Concerning the Proper Worship of God: a hymnological statement

1. Definition.

Hymnology is the combination of two Greek words: hymnos, meaning 'song', and logia, meaning 'understanding/theory of'. Thus a statement of hymnology is concerned with the theorization of songs, but in this situation it refers specifically to the understanding of songs of worship to God, the assumption being that such worship songs are the only true, real, and proper songs anyway. That is to say, if God is the only Truth and only true Existent, the only true song is one that praises Him, all other songs being false and devilish in comparison.

2. Worship.

The word in both testaments translated by the English word "worship" carry the same force and meaning in both the Hebrew and the Greek, the former being (sht)hvh and the latter being proskuneo. Both mean primarily "to bow down prostrate before in obeisance" and are used in a variety of situations before men and gods. The image produced consists of the vassal's face to the ground with arms outstretched in supplication, the neck bared, allowing the master the priviledge of choice between mercy and judgement, life or death. Thus, essentially it was the giving up of authority over oneself, giving over one's very life, to one greater. Worship is then simply defined as 'holy fear', not the kind of sinful fear as if to a kind of monster, but the fear that recognizes the infinitude of God, that in His hands are held all life and death, time and space. Holy fear properly employed inevitably produces joy.

The end of all this is that true worship is a serious matter that hovers between joy and stark fear, between life and death.

Even though the same word is used of men and gods in the Old as well as the New Testament, worship of the one true God was carefully reserved by ancient Israel for YHWH even as it was in the early Church. In such cases that need to be distinguished in English, men 'bow down' before other men, but they 'worship' God. The significance of this differentiation is where the worship lies, namely, in the heart. For while the outward show is the same before men and before God, it is in the heart that true worship of God is preserved while mere fealty is offered men. Thus it is in the heart where worship is born, formed, and directed. It is also the state of the heart, then, that pleases God and no outward show whatsoever. And lest we immediately fall into the error of mistaking the emotions of the heart for worship, let us properly define "heart" as the mind and will joined as one, directed to the Deity.

3. Music in Worship.

Concerning music in worship, we have just said that true worship is formed in the heart, and if this be accepted as true, then it must follow that music is completely and absolutely extraneous to worship, having nothing whatsoever to do with true worship other than acting as a facilitator (facil- coming from the Latin meaning 'easy, useful'). Thus music can be a great aid to worship, lifting our hearts to heights before unknown. However, if it be granted that music is a facilitator and only a facilitator, then music can be as equally dangerous as it is helpful, a hindrance and an obstacle to worship as much as it would be a boon. Thus the place of music in worship must ever and anon be examined and evaluated, for as the heart is deceitful above all things, the danger of music in worship lies in its replacing the worship as the focus of the heart. This happens when the facilitator becomes too easy and it becomes the object of the heart's attentions and affections rather than the very thing it was facilitating. When this happens, the music itself has become the object of worship and no longer is God the true object. Therefore whenever rhythm and beat, melody and tempo begin to determine the choice of worship songs, they begin to hinder the worshipper in attaining knew insights into the Godhead by distracting him or her with the good sound of the song.

If true worship is formed in the heart, then all singing should be geared towards engendering, fostering, and preserving this true worship in the heart. Songs that depend on emotionalism and music do not have at their centre this object, rather they foster emotional highs and musical appreciation.

4. Words and Music.

It ought then to be held as incontravertible that the words of a worship song are superior to the music of a worship song as the heavens are superior to the earth. For what is a worship song but prayer poetically set to music? Thus it is the words of prayer spoken to God in corporate worship that please the Father. As long as music guards and preserves this aim, it is useful and profitable, but whenever it oversteps its bounds to intrude upon prayer it has dashed worship to pieces under its feet. Songs of worship then ought to be selected with the greatest of care as the conduits of pure worship, examined and evaluated for their value in terms of words and theology, and most assuredly not for their musical value.

It is in fact a sad state of affairs in the present-day church that musicians are writing worship songs and leading worship when it ought to be theologians writing and leading; musicians tend by nature and talent to focus much more on the musical value of songs rather than their theological import.

Without controversy, then, any given hymn is superior to any given chorus, and it is a sad time of worship indeed that includes not at least a single hymn (see Appendix for a list of hymns). Consider for just a moment the import of this refrain:

I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
(musical interlude)
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
I could sing of your love forever
Or how about this refrain:
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord, Amen
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord
Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord, Amen

Is this not shallow? Why is it ludicrous to read the same statement over and over and not to sing the same statement over and over? Pure emotional worship helps no one grow, and neither does it prepare the heart for teaching. Emotional worship only helps people feel good, the same feeling that could be obtained from a Christian rock concert.

Consider instead this hymn written three and a half centuries ago by Joachim Neander:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
join me in glad adoration!
Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,
shelters thee under His wings, yes, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how all thy longings have been
granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord who doth prosper thy works and defend thee;
surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
if with His love He befriend thee.
Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again:
gladly for aye we adore Him.

