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Entries in ecclesiology (11)

Monday
Aug052013

Deflating the Myth that We Worship Leaders Serve Perfect Churches

Image from americangreetings.comWe're Not Any Better

I've had a lot of back-door conversations with fellow worship leaders, slugging it out week after week in the local church.  This blog has connected me with many of you, and we've met at conferences or just on the road when I've been to your towns or when you've been to mine.  When we get down to the deep conversations where we're sharing the joys and woes of pastoral ministry in the context of worship, I sometimes hear something like the following refrain:

Zac, I read your blog and keep up with the online ministry of other like-minded worship leaders, and I can't help but wishing that my context was more like yours.  It seems like you've got a church full of sold-out, thoughtful, passionate, engaged worshipers, and when I compare that to my own context, I get pretty discouraged.

I'm connected with a lot of very talented worship leaders who have all been called to some form of ministry to the broader church.  They're seeking to fulfill that calling through writing, recording, blogging, speaking, traveling, offering seminars, etc.  And I know them and their contexts well enough to say with full confidence:

OUR CHURCHES ARE JUST LIKE YOURS.

Sunday Stats

I was thinking about this (when I should have been thinking about Jesus or the Trinity or something far more important like that) while I was leading music yesterday and looking out on the congregation with whom I was worshiping.  My off-the-cuff calculations yielded the following ratios (admittedly based on what I observed, not what was truly in the heart, which only God knows):

15-20% - engaged

Either by virtue of their raw physical expression or just the small exposure of sincerity on their faces, this portion of our congregation appeared to be in it to win it.

55-60% - slightly engaged, nominally trying

This group yawned through words, had a numb or disinterested look about them, was distracted by whatever was distracting them, and generally appeared as though they were unaffected by the content of the liturgy (I say "appeared" to hopefully buffer the fact that I know I'm misreading people because I can't see into hearts).

15-20% - disengaged

This group didn't sing a single word or note and didn't utter a word of any of the responsive readings.  Either they were totally glazed over, bowing down at their phones, or exhibiting some form of glare that ran the spectrum of skepticism to disgust.  Some folks in this group sometimes looked around at the engaged folks with a bit of shock and/or amusement.

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE ANY OF YOUR CHURCHES?

Maybe not.  But I know that my friends who lead in contexts from the cafeteria church-plant to the multi-site megachurch would admit similar ratios.

Deflating the Myth

There can be a perception that when worship leaders are trained and skilled, and when they're called to a more public ministry to the broader church, that they have some sort of mojo that makes their worship contexts more hip, vibrant, "sexy," or just plain better by whatever rubrics you would measure with. 

Though each doxological context has its own blessings and curses, the truth is that neither we nor our congregations have it all figured out.  We, too, are wading through the muck of our fallenness.  I know that every Sunday, my offering to God is a mixture of my own sin/idolatry and Christ's goodness through the Spirit in me, and I know that this is the recipe of the congregation's own makeup, as well.  

I think that many of you would come to Coral Ridge on a Sunday, see what I do and how I lead, look at our simul-justus-et-peccator-ish flock, and say, "Whoa...how ordinary! I was expecting something so much more! I was expecting [you fill in the blank]." Sometimes public ministries and public personas can make the "average Joe" feel like they lack something.  I want to do my part to deflate that myth and empower the local worship leader to pastor where they're at, lead where they're at, love where they're at, all with faithful perseverence.

When folks like myself write or speak, it is natural and appropriate for us to present concepts in the realm of ideals--what ought to be in a perfect situation. But that can sometimes give off the air that we serve in ideal contexts or we think of ourselves as ideal leaders.  Lord, have mercy.  No, we don't, and no, we aren't.

Just remember that if you're ever feeling discouraged when your mind goes the (all too natural) route of playing the comparison game, we're all in this thing together.  Preach the gospel to your heart once again, and then get back to work serving Christ's Bride.

