Tag Archives: music

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary

Does God Hear? by Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis

by Ken Ham on February 26, 2013

Many churches now place a heavy emphasis on praise and worship music in their services. While God loves good music, it’s important to make sure our priorities line up with Scripture. What does God reveal about “true worship” that pleases Him?

To begin this article I need to make something very clear. I love music. In fact, both my wife and I play the piano. I love to listen to Christian music as I travel—and I love to sing praises to our God as I worship in church.

Also, one of my closest friends is Answers in Genesis’s songwriter and singer, Buddy Davis. I have encouraged Buddy over the years to produce CDs of the many songs he has composed and presented at concerts at the Creation Museum and churches around the world.

Having said that, I want to address what I see as a problem—something that troubles me. I realize that when you begin to talk about music, it can evoke very emotional responses. But I actually don’t want to address music styles or content in this article (not that such is not important). I believe something else needs to be addressed.

A New Priority in the Church

I am in a rather interesting position to view what is happening in much of the church. I have traveled for over thirty years across the United States and to other parts of the world speaking at conferences and churches. I get to see patterns from a big-picture perspective. My observation holds true across denominations and national boundaries (with some exceptions, of course).

I would like to suggest that in many instances—particularly from my personal observation in the larger churches—music has become the dominant part of church services, and the teaching of God’s Word has become less of a priority. The same is true in certain Bible conferences, particularly those geared for young people.

Let me share just some of my observations. I encourage you to consider them carefully.

  • There is what they call a “praise and worship” time with a band usually on stage. The congregation, or audience, is asked to stand and sing for thirty to forty minutes—sometimes for an hour or so.
  • Now, as I look around the room, I often find that many people are not singing.
  • Many of the songs are sung over and over and over again.
  • When people finally sit for a sermon or teaching, this time is often less than the music. And many people seem tired and distracted.
  • Many times, the band’s words cannot be understood. You can recognize them only if they are shown on the screen.

Let me share a couple of personal experiences that show how this mindset can hinder the teaching of God’s Word. Sometimes a pastor says something like, “We tried to cut the praise and worship time so you could have the fifty minutes you wanted to speak, but I can’t really control what the worship pastor will do.” And so I often end up with less time than what I prepared for and what is needed.

Some worship pastors have said things like, “We’ll let you set your computer up after we’ve finished our practicing. After all, the praise and worship is the most important part of the service.” If I hope to teach God’s Word effectively, as the invited speaker, I need to make sure the computer works well with the church’s A/V systems.

I have seen this pattern in other countries too. Churches have a “praise and worship” time that is more often like a concert to attract people to the church, while the teaching time for God’s Word is secondary.

Now, to be sure, not all churches are like this, and I’m not saying churches should not have a “praise and worship” time. But if young people and adults get the idea that music is more important than the study of God’s Word, then where will they and their churches be spiritually in the coming years?

Biblical teaching and worshipful music do not have to be in competition. When properly done, both are important aspects of true “praise and worship” that glorifies and pleases the Lord.

No More Excuses

I have had many pastors, particularly youth pastors, tell me that music is where the kids “are at” today, and music helps keep them in church and attract others. But when I’ve been given opportunity to speak to these young people, I find they are filled with questions and doubts about God’s Word, and they desperately want answers that can’t be found in a praise chorus.

Let me give a specific example. I was asked to speak at a service for young people. I sat through almost an hour of loud music and couldn’t understand most of the words. Then I was asked to speak for only about twenty minutes because, I was told, “Young people can’t sit for long and listen to talks these days.” Then I could have a question time afterward.

So I did my best in twenty minutes and asked for questions. Those young people bombarded me: Where did Cain get his wife? How do you know the Bible is true? Why doesn’t God show Himself to us? What about carbon dating? How do you explain dinosaurs? How could Noah fit the animals on the Ark? We went on for over an hour.

Afterward, the youth pastor said, “I’ve never seen them so interested. I never knew Billy could even ask a question, let alone the one he asked. What happened?”

What happened? Well, the beliefs of these young people are being challenged at public school. From my experience, I know many of their doubts, and from the research we conducted for the book Already Gone, we know that two-thirds of these young people will leave the church by college age. So I began giving them answers to help them understand how we know God’s Word is true.


