Did you know that the term "A Cappella" literally means "In the manner of the church"?
As we stumble erroneously toward the cross in an effort to understand more deeply the mystery of our God, we asked the question this morning:
Can you worship without music?
In a culture, both sacred and secular, we are increasingly obsessed with the notion of entertainment, and we needn't look any further than many of our sacramental gatherings to be sure of this fact. Our instinctual applause following a "feature song" is indicative of this confusion. The words "worship" and "music" are heedlessly communicated as synonyms, creating for many of us, an insoluble tension. But when was the last time you heard a congregation erupt in wild applause following the reading of Scripture?
One author writes:
Again, the issues are complex. Music that is offered as a genuine act of worship may be heard as entertainment; and music that is performed with no holy motive can elicit a powerful devotional response. This is a paradox with which the church will have to live while trying, through education and spiritual formation, to employ music in ways that enhance rather than impede the flow of worship to its Source and fulfillment.
In a work entirely devoted to the question of a cappella music in worship, Everette Ferguson writes:
The whole self (including the emotions) is involved in Christian worship, but the mind (reason) is to be in control. Instrumental music can express feelings and emotions. Vocal music can express the will and intellect. The latter is better suited for the communion of spirit with Spirit. In vocal music there is an immediate contact. In instrumental music there is an intermediary. The voice is much more a matter of one’s self than any other gift of praise can be. Vocal music thus best corresponds to the nature of man’s relationship to God
To be sure, singing only to stir up emotions is idolatry, plain and simple. By the same token, to listen to preaching merely to be cognitively stimulated is also idolatry. We do so, because we are ordered by an unquenchable grace, and if we did not sing, "the very rocks would cry out".
But to even understand the gravity of a "gift" offered to God would mean a serious re-examination of the "vending machine" mentality we often approach our gatherings with.
How often have you yourself on Sunday said "I really enjoyed worship today", or "That song really spoke to me", or "Do you think the pastor has been drinking"? Or perhaps more commonly "I really hope she doesn't lead again anytime soon" or, "I wonder if that drummer has ear damage".
We approach the celestial vending machine, gaze longingly through the glass to the goodies found within, pop in our change and wait (often impatiently) for the object of our desire to fall into the pick-up slot.
It is entitlement at its most raw, and none of us is immune.
In Nehemiah chapter 8, the Book of the Law is read over the people from morning to midday for eight days straight, and in verse twelve we read that "And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them". Later in verse seventeen it says that there was "very great gladness" in light of the truth being articulated to them.
How many of us would or do respond to the Word with such revelry? How many of us would simply be bored after day two? How many of us wouldn't even make it that long?
Pastor Mike Pilavachi had this to say regarding their congregation's perspective on the worship gatherings they were participating in:
In our hearts, we were giving the worship team grades on a scale from one to ten: 'Not that song again,' 'I can't hear the bass,' 'I like the way she sings better.' We had made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience.
We had forgotten that we are ALL the performers of worship and that God is the audience. We had forgotten that sacrifice is central to biblical worship. We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices - this is OUR spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). We are called to offer our sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15).
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship -Romans 12:1
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. -Heb 13:15-16
I find it interesting that the early Church of Jerusalem was born into a world of music, rich with the sounds of cymbals, harps, lyres, and so on ( Chronicles 25:6-7) and yet, even in light of consistent usage of instruments in the Old Testament, they chose to use none of them - for nearly 1,000 years!
Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord -Ephesians 5:19
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. -Colossians 3:16
At this point in the service, I prepared our congregational for what I was certain would be an uncomfortable exercise. I challenged them to lift their voices in honest and unfiltered praise to God. To speak words over their brothers and sisters gathered next to them, to allow the sheer weight of their own words echo in their ears and hearts, as voices filled the room. I assured them that I was as stubborn as I appeared, and would happily sit in total silence for as long as it took.
But to my surprise, almost instantly our humble space was filled with the cries of an impassioned people, desperately longing for their Creator. One by one, I asked them to finish the following sentences:
God, you are...
God, thank you for...
As humble appeals and exuberant exclamations filled the room, I honestly didn't know what to do with myself. With eyes closed, we lifted our voices as one body, to our Lover and Savior. Over the quiet murmurs, an older gentlemen in the very back of our auditorium shouted a quivering plea "God, please save me from my sins!", I could no longer fight back the tears. At one point, I had no choice but to climb off my stool and kneel on the stage in overwhelmed reverence. Over the increasing sniffles of an overcome congregation, the prayers went on. And on. And on.
Recognizing many of the voices, and knowing well the myriad of stories behind the cry only further brought me to a state of indescribable awe. One mother who has been facing serious financial difficulty for quite some time quietly proclaims "God, you are my provider". A young man who has recently found himself emotionally crippled by a venomous relationship proclaims boldly "God, you are my restorer!".
Somehow, void of any audible melody, our souls sang a song - His song. And the anthem is far from over.
(To be continued)