As fruits and vegetables are for the body, so hymns are for the soul; as chips and ice cream are for the body, so are choruses for the soul, tasty yet unfilling and ambiguously healthy. For hymns teach godly theology and sound doctrine concerning the faith, while choruses often cater only to emotion. Hymns most often centre God as the subject and object of the worship, while choruses tend to place the worshipper at the centre. Finally, hymns often if not usually take the worshipper to uncomfortable depths, while choruses remain for the most part shallow theologically and leave the worshipper comfortably unselfexamined. Worship ought to be the combination of prayer and teaching. Let us then leave off cotton-candy worship and pursue depth in worship.

5. Seeker-sensitivity.

Every worship leader must guard against being seeker-sensitive for the sake of some kind of confused presentation of the gospel. When worship is sensitive to the seeker, it ceases to be sensitive to God, who ought to be the length, breadth, height and depth of the worship endeavor.

6. Classification.

It must be recognized that worship songs fall into several categories, and if they are not distinguished, then the risk is run of presenting shallow worship.

1. Songs of Invitation
2. Songs of Desire
3. Songs of Testimony
4. Songs of Praise

In the first category, Christians are called to worship God. Such songs should be used very sparingly if at all, for God is not even the object of the song. The only point made with such songs is that God is worthy of worship, something childishly basic already. An examples of such a song is "Come Now is the Time to Worship", which is sung way too much to be of any use.

In the second category, the worshipper makes known a desire for God. These too are lacking in that while God is the object of the song, He is not the subject; the focus of attention is still on the self, who says, 'I want to know You', 'I desire Your blessing/benefits'. In the lyrical statement, 'I love You', with which of course there is nothing wrong, God is still the object while the worshipper is the subject. Such songs also give imperatives to God, which is counter to worship in and of itself.

In the third category God is finally the subject of the song, but there can still be a tendency for the focus to remain on the self. For the greatness of God is praised in what He has done either personally in salvation and/or blessing or cosmically in Christ, but the self is held up as the benefactor of said blessings. Even so, it is still superior to the first two categories, since testimonials teach the sublime mysteries of salvation in Christ. Songs of testimony say: "You love me", rather than "I love You", and therein find their superiority.

The fourth category comes closest to pure worship, where God is the subject and the only focus of the song. The awesome greatness of God is praised, greatness and majesty that transcends understanding. He is glorified not only for His love and salvation but even for His justice, holiness, perfections, righteousness, sovereignty over all things, and transcendence. He is loved for who He is and not primarily for what He has done. It is here that relationship is cultivated; it is here that the worshipper approaches true knowledge of God: that couched in fear. Songs that produce no fear are not true praise songs. To approach God is to know fear, not just as awe and reverence but the fear that consumes, for to approach the holy throne of God is to approach death, which is the only true life.

7. Piety and Sobriety.

Two words must then characterize true worship: piety and sobriety. Piety defined simply is the heartfelt desire to please God with obedience in all things. God cannot be approached without a proper spirit of piety, though of course it must be recalled that the entirety of a worshipper's piety is contained wholly and only in Christ Jesus. But even so, it is inappropriate to approach God without piety. Thus, to come near God in any way other than that which He has proscribed is to hold Him in contempt. This is where sobriety comes in, for a sober attitude constantly checks itself to see whether it is maintaining proper piety. A worshipper not sober has no sensitivity to ascertain what God desires. Thus it is no more appropriate for a subject to enter the king's throne room and begin to dance around laughing like a jester than for a worshipper to enter into the presence of God not fully mindful, fearful even, of what a glorious place he or she has entered.

Shall worship be geared toward emotionalism or towards sobriety? The former is comfortable and easy while the latter leads us to repentance and confession of sin, which is the only true and pure foundation of our worship. It is imperative, then, that the church do everything in its power to foster sobriety rather than fall into the sweet rut of emotionalism.

8. Worship Leadership.

Such an attitude ought to pervade worship leaders, if in fact they can be called leaders. For "worship leader" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Why? A leader always draws attention to him or herself, but worship is meant to focus all attention on God. Thus, those who guide worship should be easily forgettable, such that worshippers come away saying not, "The music was sure good today" or "The worship leaders sure sang well today" or "The electric guitar solo in the third song was excellent", but they ought to say "I can recall neither the music nor those who led it, only that I glorified God today."

Thus those who guide worship are not leaders but servants, and any other attitude promotes their talent over the One who gave them that talent. Still it is true that such servants exemplify leadership in a key role in the church. They ought then to exemplify pure and holy worship in themselves, in piety, sobriety, and propriety. As such, they ought not wear regular street clothes in the worship service. If they aspire to leadership, they must look like leaders. But someone will say to me, "But worship is formed in the heart, so clothing should not matter." True, and it doesn't. But clothing does matter for service and leadership, for the outward appearance reflects the inward reality, just as "out of the overflow of the heart, so the mouth speaks". Will servants come into the temple of the Lord almighty on the holy day dressed in the profane clothes they have worn all week? May it not be! If the president of Korea or any other dignitary were to come to the service, would not all people including the worship servants be dressed appropriately? How much more for the King of kings and Lord of lords who comes and joins the service every single Sunday! Thus, worship servants who dress inappropriately reflect one of three attitudes, either that Christ isn't actually present in the worship, or that they don't really care that He is present, or that Christ deserves less outward respect than the president of Korea. And let no cheeky monkey claim that they would wear street clothes before the president of Korea, for they would add lying to their abstinence.