What’s the point of all this? Again, I’m not against having time for music. But I believe many church leaders have adopted music styles simply to attract people, instead of focusing on the things that most please God: music and vital teaching that most meet the flock’s needs and glorify the Lord. People want to hear solid biblical truth and answers to the skeptical questions of this age. They want to know how to live Christ-honoring lives and proclaim and defend the gospel to people who are thoroughly “evolutionized.”

Now, the Bible does not prescribe how much time should be allotted to teaching and music. But in a world that increasingly attacks the Bible’s authority, I submit that the pastor, more than ever, needs to equip his people with biblical truths so that they can function as true Christ followers (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Furthermore, many churches tell their adults and young people that they can believe in evolution and history over millions of years, as long as they just trust Jesus. Or they totally ignore this topic. Yet I believe that today’s attack on God’s Word is the same strategy Satan employed in Genesis 3 when he asked Eve, “Did God really say . . . ?” This attack on the Bible’s trustworthiness is destroying the coming generations. Meanwhile, church members get together and have long “praise and worship” times that relegate Bible teaching to a much lesser role than music.

But is God hearing many of these churches? If we are compromising God’s Word and not teaching and obeying His Word as we should, is it possible that God would say to these modern churches what He did to the Israelites of old?

“Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:23). “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Amen! By God’s grace, may we get our priorities straight and help people to praise and worship Him as He deserves—giving primacy to His Word in all aspects of our personal lives and church services!

Ken Ham is the founder and president of Answers in Genesis–USA. He has edited and authored many books about the authority of God’s Word and the impact of evolutionary thinking on our culture, including Already Compromisedand The Lie.

Liturgical worship, music, chanting, does stir the emotions, the right ones.

Once in awhile God blesses me with a “eureka” moment and you, dear reader, are about to share that with me, or well at least I’m about to lay it on you. Groovey, huh baby?

The hit on liturgical music/worship is that there is no depth of emotion, it doesn’t lift the spirit, the emotion.

Ya, well there’s a technical term, that’s “bupkus” or as Charles Dickens wrote, “bah humbug”.

The truth of the matter is that it  most certainly does! The problem is that the past few generations are so superficial, so motivated by “eros” love, that it’s all about me, give me, give me. Liturgical worship is much deeper, it gives to God who gives back to me. Yea, well we want to cut out the middle-man and, as always, gimme, gimme. If we would really shut-up and listen we might realize how much more comforting and strengthening liturgy is, how it reaches down to your soul, because it’s the Holy Spirit who is reaching. We can stay with the shallow/superficial or we can really build that relationship with God the way that man has been doing it, which would date back to at least the time of King David, King Solomon and Solomon’s Temple.

Now, I will concede this. Because liturgical worship is difficult, and for those who lead worship and really don’t get it, they will do a lousy job. Sure there are many young pastors who can do it, but they really don’t get it and after awhile it does seem to be going through the motions. For me, who is much less talented, but who has gotten it and is better able to articulate it, but still no talent, you know what, have a little patience with me and my lack of talent won’t matter. What will matter is the depth of emotion and love that we convey to the Father in the liturgy. If you just go through the motions meaning will not come out and again, there are too many who should do it well, but just don’t get it. Sorry, but seems there are far too many of the following mindsets: “Here I am going through the motions, I don’t really know what I’m doing or how I’m doing it or why and, frankly, don’t really care. Right, wrong or indifferent and, frankly, I don’t even think there’s a “right”.”

Well yea, there is a “right” and let’s talk about it.

I have opined before, that the difference between “happy-clappy” and real worship is the emotional content. God the Holy Spirit has finally helped me to articulate the case for the liturgy much better.

We have become an “eros” society. Everything has to appeal to the superficial, emotional, put on a big show – please me, it’s all about me, feed me, sex me, give me this superficial comfort, love me in this adolescent, it’s all about me, wah, wah!!!

Liturgical worship is about agape love. I give to You (God), I lift You up, I know it’s all about You (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It’s only through You and because of You that I even exist, no less have any meaning at all. I is all about You, when I acknowledge that and praise You, You make it all about me. You make me something I could never be, Your child! You give me something that I could never get – everlasting eternal life in the resurrection. Real worship is always about completing that connection. Not me just sitting back and just taking, again that adolescent attitude.

