Losing the Transcendent in Worship

As an observer of worship for more than 30 years, I have a “long view” of how worship has progressed, and digressed, in this period of time.  I came to faith in Christ as a teenager, and the church was in the midst of great change.  At that time there were few Christian musicians writing and performing modern music (what eventually came to be known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), and even fewer attempting to introduce that music into the worship of the church on a weekly basis.  There was simply no Worship Music industry as there is today.

Down through the years this “new music,” as some called it (some in derision and others in excitement), found its way into the worship services of the church.  We can hardly visit a church now that does not include some element of a modern worship chorus or song, or at the least a hymn that has been re-made in a contemporary flavor.  As this process continued, although many thought only the style of music was changing, what we can see now is that the theological framework of worship was changing at the same time.

One major feature that was lost was the idea of the transcendence of God — in which He is above, beyond, and exceeding the ordinary.  In other words, we have lost a certain mystery of the Godhead.  We have sought to bring Him to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a way that is accessible, and the result is that we have lost the mystery and “otherness” that He is in truth.  The immanence (closeness, nearness) of God, especially as found in His Son, has overshadowed the reality of His transcendence.  We have lost the balance.

It would be inappropriate for me to suggest that the only reason for this is the digression of quality theological reflection in the music for worship, but we certainly must admit that it is part of the cause.  As these past few decades have rolled by, the music of our worship has been focused much more on the individual — how I feel, how He loves me — than with deep theological reflection on the person of God.  The result is a “low view” of God (as Francis Schaeffer would call it in his book, Knowledge of the Holy) and an anemic worship life that excites the senses but does little to promote the fullness of what it means to worship holistically before a God that is beyond us and exceeding in glory and honor.

Granted, we still sing some of the great songs of Isaac Watts, the Wesleys, Luther and others during Christmas and Easter, but for the most part we only use these traditional hymns as gateways to more modern music.  We give a “nod” to the classics, but seldom spend enough time with them to allow their richness to sink into our thinking.  We can find a few songwriters that seek to infuse their new music with theological richness, but they are few and far between.

Thankfully, there are those that are seeking to push back this error in a consistent and methodological way.  Under the leadership of Bob Kauflin (see www.WorshipMatters.com), Sovereign Grace Music regularly produces music targeted for use in worship that is both theologically sound, and brings a depth of reflection that is generally missing from the popular offerings by the Christian music industry.  Introducing songs from these albums, and others, may be part of a restoration of worship and the rediscovery of God in His transcendent fullness.


Posted on September 29, 2015, in Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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