October 2014 A.D. Deformation
Day—Baptachrismocostalist Music & Problems with Praise Teams
There has been
a good deal of discussion recently about the Praise Team/Praise Band
phenomenon, a phenomenon that has become a liturgical commonplace. Most
of that discussion has centered around the practical issues of the expense, the
placement of the instruments (front, side, back?), the adjusting of the volume,
etc. Many of us regard that cost/benefit analysis of the matter to fall
heavily on the “cost” side, and do not regard the practice as being worthy of
the effort, expense, and other logistical headaches involved. If a
student or former student were planting a church today, and if he asked me
whether he should have a Praise Team/Praise Band, I would advise against it on
practical grounds. Recently, however, someone asked me if I regarded the
practice as biblical or unbiblical, and this provoked me to think about the
matter differently. When one asks whether the practice fulfills the
biblical duty, the question is framed quite differently, and I now have a
provisional opinion on the question of whether the practice is biblical.
years ago, I began teaching the course on Presbyterian Denominational Standards
at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. About a fourth of the course addressed
Presbyterian polity and three-fourths addressed Presbyterian worship.
Students in those days will recall that I often expressed concern about
performing choirs and overly-loud organs. In each case (performing choir and
overly-loud organ) my concern was the same: congregational praise is a
commanded duty that can be audibly discerned; we should hear congregational
praise when it is sung, and nothing else (choir, organ, marching band, bagpipe)
should be permitted to obscure the thing that is commanded.
praise is not the only command that can be measured by the senses. When
Moses instructed the Levites to weave cherubim into the temple curtain, or to
carve them on the ark of the covenant, obedience could be visually
measured. One could inspect the product visually and determine that the
command either had or had not been observed. Suppose the cherubim had
been woven into the curtain, but out of the same blue, purple, and scarlet
threads of the rest of the curtain; would this have been obedient to the
command? The cherubim would have been woven in, but would have been done
so in such a manner that they were invisible. I think such camouflage
would have evaded the command rather than fulfilled the command. Surely,
the intent of weaving the cherubim into the curtain was that the cherubim would
then be seen there (as a warning not to re-enter God’s Edenic presence
except by way of His appointment, since cherubim guarded the garden of Eden
after the curse-banishment). Some commanded things involve the senses; we
should feel the waters of baptism and taste the wine of the Supper.
The incense of the Levitical priests should have produced visible smoke and an
aroma that could be smelled: “And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense” (Ex.
30:7). And we should hear God’s assembled people vigorously sing His
praise together. If we do not hear the audible thing commanded,
arguably we have not done the thing commanded.
“unbiblical” is not always helpful, because it is not always clear enough to do
the job. If someone denies that Christ’s death atoned for sin, such a denial
is “unbiblical” in the sense that it denies the central thing the Bible
teaches—that the last Adam has undone the work of the first Adam and restored
us to God. But if someone affirms that Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth
President, this is “unbiblical” only in the sense that the Bible does not
address the American Presidency. Suppose then, for a third example, that
when a local church observes the Lord’s Supper each week, the minister reads
the words of institution from one of the gospels (or from 1 Cor. 11), but then
distributes Spam and Coke instead of bread and wine. Is this
“unbiblical?” Well, the words of institution are surely biblical; having
the meal as a part of worship is surely biblical. But is the biblical
teaching fulfilled by distributing Spam and Coke? Well, not quite,
because the three imperatives (“take,” “eat,” “drink”) have particular direct
objects. The words of institution employ the demonstrative pronoun
“this.” “Do this (τοῦτο ποιεῖτε)
in remembrance of me” does not quite mean “Do anything in remembrance of
me.” “This (τοῦτό) is my body” (after the
clause, “he took bread”) does not mean “anything is my body.” And
“this (τοῦτο, a cup filled with Passover
wine) is my blood of the covenant” does not quite mean “any cup (filled
with anything).” “For as often as you eat this bread (τὸν ἄρτον
and drink the cup (ὸ ποτήριον πίνητε)” does not mean
“as often as you eat anything and drink anything.” So I think we would agree
that distributing Spam and Coke during the Lord’s Supper is “unbiblical” in the
sense of being “not quite biblical.” There are some biblical things about
it, and some not quite biblical things about it. I regard the Praise Band
(or Praise Team) as “unbiblical” in this particular sense; it is “not quite
biblical,” and I would like to explain why I regard it so.