Of course another reason we like the “eros”, is because it’s easier. It does just go to our base instincts and we don’t have to work at it. One hit that I’ve taken about being more liturgical is that in some way it’s not pleasing, doesn’t resonate well. Yea, well, get over it. Does everything have to be The Gaither Family? No in fact, that’s just another generation’s superficial “please me-please me” with no more depth of true worship. One of my past pastors, United Methodist, but definitely not of the wishy-washy liberal. If anything much more Father Flannagan. He was a military chaplain in Italy during World War II. The man couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but didn’t matter. If he had to belt it out a little louder to prod us to sing louder, he had no compunction about that and we frankly loved him for it. He was actually kind of a little prickly, nothing prissy sentimental about him, and when he started singing we’d just smile. Not a mocking smile, but a “there’s our pastor and we really do love him.” An attitude of pride, of it really doesn’t matter how we sing, just sing and lift up God in worship. That’s the way it should be done. For those prissy little perfectionists, get over yourselves and focus on worshiping God in the hymn and what the hymn is teaching and don’t worry your self about the quality. You ain’t no Pavarotti either. I have a much bigger problem with the guy who has much more talent and goes through the motions then the guy (me) who has no talent, but truly wants to lift up God in worship. I mean really, doesn’t that make sense? (I’m sitting here listening to Bob Seger and going on about hymns and liturgical worship, go figure. God surely does mix it up on you!)

The impetus that God used for what is going to be awhile longer (strap in) is an article in Christianity Today by Steven R. Guthrie Love the Lord with All your Voice (June 2013 pp 44- 47)

CT is not a high liturgy kind of publication and yet Mr Guthrie uses as the focus of his article Athanasius who lived from 293-376. Definitely not happy-clappy. “In the fourth century, the church father Athanasius articulated a different understanding of singing . It includes self-expression, but Athanasius believed singing is centrally a spiritual discipline – an important practice in Christian spiritual formation and a means of growing in the life of faith.” Now that would be for everyone, the Don Paiges, the Gaithers, Martin Luther, Me. Those who are great to listen to and those who, let’s just say can be challenging to listen to.

“In a letter to his friend Marcellinus, Athanasius enthusiastically commends the Book of Psalms and provides guidance for reading the Psalms devotionally, (B N – We are pretty sure that most, if not all, the Psalms were set to some kind of musical scoring. We don’t know how, but the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches have all taken a run at putting the Psalms to melody and most of these are what we chant during worship.) … The Book of Psalms, however, has a unique place in Christian devotions, somethiat the was true in Athanasius’ time and remained so across centuries of monastic practice and worship. Athanasius suggests that the Psalms are so spiritually significant precisely because they are not simply read or spoken but sung…

Now I am going to quote the article at length, because it is just so right on. So I may be breaking rules and I’m sorry and will happily do what I can to make up for it, but this just has to be repeated.

“…In singing, the truth of the Psalms is drawn into the depths of one’s being rather than out of the depths of one’s being…” [this is in contrast to where music today is drawn to, which is much more on the surface, definitely not the soul. This is the difference between agape and eros. Agape reaches down to give you strength, being, connection that you could never do on your own vs. Eros which is entirely about your superficial appetites, more personal titillation than truly moving your soul.- JD].

What Guthrie talks about next applies to Scripture readings also. When we read Scripture with some genuine human emotion, versus the flat/rote manner most people read it, Scripture does come alive. It gives us a sense of what is really going on in the real world. So much of other beliefs are sort of unreal, pretension, than genuine “this is the human condition” ideas. Christianity can be very mystical, it is very deep, it is right where we live because God the Son, Jesus, did live among us and did experience everything we did. So it is real versus this phoney Eastern stuff or gnosticism, that tries to deny the reality of the world.

“We might ask again why we could not simply speak the words of Scripture as if they were our own. What is gained by singing them? Just this: In song, we learn not just the content of the spiritual life but something of its posture, inflection and emotional disposition.”

“When we sing, we learn not simply what to say but how and why to say it. What Athanasius recognizes (and what we might forget) is that inflection, rhythm, and tone of voice matter deeply. They are not aural decoration. For example, after someone offends us we might say, ‘It’s not so much what he said, it’s the way he said it.'”

