Worship for red-blooded males! Part 1
Recently I sat around a table talking about a variety of subjects of interest and there was a moment when we talked about worship.
One contributor leaned back, put his hands behind his head and said, “Blah, blah, blah!”
The essence of his response was, as I understand it, most males don’t get worship as it is in church.
Since then I have reflected on whether we have overly “feminised” worship.
Before I start – I’m not an expert and I don’t have this subject clear in my mind – I would like to start a conversation. So let’s start one.
Worship, for the church generally, has been written by both men and women. I haven’t done the math, but there have been more male contributors than female, but I think we can also say that any imbalance is being addressed in these latter days.
But at the same time this imbalance is being addressed, worship songs have become less about expressing Christian core theology or in retelling the Christian story.
I can hear a murmuring!!?
Another factor is that revival in the west that has impacted worship so strongly (e.g. from England, Wales, the U.S. and even Australia in 1902-03) is, I think, less of a factor now in the construction and content of our worship. I’m not saying there is no impact, only that the impact is lessening and as it does something else is taking its place.
Revival impacts worship profoundly.
For a start, it re-calibrates the terminology of what we sing.
Most of us these days have noticed and valued that worship is couched in terms of a dialogue between the worshipper and the God who is Creator and Saviour. And this has been a significant shift over the last thirty years from an approach which involved expressing clear doctrine in song and singing to each other about the God who is Creator and Saviour. Most song-writers in former centuries have written from the latter perspective and only in more recent days have the writers who shape worship experience started to express the more personal dialogue approach.
But revival tends to freshen and re-focus the worship in the church and seems to use two means to do so – first, it reforms the way salvation is “termed” by reaffirming our sense of the value of Jesus’ sacrifice (His blood etc) and His resurrection (e.g. we live because He lives).
The further we get from revival and the spirit of revival, the further we look for content. In revival Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is all we sing about! Or at least, this is the well from which we draw and interpret everything we know about God the Creator and Saviour.
Why does revival do this to worship? I think the answer can be found in the two most profound chapters of Scripture on the subject of worship – Revelation 4 and 5.
Normally when I preach on these chapters I do so over three weeks to properly exegete and apply the passage, but for now, take some time to read the chapters and as you do so notice every time worship erupts or finds full expression what the subject matter is…
I think there’s a case for saying that worship re-calibrated by revival is the echo of what John saw – where the focus of worship is in the heroism and courage of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When another generation becomes impacted by this heroism and courage as well as by His insight of people, it is reflected in the worship they employ in their churches.
But of course, revival is not permanent – at least not yet.
We have seen 71 revivals in Australia, but most of them have been regional rather than national. They have been significant of course, community-changing certainly, but neither permanent nor national.
Importantly, the two latest significant impacts on worship in Australia have not been the fruit of revival and that may explain the issues we are facing. The two I refer to are the Scripture in Song movement from the seventies and eighties, which was closely followed by the impact of the Hillsong movement, from the mid-nineties till now.
Please don’t construe my remarks as criticism of either of these movements. They have each brought something significant to our personal and corporate worship experience.
But consider this, one was built on a reflecting back to an earlier pattern of setting scripture to modern melody and music style and the other was built (and continues to be built) on the personal journey of the worshipper.
Neither of these reflects the theological pattern set in Revelation 4 and 5 or that pattern which is found in revival, which has been used to re-locate the heart of the vision of what John saw in heaven, into human life.
In our churches we have now three distinct cultures.
The first group are completely modernists and their preference is for the hymn with its corporate discussion and theology-in-song approach. There’s also a group which is post-modern in some of their outlook but who remain essentially modernist. This group want worship to be new, fresh and personal. The former prefer the worship which has descended out of revival times of the past and the latter prefer the Hillsong movement or other more recent worship sources.
But there is a third group. They are neither modernist nor, I think, post-modernist and they have had, and continue to have, a struggle with the church. They prefer neither the descendants of revival slant on worship nor the personal journey approach and they are left standing in our churches with a “Blah, blah, blah” in their hearts.
I do not believe that they are against the idea of worship. Indeed they, like the rest of Australia, are looking for a hero that has heroism and courage and insight but they haven’t found a way to explain that because the experience hasn’t crystallised yet.
Meanwhile the effect of the “personal journey” approach has been (unwittingly I think) to “feminise” worship too much.
There are two ways to approach this problem. First, we could pray for revival and when it comes encourage our song writers to express it in contemporary terms that will inspire the generation to come. I say generation and not generations because I don’t think we will see another Charles Wesley writing out of a revival worship which will effect generations across centuries.
The only other alternative is that we put our theologians and our song writers together to begin to set worship with an eye on the heroism, courage and insight expressed by the Lord Jesus.
We will need to use strong music styles too but that can come later. I don’t believe we should leave song writers to do this alone and theologians can’t do it.
We need to bring these two groups together and ask them to help us confront the way we currently see Jesus.
~ By Colin Stoodley