Singing and Preaching
It is with this understanding that the proclamation of the worship of God takes place in spoken word and singing. Harold Best writes that “a congregation is just as responsible to sing the gospel as the preachers are to preach it. These two acts (singing and preaching) jointly taken to their fullest, then reduce themselves to one common act” (Liesch 37). The proclamation through spoken word is the worship of God through the retelling of His story, commonly understood as the sermon or homily. Through the spoken word, believers are informed of the character and works of God in the world, past, present and future, and are compelled to worship by taking part in God’s mission in the world and by offering up the words and actions of praise of which He is worthy.
The response of believers in worship through singing is the second half of the proclamation of God’s praise that is done by the Church. This is what has been commonly understood as “worship” in the contemporary sense, and can encompass the whole range of redeemed creative expressions of worship – art, dance, drama, etc. – but is most commonly focused on musical performance. The singing of God’s praise reflects what is seen in Scripture to be taking place around the throne of God (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8, 11). Christian worship through music joins this chorus of heavenly praise on earth, anticipating the day when the kingdom of God is established forever and His praise fills the earth as it fills heaven (Rev. 21:22-26). The worship of God through music follows the self-emptying nature of all of Christian worship, denying self and acknowledging God as the center and source of worship. This requires that the music that is sung and the messages that are proclaimed in the worship of the Church are not focused on self, on what the individual receives from a service or song; rather, the songs sung and the messages preached are God-centered and self-emptying.
Creativity and Imagination
The debate surrounding worship in the past three decades has centered on matters of musical style and taste, the substance of the debate focusing on what worship does for the individual rather than what worship does in proclaiming the praise of God. Scripture, however, provides no model of worship for churches to mirror; rather, Scripture is focused on the content and the function of worship in proclaiming God’s reign over the lives of believers and His mission in the world. Matters of style and form in worship should express the creative abilities and desires of the local body of believers, rather than attempting to mirror the cultural norm and forcing a musical style upon a church body. The musical expression of worship within the local church should foster the creative imaginations of those within the body of believers, encouraging and implementing the God-given talents and abilities to the encouragement and building up of the Church (1 Cor. 12). When believers understand the freedom they have to express their individual worship to God creatively and for the building up of the local church, believers will begin to understand the fulfillment that can be theirs in enjoying the worship of God, just as they will enjoy worship forever in the presence of God.
Thus, Christian worship is the believer’s response to the character and work of God in the world as experienced in the redemptive work of Christ demonstrated by believers in submission, service, and praise. Drawing from the narrative of God’s work in the world, believers respond to the grace of God by submitting to His will in salvation, demonstrating and re-enacting the redemption of Christ through selfless service and love for others, and proclaiming the name and reign of God both presently and in anticipation of the future coming kingdom. Biblical worship is not contained within a style or form, but encompasses the whole of life as a means by which the name of God can be praised. Thus, the whole range of redeemed creative human expression – music, dance, art, poetry, etc. – can be employed in worship and service to God in individual and corporate worship. Whereas the worship of self is inward focused, Christian worship is self-emptying, finding the individual’s sole purpose and fulfillment in something other than self, namely the Triune God. As believers place themselves in submission to God and in freedom express their God-given abilities in creative expressions of service and praise, believers will begin to experience and anticipate the enjoyment of God which He has promised in the coming age for His people.