Chanting is difficult, I keep trying to do better, make it more aesthetically pleasing. But it drives in me the opportunity to express the ideas in a deeper more meaningful way, an expression of the different emotions instead of it being some kind of rote incantation. Because of that, I hope that the hearer hears, the depth of what the writer was expressing 3,000 years ago. That the human condition has not changed a bit since the time of Solomon until now. When we get over ourselves and understand this connection that the church has had going back to the beginning, we can start to live genuine lives instead of this goofy idea that we are somehow so much smarter now than ever before. It’s not true and in some ways it should reassure you that you’re not the first one and won’t be the last. Shut-up and listen, instead of trying to convince us how brilliant you are. If you do, you might find some true comfort and connection to those who have been connected and inspired by God to live their lives in Him. The claim is that the liturgy, chanting has no depth of emotion. That is, as we say in the Greek, baloney. Most chanting is based on the Psalms, mostly written by King David. You do not know anyone who has gone through the range of emotions that David has. Shepherd, then king, great man, great sinner, hunted, hunter. This was a man after God’s own heart. When he loused up, he loused up big-time. But he took it back to God, he took the consequences, he dealt with the rubble, then came back and lived for God. He was a brilliant man, brilliant composer, brilliant king, brilliant soldier, diplomat, builder, on and on. To you guys who think that anything in the Bible is sort of silly and prissy, you need to snap out of it. David is more “man”, than any man I can think of before or since. He truly lived (omitting the really bad stuff), the way men should live. That is why the Psalms are so important, especially to guys.

“Music, Athanasius believes, is a sounding image of a soul that is no longer at odds with itself, nor at odds with itself, nor at odds with the Holy Spirit. Melody models an inner life in which the many different elements and impulses of the person are drawn together in a pleasing chorus.”

“Athanasius goes even further. Not only is this singing of Psalms an image of the well-ordered soul; it is also a means by which God brings about this order. As the Christian goes about ‘beautifully singing praises, he brings rhythm to his soul and leads it, so to speak, from disproportion to proportion.’ This proportioned, harmonized self is not our normal state of being. Apart from Christ, the ordinary state of affairs is for the various members and impulses of our person to jostle for control, battling with one another (Rom 7: 22-23). But when one sings, body, reason, emotion, physical sense and desire come alongside one another, each enlisted together in the praise of God. As we sing, we become a harmony.”

“…Athanasius’ point, however, is that specifically by singing our praises, all the diverse elements our our humanity are drawn together and then together lifted to God in worship.”

“Athanasius portrays the Christian life as a sort of richly broadened harmony, ringing out in praise of God…”

Part of what this means? Quit the non-sense about well you can’t sing, I don’t like hearing that. If you were focused on your singing and what it truly means in respect to the guy next to you and to God, you’d realize it doesn’t matter how good/bad the other person is. What matters is how the Holy Spirit is bringing what you are doing, what he’s doing, what every Christian who is at worship at that moment anywhere in the world is doing, making it a “richly broadened harmony”. Just saying, but I get the feeling you’re going to feel pretty petty in heaven, when you truly understand how the Holy Spirit does bring all that together. And yes that includes my still in much need of improvement chanting.

I am probably not doing Mr Guthrie’s article justice, but I think that I’ve made the point. God has been using liturgical music for at least 3,000 years. It does bring us together, it does reach down to our soul in a sacrificial, it’s all about the other person, it’s all about Jesus way. Can we do it better? Absolutely. But you want genuine emotion and content in your worship? All due respect to the David Crowder Band and all Christian music going back to who knows when, but the eros emotion that music evokes, is OK, believe me, I’ve got all the albums. But when it comes to what is truly from the soul, what reaches back through three millineium, what God uses to tie together Christians around the world, is the liturgy, based on, mostly, Psalms, but also the Gospels. When we truly take this form and truly lift up God in worship and make it all about Him, then He does respond and make it truly about us. In stark contrast to eros, which is all about me and what appeals to my senses and doesn’t go deep enough to impact our soul. Only God does when we truly lift Him up in worship that’s about Him and not about us. And if Athanasius is right and singing is a spiritual discipline, then it doesn’t matter if you do it well or not so well. We worship, we take the Body and Blood of Jesus, we hear the preached word, we’re baptized, we study Scripture, we journal, we confess and absolve, and yes we should sing, in a way that is truly a spiritual discipline and not another worldly indulgence.