Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"What's Wrong With the Old Hymns?"

Carl’s frustrated with the “worship” at church. Annoyed, he asks, "What is wrong with the old hymns, spiritual songs and liturgy? Why must we worship to rock and roll?" Carl can be such a geezer!

When people say, “Worship was good this morning,” they mean they “experienced” something during the music portion of the church service. When worship leader Don would hear people say, “Worship wasn’t very good this morning,” he’d say, “Next time, try worshipping God!” Of course, he’d say it with a twinkle in his eye. God is wonderful every morning!

After years overseas, Ann and I came home to the US. We were going to once again, get to “worship” God in church, in English, not with just a few, but with hundreds of other believers. We were so looking forward to this! This was going to be great!

The set up was, that I considered worship as singing songs to or about God. It can include that. But what does the Bible say about worship?

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Romans 12:1,2

Worship is being transformed by God, and learning His will, so that we can live accordingly. After the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell believers. We became temples of the Holy Spirit of God Himself! However as temple buildings go, we’re “Fixer Uppers.” I’ve been under His renovation for 25 years now, and if anyone takes time off, sadly it’s me. Only as we let Him transform us, are we truly worshipping Him. Singing what we like is nice, but real worshipping, is when we let Him do His work in and through us. Jesus said:

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
John 4:23,24

That year that Ann and I came home, I had a difficult start. I’d anticipated corporate worship as I’d remembered it before going overseas. But the worship music changed! Everyone leading us in song seemed younger, and the music felt strange. When I asked what style of music they played, the answer was, “It’s you know, kind of like grunge?”

In the early 80s the choruses had rousing beats with lively melodies. When we sang, we clapped or raised our hands, maybe rocking back and forth. I liked it! Talk about a different generation! Now, once after a set of 90’s “grunge praise,” the pastor got up and said to us all, “Doesn’t that make you just want to get out there and tell everyone about Jesus?” That wasn’t what I was feeling. Ah but the Pastor was younger than I was too. You see, like Carl; I’m a geezer too.

Hey Sidebar! {Did you know that Geez is an ancient Semitic language used only in the Ethiopian church? Orthodox Ethiopians still use Geez after all these centuries; but only in their liturgy.}

Okay, about that “grunge praise.” One Sunday, as I sat there and listened to the music, wondering if my toes would ever tap again, I looked around at the people in the church. This was not my culture. Many were tattooed, pierced, and about 10 or 15 years younger than I was. But my kids didn’t have a problem with the music. Ann had her hands up in praise, and was worshipping fine. I had been trying to sing along for weeks! But today, I was just listening to the lyrics of the song being played. Its message of hope that can only be found in Christ was truth. What was my problem? Everyone was worshipping but me. If this was Whoville, I was in trouble.

God’s Spirit prompted me to focus on Him, and to thank Him for every truth that I heard mentioned in the lyrics that morning. There were so many! I’d been missing this for weeks, focusing not on who God is, but upon how the music was making me feel. Worshipping in spirit and in truth is what the Father wants. The truth was there, and His Spirit was in me, and finally, after weeks of complaining, I was focused, experiencing His presence!

I’ve never had trouble focusing on God, while singing or reading hymns. During the Reformation, Martin Luther and many others, wrote and made hymns much more a part of church life. Some disapproved of the hymn singing, wanting to stick with only metrical psalms. The Wesley brothers, English missionaries to America, made hymns a central part of Methodist worship, and soon those in other denominations admired the Methodists for their fervent singing. The Methodists rocked!

In England, so many people started joining the rousing worshippers in the Methodist church, the Anglican clergy had to make a decision. In 1819, Anglican Vicar Thomas Cotterill had his congregation sing Methodist-style hymns. The people in his congregation complained to the Chancellor of the Diocese of York, who heard their case. He concluded that both hymns and metrical psalms were illegal in Anglican liturgy, but added that because their use was so widespread now, that he knew there was no way to enforce his decision. This led to the increase of the use of hymns and to the writing of many more.

Music appreciation is cultural. Would I have enjoyed Jesus’ Hymns? Just after “The Last Supper” with His disciples, they all sang a Hymn. I wonder if I would have "liked" their Jewish hymn. I don’t even know what a Zither is, but the last time I heard a shofar solo, I just kind of sat there.

It isn’t about styles of music. As much as we all love our music, worship is more. The New Testament considers worship the willing and active “transformation” of the believer in Christ.

In church, hymn loving geezers are like young dance enthusiasts. Hey young worship leaders: Still trying to get us geezers dancing in church? Hello!!! We are geezers! “When the Spirit of the Lord, moves in our hearts,” we don’t necessarily “dance like David danced.” We may do many things, but dancing doesn’t come to mind first. Very few American geezers grew up enjoying corporate dance.

David’s dance expressed his experience with God then and there. He didn’t dance in order to experience God. There is a huge difference! If we dance because we are experiencing God already, and dance truly expresses our experience in Christ, then we are truly worshipping God. But if we are dancing in order to bring about some experience, then that’s just pagan. If after a drought, the farmer dances for joy, thanking God, he is worshipping. If he dances in order to bring rain, he is a pagan. Paul writes and quotes from Deuteronomy:

“But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘ Who will descend into the deep?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, “ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.”
Romans 10:6-8

It is about knowing God is with us. We focus on Him in truth, allowing Him to completely line us with Himself. This worship results in changed lives (ours), and a consistent following of Him personally.

Young folk, if we geezers will agree to worship, while singing your new songs (with true lyrics), can you agree to just go ahead and dance without insisting we do too? Maybe it comes naturally to you. But I’m at that awkward age; too young to Hully Gully, but too old to really enjoy a Rave. I can do The Twist, though! Hey, and Donna Summers has been following the Lord for some years now. If we can get her to sing, “Oooh, Love to Love You Jesus!” Carl and I can teach you to do “The Bus Stop.” We cool?

You know, God does want us to sing new songs! Scripture often says,

"Sing to Him a new song."
Psalms 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144: 9 and 149:1.

It makes sense, after all. I’ll hear a new song on the Christian station, and I am worshipping! But after hearing the song played daily for a few weeks, I need to turn up the radio, just to keep my focus. Twenty more times hearing it and I’m singing along but not really thinking about God at all. Soon I'll have to turn the radio off, cause when that “favorite” song comes on, I’m singing it on stage, before my adoring fans. Definitely time to sing a new song!

Oh, and like you don’t ?!?!

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