You Mean That There’s More Than "Shine, Jesus Shine"?

Anabaptist WorshipDo you realize that, for people of a certain age, let’s say those born since 1980, “Shine, Jesus Shine” (published in 1987) is now a “traditional hymn”? It’s about as “traditional” for those generations as revival songs from the early 20th century were when I came to faith. That’s the heritage that the contemporary worship movement is leaving to young people. Worse, Mark Galli reports that some evangelical congregations are using sex as a marketing tool. It’s so bad that some evangelicals are fleeing the last vestiges of the contemporary chaos for more ancient liturgies.

The worship services of some NAPARC congregations are virtually indistinguishable from the sort of things from which, according to Galli, some evangelicals are fleeing. If so, can we expect a similar exodus out of those Reformed congregations and to what? Let me suggest that the Reformed churches have an alternative to the latest contemporary Christian song and to Eastern Orthodoxy (or whatever). We have a principle, which we’ve largely forgotten, and that is that we do only in worship what God commands. That’s it. We don’t have to go looking for serious worship, we confess it. We confess that, in stated services, we come before the face of the same living God who went looking for Adam and who thundered at Sinai and who is glorious atop Mt Zion (Heb 12).

We confess that the same God who redeemed a national people to worship him at Sinai became incarnate and has redeemed a trans-national people that we may worship him, as he has revealed himself, and as he has covenanted with us, at Mt Zion. We confess that Scripture teaches a dialogic pattern of worship. We don’t know anything about the revivalist pattern of artificially induced euphoria. We confess that, in godly worship, God speaks to us in his law and in his gospel, and the people respond with God’s own (not their own; that would be will worship) Word.

Liturgical? Well, it all depends on definitions. If God speaking and the people responding with God’s Word is liturgical, then sure, we have liturgical worship. If ordering worship around God coming to us and our response, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, is liturgical, if focus on the gospel in Word and sacrament is liturgical, then yes, we’re liturgical.

Dear evangelical friends, I know that you’re tired of Wheaton and that you’re thinking of moving to Constantinople or Rome or to the Emerging Village, but please visit Geneva or Heidelberg before you move.

Dear Reformed friends, we’re not revivalists and we’re not Anglican and we’re not Pentecostal or Charismatic and we shouldn’t try to be. We have resources from which to draw. Yes, Virginia, there is more to worship than “Shine, Jesus Shine.” I suggest that we start with Ps 23 and Ps 100.

[This post first appeared on the HB in 2008]

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  1. Another great post. And I would add, would we invite Isaac Watts to preach in our churches, given his reputation for non-Trinitarian thinking at the end of his life, even if his sermon didn’t pertain directly to the Trinity? Of course not, so why do we sing his words? And I figure that probably more Christians sing the words of Thomas Ken, author of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” each week, than sing the Scriptures.

    • I was rereading Mark Noll’s excellent book, “The Rise of Evangelicalism” a couple of weeks ago and came across a rather interesting fact. The author of “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”, Thomas Ken, was a non-juror who opposed the removal of James II as King of England and refused to give loyalty to William III.

      Strange thing is that Ian Paisley, the former fundamentalist Ulster loyalist politician (who is something of a fan of William III) used to sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” every time he won an election! Just goes to show that people really don’t give much thought to who wrote their favourite hymns!

  2. On the Lutheran Theological Game Show Table Talk Radio, they play a game called “Contemporary or Traditional” where one guy plays a hymn, and the other guy has to guess. Their cutoff is 1750.

  3. Graham Kendrick is a bit old hat these days, and has arguably been shoved aside for the Townsend/Getty hymns which seem to be popping up everywhere. Their songs indeed contain orthodoxy, but put them alongside psalms and there is no comparison.

    I would ask folks to think if that by embracing all that is contemporary they may sooner or later start to embrace the ecclesiology and tone of these song writers? Here in the UK where such worship is rapidly supplanting older style hymns, informality seems to be strangely allied to the use of these songs.

    Is it of any relevance that Mr Townsend is actually part of the charismatic network of churches led by the apostle like Terry Virgo? I actually think it is. Once you go down the route of using the worship of such folks you are deliberately or otherwise giving credence and encouragement to their doctrine and church practise. If folks are not careful, they will start to imitate to some extent these churches and networks like New Frontiers which have little Reformed practise despite their use of this term.

    What we sing and how we worship is not some minor petty issue; it reflects our doctrine and should be done through a thoroughly ecclesiastical setting. If churches continue to scramble for contemporaneity before checking the ecclesiastical background and context of the songs they sing, danger may be latent in their well intentioned ambitions.

  4. Have ever read the lyrics? I know it gets branded as the ultimate fluff song and maybe you don’t like the musical style. But, really, is it that bad? There’s a prophet, priest, king thread going in the verses. Seems to have an Eph 5:13,14 theme going. Have you seen Frame’s exposition in Contemporary Worship Music. It’s not psalmody, granted, but it’s not trite sentiment either.

  5. Even though I’m not an exclusive psalmodist, I can strongly sympathise with the position not least because much of the argument similar or identical to the one for liturgical worship. Interestingly, psalms set to meter were very much part of Prayerbook tradition in the Church of England up until the Restoration. In my former congregation (belonging to the Church of England Continuing), we sang metrical psalms in addition to hymns. And one of the ministers was actually an exclusive psalmodist who refrained from singing when hymns were sung.