that the Praise band is “not quite biblical” we will need the help of our
friend Ann. Ann is not a theologian; she is just a good faithful
Christian who happens to have been born blind. In every other way, she is
a perfectly healthy person; in fact, her other senses are very well developed,
as is often the case with those who are blind. But Ann is very helpful to
us because her experience of the Christian worship service is entirely
auditory; she doesn’t see anything, she merely hears. And the question we
will ask Ann is “What do you hear?” If her answer is not the answer the
Bible teaches, then what we are doing is not quite biblical. That is, if
the Bible commands something, and if the something it commands is auditory in
nature, then a hearer should hear the thing the Bible commands. So
we turn to these considerations, with Ann’s assistance.
the Bible command anything regarding our assemblies on the first day of
the week? Does it merely require that we not forsake assembling together
(Heb. 10:24-25), but then permit us to do whatever we wish, e.g. throw
Frisbees, eat hotdogs, watch the Pittsburgh Steelers, etc.? Some
traditions think the Bible requires nothing of our church-meetings on the first
day of the week. Some traditions simply meet because they find it helpful
and convenient to do so; they regard “church” as a voluntary society, a group
of like-minded people doing something together that they find helpful or
encouraging, similar to community theatre or a community chorus, but more
religious. For such traditions, Ann and I are silent. We have
nothing to say to those who regard the Christian assembly as a voluntary
society, because, by definition, if it is merely a human invention, a voluntary
society, then it is answerable to no one other than those humans who invented
it. But there are other traditions that regard the assembly on the first
day of the week as biblical and apostolic, something the early church “devoted”
itself to: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
that regard the church as an institution (not as a voluntary society), then
that institution must do what it is instituted to do; it must “devote” itself
to the purposes for which it was instituted. Working within that
tradition, then, we ask whether that assembly is required to sing audible
praise to God, and if so, how it is commanded to do so. That is, if an
audible thing is required, then there would be an audible test of whether the
required thing were done (as with the visible test of the cherubim woven into
the curtain of the tabernacle). For example, if Justin Bieber showed up
and sang several songs for the congregation, would this fulfill what the
Scriptures require the congregation to do? Do the Scriptures merely
require some musical act of any sort, or do they require a particular musical
act? If the entire congregation stood up and hummed “Amazing Grace,”
would this satisfy what the Scriptures teach? I suggest that the
Scriptures teach three audible things about the singing of praise in the
Christian assemblies: that the singing be congregational, that it be
together (not necessarily unison, but together), and that it be vigorous (loud
Let me first
apologize for the abbreviated nature of the argument here, because I do not
wish to write a book-length argument. But here is (part of) how I
reason. When the New Testament authors employ Greek, I assume that they
ordinarily employ it in a manner similar to the Greek Old Testament. For
three centuries, the Greek Old Testament had been the Old Testament employed by
the Greek-speaking Jews, and for many of them it would have been the only book
with which they were familiar because “books” were rare when they were in the
form of manuscripts written on papyrus or animal skin (Porter, 2000, p.
1099). Therefore, I assume that when they use the same words to describe
what is done in the Christian assemblies as were used to describe what was done
earlier in the pre-Christian assemblies of the Israelites that they ordinarily
meant the same thing. Specifically, when Acts 2:42 says that, among the
things they were “devoted” to was “prayers” (ταῖς προσευχαῖς),
they probably meant the same thing by the term as was meant in the Greek Old
Testament. In the Greek Old Testament, “prayer” was employed to refer both to
what we would call “spoken” prayer and to what we would call “sung” prayer, or
praise (Nichols, p. 33). The canonical Psalms, for instance, were sometimes
referred to as “prayers.” Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses,
is entitled “A Prayer of Moses (προσευχὴ τοῦ Μωυσῆ),
the man of God.” Psalm 102 is entitled “A Prayer of one afflicted
even though we think of it as a Psalm/hymn. Psalm 142 is entitled “A
Maskil of David when he was in the cave. A Prayer (προσευχή)”. When
one of the five collections that constitute the psalter concludes at Psalm
72:20, it says, “The prayers of David (οἱ ὕμνοι Δαυιδ), the son of Jesse,
are ended,” indicating that such “prayers” could also be called “hymns.”
