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The Songs of Worship

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!" Psalm 96:1-3

500 years ago Martin Luther shocked the religious establishment when he did the unthinkable...he led his congregations in the singing of German language hymns (the 95 thesis was sort of a big deal too). It was rare in the 16th century that the congregation would ever speak, let alone sing, in church. On rare occasions, the congregation would sing during processionals and festivals but only in the sacred language of the church, Latin. Luther, wanting to teach his people the truth of God’s word. So he embraced the power of music to communicate the character of God and comfort the hearts of his people in times of trouble. Thus he wrote Christian hymns in the common tongue of the German people. In 1527, as the Great plague was approaching Germany he wrote the words of his classic hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’. Intertwining the picture of a sovereign God from Psalm 46, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble...’ with a traditional German melody, thus the classic hymn was born. Luther’s new hymns gave the people a reason to sing as they boldly clung to the truth of a Sovereign God in the face of opposition. The song became the anthem of the Reformation. ‘It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death’[1] Luther, using the medium of music, was able to communicate the richness of the truth of God to the people in a new and powerful musical expression.

The same can be said of every generation of hymn writers and musicians. I cannot tell you how the songs of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Bob Kauflin, and Keith Getty have encouraged, comforted, and corrected me through dark valleys and high mountains. These songs have comforted me at the gravesides of loved ones, aided me as I taught my children the gospel, and gave words to the overwhelming joy of my salvation. Music is a powerful tool used for teaching the greatness of our God and proclaiming the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

At Ocean Park we are beginning a new chapter in our ‘church music’. We are not rolling out fog machines and lasers or hiring Animal from the Muppets to play drums (he wasn’t available). God has blessed our congregation with a new music leader, Grant Williams, who desires to lead the congregation in God-centered and Gospel-exalting songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). Yet with every season of change there are those who celebrate it and those who fear it. Therefore, we must view change through the lens of the gospel rather than the lens of personal preference. For if you only view life through the lens of personal preference you will allow chronological snobbery to take root in your heart and the heart of our church (see my previous post ‘The Cure for Chronological Snobbery’). This subtle form of pride will only splinter, fracture, and divide the body of Christ. Ocean Park we must not allow this to happen!

Therefore, Grant and I will be very deliberate in the songs and style of music we choose in the worship of Ocean Park. We have been reading the book 'Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader’ by Matt Boswell. Boswell lays forth the Five Marks of the Worship of the Church that Grant and I will utilize as we seek to lead the congregation in worship.

God-centered - When the church gathers together we are to sing in a way that glorifies the nature and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We sing to Him and for Him. We are not coming to church to be entertained but to make much of the God who has granted us life and salvation. We are to follow the admonition in Ephesians 5:19 , “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When God is lifted up, it edifies the body, strengthens disciples, and evangelizes the lost.

Biblically Formed - Without the wisdom of the Father, the work of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit we cannot worship. Without the guidance of Scripture we are like a rudderless ship in a sea of emotion and relativity. Therefore, worship must conform to the pattern of scripture.

Gospel Wrought - Scripture tells us that the Gospel shapes the content, informs the message, and prompts our hearts to passionately pursue truth. We are commanded to ascribe greatness to God, bring worshipful offerings to God, and to tremble before his holiness. Each week Grant has the responsibility to remember the Gospel and remind our congregation of the value and beauty of the Gospel.

Congregational - We don’t gather on Sunday’s for pageantry or performance. We gather to worship as a people who have been redeemed by the power of the cross. If the church is not singing together as one, the church is not worshipping.

Missional - Biblical worship that is aimed at God strengthens believers but it also has an evangelistic purpose. If an unbeliever walks into our sanctuary they should be able to learn the gospel and be directed toward the only one who can save them from their sin: Jesus Christ.

This is the standard by which we will measure the music at Ocean Park. I believe that when you embrace these standards you will be enriched, edified, and encouraged in our worship. We will embrace the richness of the tradition that has been handed down by the faithful pilgrims that have gone before and express it afresh in this new generation. This will cause songs from the 18th century like Holy, Holy, Holy and songs from the 21st Century like In Christ Alone to be transformational as they point us toward the only hope in life and death: Jesus Christ.

[1] Louis Benson as quoted by Tim Challies in Hymn Stories: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

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