The Ridiculous Church Today

At the start of this month I visited the warm, dry and sunny state of Texas for a conference. David Crowder’s Fantastical Worship Conference, to be specific. We were discussing some of the issues surrounding worship in the Church today, with the principle emphasis being on music. In fact, it was all based on one question: Why do we sing?

Several speakers answered this question and all of them gave very impressive arguments. I found Francis Chan’s response to be the most notable. Not because of the answer itself, which was a fairly obvious one, but the way he pointed out the discrepancy between the Biblical community of faith, and the Church of the west today.

So, why is it that we Christians sing?

We sing because God has saved us. Just as in Exodus 15, the Church today sings to celebrate God’s saving work. Singing is principally about a group of people responding to God, together. Simply put, we sing together because we met God together. It’s not about meeting God in the music, because God isn’t somehow ‘more’ present with music playing. It’s about remembering the story, and being touched by the story in the depths of our spirits.

Singing reminds us that God is the one to be enthroned.

Yet, in an ironic twist, in music we so often enthrone ourselves. I’m not even talking about the ‘worship leader’ or ‘lead worshipper’ or ‘guy who stands at the front crying and strumming a guitar’ (Sounds like a City and Colour gig). No, Francis Chan pointed out something far more absurd.

“I wasn’t getting fed”

“The drums were too loud”

“I don’t like organ music”

“I find it hard to understand the speaker”

“It’s all a ritual, there’s no room for the Holy Spirit!”

“It’s all show! Where is the discipline and order in worship?”

Have you ever heard these statements?

Have you ever seen them in the Bible?

I’ve heard people give these reasons as legitimate excuses for walking out of a church. Strangely enough, I’ve never seen them in the Bible. Yet, this has become normal.

Can you imagine seeing the Church today in the Bible? Between the pages of Stephens public lynching, and Paul’s beatings in the cities you have the dialogue of the worship leader and the pastor discussing how loud the bass is allowed to be? Peter and Paul’s dispute over the role of Jewish law in the new Church, followed by a massive church split because the associate pastor thought the book of Psalms was too outdated and they should sing newer songs?

It’s the mentality of self, that I am the highest authority and all things must bow to my wishes and appetites, I can get a cheeseburger at 3 AM. I can carry my entire music collection in my back pocket. I can do my banking without stepping foot outside my home. So why shouldn’t I leave a church because they have electric guitars (or don’t have them, depending on your preference)?

To me it seems our understanding of worship needs to be redeemed. I know mine does. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve disconnected with a communal worship gathering because I didn’t like a song. I think with that redeemed understanding, the transcendent mystery of God might once again permeate our consciences, and we might learn to fear and to love him like those Biblical saints before us.

Just a thought.


Add yours →

  1. I suppose you wouldn’t get the comments if we sang everything unaccompanied, but then you’d probably get complaints that there was nobody to lead the ‘tune’.

    I definitely think we should take a leaf out of Matt Redman’s book and get back to what worship really is and that includes much much more than just singing. Singing is one form of worship, so is reading the bible, so is praying, so is meditating in silence on the power and majesty of God, so is a whole congregation simultaneously sending a text message of love to a distant member…

    Everything is pretty much an act of worship, it just depends what or who you are choosing to worship!!


  2. Ian: An interesting biblical principle is that God is a Spirit and if we are to worship him we MUST worship him in spirit and in truth. What do you think is worshipping God in Spirit and how do you think one achieves this?

    I certainly think this means something different to singing a good song!!

    Alex – have you ever thought about the words of Matt Redman’s song – he says “it’s all about you Jesus” – in the Bible Jesus says it’s not all about him – it’s all about God – the Holy Spirit points to Jesus – Jesus points to God. Worship belongs to God the Father. So often worship songs seems to “stop” at Jesus and what he did rather than go on to worship God and what he did through Jesus. Just a thought.


  3. @ Beverley, sorry, you totally missed the point of my post. Maybe I didn’t spell it out enough. Yes of course I have thought about the words of the song, but that wasn’t expressly what I was alluding to.

    Matt Redman banned sung worship in his church until they had spent serious time getting to the bottom of what worship really meant, what it really was. The song was his personal response at the end of that time. If you want to argue about the conclusions he came to, please, take it up with Matt, not me. (find him on twitter @matt_redman)

    I was suggesting that it would be a good idea to take a leaf out of “Matt’s book” and, if sung worship is actually becoming the be-all and end-all of your worship, getting in the way of worship, to stop doing it until your church / congregation can explore what worship actually is.

    In all fairness, I believe it’s pretty important to allow each church to come to it’s own conclusions as to how that looks at the other end. And also important not to judge them on that.

    @ Ian I was thinking more about this post today and wondered if Jesus would be totally comfortable and completely at home in basically any genuine worship setting.
    I understand the points that some people make, and have at times been ‘turned off’ because I don’t like the music / words of a certain song, or the musical accompaniment was barely audible or badly played or out of tune…
    But does that mean that if I were a true follower of Jesus I should be able to enjoy and fully participate in any act of worship (sung worship particularly as this was the theme of this post).
    I’m wrestling with the idea that maybe I should be able to accept each style as it is and just enjoy it for the fact I am ultimately praising God. Or is it valid to like some types or styles of sung worship and not others??

    You are right that my “worship needs to be redeemed”, I’m intrigued at how that might end up being worked out in the day-to-day, different church services I end up in. I think it involves another transformative work of the spirit of God to alter my mindset! May well get back to you on this.


