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John 4 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:58 mins 34 secs

Biblical Worship: Music, Art, and Literature. John 4

We can define worship in a nutshell as submitting everything that we think about in life to the authority of God's revealed Word. Another way of expressing it is what we have in Romans 12:1, 2 NASB "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [spirit of the age], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." In other words, we have to learn to think differently, not simply about God, salvation, our sins, moving from legalism to grace, how to pray and how to study the Word, but that with that core of biblical truth we are then able to worship God in every dimension of life.

There are clearly right ways to worship God and wrong ways to worship God. When people make claims that "this is worship" or "this is worshipful" then that ought to be open to evaluation from the Word of God. That is consistent with what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John chapter four, that in the church age those who worship God will worship Him by means of the Spirit and by means of truth. We are focusing on the second aspect, by means of truth. As soon as Jesus says that He is implying that there is right worship and wrong worship, there is true and there is false worship. So it is up to us with the Word of God in hand to explore what that means.

There is another example in the Old Testament in 2 Chronicles 29:25 which deals with Hezekiah. After there is a true revival of biblical worship in Israel Hezekiah has the temple cleansed and the worship reformed according to the law of God which has been ignored for several generations. He brings together the Levites in the temple with cymbals, psalteries, harps, a variety of instruments—the element of diversity. It is a harmony where there was unity as well as diversity. NASB "He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets." At the time of David there were set patterns that were established for corporate worship and for the music.

Music in the Scriptures (cont.)

5)  There are two key issues in musical praise for God that need to be addressed. One has to do with the lyrics. Even if they are doctrinally accurate there are lyrics that are just simplistic and not very good, and those that fit a pattern in Scripture. The other side of the coin is music, and this is where there needs to be a lot of discussion.

6)  Music must be carefully evaluated in each area because both music and words communicate. This is not a matter of personal preference. When it comes down to evaluating the kind of music that we use in corporate worship it cannot be a matter of personal taste, a matter of simply subjective preference. It must be related to the Word of God and that which fits within the structure of what is being accomplished in the service. The music that we sing needs to be of a type that enhances and enables concentration and thought as we study the Word of God and not music that distracts from, takes away from, or minimizes the ability to think or to concentrate.

 

We live in a context today where there is a huge movement, a major shift that has taken place called the contemporary Christian music movement or worship movement, and it covers a wide range—everything from soft rock to heavy metal to Christian rap; it covers the whole extreme—but the whole movement as it exists rests upon four basic assumptions, and it important for us to understand these and to think them through.

 

a)  First of all the claim is that music is neutral, that there no such thing as "Christian" music or "non-Christian" music. The claim is that music is amoral, value-neutral, or worldview is neutral. The contemporary Christian worship movement as a movement, which started in the late 60s, cannot be divorced from the church growth movement, they are integrally related. You cannot go over and pick up the contemporary Christian music without including certain philosophical and theological assumptions (like a Trojan horse) that then come over and are related to the whole church growth movement. 

b)  The second assumption of the contemporary Christian worship movement is that music is supposed to be evangelistic. We want to sing the kind of music in the church that makes the unbeliever comfortable. The ideology there is that is seen in the church growth movement is that you don't want "unchurched Harry" and "unchurched Mary" to come into the church and feel uncomfortable, so let's make the church comfortable for the non-Christian. Is that biblical? Do we think Isaiah felt comfortable when he came into the presence of God in Isaiah chapter six? No. When the sinner is confronted with the character of God, and when the sinner is confronted with the thinking of God and he has been in righteousness suppression for all of his life, he is not going to feel comfortable. If he comes into the church and he doesn't feel a disconnect, then there is something wrong with the church. The more that society at large becomes divorced from biblical Christianity and becomes more and more mired in paganism, enmeshed in pagan music and pagan drama and pagan literature, then what is going to happen when they come in is that they are going to feel something different and uncomfortable. But if it doesn't feel any different then they can be comfortable in their carnality and you never see a difference in the church. You can go into many of the big mega churches and never feel any different to the pagan society around you.

c)  The next point comes out of the charismatic movement—you can't divorce contemporary music today from the charismatic movement—and that is the idea that music provides a worshipful mood. The idea there is that real worship is a sort of contemplative, meditative, almost ethereal mindset. So the music is designed to move people into this particular mindset. It assumes a definition of worship that is purely subjective, and that the focal point of the music in church is to put you into this kind of mindset. It is the kind of mindset that doesn't promote rational, cognitive thought but distracts rational cognitive thought.

d)  That music is designed to promote church growth, so that the unbeliever can feel comfortable.

 

If we look at those four assumptions, music is not designed to be neutral, as will be shown, music is not designed to be evangelistic. The meeting of the church in worship is for the edification of the saints so that the saints can then go out into the world and evangelize the lost. Sunday worship is not for the evangelization of the lost and then the saints get edified somehow, someway, by Christian radio or home Bible study; which is how things are done in 99% of the churches today. Another things of note is that in part of contemporary Christian worship the same choruses are sung in Lutheran churches, Roman Catholic churches, Presbyterian churches, Bible churches, charismatic churches. It is like a universal thing. In days long past various churches had their own hymnal because the hymns reflected the theology unique to the church, but now it is a part of ecumenicalism. Let's not think doctrinally any more, there is no such thing as "the faith," the body of doctrine that we believer, it is all about "Just let's have a same experience with God and feel good about Jesus." That is what colors music.

 

Music isn't worldview neutral. Byzantine art was heavily influenced by Greek thought, especially Platonic and neo-Platonic thought. In Platonism the emphasis was on what is the ideal. It was two-dimensional representational art. They are not painting real people, it was representational. Very two-dimensional and idealistic. The music was designed to do the same thing, to take our focus on to that which is ideal and to take us out of this world and into another world. It is designed to produce a contemplative, mystical, introspective view of spirituality. And that is coming back big time in contemporary music. And there is a change that takes place. The early part of this period was influenced by neo-Platonism, but by the eleventh or twelfth century there is a rediscovery of Aristotle. In Platonism reality is in the next world—ideal imagery, not reality. There was a shift that took place in western European thought between the 10th and 11th centuries to put the emphasis more on creation and reality. If affected art. The Renaissance emphasis was toward nature for nature's sake and understanding creation as it is. So one way in which the worldview at this time is described is that of realism, it is not longer the idealism of Plato, it is now realism as it is. This develops in music, there is more structure and style and resolution. Then in the next period, going into the Baroch period, there is in art Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross and in music there is Bach's Magnificat. The reason for these illustrations is to demonstrate that as the intellectual thought changed, art changed and music changed. As the ideas that influence society change—the views of ultimate reality, knowledge, ethics and aesthetics—it changes the culture, it changes the music. So when we come to recent western civilization there is a radical change between 1950 and 1970, and that is the major worldview shift into the outworking of nihilistic existentialism and postmodernism, and it affects the music.

 

Illustrations