About three months ago, I wrote an entry on the topic of Worship and Music (http://collegeblog.midbible.ac.uk/2008/07/music-and-worship/). In the article, I was attempting to articulate the view that we should only offer to God the best we’re capable of producing, and applying this to music. One or two people commented on this and made the point that it is really the words which are important in worship music. I’ve also had similar comments made to me personally both before and since that time. And of course, I agree that my argument regarding music could apply to anything we offer to God, so, naturally, it applies to words too. However, I just want to return to my point long enough to raise a spanner over the delicate works.
In my view, the idea that worship, or any ‘exchange’ of loving communication between God and human beings, can only take place via words is mistaken. True, words are vitally important, especially in communicating truth to the unconverted or someone who is young in the faith. But it is often the case that when we draw closest to God our words are completely transcended. The sight of a beautiful sunset or the love shown by a stranger for example, can bring out a real sense of worship and thankfulness in our soul that completely bypasses words. And often, when we pray, we go beyond words because they can be inadequate to the task (cf Romans 8:26).
And so I launch my spanner. Words are not necessarily always more important than music (or other art forms) when attached to worship songs/hymns; especially for a Christian. If you think I may be in danger of undermining the fact that Christian Truth rests not only on the Word incarnate, but on the word written, let me say this. I obviously accept that Christian revelation is wrapped up in words. Although many people may have some kind of vague faith based on the natural world or on the arts, to learn of God’s eternal plan for humanity, they will need to encounter words (1). On the other hand, we need to remember that even the very words of Scripture are not there to remain as words. They are meant to point beyond themselves to a greater Reality, the Triune God who lies behind and beyond them. We must never be content to let the words remain simply words. If words drive us to worship the Saviour, for example, we will be driven beyond the words. At this point, music can be enough. If words instruct us to live in a certain way, we will want to act, not simply repeatedly read and discuss words about acting. Words and music are important. They can work wonderfully together, and they can work wonderfully in their own right.
1. Many years ago, I heard a radio interview where DJ Pete Murray (that shows how long ago), was quizzing the then famous actor, Leo McKern. McKern mentioned that he’d come to a faith in God and Murray asked him how this change in his life had occurred. McKern said that he was listening to a recording of Beethoven (I think it was the 5th Symphony), when he suddenly became aware that there simply had to be a God for this music to exist. Now, although this certainly doesn’t mean Leo McKern had become a Christian, it’s a start. Moreover, it’s been my experience that people who have come this far are much more open to the Gospel.