In our society, we are conditioned to think only in terms of the individual. The noted professor of worship at Wheaton College, Robert Webber, says that so much stress has been laid on conversion that the services are often not worship-centered in many churches. He says that in conversion-centered services “worship center[s] no longer on the objective and corporate action of the church, but on the personal experience of the worshiper.”
Webber goes on to say that the shift from the corporate to the individual happened because some early American Christians mistakenly thought that “those who were converted needed less structure and were less dependent on others for worship.” In truth, freedom comes through structure in Christianity. For instance, people can’t make music if they don’t know music theory and notation. Real freedom requires that other people be involved in our lives to help us: to train, to encourage, and “to stimulate one another to good works” (Hebrews 10:24) as the Apostle Paul says.
Why does the modern Church abandon the principle of freedom through structure so often? I believe it is due to too much emphasis on “I” and not enough on “we,” the corporate body. Many come to worship for themselves, what “I” can get out of it, or, what “I” put into it. Biblical worship does not exclude the individual, but it is a corporate act. It draws together the entire congregation as one voice to God and one ear to listen to him.
Furthermore, corporate worship involves the Church of all ages. We do not stand alone when we worship. We join with God’s people of times past because the Church draws near to heaven where all the departed saints dwell. Our worship should reflect not just our own age, for that would be to exclude those of the corporate body of Christ in the past. It should be compatible with the one, holy, apostolic, and universal (catholic) Church of all ages. This oneness with the whole Church encompasses every facet of worship, especially the music.
We sing music from the entire history of the Church, dating all the way back to the second century: one example is the Te Deum Laudamus, (meaning “We praise Thee, O God”). We do not sing music from the twentieth century only, although there have been some fine composers in this century. We are not simply trying to be “modern,” although we don’t want to exclude what is being done in our own times.
We should expect that the majority of our music is from ages past, because two thousand years of music precede us. We should anticipate less music in our services from the twentieth century for this reason. We should also understand that most church music in this century is in imitation of the secular sound. It is not written primarily for worship. At times, it has an evangelistic purpose. There may be nothing wrong with writing music to sound like the secular world for the purpose of evangelism. But the Church of the past understood that the purpose of worship is different; it is for doxology, that is, praise. It therefore did not write its music to sound like the secular world.
Indeed, it used to be that the world imitated the Church’s music (Mozart copied Bach). The church wrote worship music to reflect the action of drawing near to the throne room of God. Again, it operated on the premise that the best should be brought, not just from one period in history but from the Church of all ages. It should not bring trivial or out-of-place music to corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. This service is not for entertainment (in many liturgical churches the musical instruments are at the back for this reason). The music for church worship may or may not have a contemporary sound but it will be compatible with the purposes of worship.