The Heart of Worship

Steve Viars July 19, 2003

- this morning I’d like to begin our time together by asking you a true/false question...
- T/F - Disagreements about music are a relatively new phenomena in churches.
- in other words, is it true that believers throughout church history have generally agreed about music and worship, and the trends today commonly referred to as the “worship wars” are just something that has happened in the last generation?
- true or false?
- the answer is, that is false...regrettably, God’s people have argued about music and worship, sometimes sharply, at many points in church history.
- and the ironic thing is, what are considered the old hymns today that some people believe should only be sung in churches were often very controversial when they were first introduced.
- If you’ve taken the time to read Milo Thompson’s book on music that I recommended at the beginning of our series, you’ll be familiar with this, but let me give a couple of illustrations for those who have not been able to...
- during the end of the 18th century when the great Puritan Jonathan Edwards was pastoring in New England, a controversy arose over whether singing in church should be done the old way or the new way...
- I’m bypassing, by the way, the argument of whether congregational singing should have any place in the church, because even that was a major debate in Baptist churches in England in the 17th century...and when singing period was introduced by Benjamin Keach, bitter pamphlets were written back and forth and the issue actually split congregations and they ended up forming “singing churches” and “non-singing ones.”...so even whether any singing could be done was a source of controversy...
- But then during the ministry of Jonathan Edwards in our country...the issue at that time was what was termed “old way” or “new way” singing...
- let’s listen in...
- By the Old Way each male worshipper sang without reference to the time and pitch of all the others.  The women remained silent.  By the New Way, or Singing by Rule, the entire congregation arrived at the same point in the hymn at approximately the same time and in approximately the same key.  On this issue almost every parish in the land had been locked in more or less deadly strife at some time during the 1720’s.  The conservatives held that to exchange the old jargon for musical law and order was mightily to displease the Almighty.  To follow rules in singing was to make the psalm purely perfunctory and hence to rob it of all flavor of personal devotion.  (Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Jonathan Edwards. NY: Macmillan, 1940, pp. 106-108.)
- of course the idea of men and women singing together and singing in some sort of orderly way won out, and I think most of us would say that that was a good thing...but that didn’t end the controversy...
- and often the issue was...anytime someone produced something new...that was viewed as being radical and worldly...
- for example...Isaac Watts...who has written many of the hymns in our hymnals today, started when he was 18 years old...
- he came home from church one day and complained to his father about how bad the music was...so his father said, “well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?”
- and that’s what he did...in fact, over his lifetime, he wrote over 600 hymns, including When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, O God Our Help in Ages Past, Joy to the World, and We’re Marching to Zion...
- but the point here is, all of this was very controversial in its day.
- Kenneth Osbeck explains in 101 More Hymn Stories - In all, Isaac Watts wrote approximately 600 hymns throughout his lifetime.  He has rightly been called the “Father of English Hymnody.”  Because of his bold departure from the traditional metrical Psalms and the use of “human composure hymns” - expressions based entirely on one’s own thoughts and words - Watts was generally considered to be a radical churchman in his day.
- it is amazing to us to think that one of Isaac Watts’ hymns could be considered controversial...but they were...
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great pastor in London in the 1800’s discussed this in his day in an introduction to their church’s hymnal -- “We have not been able to fall in with modern scruples, but have rested content with ancient precedents.  We have not cast about for models suggested by the transient fancy of the hour, but have followed the indications given us in the word of God and in the long established usage of the universal church.”
- many traditionalists love to quote Spurgeon without apparently realizing that what Spurgeon was condemning is the new music of that day, which is much of the old music of our day.

