A worship critic’s critic

I’m speaking on worship twice in the next few days, and so I’ve been doing a lot of research on it. (Sing: Google it, just a little bit…) One cool thing I did learn today was that our word worship comes from the Old English weorthscipe which means “worth-ship,” the homage given to something because it is worthy. But to be honest, it gets frustrating reading what many others write on it.

For one thing, few people use the word the same way. Some people use it to talk only about the musical experience of the gathering of God’s people. At the other end of the spectrum, others use it to talk about the entirety of our lives. All of life is worship, and it’s true. But the loose definitions aren’t always helpful.

But what’s harder to swallow is the bitter pill of the debate, whether its hymns versus contemporary choruses or celebration versus silence or liturgical versus spontaneous or charismatic versus orderly or drums versus acapella or choir robes versus casual or red hymnals versus blue or candles versus flourescents. Sunday worshipers, after the final prayer, transform miraculously into armchair critics saying things like, “Wasn’t Jessie was off-tune today?” or “Or that third song didn’t meet me.”

To add, an article I read in a recent issue of Christianity Today called “Raising Ebenezer: Why We Are Misguided When We Modernize Hymns” is more energy spent in the wrong direction (though I respect the author very much as a lover of Jesus). Not only does he press against the modernization of hymns (is it really that bad?), but he then also goes further to criticize new songs that merely borrow the hymn’s title like “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” yet choose to go in a different direction than the original. Is God upset if the author borrows the title and takes the song in a new, heartfelt direction?

I love hymns, don’t get me wrong. And I love contemporary worship music and Black Gospel. (I like the latter more.) I’m open to other forms of musical worship too, whether it’s Merengue, Country, Ska, Punk or Hip-Hop. I just don’t think God gets caught up in the same details we do. Even Old Testament laws for worship weren’t legalistically strict — King David ate consecrated bread without punishment. Jesus — when he saw that the woman had broken a jar of expensive perfume over his feet and started to dry them off with her hair — probably didn’t care whether she used an alabaster jar or a granite one, whether she wiped rightward or leftward with her hair, whether she used Herbal Essences or Vidal Sassoon that morning, or whether she cried two tears or 20. He looked at her heart and saw pure devotion, unabashed and shameless — and blessed her for it. Her act was so holy, it is remembered three separate times in the Bible.

Worship should bring Christians together, but it’s often the very thing that pushes people apart. Therefore, we need a different kind of dialogue, one that appreciates and affirms, so that we can offer something that is worth-ship, something that is truly worthy.

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  1. i lost the comments while updating this website — my bad…


  2. James, I listened to your work at Re-Ignite 06. Now found your blog, I dig your stuff, man.

    Anyway, from the CT article: “In one such song, the worshiper is invited to promise Jesus that “I will never let you go”…” Hey, that’s what Jacob said after the wrestling match. It’s not less biblical…


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