Wednesday
Apr032013

What the Church is Informs what Worship Looks Like

Pragmatists by Birthright

We evangelicals have pragmatism encoded in our DNA. To “do what works” is so instinctual it sometimes feels as though we’ve come up with a sixth sola—solus whateverworkus. We think this way because it’s part and parcel to the Western American psyche and because, well, “doing whatever works” works.  The proof is in the pudding. The statistics don’t lie.

Pragmatism is not inherently evil.  In fact, pragmatism is a sub-set of something very good and very biblical—wisdom.  If God is truly sovereign, then we can, to some degree, rely on the try-and-succeed pattern to teach us things about how to operate in the world that He has designed and continues to preserve and govern.  But the try-and-succeed pattern can only get us so far because the system is tainted.  The factory is full of rust, warped parts, and broken gears, so though stuff might come off the assembly line, we can’t fully trust the fact that because it “produces” it’s right and good.  Worship needs other informants besides wisdom. 

Ecclesiology Informs Doxology

For worship, one of those informants is a full-orbed understanding of what the Bible says the Church is. In other words, ecclesiology informs doxology. 

Michael Horton fleshes this out in one very tangible way:

Whenever we gather for public worship, it is because we have been summoned. That is what “church” means: ekklesia, “called out.” It is not a voluntary society of those whose chief concern is to share, to build community, to enjoy fellowship, to have moral instruction for their children, and so forth. Rather, it is a society of those who have been chosen, redeemed, called, justified, and are being sanctified until one day they will finally be glorified in heaven. We gather each Lord’s Day not merely out of habit, social custom, or felt needs but because God has chosen this weekly festival as a foretaste of the everlasting Sabbath day that will be enjoyed fully at the marriage supper of the Lamb.*

Allowing ecclesiology to inform doxology really does cut through a lot of “fat” of what worship is all about at its core.  When we gather on the Lord’s Day, we don’t gather to share; we don’t gather to build community and fellowship; we don’t gather to “become a better me” or improve ourselves; we don’t even gather to gain Bible knowledge or sharpen our theological swords.  We gather to hear and respond to afresh God’s gospel call on sinners’ lives each and every week.  We gather to renew God’s covenant with us.  We gather to have our stiff necks massaged by grace and our hard hearts softened by mercy.  The Good News always gathers a crowd, and that crowd is nothing other than the local church.  

This is not to say that all the other aforementioned things aren’t important by-products of the gospel call in worship.  In fact, they are, and when they’re absent we pastors have some questions to ask ourselves about the health and content of our worship services.  But the problem is that we can all too easily push for worship to be about these things (this is the slippery slope that an over-emphasis on pragmatism often puts us on), such that we begin measuring our effectiveness based on these things rather than our faithfulness to rehearse, enact, proclaim, and embody the gospel call of the Triune God.

How Now Shall We Worship?

This immediately sheds light on both the form and content of the worship service.  For the content, we can now ask questions like:

  • What in our worship indicates God’s glorious summons of the world to worship? 
  • Are our songs and prayers “vertical” enough to paint the picture of a God-calls-we-respond paradigm, or do we too quickly jump to either how we’re experiencing God in the moment or what we are or will do for God in the present or the future (what many have called “triumphalism”)?
  • Are our songs and prayers saturated enough with the explicit good news of Christ’s finished work for us in His life and death, or are we more nebulous about sin and salvation?

For the form, we can additionally ask:

  • Does our worship move like a dialogue (God speaks, we respond, God speaks, we respond, etc.)?
  • Is our worship service shaped like the Gospel (moving from the Father’s glory and call, to our inability, to Christ’s work of salvation, to the Spirit’s application of Christ and empowering for ministry and mission), or are we simply beholden to a worship flow that “works” (a block of songs, the offering, the sermon, and a closing song) because it inspires people and doesn’t take too much of their time?
  • Does the form of our worship service seek to entertain / keep attention, or does it seek to take people on a journey through a story?