- and some of the controversy is absolutely shocking...for example...Handel’s Messiah...you say, what could possibly be wrong with that?...you should have been around when it was first introduced...
- Perhaps most impossible to believe, Handel’s ‘Messiah’ was widely
condemned as ‘vulgar theater’ by the churchmen of his day.  Like the
criticism of today’s contemporary choruses, the ‘Messiah’ was panned for
having too much repetition and not enough message—it contains nearly one
hundred repetitions of ‘Hallelujah.’  (Rick Warren – The Purpose Driven Church, p. 283)
- and for someone who would say...I don’t agree with everything Rick Warren says...neither do I...but that point is confirmed in many other places...
- Even at the end of the (18th) century . . . there were still voices denouncing “Messiah” as blasphemous . . . Handel’s publics for some time refused to follow him; contemporary English religious opinion, in fact, saw near blasphemy in his oratorios.  It did not approve of the employment of the Word of God for dramatic purposes, fearing that the Old Testament would lose in religious and ethical meaning. . . .  (Paul Henry Lang, George Frideric Handel.  NY: W.W. Norton Co., 1966, pp. 355-356, 360-361.)

- another example is D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey...you may know that after the Chicago Fire, evangelist D.L. Moody had several extended evangelistic campaigns in Europe.
- though over 100 years have passed, people still argue about those trips...and one of the most controversial aspects was that Moody realized early on how important music was to ministering to people...so his companion was singer and songleader Ira Sankey...
- An elderly deacon in Edinburgh expressed the sentiment of much of Scotland when he said to Horatio Bonar concerning Sankey, “What that one does is an abomination to the most high!  . . . In the first place, he hardly sings any Psalms at all.  The ones he does sing are incorrect translations.  I won’t call it music at all.  What he brings to the sanctuary suggests performances in places less religious than churches and chapels.”  Sankey accompanied himself with a small reed organ, which with his critics fared no better than his songs . . . after Sankey sang “What shall the harvest be?” someone critically remarked to Moody that if he kept singing songs like that, he “would soon have them all dancing.”  (Steve Miller, p. 133.) 

- Sankey and Moody accomplished much for the cause of Christ, but because their music was new, and I think also because God was blessing them in rather unusual ways, the critics came out of the woodwork.

- while we could multiply examples all day, let me just give one more...
- often the disagreements involve the kinds of instruments that can be used...
- do you know what two of the most controversial ones have been in the church?
- the piano and organ...because they were associated with taverns or the Catholic Church.
- and you might say, I don’t like that...friends, I’m just stating what happened...
- It became popular and accompanied outdoor events such as circuses and gladiator combats.  This early organ may even have accompanied the slaughter of early Christians in the Roman arena.  Not until the thirteenth century was the organ incorporated into the Mass, but even then it was not without its opponents.  By the time of the Reformation the organ was quite at home in the Catholic Church.  Yet the association of the instrument with Catholicism gave it a bad reputation among some of the reformers, who promptly condemned its use.  The magistrates in Zurich decreed in 1525 that there should be “no more playing of organs in the city and in the churches.”  Soon thereafter, the organ of the Great Minister was broken into pieces.  Calvin shunned the instrument, and through his influence, many organs were destroyed in succeeding years.  The instrument’s banishment was so complete that by 1727 only one organ could be found in all the churches of Scotland.  The eminent Cotton Mather (1663-1728, pastor of Boston’s North Church and prolific writer) argued that if organs were permitted, other instruments would later be acceptable, and then dancing would follow!  (Steve Miller, p. 139-140.)
- now I don’t know what you think about all of this, but the words that come to my mind are words like sad, waste, childish, needless diversion...
- the point simply is...regrettably...something that was designed by God to bring great joy and fellowship and unity to His people has often had the exact opposite effect...
- and I’d like to say two things about that...
1.  I want to commend the people in our church who have worked hard to have this discussion in a way that has honored the Lord.
- it has not been easy, but few things of lasting value come easy...
- and while there have been exceptions, by far the majority have expressed their opinions and questions and views in gentle and reasonable ways...
- too often throughout church history these discussions have become very shrill in their tone and therefore dishonoring to the Lord...that has seldom been the case here this year...
- you may know that too many times churches split over music...or experienced great upheaval...
- we’ve been able to go through this study and make measured changes and still have strong attendances and ministries, as our reports at our quarterly business meeting this past Wednesday demonstrated...
- that is a testimony to the grace of God and the maturity of many in our congregation...and for that I want to praise the Lord and thank you...

