Do our Christian songs do the job well? Do they tell our story? Do they tell the story of all of us/of each of us? Do they give us memory? Do they tell our future? Do they tell the gospel? Do they tell our experience of the gospel? Do they reflect the Psalms’ complaints or are they only happy and good-news songs?
In Rodney Reeves’ new book, Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ, Reeves probes what early Christian worship and singing (he connects the two; he doesn’t equate the two) were about — and he does so knowing those early Christians were standing on the shoulders of the Israelites and their Psalter and their synagogue services. Here are some themes he finds to be part of Christian worship and singing:
Worship isn’t complete when done alone.
Singing songs to Christ is subversive. Pliny later said the Christians gathered to sing songs to a crucified man as to a God! And Paul’s great quotation of a song in Philippians 2:6-11 is pure gospel music: it celebrates God’s work by telling the Story of Jesus (see my The King Jesus Gospel). And Reeves points out that anyone who sang that song was saying Caesar was not the Lord, Jesus was.
Which leads to another theme: genuine biblical worship and song complains. He says Caesar will someday celebrate Christ as Lord, though he think Caesar will be lamenting when he sings that song (end of Phil 2’s song).
Worship should evoke memory, our common memory especially. And here we have a steep hill to climb: for many the stories of the Bible are either such a distant fading memory or unknown completely that the songs we sing can’t make sense. Read the Bible and the songbook will come alive; ignore the Bible’s stories and the songbook will gravitate to personal experience songs.
Singing should be inclusive: that is, it should reflect all of us — Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman, adult and adolescent, native and foreigner, rich and poor. I wonder if we could think through our songs to see how inclusive they are. Now let me include another dimension of inclusiveness: the glad and the sad. (Sorry for the rhyme.) On any given Sunday a good number of the folks in church who are being asked to sing will be asked to emote in ways they are not feeling or cannot be feeling: some will be grieving, some will be sickened by joblessness, some will be worried about children — while others are riding the waves of victories. How can we include those who struggle? And what about introverts and extroverts (think of Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church)? Does our worship/singing reflect some sensitivity about personalities?
Worship and singing come to the focal point in the Lord’s Supper (if your church does this often – as it should be done often): there we all join together and participate in the saving deeds of Jesus and ponder anew what Christ has done for us – – new covenant, forgiveness, Passover liberation, etc.
This means our worship needs to be examined to see if it reflects our unity in Christ and our equality in Christ. Does it?