Worship Works Best When the Gospel Works Best

These questions are diagnostic, but hopefully they probe deeply enough to expose the need for ecclesiology to inform doxology over and above our penchant toward slouching to the least common denominator of "whatever works." The truth is, though, that when the Gospel is sung, prayed, enacted, rehearsed, heard, tasted, and seen, it works.  The good news of Jesus Christ, being God's only recipe for human flourishing, catalyzes growth, health, and life in people.  We need no other argument, no other plea.  This is as pragmatic as it gets because it addresses both felt and (more importantly) actual needs of human beings.  So, if we're really interested in providing "what works best," we need look no further.  We don't need a sixth sola, because solus whateverworkus merely reiterates the others.  Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, is really all we need.  The gospel works best.  

*Michael Horton, A Better Way: Recovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 24.
Thursday
Aug232012

Why We Gather for Worship

"Constituting and Fulfilling the Church"...Yikes

Bloggers can easily tell when a post resonates with a large amount of people because of the way their hits spike over a given 48 hours.  A recent post on Why We Need the Call to Worship did that.  My hunch as to what resonated was how all those various short blurbs on the Call to Worship pointed to the gravity and depth of what corporate worship truly is.  

Some of the best advice I've received on reading theology is to regularly venture out of one's tradition.  In doing so, I've found a bedfellow in Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, especially on the topic of what worship is and "does."  About gathering for worship, Schmemann says,

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive fifteen miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place, an act which is the very condition of everything else that is to happen. For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the "natural" world and a natural community. And now they have been called to "come together in one place," to bring their lives, their very "world" with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life. We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this "coming together" is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it "better"--more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.1

We evangelicals struggle to understand this reality (yet thirst to understand better) because many of us have an "underdeveloped ecclesiology"--a very anemic view of who and what the Church is.  Our (great) heritage has emphasized our personal relationship with God.  If we've grown up in the evangelical Church, we will have no doubt been taught at camps, retreats, and in discipleship courses that we must pursue God one on one and cultivate the devotional life of personal piety.  This emphasis, wonderful as it is, can have a negative impact on us, causing us to squeeze out any sense of who we are, not as individuals before God, but as the Church.  In other words, heavy doses of our individual relationship with God can when left unchecked squelch our sense of corporate identity as the Body of Christ.  The result is that when we read Schmemann throw out phrases like "constitute the Church" and "fulfill the Church," we scratch our heads, cock our eyebrows, and with a gnarled face mutter, "Hmm...sounds kind of Catholic."

There exists a desperate need for evangelicals to recover a high ecclesiology, a robust sense of who we are as part of the Church community.  The beauty of this recovery is that we don't have to give up much...only add to.  A strong, positive view of the Church doesn't come at the expense of the great Reformational doctrines that we prize or the individual personal piety we emphasize.  In fact, evangelicals could be poised to be one of the "brands" of Christianity that have the most full-orbed expressions of historic, biblical Christianity...if we begin to recover a high view of the Church.

What does this mean for gathering for worship?  

First, it raises the stakes.  If, in worship, we're more fully "becoming the Church," we have to take attendance and active participation seriously.  

Second, it means that God is doing some actual spiritually formative work in us, even when we simply come and get our backsides in the seats.  

Third, it means that in corporate worship (as opposed to in our homes or at our workplaces or anywhere else), human beings gain some of the truest sense of who we are.  This is going to sound a little crazy, but in corporate worship, we gain a truer sense of the meaning of life.  

Fourth, it means that pastors, worship leaders, and planners can't just shoot from the hip when planning a worship service.  We can't just look for what's hip, what's on the CCLI charts, what technological accessories we'll employ, what people want to hear, want to sing, want to do.  There must be purpose in both the content and form of our worship.

