Last week we looked at what (little) the bible says about church music styles. We saw that Christians have always bickered loudly over church music styles and we ended by wonder…That’s because worshiping God is super important to us, right?
Well, let’s begin to answer that question by looking at what the bible (and history) says about the importance of music in our “worship.”
EARLY CHRISTIAN GATHERINGS
The oldest description we have of Early Church gatherings was written by Justin Martyr in the middle of the second century. He mentioned ONLY three things that were part of EVERY gathering of Christians in those days: 1)Praying together 2)Sharing the Lord’s Table (a shared meal followed by the eucharist/communion) 3)Taking up a collection for the poorest believers.
Look at what’s missing! PREACHING didn’t always happen when Christians gathered and neither did MUSIC.
Perhaps music is more important to US than it is to GOD?
A HUMBLING DISCOVERY
I have a degree in music composition with an emphasis in music of world cultures. I was a music minister in college and, after that, a recording artist. I’m currently a leader of the worship leaders at a church in Music City. Music is very important to me! But, it’s humbling to admit now, God says very very very little about music in scripture.
For many years I thought the bible said much more about music than it really does because the word “worship” is all over the place! “And isn’t that music?” I thought.
But I discovered the word “worship” in our English bibles is translated from sixteen different Greek and Hebrew words that don’t ever mean, and are not even related to, music! So humbling for this musician.
Let’s a take a brief look at the two words most commonly translated as “worship” in our English New Testaments.
Latreia – It’s where we get our word “liturgy.” It’s usually used to describe menial work, the work of a servant or slave. It’s used, for instance, in Romans 12 where we’re told to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. This, Paul says, is our “reasonable act of worship” or “service.”
Clearly not a music word! Latreia is used to describe worship of God through labor and sacrifice – doing the hard stuff in service to God. Why is it that most churches are short on volunteers in children’s ministry but have plenty of musicians? Because we don’t see serving children as an act of worship. But it is!
Proskuneo – If you look this word up in a Bible dictionary it will likely say it means “to kiss the hand.” And that’s true. But dissecting the word a bit reveals an even more graphic (and humbling) image.
“Pros” usually means “toward” or “to.” “Kuneo” comes from an even older word, “kuon”, which is “dog.” So “proskuneo” is literally “toward dog.” You and I, friends, are the dog.
When the master reaches out toward his dog, the dog licks his hand. To “proskuneo” is to show submission to someone greater than us, a willingness to obey and be led. To be a good dog.
“Proskuneo” is translated as “worshiper” and “worship” in John 4 where Jesus tells the woman at the well that the worshipers God wants are those who worship God in spirit and in truth. (And that word ”truth” means “authentic” or “genuine.”)
Again, we’re not being told that God wants singers. God wants us to respond to him with submission and obedience.
Ironically, when we fight over church music style, we’re not being submissive at all but asserting our will and our way. We’re not doing the hard work of making peace with one another. True worshipers – authentic worshipers – are hard-working servants and obedient dogs.
A minister at our church recently asked me how we can know if our church is worshiping well. That’s a good question! It’s tempting to gauge how well we worship together by how many hands are being raised or how loudly everyone’s singing along. But there’s a better way, a more biblical way. More on that next week