmer has tried to address a problem recognized by many in the Evangelical community.  I thank him for that.  A biblical understanding of worship and its many facets would go a long way to correct the shortcomings.

Remember—it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus for you.