2.  The second response to these historical battles about music is this...I believe the Word of God helps us diagnose why this subject is so often a problem...
- and if study carefully, we can learn both why this has gone as well as it has gone this year, and what will need to be in place as we continue to grow together in the future.
- with that in mind, let me invite you to open your Bible now to Ephesians chapter 5 – page 153 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...
- let me also address the person who might say...PV, I don’t really have any music issues, so do I really need to hear this?...
- the answer is, yes...because what this passage addresses involves fundamental truth about the Christian life that affects a lot more than music...
- in fact, I’ve said over and over this year...at some point this whole issue stops being about music and worship, and it starts being about a whole lot of other things...
- and I’m convinced, that if these other things are in place, the music and worship disagreements will either disappear, or at least the discussions will become far less shrill in their tone.

- read Ephesians 5:15-21
- friends, we’re talking this morning about The Heart of Worship.
- in a sentence, I’d like to present to you today that Music is a window to the worshipping heart.
- when God’s people possess the level of spiritual maturity and depth outlined in these verses, church music will be an area of unity and joy.
- but when God’s people don’t...regardless of the age, regardless of the issue, regardless of the development...music will be an endless source of rancor and division.

- now, in the remainder of time we have this morning I’d like to study these verses and find Two principles to help God’s people sing and worship well.

I.  Christian Music is an Expression of the Fullness of the Holy Spirit.


- without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we will never handle music well in our personal lives, nor will it be a thing of blessing in our church.
- now, let me remind you of this...
A.  One of the blessings of Christ’s work on the cross is that all NT believers are indwelt by the Spirit of God.
- in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon people for special tasks and purposes...
- but Jesus made it clear that after His death, burial, and resurrection...the Holy Spirit would be given to all followers of Christ...
- a representative passage is John 14:16-17 - I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;  that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

- we know that this is true for all believers because Paul said - Romans 8:9 - ...But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
- now you might say...but doesn’t that require some sort of second blessing, or being some kind of super-saint...
- no, all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit the moment they trust Christ...
- another reason we know that is because when Paul was writing to the immature and divided Corinthian church, he didn’t say to them...you really need to pray for the Holy Spirit, he said - 1 Corinthians 12:13 - For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
- so their problem wasn’t that they didn’t have the Holy Spirit, it was that they were not benefiting from the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit the way God intended.
- as John MacArthur said, They were not sinning because of the Holy Spirit’s absence but in spite of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

- but notice what Ephesians 5:18 tells us...
B.  Believers should seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
- of course the $100 question is, what does that mean?
- it’s not a traditional drink illustration---the issue here is not, try to get more of the Holy Spirit...your cup is half full—try to fill it up.
- the Greek word is pleroo – fill something up
- it can be used of a glass, by the way, but that is not the point here...
- the word was also used in Bible times in these ways...
1.  Wind filling a sail and carrying a ship along.
2.  Salt permeating meat in order to preserve and give it flavor.
3.  Control – as in a person being filled (controlled) with grief or joy.
- now, to see the emphasis here, all we have to do is think about the argument of the verse...don’t be drunk with wine...
- don’t be controlled by wine...don’t allow yourself to be taken over by chemicals in your bloodstream...but instead allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit of God.
- you say, well, how does that happen?
- there is almost an exact parallel to what we’re reading here in the book of Colossians, but there Paul added this idea...Colossians 3:16 - Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
- see, when followers of Christ choose to empty themselves of their own desires, and passions, and ways of evaluating life...and choose to belief and act on the Word of God, His sufficient sword...they are asking the Holy Spirit of God to control them...
- just like alcohol controls a person, Paul says---be filled with the Holy Spirit.

  that, by the way, illustrates why some people will not become followers of Christ...it’s a control issue.
- they still want to be in the driver’s seat of their life...making the ultimate decisions, setting the ultimate priorities...if church and God and religion can help them get to where they want the car of their life to go, fine...
- but they are in the driver’s seat...friend, life will never work unless you unstrap your seat belt, and hand over the wheel to the only person qualified to sit in that seat...
- and Jesus deserves to be in that position because He is the crucified Lord...but you have to decide...will you trust Him as Lord and savior, and then will you seek to live a Spirit-filled life.