If the worship servants claim leadership yet do not dress apropriately for worship, they condemn the pastor, who dresses appropriately to break forth the holy Word of God. If such respect is given to the preaching of holy Scriptures, why then is not the same respect given to the facilitation of holy worship? The worship servant, like the pastor, holds a fearful office, and both must be continually aware of the holy and righteous fear that accompanies this office. And let no calumnator say that Christ has set us free from such legalism, for such a statement while rightly recognizing the freedom bought for us by Christ's precious blood, wrongly focusses on the freedom instead of the reason for that freedom, which is the entering of the presence of God, the fearful holy of holies.

8b. Concerning Professionalism in Worship.
There is a pervasive error among too many churches that the music of worship must be good before worship itself can be good. Since the object of worship is to be pleasing to God, and since true worship is formed in the heart and not in the mouth, pots and pans and a harmonica would suffice for worship if the hearts of the worshippers were true. Therefore let no one say, "We will put our best before God" in the guise of piety when professionalism is the only aim. Amateurs can and should be included in worship just as readily as professionals. Elitism chokes true worship. What is worship for, the showcasing of musical ability or the worship of God?

10. Conclusion.

In our worship let our voices be raised together with the heavens, who declare the glory of God; may our songs reach the skies, who proclaim the work of His hands. With them may we day after day pour forth speech, and let us display knowledge of our common Creator. May there be no speech or language where our voices are not heard. May our voices go out into all the earth, our words to the ends of the world.

In our worship may we say, "The law of YHWH is perfect, reviving the soul." Amen, His love endures forever. "The statutes of YHWH are trustworthy, making wise the simple." Amen, His Grace endures forever. "The precepts of YHWH are right, giving joy to the heart." Amen, His mercy endures forever. "The commands of YHWH are radiant, giving light to the eyes." Amen, His kindness endures forever. "The fear of YHWH is pure, enduring forever." Amen and amen! The fear of YHWH endures forever and ever! "The ordinances of YHWH are sure and altogether righteous." Amen, His kingdom endures forever. "They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb." Amen, His holiness endures forever. "By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward." Amen, His love endures forever. Amen.

In our worship may we humbly ask, who can discern His errors? Forgive our hidden faults. Keep your servants also from willful sins; may they not rule over us. Then shall we be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O YHWH, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.


A List of Hymns with theology so deep as to rob one of breath:

Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
How Great Thou Art
Praise to the Lord the Almighty (Joachim Neander)
Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens Adore Him
O Worship the King
Immortal Invisible
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Surely Goodness and Mercy
Guide Me OThou Great Jehovah
O God Our Help in Ages Past
Day By Day
This Is My Father's World
I Sing the Mighty Power of God
To God Be the Glory
The Love of God
We Will Glorify
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
What a Wonderful Saviour
O Come Let Us Adore Him
Fairest Lord Jesus
Our Great Saviour (Hallelujah What a Saviour)
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
Praise Him! Praise Him!
O Come All Ye Faithful
Hallelujah What a Saviour
What Wonderous Love Is This
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
The Old Rugged Cross
At the Cross
Are You Washed in the Blood?
There Is Power in the Blood
Nothing But the Blood
There Is a Fountain
Wonderful Grace of Jesus
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Amazing Grace
And Can It Be?
Rock of Ages
There Is a Redeemer
Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed?
Jesus Paid It All
O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus
Because He Lives
Christ Arose
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
He Lives
Our God Reigns
Crown Him With Many Crowns
Holy Holy Holy (Lord God Almighty)
How Firm a Foundation
Revive Us Again
I Love to Tell the Story
At Calvary
I Know Whom I Have Believed
God's Great Grace It Is Has Brought Us
Just As I Am
Blessed Assurance
Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
A Shelter in the Time of Storm
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
I Am Thine O Lord
More Love to Thee
My Jesus I Love Thee
I Surrender All
Have Thine Own Way Lord
Living for Jesus
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Take My Life and Let It Be
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Open My Eyes That I May See
Be Thou My Vision
Near the Cross
O to Be Like Thee
More About Jesus
Nearer My God to Thee
Higher Ground
The Solid Rock
My Faith Has Found a Resting Place
No Not One
Tell Me the Old Old Story
In the Garden
I Need Thee Every Hour
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
He Leadeth Me
Victory in Jesus
Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus
It Is Well with My Soul
Heaven Came Down
Love Lifted Me
My Saviour's Love
I'd Rather Have Jesus
No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus
O How I Love Jesus
O Happy Day
He the Pearly Gates Will Open
When We All Get to Heaven
When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder
Soon and Very Soon
Sweet By and By
I'll Fly Away
For the Beauty of the Earth