Let me say from the outset—my home, Gateway Church, totally rocks but not in the rock concert kind of way. Its worship is rock solid, exalting the Rock of Ages with beautiful expressions. But it was in the sanctuary of Shady Grove Church beginning in the early 80’s where I met God—and Gateway Church is a vibrant extension of that movement.
That altar is the memorable place where I poured my heart out in praise and prayer and offered my life to Him. The Creator of the universe met me there, showed me His heart, and sent me as a missionary around the world.
That’s profound. Worship at the altar of consecration is where God dwells. If we meet Him there with open hearts, we discover “God assignments” that change our lives forever.
But something has been bothering me… Often in worship settings of the contemporary, non-charismatic or charismatic expressions, I find all the props of the best kind of rock concert: Ever-swelling sound, heart-echoing, wall-reverberating, off-beat drum rhythms, heavy metal twang, indistinct melodies, lost harmonies, and the dazzle of a spectacular light show.
None of these things are evil, and you may be branding me a fuddy-duddy as you read. Don’t worry I am not attacking rock music or the Church. I am not against these, but I have a few thoughts and more questions than answers on the subject.
When the blast of the first chord of worship sweeps through a crowd, it releases an addictive adrenaline rush. Most identify this as the moving of the Holy Spirit. I seriously wonder if this is really the natural reaction of our flesh, bones, and souls as we respond to primitive beat and swelling sounds that release a buzz that tickles our spines and lure us back for more. Some psychiatrists say that rock music can be as addictive as cocaine.
“One of the most powerful releases of the fight-or-flight adrenaline high is music which is discordant in its beat or chords. Good music follows exact mathematical rules, which cause the mind to feel comforted, encouraged, and “safe.” Musicians have found that when they go against these rules, the listener experiences an addicting high” ~ Verle L. Bell, M.D., Psychiatrist.
The one, clear, and true departure of the worship service versus the rock concert is, the lyrics of the music are different. Rock music exalts rebellion and hedonic pleasure. Rock worship music glorifies Jesus the Son of God the Father.
I have attended rock-concert-style worship services through the years and in many places around the world with thousands of people. I have found the unseen person called Jesus there in spirit. Yes, it was glorious. As the minutes and sometimes hours passed, we delved deeper and deeper into that intangible mystery called the “manifest presence of God.” True worship that touches the hem of Messiah’s garment is so mystical and profound that it alters our lives forever.
I am not saying the presence of Jesus is not present in this type of setting. He is. The Holy Spirit moves among us.
Amid the addictive, syncopated drum rhythms, hyped sounds, and vague melodies, God shows up. Why? He dwells—loves to live and remain—in the praises of His people. The Creator and Redeemer comes no matter the props and accoutrements, no matter the medium that ushers Him into the room. The Master’s healing power is available because we are pouring our adoration to Him with sincere hearts.
Would we worship routinely and with abandonment if all the songs came without instrumental accompaniment? Without drums? Would we still feel that magnetic, gut-level pull that seems like the Holy Spirit?
Yes, we would come—if we knew the manifest presence of God would be there, loving, healing, and demonstrating His love and glory.
In the last years, I have had less interest in some forms of today’s worship. I feel like a stranger in a strange place. What happened? I ask myself, “Why is the grid for corporate praise and worship grid-locked?” Why does it come to us only in one package? Have we begun erroneously to believe there is no other route to the Throne?
Timeless music like Handel’s Messiah, was downloaded from heaven first in inspirational thought or worship and then documented for the glory of God for posterity with ink, paper, and pen—carefully and painstakingly. It becomes more pertinent and classically contemporary to the age we live as time progresses and the more we revel in it. I believe we will hear Handel’s eternal and glorious sounds in heaven for eternity. Who knows—maybe the “Hallelujah Chorus” C/D is what is playing by the Crystal River at this very moment.
I am not a worship leader or musician but I am a worshipper. I am hungry for more, for deeper, for broader, for higher. I am praying for change—radical shift—revolutionary upheaval in the package and presentation of church worship.
