Pastor Brian Fuller and Pastor Kyle Harding
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
̶ Isaac Watts
True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (John 4:23). This is an amazing singular text in which we are told of something specific that the Father is seeking. God the Father is seeking worshipers who offer truthful and spiritual worship. Below is our imperfect attempt to submit to the Scriptures and the Spirit in offering collective worship at Trinity Baptist Church like our Heavenly Father is seeking.
As your pastor, I am willingly tasked to feed you, to be an example for you, and to oversee your spiritual welfare. That spiritual oversight includes seeking to protect you from carnal debate and unnecessary division over personal applications, extra-biblical teaching and personal tastes (I Timothy 1:3-7). Currently in our ministry, there continues to be regular discussion and questions about the topic of worship and music.
In an effort to emerge from the smog of the Worship Wars, we offer you our Worship For’s. We believe it will be more beneficial for our church family to have clarity as to what we are for rather than simply what we are against.
Pastor Kyle and I have co-authored this article. To assist you in knowing who is writing, I have placed a BF in front of my comments and KH next to Pastor Kyle’s comments. Consider the following:
We Are for Scripturally-Regulated, Gospel-Centered Worship
KH - The consummation of the Gospel (the sinless life, vicarious death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ) abolished for all time the sacrificial system and rites of the Old Testament and ushered in a new era of worship (Hebrews 10:9; John 4:21-24). The Word of God has laid out general truths about corporate worship that His church is to follow in this age of grace. Our desire at Trinity is to include in our Lord’s Day worship those things that God instructs His church to practice in their gatherings – this principle is called the Regulative Principle of Worship. Simply put, our order of worship will include the reading, praying, singing, and preaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42; I Timothy 1:8, 4:11-16; II Timothy 4:1-2; Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16). We will also observe the ordinances of Communion/Lord’s Table and Believer’s Baptism on a regular basis (I Corinthians 11:17-26; Acts 41; Roman 6:3-4). Because the truths of the Gospel have transformed our view of worship (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:22-24, 13:15-16), we seek to lay out an order of service that allows us to be reminded of these truths every Lord’s Day morning. The basic content of our worship gatherings will include songs, prayer, and Scripture readings that allow us to be reminded of who God is (adoration), who we are (confession), what we have in Christ (assurance of and thanksgiving for pardon), and what we need to do (dedication). There is also a time of instruction from God’s Word.
BF - These elements of Scripturally-focused and Gospel-centered worship are now reflected in our church bulletin’s order of service for us to follow each Lord’s Day. This serves us wonderfully as God’s people seeking to offer worship to our Father that is truthful and spiritual. On a personal note, I would like to just add that I have never, in my personal Christian experience, looked forward to worshiping together with God’s people like I do each Lord’s Day at Trinity. I am observing weekly that this kind of Scripturally-regulated and Gospel-centered worship provides spiritual equilibrium to God’s people (Psalm 73:17) and creates awe and conviction in the hearts of unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:24-25).
We Are for (very!) Congregational Singing.
KH - The only time music is mentioned in a gathering of believers in the New Testament church is in the context of congregational members singing to one another (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16). In following with the Regulative Principle of Worship, the majority of the musical portion of our worship services will include the whole congregation singing together.
Because of our desire to include as much congregational participation as possible in our musical worship, we will seek to use the musicians (voices, piano, orchestra, and other instrumentalists) that the Lord has given us to support the voice of the congregation. Our rehearsed musical groups will dedicate time in their rehearsals to prepare songs that they can sing and play with you, not just for you. This builds within our congregation the expectation that all the music within our worship services is selected with a specific purpose in mind and that they will be the main participants in the musical portion of our collective worship. Whenever songs are selected that do not include congregational participation, they will be used to fill a specific role in the service, even to help teach a new song to our congregation.
BF - You can expect, then, that our instrumentalists and vocalists will be endeavoring to employ their gifts not to entertain us by their excellently trained voices or instrumental skills, but rather to stimulate us to sing vibrantly as a congregation. We will choose both old and new songs, hymns and spiritual songs that our congregation can sing truthfully and vibrantly. In a nutshell, we are committed to the primacy of congregational singing in our musical worship.
We Are for Affirming Truth.