In the language of the authors of the New Testament, “prayer” and “hymn” were
virtually interchangeable (as Calvin noted), so that the Psalms that Israel
sang when she assembled inform Christian singing when we assemble: “Let
the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in
all wisdom, singing (ᾄδοντες) psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Note that
when the “word of Christ” dwells richly in our assemblies, it does so in part
by our “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” that are similar to
canonical psalms or hymns, though in our case they are overtly Christological
(“the word of Christ”).
means for our purposes is that traits that characterized biblical
psalms/hymns/prayers would have undoubtedly characterized the early Christian
psalms/hymns/prayers. This means that I regard as germane to our
consideration not only the apostolic letters of the New Testament, but also the
canonical psalms (and other OT hymns) before them, as well as the visions of
perfected worship in the book of Revelation. So when I talk about what
“the Scriptures teach” about the singing of praise in the Christian assemblies,
I do not narrowly mean “what the Gospels teach,” or “what the book of Acts
teaches,” or “what the Pauline letters teach,” but what the whole of Scripture
teaches about singing God’s praise in Christian assemblies. It is
entirely possible that some would disagree with me here, and say that we can
settle the matter only by the Acts of the apostles, or only by the canonical
Gospels, or only by the epistles, or only by the canonical psalms, etc. I
would entertain such an argument reasonably and, I trust, charitably, but I do
not embrace such a view. My understanding of tota Scriptura is
that we are to account for what the entirety of Scripture teaches on a given
matter. When I say that “the Scriptures” teach that congregational praise
is congregational, together, and vigorous, I derive those three traits from the
whole of Scripture.
thing we learn about singing praise in the Scriptures is that it is
congregational, an act of the entire assembly that gathers in God’s
presence. But wait (some say), weren’t there special Levitical priests
who performed praise in the Old Testament? There were indeed, but
everything the Levitical priests did in the tabernacle/Temple was on behalf of
the other eleven tribes. They offered sacrifices on behalf of the other
eleven tribes, standing in their place as their proxy, as it were; and so they
also sang praise while offering those sacrifices. But the Levitical
priesthood has disappeared with the sacrifice of Christ, and all of their
peculiar duties that distinguished them from the other eleven tribes
disappeared also, which led the Reformers to speak about “the priesthood of
believers,” an office that extends now to the entirety of the Christian church.
this (exceptional) Levitical praise, the rest of the praise taught in Scripture
is to be done by the congregation of God’s people. The act is essentially
vocal; one can listen to a sermon, but one does not listen to singing
(at least not in the congregation):
34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise
shall continually be in my mouth.
40:3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise
to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
51:15 O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall
show forth thy praise.
63:3 Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips
will praise thee.
71:8 My mouth is filled with thy praise, and with thy
glory all the day.
109:30 With my mouth I will give great thanks
to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
119:171 My lips will pour forth praise that thou dost
teach me thy statutes.
145:21 My mouth will speak the praise of the
LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.
27:2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.
21:16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”
And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of
babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?”
14:11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee
shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to
God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Bible refers to praise of “the heart,” it does so as a complement to
vocalized praise, not as a substitute for it. Each of these texts,
taken in its natural sense, refers to the actual organ of the mouth or lips or
tongue, demonstrating that the act is vocal. There may be such a thing as
“the conscionable hearing of the Word” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 21:5),
but there is no such thing as “conscionable hearing of the singing of praise.”
9:1 I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds.
28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart
trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I
give thanks to him.
86:12 I give thanks to thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify thy name for ever.
119:7 I will praise thee with an upright heart,
when I learn thy righteous ordinances.
138:1 I give thee thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing thy praise;
assemblies of God’s people, this vocal act is performed by the assembly itself:
Psa. 5:11 But
let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and
spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may
exult in you.
