Hey, we made it to part 2 1/2 of this series! I"m giving myself a pat on the back. . . . . . .
It's important to remember as we gather to worship that we need,. . . and have. . . .a mediator: Jesus Christ. Jesus has accomplished redemption for us, He bore our sin on the Cross, He tore the curtain in two, and made a way to the Father through us.
If you go to many church services (my own,. . .too often unfortunately) you can forget that you need a mediator. We can kind of "run" into God's presence without remembering what Jesus did so that we can sing and encounter the Holy God. I don't think this necessarily means that we need confession as the first act of every service, or that we have to start with slow songs, etc. . . . . . But, in some way, we need to remember that we need a mediator, and that we have the perfect one, in Jesus.
Now, more troubling, is that we can misplace who or what the mediator is. You can get the impression, through lengthy instrumental solos, constant background music, meaningless lyrics, etc. . . that music mediates the presence of God. In fact, folks will often exclaim to the worship leader or worship team "That music really brought me into God's presence this morning". This is a well-meaning comment. . . but patently wrong. Music is a tool that God created to enable our words and our emotions to lift up and exalt Him. Music is a tool in the hands of skillful artists that can be used as an act of worship to exalt God. But, music is not our mediator, Jesus is. If folks think they "need" music to enter into God's presence, or that they can't pray, sing, really connect to God, etc. . without music,. . . . that's a problem. There's no greater presence of God that happens because of music.
I don't doubt that making intricate, beautiful, instrumental music is an act of worship. (Beethoven, Bach, anyone?). But, as the gathered people of God, in corporate worship, we have something to say to God. . .we have something to say to each other, we have words that are important. Contrary to popular church practice and literature, you cannot communicate the gospel without words.
As stated earlier, you can praise God with your instruments alone (no words). . . the Psalms command us to do that. In corporate worship, however. . .I think these times need to always be purposeful, defined, and pastorally led. The substance of our worship, when we're together, are words, text, attributes of God, etc. .
I've seen a few examples, in current worship music (again, I'm defining this narrowly. . .as songs that are written for us to sing together as God's people, at church) of folks trying to mediate the presence of God with music (at least, it seems so. .. ). It seems like they're divining the Holy Spirit to come and speak, or bringing down God's presence with dramatic musical background.
Let me be clear. . I"m not anti- background music (I use it all the time), or anti-silence, etc. . . . .
Here's what I want to say: when you write a worship song (see definition above) the lyrics aren't just important. The lyrics actually make your song usable or non-usable in church. It's not a pop-music preference like "I like the music" or "I like the lyrics". Songs for the church are all about the lyrics; set effectively to music, yes, but not just cool music that says "Holy" 50 times. I laughed out loud when at the end of a VH1 Divas concert they closed with a "gospel" number which consisted of Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin and Celine Dion singing the word "Jesus" with various melismas about 200 times. Setting aside how non-gospel and non-heavenly such a sound was. . :) . it wasn't really that "gospel" or "worshipful" either. (not their intent, I know)
The emotions that music can conjure up are wonderful, and need to be appropriate to (you guessed it) what the lyrics say. Rich Mullins famously rebuffed a fan who said she felt the Holy Spirit come during a song: "no, I think that was the kick drum". This is an important distinction.
Jesus is our mediator. Let's write lyrics that focus people on Him, and music that gives emotion to lyrics of gratitude, awe, worship, and wonder of who He is.