  4. Hi Alex – thanks yes I went to Matt’s church (SS Watford) and was aware of the circumstances (mind you it was sold to us that it was actually Mike P who called a halt to singing – not Matt but anyway!)

    I did appreciate the point you were making – I think I was trying to broaden out the thought – ie: actually not only it is important how we sing/but also what we sing – so many of our worship songs actually contain wrong doctrine and this has an adverse affect on how we view God – then our Christian walk and lives become ineffective because we are not actually understanding the truths of God’s word. We really ought to contemplate all the words we say and sing because the bible tells us that every word has the power of life and death – we either speak life (truth) or death – there is no inbetween. Singing wrong words actually causes damage and death – to ourselves and to others – and can leave us unempowered and unable to effectively serve God so it is a serious issue.

    I would disagree it’s up to each individual church to come to its own conclusions. Paul certainly didn’t seem to think that as he set up his guidelines (and presumably nor does God think that or we wouldn’t today still be reading Paul’s instructions.) Even when Paul “left it to a church to individually decide” he made it very clear what he actually thought they should be doing!

    I feel the sadness with the rest of the posts in that they are full of the word “I” which basically is probably the problem with all of us – we think about “I” before we think about God. Whereas God would have us think about him first and others next at least at the same time as we think about ourselves. If we all truly just thought about God first and others next – then whether “I” personally liked or could engage in the style of worship would cease to matter one iota!!

    Regarding the transformative work of the Spirit as I read Romans 12 1 and 2 – being transformed by the renewing of our minds is our responsiblity – the Spirit has already given us the power to do this (Ephesians 3 v 20) – but it’s according to the power working IN US – so we have the responsibility of tapping into this power and doing this and we can’t just wait for the Spirit to do it for us – he has done his part and provided us with the tools – he wants to work in partnership with us, he’s also a gentleman and doesn’t force anything on us.

    Maybe the way forward for all of us is to study what the Bible says about the power of praise and the difference between praise and worship and how God would like us to do it – then take the actual words God says, sow those seeds in our hearts, let them take root then we would find praise and worship became natural and effective.

    In studies I have found that the bible shows very clearly that there is power in praise and power from praise that will help us and this is why God wants us to praise.I found the following verses very helpful in meditating on the effects of praise – Deut 28 v 47, Hebrews 1 v 9, Deuteronomy 7 & 8, Colossians 2 v 6 – 7, Philippians 4 v 4 to 7, Nehemiah 8 v 10, 2 Cor 4 v 17 to 18, Psalm 8 v 2 (notice when Jesus quoted this psalm in Matthew 21 v 16 he changed the word praise for strength. Praise gives us strength. 2 Chron 20, Revelation 4 v 11, Psalm 100 v 4, Matthew 6 v 33, John 17 v 3, Hebrews 13 v 15

    I hope you will find them an encouragement and a blessing too.


  5. I find it strange why churches today devote so much time wrangling over the minutia of ‘worship’ when the New Testament seems to treat it with relative unimportance. Of course, I’m speaking of congregational singing here, and as far as I can think, and please correct me, the only mentions of this in the NT is in Ephesians, the parallel verses in Colossians and maybe the single verse in 1 Corinthians about somebody contributing a hymn.
    When Paul deals with the major priorities in the Pastoral Epistles, those things which are of paramount importance, singing is not even mentioned! Right government, sound teaching, congregational prayer, the reading of Scripture, the care of the widows and the needy, these are the things considered to be vital!
    Now you compare that, with for example, the emphasis on prayer in the New Testament letters. In every one of his letters, Paul urges the saints to pray – to pray for missionaries, to pray for leaders, to pray for authorities, to pray for the progress of the gospel, to pray for particular needs and problems. Compared with praying, or teaching, or caring for needy saints, singing just doesn’t have a high profile at all. Remember, Paul in 1 Corinthians, in Romans, in Ephesians gives four lists of spiritual gifts or gifted people. They cover all sorts of things such as miraculous gifts, gifts of teaching, gifts of leadership, the gift of ‘helps’, the gift of being able to contribute financially. And not once does he refer to musical gifts. He doesn’t refer to a gift of hymn-writing, or composing, or singing, or playing an instrument, or conducting. When he’s listed out all the gifts he considers vital for the life of the body of the church, not one of them is connected with music.
    Again, when you read Acts, it’s striking that Luke never mentions the church singing. You have Paul and Silas in jail singing a hymn, but Luke never refers to congregational singing. He tells us what were the key features of the Jerusalem church- the things they saw as vitally important – they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Not a word about singing. As you read through Acts, you read about open-air meetings, prayer-meetings, breaking of bread services, a great inter-church conference, late night seminars, a commissioning service for missionaries – and singing is never mentioned.
    Now don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that singing is unimportant. We do have those commands in Ephesians and Colossians. We do have the example of Christ who sang a psalm with his disciples at the Last Supper. And we do have, I think, hymns quoted in the New Testament. It’s clear that the New Testament church did sing. And the book of Revelation teaches us that we’ll sing in heaven! But my point is simply this; that singing clearly did not have a high profile in the New Testament churches. It was clearly not a priority for the apostles. It was relatively unimportant.
    I wonder how this compares to most evangelical churches today?


  6. Really interesting point Nathan, it would be a pity to waste all those psalms though wouldn’t it!


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