A reformed pastor with a Presbyterian church recently caused controversy when he publicly criticized the styles of worship being used in many churches today.
In his presentation to the Gospel Reformation Network conference, David McWilliams, who pastors Covenant Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida, criticized the modern worship that is moving away from the hymns sung in traditional churches.
In his presentation, Pastor McWilliams not only focussed on such trends as using smoke, lighting and video displays in sync with the music, but as well on the type of music being incorporated in these worship services.
In his presentation, McWilliams noted:
“For example, who can think that a service peppered with salsa rhythms will lead the congregation to worship God in reverence and awe? Or rock music. Will sentimental tunes or music that remind one of night clubs lead us to reverence and awe?”
“Therefore, certain forms of music, attitudes, and actions are immediately excluded from worship by the one principle that we are to worship our God in reverence and awe.”
It is an interesting discussion, because he says these newer songs, some of which he actually referred to as ‘drivel,’ should not be included in worship services that should focus solely on hymns. He also said that certain actions were also not acceptable.
There is certainly nothing wrong with hymns. In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul encourages believers to worship God with hymns. But this was part of a package that included two other different types — psalms and spiritual songs.
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; (Ephesians 2:19 NASV)
The hymns are similar to what we have today and involves the worship and adoration of an Almighty God because of Who He is. Psalm 96:9 encourages us to fearfully worship God in the “beauty of His holiness.” And in Psalm 95:6, we are called to surrender ourselves to God as we “worship and bow down.”
And in his address, McWilliams quoted from Hebrews where we are told to worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
However, the Apostle also encouraged people to sing “spiritual songs.” These were not worshipful hymns, but involved songs with themes of a spiritual nature as they focussed on encouraging Christians in their faith and walk with God.
Then the apostle also spoke of singing the “Psalms”. One of the predominant themes of the Psalms was praising God.
Praise differs from worship in that it focuses on what God has done for us, and includes expressions of joy and thanksgiving.
Praise also differs from worship in style, because praise is often exuberant and boisterous including dancing and shouting.
When David was taking the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, we are told that he danced, jumped, whirled with “all his might” as he expressed his joy before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14). David was not tip toeing through the tulips.
The Psalmist speaks of praising God in the dance and with some often very noisy instruments such as resounding and clashing cymbals and trumpets, that would equally clash with a traditional hymn-focused worship service:
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals. (Psalm 150: 3-5)
These expressions reveal the differences between praise and worship.
If we are understanding the Apostle Paul correctly, churches should be incorporating variety in our services. Worship services that focus solely on hymns are equally out of balance as one that only incorporates exuberant praise.
Secondly, it is important we understand that how we worship and praise is secondary to what is going on in our hearts.
We can be singing the most solemn, reverent hymn, and it can mean nothing, if our heart is out of tune with our actions:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)