- now, you say, how is this related to music..and music discussions and debates?
C.  It is only by God’s spirit that we can sing and worship “in spirit”.
- now you might say, what?
- this is a very important principle...
- do you remember in John 4 what Jesus said to the woman at the well about worship?
- God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
- in other words, you need the objective revealed truth of the Scriptures resident in your mind...and you need to embrace those ideas in every facet of your inner man...
- it must grip your heart, it must capture your emotions, it must captivate your will...
- and friends, that kind of passionate worship can only be accomplished in and through the Holy Spirit of God.
- John Piper made this important observation – The Christian church was born in song.  And there is a reason for this.  The reality of God and Christ and creation and salvation and heaven and hell are simply too great for mere speaking; they must also be sung.  This means that the reality of God and His work is so great that we are not merely to think truly about it, but also to feel duly about it.  Think truly and feel duly – that is, feel with the kind of depth and intensity of emotion that is appropriate to the reality that is truly known.
- John MacArthur - When the Word of God dominates your life, your praise is regulated, and your worship is conformed to the divine standard...This is the perfect blend: emotion regulated by understanding, enthusiasm directed by the Word of God.

- friends, I’m suggesting to you that many times, worship and music discussion have occurred among God’s people in a markedly unspiritual way.
- and when that occurs, the rancor and division and gossip and uncharitable speech and misuse of the scripture and erection of straw men and on and on...
- the issue is no longer the music...the issue is the lack of being controlled or filled with the Spirit of God...
- and on the other hand, spirit filled people can handle discussion and even disagreements about this and other topics in a way that glorifies God and edifies His people.

- now, this verse leads us to an obvious question...
- do your thoughts and actions regarding music both privately and publicly reveal that you are leaning to be filled, controlled by the Spirit of God.
- Is Jesus Christ clearly in the driver’s seat of your car?

II.  The Music of Spirit-Filled People Has Unique Characteristics.


- after a verse like Ephesians 5:18 – about being filled with the Spirit, you might expect to read something about faith that moves mountains, or something big...but instead the discussion turns to music...
- please look back at our verses and think about how Spirit filled music is described...
A.  A concern for others.
- “speaking to one another...”
- what an intriguing way to describe music...
- in the church, we have the privilege and the responsibility to sing to the men and women standing around us...
- now, I realize that some might say...PV, my voice is so bad that the best way I can minister to people around me is to be really quiet...
- friend, that excuse does not wash with this passage...
- or the person who says...I’ll do that if I like the song...wrong again.

- spirit filled people care about ministering to others...
- and think about why that is so important...
- do you realize that you will be worshipping today with people who are dying of cancer...
- and they are living with great pain and discomfort and uncertainty...
- and it was all they could do to get themselves to church this morning...
- there are people who are struggling with significant temptations and they have been battling the world and the flesh and the devil all week...
- and some of them, praise God, won...and some of them, unfortunately, lost...
- but they came to church worn out this morning from the struggle...
- there are people whose jobs and bosses are terrible and the pressure is unbearable...
- there are people whose spouses mock their faith and do everything they can to belittle their God...
- there are others who just had a friend gossip behind their back and a professor who keeps jamming them up on their studies and going back on his promises...

- my point is....we owe those people something...
- they desperately need to connect to the God or heaven and earth...
- and they deserve to hear their brothers and sisters in Christ sing in a spirit filled way...
- not some trite, jingle jangle tune devoid of any meaningful theology...
- but also not in some worn out half hearted perfunctory way similar to the way the average American sings the star spangled banner prior to the start of the ballgame...
- spirit filled people sing in a spirit filled way---and that is demonstrated in part by a concern for others.