Finally, it means that we want to be very careful of replacing a worship service with anything else.  It's in vogue today to talk about the fact that the church needs to be more active in our communities. It gets tricky, though, when you have such a low view of the Church and her worship that you look at the service of the Church as expendable or replaceable.  This happens when churches say, "Instead of worship this Sunday, let's do a church-wide community service project.  We'll 'worship' in that act!"  In one sense, we can applaud this gutsy move, because they're saying, "Hey, folks, serving our community is really, really important.  We're even willing to close up shop on worship to do it."  But two things should give us pause: (a) all that we've said above about what happens when we gather; (b) the fact that this seems to be a pretty unprescedented move in the history of the worshiping Church.

I personally feel like I'm just scratching the surface on understanding what it means to be the Church, but the more I scratch, the more I'm discovering that I've been missing out on something pretty amazing.

1 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), 27.
Monday
Aug202012

In Worship, We Not Only Encounter God But Encounter the Church

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23, NIV)

Experiencing the Church

Many distill the essence of corporate worship as “encounter with God.” That’s a great summary. When we gather, God chooses to reveal Himself in special ways and through special means, many of which He reserves ordinarily only for that context. But have we ever thought about the fact that, in worship, we not only encounter God but encounter the Church? God and the Church are not the same (although, one could rightly argue, based on the reality of our union with Christ, that there is more overlap than we are sometimes comfortable to admit).  Encountering God is an unparalleled event.  Period.  Still, is there some sense in which our encounter with the Church should blow our minds and inspire awe in us, too? In worship, is there a sense in which we’ve not only experienced God but experienced the Church?  

“The Church”

I keep capitalizing “Church.” That freaks some Protestants out, but it’s purposeful. Just what is the Church?  Here are four shocking ideas.  The Church is...

  • The Body of Christ – the revelation of Jesus Himself to the world (!!!)
  • The Bride of Christ – the wife of the Creator of the universe (!!!)
  • All across space and time who profess faith in Christ (!!!)
  • The firstfruits of the new heavens and new earth (!!!)

The first two bullets should make mountains out of goosebumps, especially if we would stop thinking of them as purely symbolic, metaphorical ideas and move a bit more toward the literal. But let’s camp on the third and fourth points. 

All across space. A good pastor / worship leader will remind their congregation in worship that they’re worshiping, at that very hour, with saints across the globe.  Denver in the morning sings with Kampala in the evening.  Early risers in Seoul pray with Copenhagen vespers.  Westminster Cathedral worships with the Chinese underground.  God sees it all and receives it all.  It’s all, at once, His Church lifting up His worship.  When we enter into gathered, corporate worship, we are gathering with this body, which takes the eyes of faith to see.

All across time. We Westerners tend to think about this concept a lot less, while religions and cultures steeped in ancestor worship like Shintoism often tap into this a bit more.  But where those religions fail, Christian worship testifies that when we gather to sing, pray, hear, and feast, we join in a heavenly worship already taking place.  We don’t start the flow; we jump into the rushing stream. Revelation depicts the heavenly worship as not only being populated by heavenly beings but by “the saints” who have gone before—the great cloud of witnesses.  When we worship, we join with them, in a sense, mid-service. Even more than the Church across space, the Church across time takes the eyes of faith to see.  Imagine what new depths of worship we'd discover if we had better eyes to see just who was present with us as we worship.  Not only is the Triune Community present, but His whole Ekklesia is there, too.  O God, give us eyes to see!

The firstfruits of the New Heavens / New Earth.  When Jesus rose from the dead in His glorified body, He became the firstfruits of the resurrection to come--a sign of what was inevitable for the future.  In a secondary way, the Church, too, especially when she gathers, exhibits a "firstfruit-ness," especially visible with the eyes of faith.  Think of it like a rave.  (I know, dangerous metaphor.)  As the folks enter the space, they look ordinary.  Their skin looks human; their clothes look fashionable but still worldly.  When the music starts and the black lights come on, a new visual revelation unfolds.  The glow sticks and black-light-sensitive tattoos start to gleam, and suddenly this group of ordinary people looks more like a scene out of Avatar than anything you'd find on earth.  When the church gathers, God's presence and the people's body-of-Christ-ness makes the Ekklesia glow, and a faint reverberation of the heavenly kingdom is manifested on earth.  Firstfruits.  Once again, this is something seen only in and through the eyes of faith.

