Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Need for Excellence in Worship—But What (Who!) Is the Excellence of Worship, and What Is it to Worship Excellently?

I was surprised to see an organization that I esteem promoting a conference on the need for excellence in worship that emphasizes music and aesthetics, featuring a hymn sing. 

I don't think anyone is for bad singing, bad lighting, casual dressing, slovenly grooming, or doing anything poorly in worship. But the excellence of NT worship is especially in heaven, and this is communicated by a simplicity on earth that says, "the great Excellence is in glory." 

In other words, "more outwardly attractive" is not the same as "more excellent," when God Himself has set for us the aesthetic of simplicity. NT worship is to be excellently simple in the congregation on earth

Simplicity in the part on earth is what participates in the excellence of what is in heaven. The excellence is perceived by faith, not sight, and therefore is perceptible only to the believer (although the earthly beauty of simplicity is sometimes quite potent even to the unbeliever!). For those who come among us, in whom the Spirit is provoking a spiritual jealousy that He may be using in converting them, it is precisely their inability to perceive the excellence that ought to chafe them. 

To worship excellently includes dressing well, grooming neatly, singing well, preaching well, hearing well, doing everything orderly, etc. But it is, much more, to give the whole self to God by faith, in dependence upon the Spirit, and through Christ. So that by the focus of the whole mind, and the warming of our whole heart, and the stirring of our whole will toward God, we offer that which heaven counts as excellent in those heavenly places where we are seated with Christ.

I hope that these things are known and will be taught at this conference, and that the organization is using the words in the best possible way. But ordinarily, when someone begins talking about "aesthetics" in worship, he is moving in the wrong direction. And the organization itself is committed to psalmody, so the language of "hymn sing" isn't particularly encouraging in this context. 

Still, this is not necessarily a criticism of the event. It was just a reminder to me of an area in which a couple very publicly well-known "reformed" entities have been rather unhelpful to the Church in the last few decades. Some, who have had significant influence, have emphasized aesthetics in a way that is inconsistent with their doctrine and with the true glory and excellence of our worship. Therefore, I took the opportunity to write a note to enable the few readers who find me helpful to think more biblically. I do hope that the event will do the same.

For more reading:
▫the entire book of Hebrews
▫WCF 7.6 (below); WCF 21; the Westminster Directory for Public Worship, etc.

"Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations."

No comments:

Post a Comment