It’s like transferring vinyl to mp3. A lot of information gets whittled away when the bible is taken from Greek and Hebrew and a foreign culture and ancient time and transferred into English to be read by modern Americans. What we’re left with is still beautiful and moving but we sense sometimes that what we read and understand today is lacking the fullness of the original.
That’s how I feel when I go to church and hear a pastor say something like “Now, brother So-and-so will lead us in worship” and I watch as brother So-and-so opens his hymnal or picks up his guitar and sings – asking the rest of us to join him. Or how about when I meet a musician who calls himself a “worship leader” or meet a pastor who says the “worship” at his church is fantastic, just something I’ve got to “hear.”
Sometimes the modern use of the word “worship” leaves me feeling hungry for something more – like the waiter’s delivered me a bowl of ranch dressing before the salad’s arrived. And other times I wonder if the chef has even heard of salad.
I was twenty-six when the word “worship” first left me feeling this way. I was standing at the back of our large church sanctuary watching more than a thousand people, many of them with hands raised, sing loudly to God. They were facing a stage and on that stage was a front man in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, one hand on his microphone and the other arm stretched up past his stubbled cheek and highlight-streaked haircut toward heaven. A thin haze of fog hung in the air around him, making the dances of colored beams of light visible. A row of singers clad in black flanked the front man, harmonizing beautifully together. A golden Les Paul pumping through a Marshall amp wailed from the darkness behind them where a thunderous bass pounced out and thumped us all in our bones. Keyboards and a massive drum kit filled in the rest of the stage and our ear drums. Behind it all, through the fog and laser lights and darkness, lyrics and moving images flowed continually across a twenty foot screen. This was everything I always wanted worship to be. It was every word we tossed around in planning meetings and at conferences: relevant, excellent, cutting-edge, moving.
I heard someone say once the best way to find out you’re wrong is for everyone else to think you’re right. And that’s what happened to me. For years we church staff people fought with the congregation and each other over what worship should look like and sound like. We lobbied hard for the front man and his t-shirt, the guitars and drums and bone thumping bass, the songs and singers and lights and big screen. And we emerged victorious. Those who disagreed with us left and those who stayed believed we were right – or didn’t care. Regardless, we got what we wanted and that left me with the suspicion that we were wrong, that there was something else, something more to “worship.”
But what else was there?
Over the next couple years I tried to find out. I looked up every mention of the word “worship” in the bible and then took a look at the original Greek and Hebrew words they were all translated from. This took a long time since I’m a musician by training, not a linguist, but it was worth it. What I discovered made me angry at first. What was missing was so obvious that I couldn’t believe I’d never heard it come from a pastor, a worship leader, never heard it at a conference or read it in a book.
I discovered that of the eleven Greek words and the five Hebrew words translated as “worship” in the bible, NONE of them have ANYTHING to do with music.
And suddenly what I thought was vinyl turned out to be an mp3.
Or a lie.