13 Propositions on Worship and The Generation Gap
UPDATE: I have attempted to remove irony and hyperbole from is post because people were missing the attempted humour, unduly hurt by the tone, or commenting on the style rather than the substance. I apologise for my failure to communicate clearly. I also apologise that these changes make certain comments on this post a little redundant as they refer to aspects of the original post which have now been redacted.
Bob Kauflin is an American dude who came to Australia and shook the church music apple cart a couple of weeks ago. I’m still thinking through questions of emotion and persuasion and manipulation that his talk in Brisbane raised for me – I’ll post those reflections at some point, probably in a bit of a series I’m working up in my mind that I’ll explore more deeply on Venn Theology, probably post exams.
I’m a little worried that the debate on the definition of worship, currently being driven and developed at The Briefing, as a development of the Briefing’s already reactive position, is the continuation of an old conflict that the current generation hasn’t experienced, and thus, doesn’t understand. Our Australian Church History lecture yesterday covered the emergence of the so called “Briefing” position on worship. The Briefing position, as it is described in the comments on the Briefing articles, arose as a necessary corrective to changes on the Australian scene involving the rise of the charoismatic movement. This movement typically focused on emotions and experiences as “worship” and relied on vacuous lyrics and appealing music. The “vibe” of the Briefing response has been to create a culture where our generation feels suspicious of emotion, experience, and good music – because that is what has been modeled. I think this is part of the danger of defining yourself against something. It has also created a somewhat strange definitional approach to the issue, which continues in the current response. Worship is reduced to a narrow dictionary definition, rather than a concept, and the odd response to the erroneous “worship is music” is to say “music is not worship”…
In evangelicalism in Australia we don’t have the history wars – like the intellectual elite do, we have the worship wars. It seems we reacted so strongly against the rise of pentecostalism/the charismatic movement that we’ve thrown out baby and bathwater when it comes to expressive or “affectionate” practice in church, because we don’t want to call what we do in music “worship”… because worship is all of life. Which seems odd. Music in church is a subset of all of life. From the other angle, certain advocates of a particular reformed position want to define only what goes on in the context of a church service on Sunday as “worship”…
Here are the steps in my thinking currently (which I will flesh out more later).
- I am pretty sympathetic to the view that all of life, for the Christian, is mission. A life lived sacrificially, based on Paul’s example (cf 1 Cor 11:1), will look like a life of pointing people to Jesus and seeking to present them mature in Christ. Paul’s use of “worship” in Romans 12:1 is a subset of his view of the Christian life and mission, a life where he was poured out as a drink offering for the sake of the gospel (Phil 2:17, 2 Tim 4:6-7 (and that’s in quotes because there’s a bit of a debate going on (part 1, part 2) about what the best sense of that translation is amongst that generation of people who make me an angry young man on this issue).
- Because all of life is mission, and all of life is worship, worship and mission overlap significantly. Both are what we do in response to the lordship of Jesus. We worship him by, amongst other things, serving him (there are several words conflated into our word “worship”), we serve him by, amongst other things, bringing people into his kingdom, the eschatological horizon we operate under is every knee bowing to Jesus in worship (Phil 2, Revelation 5). We also praise him, by singing to him (eg Psalm 98), which I would argue has a significant overlap with mission, the way we praise God speaks to our relationship with him – both to God, and to non-believers. I’m not arguing that praise and worship are synonyms, but they both form part of our response to Jesus.
- People in both the Old Testament and New Testament worshipped other stuff. Idols are objects of worship. For the original readers of the New Testament much of what was said of owning Jesus as Lord, was in competition with what was expected of a Roman Citizen in their response to the emperor (Daniel suggests this was similar in Old Testament times). Worship is a response to a God and King. Part of mission is pointing to Jesus as God and King. This is the outcome of church practices that Paul hopes for (1 Cor 14:22-25).
- Because worship is the outcome of mission, we need to make sure when we are we are doing music in a way that calls non-believers, and believers, to worship. This includes doing music well. Doing music well might look/sound different to different people. But I think you can make a case that God wants music to be joyful. I find it very hard to be joyful when the words are good (and evoke a sense of joy), but the music isn’t. There’s a disjunct. I think joy and physical expression are also probably linked. We talk about the necessity of non-verbal expression in good preaching, understanding that good communication requires it, but hesitate when it comes to music. This is odd.