What this Means for the Content of Our Worship

I’d like to submit just one point of application.  If the whole Church is truly with us as we worship, then our worship should reflect, in some sense, our engagement with that reality.  In other words, even as we seek to be culturally relevant, this should be alongside, not at the expense of, the lasting traditions which have shaped the essence of Christian worship over time.  Some Protestants, again, get squeamish here because we surmise that to take tradition seriously we must abandon the Scriptures as our only rule of faith.  But what if that rule of faith is calling us (as outlined above) to be faithful to the Church that has gone before? 

I’ve been in an intense discussion with a dear friend and formidable thinker about the nature of contextualization of worship for the sake of mission.  Where’s that line between being faithful to the best of the tradition of Christian worship and being intelligible to a given hearer/worshiper?  I honestly don’t know if I could draw that line.  It almost seems better to weigh that out through much prayer, by the Spirit, and from within a given context.  Nevertheless, could it be rightly said that our best construal of missional worship, our best “doxological evangelism,” is to provide the context for the most robust experience of God and the most dramatic experience of the Church?  What if, by the traditions we embrace, people of a twenty-first century culture could feel the weight of what it’s like to pray with first-century Paul, to profess faith with fourth-century Nicaea, to Commune with sixth-century Constantinople, to chant with medieval Mediterraneans, to confess with sixteenth-century Genevans?  What if, even as our musical vernacular might change from Bach to rock, we’re encountering God in the same Sanctus, whose text, once accompanied by counterpoint, is now led from chord charts? 

Tradition and Liturgy Broker a Missional Encounter

What in our worship hearkens to and expresses the glorious “Great Tradition” (as Jim Belcher calls it in Deep Church)? What are we embracing that allows us to not only encounter God but rightly encounter the Church?  If our worship is all “now” or even mostly “now,” are we selling people short of a truly profound experience of the Church?  If our worship is so hyper-simplified into a block-of-songs-then-offering-then-sermon liturgy, have we pressed fast-forward on what should be a time-stopping event? You see, tradition and liturgy aren’t just cool, trendy, hip, upper crust, urban “worship accessories” for Catholics, Anglicans, the Orthodox, and the Protestant intelligentsia.  They serve to cause in worship a deep connection to and encounter with the Church.  Perhaps that’s what’s so enticing about tradition and liturgy for many—the intangible, weighty mystery that we’re connecting with a deep, ancient Community.  Yes, it’s a bit “mystical.”  But so is the Holy Spirit—the one who draws us together into this Community and fills us to be the Church.

This adds some relief to those concerned that some or most liturgy and tradition would be over the heads of some “simple-minded” folk or a stumbling block to people who don’t know Jesus.  It’s not always about “getting it,” but it is definitely about experiencing it.  It might for a time be over the heads of some, but it probably wouldn’t be over their hearts, so to speak.  In some respects, as James K. A. Smith teases out in Desiring the Kingdom, liturgical tradition has the ability to bypass the head and still form the heart.  But, as I’ve seen in my context, heads often follow. When liturgy and tradition are embraced and led sincerely and passionately, not only is God made visible in power and glory (because He has chosen to reveal Himself through certain means of Word and Table), but the Church is manifested in glory, too.  The Church, rightly viewed through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is an attractive, “missional” sight.

Monday
Jun182012

Why We Need the Call to Worship

In our weekly printed bulletins, we have a sidebar column that acts as a commentary and explanation for what we do in our services. This "Worship Notes" section contains short paragraphs on the significance of various elements of our worship. We explain everything from the meaning and origin of the Doxology, to why we preach sermons, to the significance of the Lord's Supper, to backgrounds on the songs we sing. Here are four worship notes on the Call to Worship--the beginning of the service where we hear God's summons to gather and praise His name.

Click to read more ...