KH - The Scriptures are clear that God is Truth and everything that He has revealed about Himself is true (John 14:6, 17:17; Hebrews 1:1-2). Any truth that is spoken or written belongs to God; in fact, His Word even contains quotes from secular sources (Titus 1:12-13; Acts 17:18). Concerning the songs that we sing in our services, we desire to take the biblical and historical approach that what is sung is more important than who wrote it or performed it. For historical perspective, consider the following quote from the preface of the hymnal that C.H. Spurgeon compiled for his congregation:
The area of our researches has been has wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish — ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby. The range of subjects is very extensive, comprising not only direct praise, but doctrine, experience, and exhortation; thus enabling the saints according to apostolical command to edify one another in their spiritual songs.
This filter of selecting music for our worship services places a priority on lyrical content. This not only fills our corporate gatherings with rich Gospel truths, but it also equips the saints with truths to arm themselves with during the week. The songs that we sing should be able to bring comfort for trials, provide armor for temptation, and cause remembrance of our position in Christ. Songs built on trite repetitions and cursory views of God and the Gospel do not provide these.
BF - For the sake of clarity, the source or association of a particular song will not be a factor in our decision for offering a musical selection to our people. Who penned the lyrics, whether it be Saint Francis of Assisi or Chris Tomlin, Fanny Crosby or Laura Story, matters little, while what they have penned (the text) is very important.
In conclusion, I want to appeal to all of our folks with a few pastoral comments:
· This is the worship and music philosophy position of your pastors. A position represents a set of principles or a biblical sieve that we are able to run all of our worship selections and practices through. A position is different than a direction. A direction represents an intentional (and often secretive) movement towards a destination through incremental steps. You can visit sermons and blog posts by me and Pastor Kyle, here, here, here, and here to see that this has been, and continues to be, our position. While it would be naïve to think we will all agree, we hope that you will be able to see that our positions stand under the scrutiny and tests of the Scriptures.
· This is the worship and music philosophy for our worship gatherings. The principles in this article assist us in selecting and ordering our collective worship services at Trinity Baptist Church. As your pastors, we are also concerned about all the media you allow into your and your family’s ear and eye gates (II Peter 2:7-8). We will continue to warn you and your children that the Evil One desires, through our desires, to conform us to the thinking of this present age (Romans 12:2; I Pet. 5:8). Such conformity is spiritual adultery and destructive (James 4). However, we affirm that specific musical stylistic elements have neither been condemned nor commended in the Scriptures. So individual decisions regarding musical style are in the category of things doubtful or indifferent (I Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14) and should be engaged in with Christian love and deference.
· This is the worship and music philosophy built upon our understanding of the Scriptures. Here we stand. No doubt, some confusion has been created by many of us pastors having had little to say about the topic of New Testament corporate worship while saying much about stylistic and associative aspects of musical selections. Such a myopic approach has created confusion. One thing, it creates the impression that acceptable worship and acceptable style are synonymous. And that leads one to further think that worship is really just about music and singing. While music and singing are important aspects of collective worship, there is much more to spiritual and truthful worship. Also, to monopolize our teaching regarding worship on the topics of style and association (which the Scriptures have next-to-nothing to say) is to skew the proportionality the Scriptures give to other aspects of truthful and spiritual worship. It has been helpfully stated:
“The degree to which you emphasize what the Scriptures do not emphasize, is the degree to which you will neglect what they do.” [i]
· True biblical unity is founded upon Truth and the speaking of that Truth to one another. Ephesians 4 teaches us that the unity that we have as the Body of Christ is built upon seven doctrinal acclamations (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is a Spirit-created unity through the Gospel that we are tasked with endeavoring to maintain (Ephesians 4:3). It is important to remember as believers that there is a difference between our comfort zone and our consciences. Our conscience can be re-informed biblically. Our comfort zone has to do with background, personal tastes, and a host of other fluid variables. I appeal to all of our church family to heartily participate in truthful and spiritual worship for the glory of our heavenly Father. Please communicate with me (email@example.com) and Pastor Kyle (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions. I exhort you to resist the sinful temptation of selfishly boycotting songs during our collective worship service, or dividing and debating by sinful communication but rather to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
How Sweet and Awesome is This Place
How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!
Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
҆Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
Isaac Watts, Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1707.