Monday, January 25, 2016

Good Preaching and Bad Singing?

"Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, 'When you pray, say' . . . ." (Luke 11:1-2)

Worship that is pleasing to God must be revealed to us.  The Lord's people have never been allowed to worship as they thought best.  The Lord has always defined acceptable worship for us.

We cannot worship God apart from prayer, so it is not surprising then that God the Son will authoritatively teach his people how to pray acceptably.  John the Baptist, who as the last prophet of the old covenant was given the honor of preparing the way for the Christ and pointing to him, authoritatively taught his disciples how to pray (v. 1).  So how much more authoritatively will the Christ himself teach his people how to pray! (v. 2).

If you went to most Evangelical and Reformed worship services today, one would be tempted to conclude that music is a fundamental element in a worship service, even though Jesus taught us nothing about singing, and is only once recorded as singing with his disciples, and that on the night before his death.  The same lack of singing as a main element in worship is seen in Luke's second volume, Acts.  Nothing is mentioned in Acts about the place of music in the Christian liturgy.

Where then does singing fit into the table fellowship pattern that Jesus gave us for Christian liturgy?  The answer is prayer.  Congregational singing fits into the category of prayer.  Jesus ministers to us through Word and meal, and then we respond to his ministry in believing prayer, and sometimes our prayers are accompanied by music.

But prayer is a broad category!  Prayer includes thanksgiving, praise, petition, lament, confession, teaching[i] and exhortation,[ii] etcetera.  And prayer, as we see in Luke 11:1-2, is to be biblical according to the rule Jesus gives for it.  We cannot pray anyway we please, just as we cannot worship anyway we please!

Should this inhibit our prayers?  After all, we are children of our heavenly Father, and we often do not know how to pray as we ought!  No, we can and should honestly cry out to our Father with our needs. 

But at the same time, especially in our worship services together, we should pray according to the pattern Jesus gave us, and this includes what we pray in song.  In the four references to singing in the New Testament epistles, singing is twice associated with the teaching/instruction, and three times with prayer (Colossians 3:16 and James 5:13 is associated with prayer; Ephesians 5:19 is associated with teaching; 1 Corinthians 14:13-26 is associated with both prayer and teaching).  This suggests that especially in our worship services we need to take care that what we sing is biblical!  Teaching a false theology through our singing can do as much harm as teaching falsehood through the pulpit!  Our prayers in song must edify the church, but edification will not come through unbiblical and false teaching.  Therefore, let us pay close attention to what Jesus teaches us about acceptable prayer. 
May our worship together not be marred by congregational singing/prayer that is unbiblical and unacceptable to our Lord.[iii]  Lord Jesus, give us discernment.  Amen.

[i] All prayer contains the element of teaching (e.g., our Lord's prayers and the Psalms are prayers that teach us theology).  Prayer inevitably teaches us a view of God and man.  Therefore, we must strive to pray/sing biblically as Jesus taught us.   
[ii] Sometimes in our songs we sing the Word of God to one another. The question then arises, should we categorize such a song as Word or prayer?  In other words, Is God speaking to us or are we speaking to Him or one another?  This is a difficult question, but overall, I think it is solved by remembering that prayer sometimes includes teaching, and inevitably teaches.  Thus, Paul teaches that prayer should edify the congregation, and this means that we must strive to be just as faithful in our prayers as we are in our preaching and teaching.  Churches today that would never tolerate bad theology in the pulpit regularly tolerate it in the songs they sing!
[iii] While we must strive to pray and preach biblically, we will fall short in some ways. We must remember that our worship is mediated through Jesus Christ, the perfect worshipper, so that our worship is accepted by the Father. But let us not use justification as an excuse to not strive to be faithful!

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