What We Get Wrong about Worship
Christian faith is personal, but it shouldn't just be private.
Occasionally, someone asks me for a worship song recommendation, or I need someone to listen to a song for some reason. When that happens, I do what any good person does: go to YouTube. I can find a song, grab the link, send it off, and nobody has to buy or download anything. It’s great.
Even though I look for a simple, basic video to pass along, I inevitably run across multiple videos for songs full of stock Christian images, like a slideshow set to music. These videos make a couple things clear: first, some people have too much time on their hands. Second, wrong ideas about worship are all over the place.
These wrong ideas come out in the all-too-common pictures of someone standing alone in a field, or on a mountain, or in an empty church, with their hands held high. You’ve seen these pictures, and not just on YouTube. The Christian bookstore or blog nearest you surely features similar shots. The implication in these images is that true worship, our most sincere moments with God, come when we’re alone.
Personal, Not Private
American Christians have long emphasized (rightly, in many cases) the personal and individual side of Christianity: personal conversion, personal decisions, personal quiet times. Those are important things, but the New Testament provides a more crowded picture of the Christian life than those stock images indicate.
The biblical picture shows us that, while the Christian faith is personal, it is not private.
In fact, much of the New Testament would be impossible to obey in private. Jesus and the biblical writers tell us more than 50 times to do something in the context of “one another.” You can’t “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) or “love one another” (Romans 12:10) in solitude. Obedience to Jesus requires community.
The same goes for our worship. The Bible expects us to sing with one another.
The New Testament doesn’t prescribe many details for Christian worship services, but it does tell us how to sing when we gather.
In one passage, Paul tells the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit, not wine. The Spirit-filled life, according to Paul, is a singing life. And the songs that flow from the Spirit’s filling go in two directions. On one hand, we sing to the Lord, “making melody to the Lord with your heart.” On the other hand, Paul says, we sing to “one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”
Worship, then, isn’t only about you and Jesus. We sing not only with the vertical in mind. Rather, we sing to one another, for one another and with one another. And allowing this one-another-ness to inform our worship will enrich the experience for everyone involved.
What It Does
One benefit of embracing the Bible’s vision of corporate worship is that it brings unity. Anyone old enough to remember the months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 will remember hearing people belt the Star Spangled Banner at baseball games in New York. People were united around their city and the American flag, and they sang their guts out. The singing strengthened the bond that existed between American citizens.
When Christians sing together, the ancient cords that bind us to Christ and to one another grow tighter. This unity, with roots deeper than any national or ethnic identity, tells us and the world that we belong to an everlasting city, and that the cross uniting us symbolizes more than Old Glory ever could. And the song we sing–together–will endure through the ages.
Second, singing together strengthens our faith. When we sing great truths of the faith together, we remind one another what we believe, we remind one another that we’re not in this alone and we remind one another just how much we’ve got to sing about.
Third, when we get this right, we say something to the world around us. Some of the people at my church have little in common apart from Christ, but we get together to worship the invisible God at the same time, in the same place every week. This bizarre scene doesn’t happen elsewhere in our culture. Singing with other people is strange, and our strangeness offers something genuinely different to the world.
Last, singing together makes us more Christlike. When when remember that worship isn’t just about us, we’ll be more prone to consider the interests of others, and we won’t fight for our way over things like song choice and musical style.
The Christian life isn’t a solo. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), and we will one day join them in singing a new song before the throne. Until then, don’t rob yourself of the joy that comes from singing with one another. When the redeemed of the Lord say so, they should say so together.