- Doing music well means doing music with joy. As well as with reflection on theological truths. I go to a rock concert and I respond with my body. People see my response and know that I love the band. I go to church, and I yawn when I sing. Church music in its current form is a boring and largely emotionless experience for me. This is necessarily an outcome of our approach to music. This makes a statement to non-believers who enter our gathering, which seems to be one of Paul’s concerns for how we gather (1 Cor 14:22-25).
- All of life is church. This is where another attempt to unnecessarily divide the Christian life into neat categories via terminology/word studies occurs, as if we’re only a community when we’re meeting on a Sunday, or only worshipping when we’re meeting as a community and doing whatever we do on a Sunday (which includes singing).
- Trying to neatly compartmentalise things into categories like this is unwarranted and brings confusion rather than clarity. It doesn’t really pay heed to the way language works in the Bible and overlapping semantic ideas, and the use of paired terms. The Christian life is full of overlapping categories. It’s a massive Venn Diagram. And the push for neat distinctions is a western construction that makes little sense.
- It’s dangerous to define yourself against something, rather than as something. Responding to the challenges presented by the pentecostal movement was necessary, but baby and bathwater solutions aren’t real solutions. It seems to me that the argument goes “some people think worship only describes singing, therefore we must answer their wrong definition by saying singing is not worship”…Operating as an almost binary corrective means you ends up with two equally imbalanced sectarian movements – not a realigning of the position in a church. Particularly because the new generation you produce doesn’t really define itself through the conflict you fought, but through the position you adopted, without really owning it. If we, for a minute, use the imperfect of a different venn diagram, where we have a red circle and we want to correct the red circle, the corrective approach seeks to correct the red circle by setting up a disconnected blue circle, where blue is the complete opposite to red. Perhaps the truer colour is actually purple, but we just don’t want people being red. Real change, across the board, happens when you take the good parts of the red circle and overlap them with the blue to make purple. And the aim should be to make the Venn diagram as circular and purple as possible. It seems that most of us are willing to acknowledge that Sovereign Grace, Bob Kauflin, and the “Reformed Charismatic Movement” more broadly are self correcting – particularly with regards to their use of terminology. I would suggest it is difficult to argue that our reactive approach to the charismatic movement has brought this change.
- Music is liturgy. The songs we sing shape the way we live. Music has ethical ramifications.
- All gifts and talents are given by God, they become “spiritual” gifts when they serve the body and point people to Jesus (1 Cor 12-14 pushes me this way). Music is a gift. Musicians should be encouraged to perform to God’s glory, and we should stop pretending people are a pancreas when they’re a hand.
- If physical expression is a natural response to music, emotion, and the security that comes from love (Bob Kauflin used the illustration that you don’t have to teach a child to reach out for their parent), and, if an incredible portion of communication is non-verbal – the onus is on the people suggesting that music in church shouldn’t involve being physically expressive to prove that position from the Bible. Not for the physically expressive and emotional to defend theirs. The idea that it is culturally normal not to be physically expressive, and thus we should not be expressive because people will find it off putting, is the product of a sub-culture that is the product of the music wars, and would seem to be demonstrably incorrect based on the growth of the pentecostal movement (frankly, the appealing part of their services is the music rather than the teaching), and crowd behaviour at music performances across a variety of genres (that aren’t seated). Especially when young people are involved.
- It is possible that our approach to church, worship, and music, are not so much shaped by the Bible and mission, as shaped by an old conflict that the current generation did not participate in, and so, it is possible that a more moderate position is the way to go. Previous generations holding on to their positions and traditions is a guaranteed way for the church to become irrelevant, and thus for our “worship” to get in the way of our mission, which I would argue makes that “worship” not worship.
- The nature of multi-generational church is that the young question the traditions of the old, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – and sometimes the previous generation need to remember that they were the young once, and still are on many other issues. Fresh insight should be listened to and weighed up, not just dismissed because it is overly optimistic, or not based on experience/tempered by conflict.