Relevant Verses: Rev. 4-5; 14:6-12
Leading Question: Given the wide variety of worship preferences and styles, is it possible even to speak of “unity in worship” this side of heaven?
Interestingly enough, the official study guide completely avoids any discussion of music, in our day, the most vexed question that arises in connection with worship. Here is the list of headings from the official study guide. Is there anything else missing besides music?
Worshiping our Creator and Redeemer
First Angel’s Message
Bible Study and Fellowship
Breaking of Bread and Prayer
It may be helpful to work through various aspects of worship behavior, looking at both sides of some contrasting pairs, seeking to illustrate both sides from Scripture:
1. Loud and Noisy vs. Silent and Sedate
Habakkuk 2:20: The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. (NRSV)
1 Kings 19:11-12: 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. (NRSV)
Deut. 5:22-27: 22 These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. 23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24 and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25 So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27 Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.” (NRSV)
Isaiah 6:1-8: 6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (NRSV)
Psalm 150: Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (NRSV)
2. Spontaneous vs. Structured
Comment: On the side of “structure,” we could place the acrostic Psalms (e.g. Ps. 119) and the acrostic laments in Lamentations. These would represent a very measured and highly structured form of worship. And here we could cite C. S. Lewis’ quote in favor of structured public prayer:
The advantage of a fixed form of service is that we know what is coming. Ex tempore public prayer has this difficulty; we don’t know whether we can mentally join in it until we’ve heard it — it might be phoney or heretical. We are therefore called upon to carry on a critical and a devotional activity at the same moment: two things hardly compatible. In a fixed form we ought to have `gone through the motions’ before in our private prayers; the rigid form really sets our devotions free. I also find the more rigid it is, the easier it is to keep one’s thoughts from straying. Also it prevents getting too completely eaten up by whatever happens to be the preoccupation of the moment (i.e. war, an election, or what not). The permanent shape of Christianity shows through. I don’t see how the ex tempore method can help becoming provincial, and I think it has a great tendency to direct attention to the minister rather than to God. – C. S. Lewis, Letters, 239 (to a lady, 1 April 1952)
3. Prostrate vs. Active and Standing
Luke 18:9-14: 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NRSV)
1 Timothy 2:8: 8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. (NRSV)
4. