Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Hart and Muether point out that there is no contradiction between whether God is pleased by our worship, and how we as worshipers are blessed. Both are important because as we worship God something does indeed happen to us a participants in worship. To the extent that our worship is according to Scripture, it will include the means of grace: God’s word, the sacraments, and prayer. “They work slowly and quietly in reorienting our hearts heavenward. But these ordinances are not a quick fix, nor do they necessarily produce a spiritual high.” God promises to use these means to accomplish His redemptive work in us. When we substitute “means of our own devising” for these, we do so to our own peril. God has not promised to use those things.
After a discussion distinguishing between elements, circumstances, and forms (which I won’t recount here), Hart and Muether enter into the fray of the question of songs in worship. They begin by advocating that Reformed worship ought to at least embrace frequent use of the Psalter. With this I concur heartily. But they also offer some principles that I believe are helpful for pastors and elders thinking through what songs are appropriate for use in worship. To begin with, they remind us that they began this entire discussion of worship by describing the importance of the antithesis between the church and the world. “Worship,” they say, “is the church’s renunciation of the world.” I really like that statement because I believe it is true.
If we sing rightly as the church, we sing in a way that is necessarily unintelligible to the world.
Next, given that the church is called to discipleship, congregational song should edify the people of God. As with all the elements of worship, every worshiper is to participate. For that reason, the music that churches use should be as accessible as possible to the entire congregation. Similarly, “Godly fear should characterize our song, in both words and melody” (164). Further, as much as possible, tunes and melodies ought to be in harmony. In short, music in worship, “is not a matter of taste. It is a matter of theological conviction. In song we give musical expression to the faith we profess” (167). They conclude their discussion of song by noting that we must keep firmly in mind that the so-called worship wars are not merely about traditional vs. contemp0rary. At stake is, “a reorientation of public worship away from the Word read and preached and toward the singing of songs” (173).
It is probably obvious by now that I appreciate this book. Not only here, but in his other writings about worship, Darryl Hart has helped to shape my understanding of what constitutes biblical worship. Those who would dismiss this particular work as merely another attempt to advocate a traditional style of worship would be doing it a momentous disservice. The authors argue that what is at stake is something much more than stylistic preferences. What is at stake is the forsaking of our theological convictions when it comes to worship. What is at stake is holding beliefs that never translate into our practice. Or to put it more bluntly, our worship will inevitably begin to call into question the very doctrine we teach. When we fail to ground our worship in the truths we say we believe, we teach one another that those beliefs do not really matter in practice. “In Scripture there are ultimately only two styles of worship: true and false” (186).