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31 January 2008

The Noise and Impact of Worship

This feels a little cheap, but this is essentially a direct re-post of what I wrote on October 25, 2007 (with a couple of minor tweaks). I noticed that on that day, this site received roughly quadruple the visitors that a regular day sees, and I assume it's because people frequently Google for info on lines from the rather cryptic song, "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" This is probably my all-time favorite post, because it talks about worship in a way that is often not considered by the Church at large.

This Sunday I'm planning on singing the song "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble" in our morning services. The first time we sang it congregationally, my friend Christy justifiably asked me to explain what was meant by the phrase "dancers who dance upon injustice." Here are the lyrics to the chorus in question:

Open up the doors and let the music play,
Let the streets resound with singing.
Song that bring Your hope, songs that bring Your joy,
Dancers who dance upon injustice.

by Martin Smith, (c) 1994 Delirious? Music UK, CCLI Song# 1097028

Every time we sing this song I find myself reexamining the lyrics. It's one of the more metaphoric songs that we sing, and as such I want to make sure that it's theologically sound.

As I searched for references to "justice" in the Bible (again), I saw that out of 135 references, when the word is defined within a passage, it typically doesn't refer to making sure that right wins out over wrong (as in our court systems, which is likely what we're inclined to think of when we consider the word). Rather, it tends to communicate, whether by inference or direct statement, helping people who are physically or emotionally disadvantaged.

Zechariah 7:9-10 summarizes it well: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.'"

The song contains a beautiful description of the ideal actions of the Church. It speaks of at least a couple of things: 1) the Church worshipping and singing (either literally or figuratively) together in a unified voice so loud that its worship and its genuine joy is felt everywhere ("Did you feel the mountains tremble? Did you hear the oceans roar when all the people rose to sing of Jesus Christ, the risen One?"), and 2) the healing that can be found in bearing one another's burdens ("And all the streams flow as one river to wash away our brokenness").

However, the most important line of the song, for me, is the one in question: "Dancers who dance upon injustice." All the happy-happy singing within the Church doesn't amount to anything, and is arguably harmful, if our joyful worship doesn't spill over into everyday actions of justice.

"To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice." - Proverbs 21:3

How comfortable are we, being able to put a few dollars into an offering plate, thereby sparing ourselves the indignity having to get out and help real, live, hurting people? As I write this, I realize that I'm not writing it for you, but myself. The cry, "Let's put actions to our words!" is one that, as I look at history, I see every young generation trumpeting, and as they (and I) get older, the cry weakens, the desire for action wanes, and the drive for personal comfort wins out.

Do you know of any Scripture that states we're to help needy people only if their situation is not of their own making? I don't. In fact, the words of Benjamin Franklin in 1757's Poor Richard's Almanac, "God helps those who helps themselves," are in direct contrast to the Word of God.

How many wars have been fought in the name of "God?" How many church congregations bring shame on Jesus Christ by inner fighting and division? How many fellowships are apathetic and complacent, perched in the middle of hurting communities and not lifting a finger to help, but instead singing songs one day a week about how good it is not to be a part of the riff-raff on the outside? Isn't it time we redeemed ourselves by our actions? If we want to be culturally relevant, let's be a part of the culture!

Just as the song says, let's make our noise of worship be heard by singing it with our lives.

UPDATE: In the interest of being perfectly clear, I fully advocate tithing through your local church fellowship. Not only is this Scriptural in that it directly supports those who preach and minister, but many organizations such as the Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program enable monetary contributions to be distributed in a manner that is typically far more effective than compartmentalized contributions to individuals or organizations. I also loudly applaud those church fellowships, one of which I'm a part, that are engaged in helping the needy around them by offering food, financial assistance, and other help without obligation.


Preston N said...

I was recently inspired by a comment Ravi Zacharias made in a recent sermon regarding this very topic. Ravi said over the past couple of years he has observed a serious dilemma within the church. He brings up the fact that the church within the past 15-20 years has somehow made worship synonymous with music. He says granted, music is only one form of communication with God, but there seems to be this western concept that this is in of itself is worship. Ravi poignantly makes his point by saying music is a way (or form) of worship, but music without knowledge of God is only celebration without substance"! WOW! What a true statement!

Worship has become so synonymous with experience or an event. We emphasize so much on lighting and mood that it resmebles going to a rock concert. I recently saw where a minister of worship had changed their title to "Minister of Worship Arts". Not to be critical of this person, but worship is not an art form. The very title seems to emphasize experience, like going to an art gallery. Worship is not something you learn externally or you observe but genuine worship flows forth from the heart. As Ravi stated, we need to worship God with substance and not celebration. This means 24/7 and not just on Sunday mornings.

Dean Lusk said...

Man, I enjoy hearing and learning from Ravi Zacharias! Dead-on comments you've brought out!

On the semantics regarding that ministry position's title, an alternate phrase might be "Leader and Coordinator of Forms of the Artistic Expressions of Worship to Include Music and Dancing, Etc."

Naturally, all meanings behind a title can't always be rolled into it. We've got to reasonably consider what's meant. I personally don't take this title to imply that worship is an art form.

I have to admit, though, that I went through a period of adjustment before I was able to arrive at this line of thought. For a long time I was very, very critical of some of the titles given to music people in churches, starting with "worship leader."

Dean Lusk said...

I think that came out wrong...

I wasn't saying that you are being "very, very critical." You stated directly that you weren't; I was stating that I was.

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