21:13 Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and
praise your power.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Psa. 22:23 You
who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify
him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be
Psa. 67:3 Let the
peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in
Psa. 79:13 But
we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you
forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the
assembly of the holy ones!
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock
of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us
make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous
song and sing praises!
Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be
created may praise the LORD:
Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds
among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his
wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who
seek the LORD rejoice!
So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of
the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was
left. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.
The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence. But
we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the
Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly
of the godly!
Psa. 150:6 Let
everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could
number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing
before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches
in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our
God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
19:1-6 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a
great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and
power belong to our God…Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah!’…And from the
throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear
him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a
great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty
peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty
Not only does
the entire assembly of God’s people declare His praise; they call on creation
itself (“Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in
them”) to join them. Those who benefit from God’s creative and redemptive
acts are those who are called to sing His praise.
related is the reality that congregational praise is done together. Only
one of 150 Psalms (Psa. 136) is antiphonal, where one party (probably priests)
does one part and the congregation replies “His steadfast love endures
forever.” The ordinary pattern is not antiphonal but unison, and the
ordinary pattern does not divide the congregation into parts. The
ministering Levites may well have sung the one part of this antiphonal Psalm,
but the united congregation sang the other part. This is undoubtedly due
to the fact that worship is essentially a dialogue between God and His people;
He addresses them in word and sacrament; they reply in prayer and praise.
Thus, there should ordinarily be only two “voices” in worship; the voice of God
in word and sacrament and the voice of the people in prayer and praise (even if
a minister speaks for the one party or the other). Therefore, it would
not be right for one hundred people to gather on the first day of the week,
each one podded up and each one singing something different from what the others
were singing. The congregation is assembled together, to worship together,
and to pray and sing together. What distinguishes corporate
devotion from private devotion is precisely this united dimension.
together does not exclude singing harmonious (or polyphonic) parts.
Singing together does not mean that the congregation must sing in unison.
If a given culture develops sufficiently to sing harmonious parts, that is
fine, but they should be singing the harmonious parts to the same hymn; the
congregation should not be divided into sub-groups that are doing different
things from one another. A certain kind of harmony is built into the very
nature of the differences of voices; most females will sing the melody an
octave higher than most males, for instance. This is fine, as long as
they are singing these (differing) octaves together.
We note also
that biblical praise is vigorous (loud). We may be able to pray silently,
but we cannot sing silently. The assembly is to raise its voice in
hearty, loud praise:
Psa. 32:11 Be
glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.… 3
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
Psa. 35:27 Let
those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say
evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of
praise, a multitude keeping festival.
Psa. 47:1 Clap
your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
Psa. 71:23 My
lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you
Psa. 81:1 Sing
aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Psa. 95:1 Oh
come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our
salvation!… 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a
joyful noise to him with songs of praise!…4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD,
all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great
multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power
belong to our God…3 Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah!’…5 And from the
throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear
him, small and great.” 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a
great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty
peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty
assemblies are anticipations of the heavenly/eschatological assemblies, in
which the redeemed cry out songs of praise in loud, united praise.
Therefore, our present assemblies should look and sound like those assemblies
insofar as it is possible; we too should cry out in loud, united songs of
praise. Such vocal exuberance is natural to our social nature.
Nations have national anthems which they sing vigorously at appropriate
occasions; British soccer fans sing the anthems of their respective teams
across the field, attempting to drown out the voice of the opposing fans.
Effectively, in worship, we declare robustly, publicly and unitedly our
allegiance to our Creator/Redeemer, and we effectively “shout down” all opposition.
But it is the congregation that does this, not a small ensemble with
artificially-amplified voices. The amplification should come from the
great number of redeemed voices joined together.
Let us take
Ann, our blind friend, to two churches on two consecutive Sundays. On one
Sunday, we take her to the local RPCNA church, and the congregation
sings Psalm 100, in four-part harmony, without instrumental
accompaniment. The next Sunday, we take Ann to a NAPARC church that has a Praise Team
and it sings the 100th Psalm. We ask her the same question
about each: “Ann, what did you hear?” Here are her answers:
One: “I heard a congregation of voices united together singing Psalm
Two: “I heard a small number of voices, greatly amplified, singing Psalm
100, and I think I heard other voices, greater in number but lesser in volume,
singing along with them.”
