Modern worship is often criticized for its plethora of what are labeled “7-11 songs” (songs which have seven words, sung eleven times). The criticism is that it is pointless, even stupefying, to say the same thing over and over again. But before all such songs are dismissed wholesale, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. First, the heavenly beings themselves incessantly chant “Holy, Holy, Holy…” over and over and over again before the throne of God (Revelation 4:8). (We might call that an "infinity-infinity song.") Second, the Psalms themselves contain repetitions and refrains (cf. Psalms 8 & 136). Third, the church has engaged in this practice since her inception (think of the repeated Kyrie Eleison [“Lord, Have Mercy”]). Fourth, often times such “7-11 songs” are direct quotes of or strong allusions to Scripture, and when we are instructed to meditate on God’s Word (Psalm 1:2), what better way than singing and repetition? There are of course ways where the repetition can be taken too far (and modern worship is guilty of this), but let’s remember that repetition is a biblical and historical church practice.
"Mighty to Save" is now a well-worn mainstay in most evangelical churches of modern worship styles. It's appeared repeatedly on CCLI's top lists. And why not? It's got all the trappings of a great worship song...singability, a resurrection-oriented chorus with stirring melodic rise, accessible chord progressions, driving rhythm to match the song's simlutaneous intimacy and explosion. We use it in our church on a regular basis, and it's obvious that it's a favorite among our people (worship leaders know what I'm talking about when a song really gels with your community...it lights up the room). However, at Creek, we've chosen to amend the second verse, for reasons of theological precision. The second half of that verse originally reads: I give my life to follow Everything I believe in Now I surrender We've changed it to: I'd given my life to follow Everything I'd believed in But now I surrender It's a subtle change...present tense to past tense (the pluperfect, to be precise). And some of you will no doubt think we're being nit-picky here, but here's the rub for me with the original text. It's a bit too triumphant and boastful for my taste, given that we're worshiping before a God who sees all--especially all the ways that we, even as blood-bought Jesus-followers, don't give our lives to follow Him. Even more, "everything I believe in," apart from God's prior work to give me faith (faith is an extrinsic gift, according to Ephesians 2), is anti-God, anti-Jesus, faithless, and destitute. If I truly "give my life to follow everything I believe in," I have to be honest that I'd head down the wrong road (think of the mantra of the book of Judges: "everyone did what was right in their own eyes"...scary). I don't think the statement, as it stands, is theologically wrong (which is why I use the term "imprecise"). Many sing it genuinely as a kind of ideal to commit to, even knowing (like me) that they can't really live up to it. It just strikes me as too triumphant for me to sing with an honest heart. So our emendation toward the past tense makes verse 2 more confessional, more humble, more needy--and before Yahweh's presence, that's the side I want to err on. It exposes weakness as opposed to boasts strength. It says, "I don't have the power...I need Yours, Lord." Worship leaders, if some of the songs you use cause some "theological itchiness," don't be afraid to amend the words. Hymn-writers have been doing it for years with the nifty little tag "alt." (short for "altered"). And when congregation members ask why you hacked to pieces their favorite worship song, give them a humble reply, and use it as a pastoral-educational moment to infuse some biblical thought into life.
For many, this is an old hat. It seems like worshipers have gone their separate ways on such matters as musical style, use of screens, and Sunday dress. But for me in my context (where I serve a congregation that worships in both traditional and modern ways), this is a present reality that I have to combat as a pastor who is constantly fighting the "two churches within a church" battle. So here's some brief, broad-brush, philosophical/theological reflection on Sunday dress. (And my saying "broad brush" is a plea for you all not to nail me with your exceptions, as I'm aware that generalizations are met with not a small amount of counter-evidence. So hear me out.) #1: Those who defend a "Sunday best" position do so on solid theological ground. The basic idea is that God is worthy of the best we have to offer...hence our best clothes--ties, dresses, suits, heels, polish, shine, and starch. "God's best" in worship is biblical (just think of the luxury of the OT temple and tabernacle, or ponder the implications of the Shema). #2: (which may come as a surprise) Those who defend casual dress do so on solid theological ground. Those who hold to #1 often fail to realize that many times (of course not all the time), those who dress casually do so because they value something in particular when it comes to relating to God...and guess what: it's biblical, too. It's a little thing called authenticity. Perhaps #2-ers are reacting against the down side of years of #1-ness. That downside is that people can end up in ruts of putting on a show, flashing their best, trying to make themselves look good on Sunday when their home is a mess, their sin is rampant, and their life is in shambles. Now it's obvious that #2 also can have down sides--sloppy dress can get into one's psyche and usher a person into an overly casual approach to Almighty God. So can #1's and #2's never worship under the same roof? I sure hope not! Both sides have great reasons, and perhaps the rub between the two is less a matter of good theology vs. bad theology and more of a matter of what one's upbringing and life's journey has shaped what their primary values are when it comes to worship and clothing. The grace-point here for each camp is to acknowledge that the other side has some decent reasons and then apply Paul's love axiom (1 Corinthians 13) to one situation where it properly belongs. Jesus, with Thy church abide. Be her Savior, Lord, and guide, While on earth her faith is tried. May she ONE in doctrine be, ONE in truth and charity, Winning all to faith in Thee. We beseech Thee, hear us.
I've been struggling, even within my own church, to encourage Christians that Sunday mornings are not just important, they're vital. I don't know why, but it seems like evangelicals (at least out here in the West) take church attendance lightly. In Colorado, Yahweh wars with the gods of nature for the attention of the hearts of sinners and saints. Skiing in the winter...hiking/camping in the summer. There's always a reason to "skip church." But worship is where we receive the REAL spiritual nourishment of the sacraments. Worship is where we receive the genuine encouragement from being in fellowship with God's people. Worship is where we receive the faithful preaching of the Word. Worship is where we are SUMMONED BY GOD to be on Sunday mornings (or Saturday if you're a seventh-dayer). We don't question the need for physical nourishment. Unless we're fasting or just have out-of-the-ordinary eating habits, we regularly nourish our bodies 3 times a day with food. God forbid that we Americans forget to eat! So what about our spiritual nourishment? If duty is not enough to get us there, maybe our skin-and-bones starving soul will eventually cry out for some self-care.