I love church worship developed in the culture of revival and prayer, and I long for the manifest presence of God that cracks open the heart, bringing freedom and healing. And yet, in this season of life, I am hungry for high church and the beauty of rich melodic and harmonious music, constrained by cadence, and prescribed form. I am curious to experience liturgy penned out of fervency and fiery devotion from saints who have gone before us—words written now in prayer and intercession that will light the way for the generations to come.
The rule of spontaneity in church worship and shooting from the hip can become as binding and dead as the liturgical structure of the historical churches. The next wave of spiritual awakening may come in the most unexpected ways among unlikely sources. Everybody has their eye on “these people” or “that church,” but God never limits His outpouring to the circumference of a drum, guitar, person or place.
The average charismatic will flinch at the word “liturgy.” It is a synonym with “dead.” But the foundations of our faith have been built on liturgy. Some of the most beautiful music is prescribed, pre-written and timeless—more lovely and intricate than notes and trills that come spontaneously.
Why not indulge in the richness of pre-written, prescribed prayers found in Jewish or Christian liturgy that is biblically sound? Written by men in the white-hot passion of devotion, war, sacrifice, and sometimes through the baptism of fire. I am pondering the place, maybe the resurrection, of liturgy in the Church today. Does is sound heretical and off base?
The Charismatic movement didn’t fall from the sky. We are rooted and deeply connected to the Jewish original root as well as its offspring, the Historical Church. There is much to gain from a second look and pause of reverence from the rock from which we are carved.
I have actually slipped into a large historical church close to home and participated in the liturgical service of the Eucharist a number of times. Why do I go back when it is so different from my own worship experience? I find exquisite beauty and depth in both the form and repetition. The prescribed words and action—perfect for the moment and proven true through the ages.
Am I suggesting we return to that? No.
But where are the imaginative minstrels and worshippers who will create a new grid from which to launch the manifest presence of God for this day and age? They will lead us like innocent children—the Marys who broke the alabaster box and gave the best gift in response to God’s extravagant love. A few who are leaning on His breast like John will guide us into the place where we see the Lord and His glory that will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
I hear the faint grace notes of a revolutionary sound of new worship, but I don’t see it yet. It may cause upheaval. Until then, I will still press in, continue in worship, and love Him as He loved me. I am in all the way with my own church and not critical, just asking, “Where do we go from here?”
But like any revolution, the first strains of this fresh movement of praise may sound dissonant, flat, or unharmonious; and the early pioneers who lead us may seem like rebel mavericks. In time though, the concert of the ages will blend gloriously, reflectively illuminating the Cross—and the streams of love that flow from it. There is something around the corner that is more excellent.
Scripture tells us the saints will sing the song of Moses in the heaven. I believe that will be an old song made new. And that is exactly what we are looking for here in this contemporary era of harvest and end-time events before the return of Lord—an old song made new. We will never stop singing about the glories of the Captain of the Hosts of Heaven and the wonders of rescue and redemption by His strong right arm.
©Bonnie Saul Wilks
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6 Comments Add yours
Right on, Bonnie. As a musician, I’ve been exposed to the rules of music. Yes, they are there whether we want to acknowledge them or not. And, most people can recognize when these rules are broken although they may not be able to say why. They simply know something is wrong.
When the rules are in place and observed, people feel safe, warmed and comforted by the music. When violated, the rules dictate that something must happen and that usually happens in the mind with agitation, uneasiness and yes, rebellion.
With increasing age, I’ve seen the disruption of these rules and what it has done to good music. Hopefully, articles like yours will yank us back from the abyss of cacophony and distraction and point us to the pure beauty of Godly music that uplifts, encourages and thrills.