    The Prayerbook liturgy is of course saturated with Scripture – as Law and Gospel; guilt and grace; lament and praise; conditions and promise; warnings and comfort.

    Apart from doctrinal contents, the argument for traditional worship which is also represented by exclusive psalmody is precisely that worship should be WORD-centred. “Word” here is *exclusively* defined – meaning a narrow definition which defies emotional, psychological and experiential accounts including even so-called spiritual experiences(!)

    This presupposes and implies the tension between the already and not-yet which in turn implies the need to avoid an over-realised eschatology where conflict and struggle against sin is overlooked on the one hand and where desire replaces or subverts faith hence a theology of glory. IOW, the presence of the Holy Spirit is “measured” according to sensuous experience *within.* This of course presupposes and implies the confusion between the two aeons and kingdoms. The two become separated or compartmentalised in the world and then get mixed-up again in the church.

    Just as the New Adam struggles against sin, the church worships in defiance of the world. Worship reflects the polemical nature of the Gospel – which is from another aeon. Worship, i.e. divine worship is then no outlet for wannabes to fulfill their potential but service to fellow Christians as an expression of and flowing from justification by faith alone. Hence, one worship God by faith alone, i.e. one can only honour God in worship by faith ALONE.

    So, worship is not about turning or channeling one’s desire from the lower flesh (as embodied by the world) to the upper spirit (as embodied by the church). But the death of all desire in the first place – i.e. the death-knell of all aspiration. Otherwise, we would just exchange one form of IDOL with another.

    Faith of course contradicts, defies and challenges all human experience that is controlled by sight. Worship then cannot be based on human experience including spiritual but purely on the Gospel of justification by faith alone which is nothing else than the summary or sum total of entire Christian Faith.

    Worship then always contain an element of lament and hope – longing of the pilgrim which of course the Psalms supremely embody. Lament means that the just shall walk by faith alone because the righteousness of God in justifying sinners in His Word alone is revealed from faith to faith.

    Is there Law and Gospel in the worship? Are justification and sanctification confused in the worship? Are the two kingdoms confused so that the church becomes the world and the world becomes the church? Is faith confused with feeling, desire, love, spirituality?

    Is worship Word-centred/ Christ-centred? Does the worship encourage the “inward turn” by which then the soul flees upward into heaven? Or does it promote faith in the external Word – so that the Holy Spirit never does anything which adds to that Word? Does it see the glory of God hidden such that it is only accessible by faith? Hidden in the church by way of the proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments? Does worship promote service or self-potentiality? IOW, does it confuse worship coram Deo with service coram mundo?

  6. R.S. Clark: “The worship services of some NAPARC congregations are virtually indistinguishable from the sort of things from which, according to Galli, some evangelicals are fleeing.”

    GW: I know youth-centered, contemporary-worship evangelical churches are struggling mightily to retain their youth (as are our own Reformed churches), who are departing in droves. But in my own limited experience I just don’t see boatloads of evangelicals fleeing for Rome or Constantinople. (Yes, I’m aware of people like Scott Hahn and I’m sure there continue to be former evangelicals like him ending up in Rome or the East; I just don’t see it as the mass movement that some seem to make it out to be. Seems to me that the mass movement is probably more former evangelicals leaving the contemporary church for secularism or a nominal, narcissistic spirituality. But, hey, things might be different in your neck of the woods.)

    What I think I have seen is believers from a broadly evangelical background discovering “the doctrines of grace” (i.e., the five points of Calvinism), attending and (in some cases) joining a confessional Reformed or Presbyterian church, traveling on the Geneva road for awhile, but then eventually reverting back to a contemporary/revivalist style church (perhaps one that professes “the doctrines of grace” but worships like revivalists or charismatics) like the church from whence they came. They like Reformed soteriology, but it seems they struggle to adjust to Reformed worship and church life. (Revivalist worship is an addiction that is hard to shake.) Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some NAPARC churches retain some of the revivalist and pietistic aspects of contemporary worship — they want to draw evangelicals who are attracted by Reformed soteriology but who would be uncomfortable with strict Reformed worship, and/or they want to retain those among their membership who are really evangelicals at heart. (I’m not saying this is a good thing; just a theory as to why the worship in some NAPARC churches has the “feel” of a Calvary Chapel service.)

  7. Is there any books that folks can recommend on the history of liturgy in the church which may also include how they should be profitably used in church today? If there is no such book, could a reader of this write one please?

  8. I understand you to imply that you are sacramental based on your observance of the sacraments being gospel focused. Is the presence of the proper form the only element that would differentiate between being defined as sacramental or not sacramental?

    • Hi Brad,

      I don’t understand your premise or question. Let’s define terms and maybe that will help.

      When you say, “you are sacramental” what does that mean?

  9. I guess I understand there to be a claim, on your part, to be a sacramental church. I understand, maybe wrongly, that the basis of this is the correct form exercised in the administration of the sacraments, i.e. a focus on the gospel within the sacraments. Is this all necessary for a church to claim it is sacramental? That is, as long as we are focused on the gospel within our administration we can argue we are sacramental?
    I’m not trying to define sacramental, I’m trying to get your definition of what it means.

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