- and by the way...its not just for people who are hurting...you can make the argument equally well for people who come into our services where everything is going well [develop – they too need to be connected to the living God in a worshipful way so that they put their successes in proper perspective]

- and you say, what does this have to do with our topic this morning...the more time you spend being concerned about ministering to others, the less time you have to be concerned about having music your way.
- and that will only happen with men and women who are filled/controlled by the Spirit of God.

- now, what else does the verse say?
1.  Psalms
2.  Hymns
3.  Spiritual songs

- we don’t actually know that for sure...but perhaps...
1.  Psalms – The Old Testament Psalms themselves, or songs patterned after them.
2.  Hymns – Songs of praise, perhaps especially those that exalted the Lord Jesus Christ.
- again, we don’t that for sure...but obviously the OT Psalms would not have done that as directly as those who had access to NT revelation would...many writers think that some sections of the NT are actually hymns the early church sung together...
3.  Spiritual Songs – Songs of testimony that expressed a broad array of spiritual truth.

- now please don’t get too hung up on exact definitions here...often when Paul gives a list like this, there is  a great amount of overlap.
- It is hard to draw any hard and fast distinction between these terms, and modern scholars are agreed that the various terms are used loosely to cover the various forms of musical composition. – Ralph Martin
- but please don’t miss the point...Spirit-filled music possess...
B.  Variety
- Psalms, and even if that is only talking about the OT Psalms, take note of the fact that there are 150 of them.
- and hymns and spiritual songs---its amazing that even in the early years of the church, there was already a growing amount of music for them to sing...much of it relatively new...but that was a good thing...
- people who are filled with the Holy Spirit of the living God expect Him to continue to lead them in ways that are relevant to today’s issues, and fresh, and compelling to the people living today...
- I fully agree with Milo Thompson who said - Every generation needs new songs coming from the hearts of those experiencing the grace of God, along with the best of the old, to express its faith.  New songs say, “God is doing something here and now, not just a hundred years ago.”

- we believe that God has completed His revelation to man, but we certainly don’t believe that God has completed His working in man.
- and the church has historically resisted anything new when there ought to be an openness and perhaps even an expectation.
- I’ve said before and I’ll say it again...we shouldn’t be concerned when someone around here wants to write a new song of praise to God...we ought to be concerned when they don’t.

C.  From the heart
The human voice is the most beautiful of all instruments. Its various tones, inflections, and moods seem almost limitless. Because it is itself human, it can speak to us as no other form of music.
Yet the sound God is looking for in His children is the sound made out of a Spirit–filled heart—whether the voice that makes the sound is rough and unpolished or smooth and highly trained. That is why every believer is just as capable as any other believer of singing the praises that God puts in his heart – John MacArthur

D.  A love for your Lord.
- ultimately, when we come together, we’re singing to the Lord.
- our level of involvement, and enthusiasm, and passion, and joy communicate a direct message to Him.

- you know, there’s more in this passage we could talk about...but we’ve laid out enough to ask God help us apply it to specific situations....
1.  Unbelieving friend – how about today?
- are you ready to trust Christ...are you ready to admit that you can’t make it on your own, and that your sin has separated you from God in such a significant way that your only hope is the finished work of Christ on the cross...and if Jesus deserves to be your Savior, He is worthy to be your Lord.

2.  Christian friend, what about this issue of being filled/controlled by the Spirit of God?
- does the music you listen to throughout the week evidence a desire to submit yourself to God so that when you come into the church, it is just a natural transition to worship corporately?
- are you finding ways/time to get into the Scripture so that you really can be controlled by the Spirit?
[cf. Bible Institute, small groups, teaching opportunity]

3.  What can we learn from the fact that God’s people have argued about music for centuries?
- is it possible that He purposely allowed this subject to be less specific than many of us would have liked on purpose to test us?...to reveal a condition of being controlled by the Spirit or a lack thereof?
- and if so...how are you doing at the test?

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

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