I really love music and I am not a musician,I love to sing the old beautiful hymns and I love some of the new music. I probably would never say go back to what we might call ALL the old hymns because a lot of them that I grew up with were songs about Jesus instead of songs sung to Him ,realizing that the ones about Him are fine in some circumstances but generally speaking for me at least is the ones that I am singing to Him. Again I want to emphasize , because I am just a singer of songs and not an accomplished musician ,that my feelings about music we sing could perhaps be different from the person next to me would prefer. I was brought close to the Master by the old standbys like Rock of Ages,How Great Thou Art and etc, but as well I love the 80’s and 90’s like Expressions of Love, Praise Source 1 and etc. I love one of the new ones out, 10,000 reasons ,Matt Redmond and I am really partial to songs like Lion of Judah by Jason Upton.
I do like the ones when the drums prophesy His Majesty and Power. I guess what I really am saying is one might have a different preference than the next person but as long as it is done with the sole purpose of bringing Him glory and honor and the leaders of a given community of believers have sanctioned it and approve of it , I will keep on singing .I am not disagreeing at all with what other comments have been made,just giving my thoughts.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY GREAT THINGS HE HAS DONE SO LOVED HE THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE US HIS SON.
Thank you Bonnie for writing this piece. I really enjoy your writings of Hammered Gold
I have been just as moved by a cappella hymns in conservative Mennonite or Plymouth Brethren churches as while rocking out at Shady Grove. In my college days I was occasionally brought to tears by the liturgy of the Lutheran church I attended. Can you imagine preparing for the Lord’s Supper singing “This is the feast of victory for our God!”?
The thought and study and careful poetry that went into the liturgy and the great hymns far surpasses the triviality (if not incoherence) of many of today’s worship songs. I would love to see worship music that uses today’s instruments and rhythms and melodies coupled with lyrics as deep and powerful and lyrical as those of “Oh the deep deep love of Jesus”.
Bonnie, I have thoughts similar to those you have written here. Thanks for sharing this.
Bonnie, Thanks for being transparent. I know Pastor Olen has said many times that he is “looking for a sound.” It’s not something we’re going back to, but walking forward into. I grew up at Shady Grove Church, where I learned to sing courses, some times to oblivion, lol, but we also had great diversity in the sound. There were also hymns, and songs born from other cultures. My Grandfather pastored a traditional congregation, where I learned to love the old hymns. Not only did I love them, but I learned from them. My father would be beside me singing the bass “part” and I could hear my mother and others singing their parts. I would “work” to sing along with dad (maybe a bit out of my range), and later in high school choir enjoyed being able to pick out parts easily. I have enjoyed in later years the revitalization of some classics such as Chris Tomlin’s reworking of Amazing Grace.
I too find there is a longing in me to see a “more excellent” sound that incorporates not just what “tickles the ears, and stirs the emotions” but that with one hand reaches back and gathers from the best of what lies behind, and with the other reaches forward to embrace what G-d is doing now, that can challenge the best of musicians, and yet be simply sung acapella or with simple accompaniment, that rhyme and rhythm have not been totally lost on, and has the intimacy of a love song. A Tall order I’m sure, that all parts may not be accomplished in each song.
I pray for the budding musicians, and established professionals, that are seeking G-d’s heart on the matter, as I’m sure they are target #1 for the enemy that seeks to destroy and delay any worship that brings honor and glory to the Father.
Your beautifully expressed thoughts reminded me of a sweet memory.
Years ago we attended a humble home-church with 25 or so believers. We were average, everyday people who were all desperate for The Lord.
The Hispanic worship leader sang simple songs in broken English. His voice and guitar were both slightly out of tune. Even when a guitar string broke he continued worshipping with all his heart.
And I thought…
Then something interesting happened, something wonderful! The Presence of a God manifested among us again, like each gathering before. In my mind I said to God, “We can’t even mess this thing up. You still come!”
There would be weeping or laughter, shaking or quiet, or perhaps a demon would manifest in our midst.
I learned that when the hungry and desperate come together in true worship, it is God’s pleasure to respond. From those days I witnessed whether worship is with CD, to old hymns, new music, or even in silence, when the Holy Spirit is genuinely desired and invited, He shows up!
Thanks, Bonnie. Yes, PTL for Shady Grove worship!