Anyone who has
been present at such services will attest to the fact that Ann’s answer is
accurate. For content, she heard the same thing (Psalm 100).
But in the one case, she unmistakably heard the congregation unite in singing
God’s praise; whereas in the other, she wasn’t even entirely sure she heard a
congregation at all. She’s sure she heard a small number of highly
amplified voices, and that these voices were singing together. But the
other voices were quieter and more hesitant. Why?
the Praise Team has replaced the hymnal. When churches decided to sing
contemporary music, they often could not find musical scores, and/or they could
not reproduce them for the congregation for legal or financial reasons.
So the Praise Team would rehearse ahead of time (at least they had the
musical score) and sing the material. It was hoped that the congregation
would “sing along with” the Praise Team; and it often did, picking up on the
song as it went along. But the congregation—even if the members can sight-read
music—cannot sing as vigorously or confidently as the Praise Team, for two
reasons. First, the congregation does not have the musical score, and
must learn the song by ear. Second, the Praise Team often varies its
instrumental or harmonic parts (and worse, its instrumental bridges) between
stanzas, so that the congregation is not entirely sure exactly how each stanza
will be sung. And since the Praise Team alone has rehearsed beforehand,
those who operate the microphones must be sure that the Praise Team is not
drowned out by the congregation because, after all, only the Praise Team
actually knows what is going on.
What Ann hears
in the two settings is two very different things, acoustically. In one,
she hears an entire congregation singing robustly together. In the other,
she hears a small, highly amplified ensemble, and possibly she also hears a
hesitant group of congregants singing along with them. Take the test
yourself some time, and you will hear what Ann hears. For just two
Sundays, close your eyes during the singing, and listen. You will hear
what Ann hears—two very different things. But here’s the point and the
problem: in the one case, what she hears–a congregation singing robustly
together–is what is commanded; but in the other case, what she hears–an amplified
small ensemble, and maybe some others following along hesitantly–is not
what is commanded.
of the congregational singers is an unavoidable consequence of using a Praise
Team rather than a printed (or otherwise displayed) musical score; and the
drowning out of the congregation by the Praise Team is due also to the fact
that the Praise Team functions as the musical score, albeit one that is
heard and not seen. Some Praise Teams are worse than others, of
course. Some introduce more variations between stanzas than others, and
such variations create even more hesitance for the congregation: Will
there be an instrumental bridge between the stanzas or not? Will the same
harmonies be employed in each stanza, or not? Will portions of the
refrain or one of the stanzas be repeated or not? The congregation does
not know—indeed cannot know—how each stanza will sound until it hears
it, so the congregation sings tentatively, hesitantly, and a micro-second
behind the Praise Team. The Praise Team has unwittingly become like the
third grade jokester who invites you to have a seat, pointing to a chair.
When you go to sit down, the jokester pulls the chair away, and you land on
your backside. The Praise Team does the same thing musically; the
congregation never knows (indeed, it can never know) how the Team will
perform each stanza until the congregation hears it. And it can only hear
it if the Praise Team is amplified to the point that it effectively overpowers
chastised me gently several years ago for saying that I just don’t bother
attempting to sing when there’s a Praise Team present. I explained
why: I was tired of and embarrassed by singing the “Two-Syllable
Solo.” Often the Praise Team goes straight from the first to the second
stanza without an instrumental bridge; and does the same thing between the
second and third stanza. I assume that they will go immediately from the
third to the fourth, so I vigorously begin singing the fourth stanza only to
discover that I am singing a solo; everyone else is waiting to hear when the
instrumental bridge will end. Of course, I catch myself after a few
syllables, and I too become like a sheep, waiting to hear what the Praise Team
will do next and to follow it sheepishly when it finally decides to do whatever
it is that it has decided to do. Mrs. Gordon has sung a few of her own
“Two-Syllable Solos” over the last few years, so she now ordinarily adopts her
husband’s practice and does not ordinarily sing when there is a Praise Band
medieval church, the congregation was invited to join in the singing of praise,
but was not able to do so, because the congregants did not know Latin. So
the priests in the front of the building sang the praise, because they alone
had the knowledge necessary to do so. One of Luther’s most intentional
reforms was to re-introduce congregational praise, and he did so both by
writing almost forty hymns, but also by translating others and encouraging the
writing and translating of more (Brown, 2005). For Luther and Calvin, “the
priesthood of believers” meant that the entire congregation now offered the
sacrifice of praise to God (not just Levitical priests who offered animal
sacrifices). As James Hastings Nichols (1968) put it:
“The most important
thing was intelligent participation, resting on full understanding of the
language used.…Calvin knew, as did the ancient church, that ‘each Christian
bears the exalted title of sacrificer’ (Opera Calvini, XXVII, 407) and
has his rightful place in the corporate offering of praise and
intercession. The people should understand and, insofar as possible,
unite themselves to voice the sung and spoken prayer of the service. So
they had done in the third and fourth centuries.”