Monday
Apr232012

More Communion, More Roots: David Crowder's Final Album and the Trajectory of Modern Worship

Worship Leader Magazine recently published an interview of David Crowder shortly after the release of their final album, Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]).  (Even the title carries with it our modern generation's characteristic mixture of reverence and irreverence, being a requiem with a not-so-subtle reference to Spinal Tap...I know that's not everyone's cup of tea, but it sure is mine.)

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr042012

Review of White Flag, by Passion

Passion, White Flag (sixsteps/Sparrow)
Released: March 13, 2012

Passion's latest project continues in their strong legacy of fervent live worship albums.  One can never question on these records that this movement continues to be deeply committed to the core of what Christian worship is all about--encountering the presence of God with the people of God.  At the same time, White Flag continues to reveal the theological growth and maturation of Passion's main songwriters and artists--Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Charlie Hall, etc.  There are even some surprising new ventures, as far as content goes. "White Flag" (the title track) appears to be a metaphor for surrender to God, which characterizes some, though not all, of the album.

SUMMARY

It is simply not possible that every album produced by a band or music-community can be landmark and earth-shattering, and while White Flag is a great listen and a solid offering of fresh anthems for the English-speaking Church, it is not extraordinary.  The production continues to be crisp, energetic, creative, and forward-looking within the pop-rock genre.  The theological content is solidly evangelical and orthodox, with charismatic leanings being dialed down a bit as compared to previous albums.  If we were to compare the breadth of content with that of the biblical Psalms, it has not gone much further than Here for You (2011) and Awakening (2010) in exploring the spectral realities in between poles like joyful praise and sorrowful lament, with one notable exception surprisingly opening the door toward worship's connection with the Lord's Supper.  

The songs I would most likely incorporate into worship in my local context would be:

With honorable mention to:

  • "Lay Me Down"
  • "One Thing Remains"
  • "Yahweh"

MUSICALITY

White Flag is marked by the usual "arena worship" instrumentation--big drums, heavy low-end, high tenor vocals, backing "congregational" choir, epic guitars, and seeping keys.  No new or experimental/risky sounds will be found on this record, but there are a few slight new touches, such as the (most likely synthesized) dulcimer/harpsichord arpeggiations on "The Only One" and the electronica-plus-Death-Cabby-indie-guitars from Crowder on (the congregationally unfriendly) "All This Glory."  Songs like "White Flag" and "One Thing Remains" exhibit the typical arena-style soft-low-to-epic-high contour, all glued together by tom-beating, snare-banging, kick-pounding crescendos.  "Yahweh" has a nicely arranged skipping pedaled piano part in its opening and some fresh ways of coloring a triple meter.  The early 80s metal-style holds and fuzzy electrics fit well the grandeur of the song.  Some songs seem much more appropriate for special music because of their difficult rhythms, which congregations would find hard to follow, such as (ironically named) "Sing Along."  "10,000 Reasons," save a few minor variations is the same version in key, arrangement, and style, as Redman's earlier recorded version.

THEOLOGICAL CONTENT

Modern worship has always excelled at magnifying the prominent attributes of God--His greatness, His holiness, His majesty, His power, His perfection.  You hear it exemplified in songs like "Yahweh," whose first verse and chorus sing:

You have no rival to Your throne
In majesty, You stand alone
There is no limit to Your reign
Now all Your works shall praise Your name
As far as this, from east to west
There's no other, there's no other

Yahweh,
Your name alone be exalted
Yahweh,
Our hearts are Yours forever 

Debra and Ron Rienstra, in their book Worship Words (see my review), have challenged worship to incorporate more of the names of God.  "Yahweh," the chief name for God and perhaps the most obvious one scripturally, is still a step forward for modern worship which has for the most part failed to meet such a challenge.  Though, to be honest, much like Tomlin's "Jesus Messiah," there's not much exploration into the meaning and significance of the Name ("I am that I am").

