One of the primary emphases in worship and music Sunday School class has been to distinguish between principles and preferences. Many battles over worship have been fought over critical aspects of our faith, but many in recent history have been waged over preferences, stylistic concerns, and music.
Scripture offers us very little about the specifics of our corporate gatherings. We know that early believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). But how should we teach? What does the fellowship look like? Was the breaking of bread a full meal, a symbolic remembrance of Jesus' death or some conceptual combination of both? Principles are guiding concepts that come from the overall teaching of Scripture. These principles will have multiple expressions depending on the time in history and cultural location.
Saying that worship songs should be based on the language and themes of Scripture is a principle, but saying that worship songs should always utilize an organ, band, or synthesizer is a preference. Universal principles should be applicable in all points and locations in history - from the house church risking persecution to the cathedral or from the first century church to the twenty-first century church.
There have been an astonishing number of good books on worship written in the last 15 years, but if I have to choose a favorite it would be Harold Best's Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts. His work is the most comprehensive and holistic approach to worship I have seen.
The core of the book is Best's concept of “continuous outpouring.” Best states that if from eternity the triune God “cannot but give of himself, reveal himself, pour himself out,” and if humans were created in God's image, then humans also bear his image as outpourers. We began to pour ourselves out towards God from the instant of our creation. We were not created to worship, implying God needed to be worshiped. We were not created for worship, with that being one element which can be separated. We were “created continuously outpouring”… and all that we “pour out” is intended as worship. Worship is “human outpouring” in response to the divine “outpouring of lordship” (p. 24).
While worship before the Fall consisted of mutual outpouring between God and imago Dei, Best stresses that the Fall did not end worship or continuous outpouring. When Adam and Eve fell, “Our outpouring was falsified. But it continued, with one telling difference: we exchanged gods” (p. 25). This is the heart of idolatry and why it is at the root of all sins. When we sin, we do not cease to worship, our worship changes direction - from the Creator to something created.
Anthony is the Director of Music and Worship at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Asheville, NC.
Recommended Music for Worship
Keith and Kristyn Getty
With One Voice
Look and Live
Rhythms of Grace
The Worship Architect
The Stories We Tell
Music Though the Eyes of Faith
Christ Centered Worship