barrier to full, hearty congregational praise is not the lyrical score (in
Latin) but the musical score (withheld from the congregation). The
medieval worshipers did not know the lyrics; we do not know the music.
But in each case, some smaller sub-section of the congregation performs its
praise for it, graciously inviting the congregation to participate, but not
actually permitting it to do so in a vigorous manner. What Ann hears is
not the congregation/assembly of Jesus Christ; what she hears is a small
ensemble, highly amplified.
Reality More Important than the Term
It should be
evident that my concern is for the reality of an amplified ensemble
overpowering the congregation; not for what you call it. But labels
sometimes are indicative of the thing denoted thereby, and perhaps the problem
with the label indicates a problem with the thing. Whether we call it a
“Praise Team” or a “Praise Band,” either one is problematic. If we call
it a “Praise Band” the title designates a performance, and we hesitate to
replace the congregation’s vocal praise with someone else’s performance thereof
(even though, in fact, this is largely what the Praise Band does). If, on
the other hand, we designate it a “Praise Team,” well then, what is the
congregation? This may even be worse, by designating a small ensemble
within the congregation as those who do the praise. When we have a
“football team” on the field, we on the sidelines observe their performance,
but do not play the game ourselves. Calling the Praise Team a “Praise
Team” therefore also denotes something we would rather not say. But is
not this difficulty of finding an appropriate label merely a reflection
of the fact that the reality itself is problematic? Having
surrogate praisers is simply out of accord with the teaching of Scripture,
which call the entire assembly to present vigorous praise to God.
could have woven blue, purple, and scarlet cherubim into the tabernacle
curtains so cleverly that they blended in with the curtains themselves.
They could have argued that they had kept the command to weave in the cherubim,
but no one would have believed their argument. If you fulfill the command
to create a visible thing in such a manner that the visible thing is invisible,
then you really have not fulfilled the command. And if God commands the
entire assembly to sing together vigorous praise, and yet Ann does not hear
such, the commanded thing is not done. Whether we “hide” the cherubim
with threads that are the same color as the curtains, or whether we “hide” the
assembled congregation with an amplified ensemble, in either case we have
failed to do what is commanded. God is enthroned not on the praises of an
amplified ensemble; he is enthroned on the “praises of Israel” (Psa. 22:3).
As a final
lexical consideration, I note that many defenders of the present liturgical
model have coined the expression “contemporary worship music.” They did
not call it “contemporary congregational praise,” and they really could not
have done so, since it is evident that the current practice actually makes it
difficult for the congregation to sing robustly since no musical score is
provided and difficult even to hear them if they do. But the Scriptures
do not command “worship music;” they command congregational praise. So
even the label here is mildly misleading. If we required people to use
the expression “contemporary congregational praise,” we would, in doing so,
require them to do those things that enhance such congregational praise, and
require them not to continue doing those things that worsen it or hide it.
Brown, C. B.
(2005). Singing the gospel: Lutheran hymns and the success of the
reformation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Nichols, J. H.
(1968). Corporate worship in the reformed tradition. Philadelphia:
Porter, S. E.
(2000). Septuagint/Greek old testament. In Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter
(eds.) Dictionary of new testament background. Downers Grove: