When we get to heaven, if I am reading the book of Revelation correctly, we are going to be doing a whole lot of worshiping. I appreciate the fact on Sunday Morning that I can get a glimpse of what that will be like.
Michael makes what is probably evangelicalism’s best case for its particular approach to music-dominated worship: the eschatological visions in the Book of Revelation.
Careful students will realize that what we have here are two options for shaping spiritual formation and Christian practice: The incarnation in past history, and the eschatological fulfillment of God’s Kingdom in the future. Should we be looking to Jesus’ life, example and teachings in the past, or should we be looking to the vision of future fulfillment in eschatological passages? Is the guide what Jesus was or what we will be?
Michael is reminding us that a Jesus shaped spirituality is not entirely a matter of the historical, incarnational Jesus. We also must be shaped by Jesus in the present and in the future. While Jesus has always been what he is and will be in essence, his roles as mediator, intercessor, empowerer and eschatological Lord of the universe are seen more clearly post-ascension.
I also agree with Michael that the book of Revelation is a dependable source for the liturgical design of worship, and the place and content of musical worship in particular. Revelation is a book that is closely tied to the actual words of the resurrected and ascended Jesus, especially his evaluation and commands to his church. We should pay attention to it. (I’m aware that Revelation has its own canonical problems and certainly its own interpretative challenges, but the portions of the book that are most germane to this discussion are really not in contention.)
All of this being clear, I think we should be cautious about saying Revelation, rather than the historical Jesus, should shape the evangelical approach to worship. (I am not assigning this position to Michael, btw.)
First of all, worship in heaven isn’t part of the process of spiritually forming disciples. That process is completed, sin is removed, culture, time and place are no longer factors.
Second, heavenly worship is a fulfillment more than a pattern. The practical difference might be like this. In heaven, I will pitch a perfect curve ball, but if I can see that perfect curve ball now, it does not teach me how to pitch in the present. In the present I need to learn the steps, content and process of pitching a curve ball, and work toward the fulfillment of the pattern in a perfect pitch.
If I take a young guitar player to see Phil Keaggy play, the effect may be to inspire work in the present or it may be to decide there’s no point to continued practice since this level of “perfection” is simply beyond reach. Keaggy’s art is inspiring, but a good teacher in the present will do more to shape the young player.
The marriage of the lamb is the destiny picture for all human marriages, but the example of mentors and teachers is more helpful in the present in forming my marriage. The end inspires; the present process shapes.
Third, we aren’t in heaven, and taking a heavenly church or heavenly liturgy as the shaping model has a tendency to take us out of useful engagement in the present. There are no questions to ask or answer in heaven about how we worship, the time we use, the money we spend, the facilities required, etc. All those questions require Jesus shaped answers here on earth.
So I am happy to include Revelation texts as shaping factors in designing worship, but I am unconvinced that eschatological passages should have precedence or even equality with the example and teaching of the incarnate Christ, especially if the larger question is about spiritual formation.
Here’s Michael’s second valuable observation.
Surely it was the focus on Christ that allowed Paul and Silas to pray and sing hymns to God until midnight after they had been stripped and beaten. (Acts 16)
Several of the responses in this discussion have been about examples of music, such as Jesus and the disciples singing a hymn, James mentioning singing and this reference to singing in Acts.
I suppose that if my case was “There is no music in the New Testament,” these texts would prove me wrong. Of course, that’s not my case. (And Michael isn’t making that claim. As for other commenters, well…) Michael points out that it was the focus on Christ that inspired the singing. Amen. May it always be so.
Music is part of every culture. It was certainly part of Jewish culture. I’m aware that book of Psalms is musical. I’m aware that Christian have been reported singing from the outset of their history.
But to go from “Christians sing” to what we see in evangelicalism these days is an example of exactly what this web site will be addressing: how does Jesus control these connections? Does evangelicalism reflect Jesus or is it a testimony to our ability shape Jesus for our purposes, rather than vice versa?
There’s a reason we aren’t building huge temples and sacrificing animals at the church on the corner. The reason is our new covenant understanding of Jesus. How the non-missional church two blocks from where I am typing connects Jesus to the million dollar facility they are building is another story for another post.
What Paul and Silas do in jail is marginally applicable to the question of how music relates to Jesus shaped discipleship in corporate worship expressions. Jesus as the center of the musical worship is crucial.
Of course, there will be times the church sings and sings and sings. Christians will sing and the church will sing in various situations. But to what extent can we claim the use of music itself, as evangelicals typically use it in corporate worship, corresponds to the intentional aspects of Jesus’ own discipleship project?
I purposely tossed out this issue of music because it is a “hot button” for evangelicals. In other words, it was a blatant play for readers :-) In the unfolding of this subject, it’s quite “out of place,” and I hope everyone will remember that as we move on.
It is interesting how one commenter immediately took me to task for recommending little or no music, but long theological discussions instead. It’s fascinating how we have our own options already on the table. My suggestion is you tear up your multiple choice thinking and listen to/look at Jesus again. Let him shape the question, the answer and the practice that results.
Many thanks to Michael Bell and other readers for this useful engagement.