Worship in Song: What Guidelines Does Your Church Use in Music? by Alistair Begg

Since the second commandment forbids the use of images as we worship God, and the New Testament reveals that God is provided the only true worthy image of Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God”(Colossians 1:15); then our worship as we gather is to be framed by biblical principles. Christian worship is unlike any other event. Our objective is not to make outsiders comfortable but to worship God in such a fashion that they may say, “Surely God is in this place.”

There are many occasions when in reaching out to unbelievers we will seek to ensure that we are removing for them all unnecessary hurdles in hearing the message. But this is not to be our focus when we gather in worship. The unbeliever should find himself stirred to ask, Why do those people sing with such enthusiasm? Why do they listen with such care? Why do they speak to God with such devotion? What is it about me that I have no such appetite for God in His Word? Such a perspective, I know, flies in the face of what would appear to be the prevailing mood in large segments of evangelicalism. But the challenge must be presented to what is an increasingly man-centered, me-oriented approach to the worship. Our images are of a cheerleader in the stand up comedian, of the jazz quartet in the corner of the restaurant, and it is also horizontal. We are unlikely in those settings to be conformed with the transcendent majesty of God before whom we will one day stand in judgment and who desires to meet us as we gaze upon His glory in the face of Jesus.

The style of worship, however, will vary from culture to culture and from family to family. This should be no surprise. Whether I find myself in the western isles of Scotland singing metrical hymns without any musical accompaniment, or in the prayer book service of an Anglican church, or in Kenya with a rhythmic drumming of African culture or in the orchestrated praise of the Midwest America, I am committed to making the most of every opportunity for worship. My only personal preferences regarding style need to take a very definite second place to the call to worship in spirit and in truth.

Here at Parkside Church we have chosen to be guided in our choice of hymnody and song by two questions. First, are the words to the scripture and do they focus my mind on who God is and what He is done? And second, is the tune such as can be sung by the congregation without its form distracting from the content of the lyric.

We are not “hung up” on the contemporary issue. Good lyrics and good tunes are not locked in any era. We have also never given consideration to having services that are distinguished by styles of worship. Whenever I see a church bulletin that last 9:00 AM “Traditional Service”, an 11:00 AM “Contemporary Service”, I can’t help feeling that there is a failure on the part of the leadership. The family unity must never be in anything or anyone else than the Lord Jesus. So instead of splitting up on the basis of worship style, we should learn to prefer one another as we discovered the pattern that fits us all.

We have been helped by constantly referring to certain fixed points. First, our worship is to be Trinitarian as we come to God the father, through God the Son, and in God the spirit. Then as we have said, our worship is to be Christ-centered. It is to be biblical in that it is grounded in all that the scriptures teach according to the praise of God.

It is also to be rational. Our minds are to be stirred with truth rather than our feet being animated by rhythm. The latter may accompany the former must never exist without it. The kind of mindlessness that evokes a form of repetitive praise is something we seek to avoid. Our worship does have an emotional dimension inasmuch as we recognize that worship is empty when the feelings of our hearts do not correspond with the expression of our lips.

Most of all, we acknowledge that the that worship is a spiritual exercise. We must be spiritually alive. Dead men don’t sing. We need to be spiritually assisted. Filled with God’s Spirit we then sing and make music in our heart to the Lord. We must then be spiritually active. We are not listening to the choir. We are the choir. We are not spectators. We are participants. We come asking God to help us to set aside every idolatrous thought so that we might be the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.

It would be wonderful if what was said about the Thessalonians could be said of us: “They tell how you turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” 

(Pathway to Freedom: How God’s Laws Guides Our Lives by Pastor Alistair Begg, pages 72-75)