"One Thing Remains" (previously recorded by Jesus Culture and a few others) is a testament to the power of God's love.  And this is no generic love, it is the type of love exemplified in the Hebrew word, hesed, often translated "steadfast love" or "covenant love."  Some might criticize the repetitive chorus, "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me" as typical "mindless 7-11" worship music, but we need to remember that it is God's love which is celebrated in such a repetetive fashion in Psalm 136 ("His love endures forever").  The problem with this song is that it lacks a context for the most part.  It is faintly rooted in the gospel ("the debt is paid") but no mention of any member of the Trinity is made.  It is a direct-address song.  If it were to be incorporated in worship, it would need strong contextualization and grounding in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  But with this context, it is quite moving and compelling.

"Jesus, Son of God," even by virtue of its title, is a step forward (albeit a small one) in more Trinitarian explicitness, and it is a beautiful, singable, gospel-centered song, praising the incarnation and cross of Christ.  Verses 1 & 2, with the chorus:

You came down from heaven's throne
This earth You formed was not Your home
A love like this the world had never known 

A crown of thorns to mock Your name
Forgiveness fell upon Your face
A love like this the world had never known

On the altar of our praise, let there be no higher name
Jesus, Son of God
You laid down Your perfect life, You are the sacrifice
Jesus, Son of God
You are Jesus, Son of God 

The second line of verse 2 is a beautiful, rich poetic metaphor.  As the crown of thorns came upon His head, "forgiveness fell" upon His face.  Blood fell.  It is a powerful statment that the instrument of torture, in a providential twist, opened up the "precious flow" of blood, which would be the world's great forgiving balm.  

The most surprising song of all, from a theological perspective, is Charlie Hall's "Mystery."  Someone's been studying their eucharistic historical theology!  Check out these lyrics:

Sweet Jesus Christ, my certainty
Sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity
Bread of Heaven, broken for me
Cup of salvation, held up to drink
Jesus, mystery

Christ has died and Christ is risen
And Christ will come again.

Why is this surprising?  First, Passion is a parachurch worship entity, and the Lord's Supper is not something they have typically focused on in their worship music.  Second, the language is reflective of some "high church" exposure.  "Mystery" is a term that more "sacramental" churches more often use.  And the phrase "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" is straight-up high church liturgical eucharistic language.  I'm very curious about the origin of this song...it is simply not typical evangelical megachurch content.  What makes this song more exceptional is that, for a Communion song, it's quite uplifting and eschatologically-oriented.  The bridge (which is the song's high point) sings:

Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes, proclaim His coming
Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes

It's a moving, victorious, back-looking, forward-reaching Communion song.  Praise God!  Imbedded in this simple text is a very reflective, rich, full-orbed eucharistic theology.  This is remarkable.

One can only hope that what is barely hinted at on this album--a greater ecclesiastical awareness--is indicative of things to come.  One of the great issues facing the Passion movement along with a fair amount of the modern worship "industry" is that they are in many ways one-off from the Church.  They are "church enrichment" programs, to be sure, but they are NOT the Church, and as such, there will always be missing from their songs the very vital component of contextual music-making.  One wonders whether this missing piece is what is driving the Passion folks (Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin) to begin the move toward "settling down" into their Atlanta-based plant, Passion City Church.  In the meantime, I'll applaud any effort at building bridges between the largely "churchless" industry and the one true Bride of Christ.

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Tuesday
Dec202011

Christmas Day 2011: Forcing the Issue of Ultimate Allegiance Between Sunday Worship and Family Traditions 

Starting around six months ago, there began a flurry of exchanges among worship leader Facebook groups, email groups, and online forums.  “What is your church doing for Christmas Day this year?”  The subtext of the dialogue was largely, “Are you going to have a worship service or not?”  There was at least a small amount of panic about how this could all possibly work.  People aren’t used to going to church on Christmas Day.  But many are very used to their tried and true family traditions.  (“We always open presents on Christmas morning.”  “We always have Christmas brunch together witht the family.”)

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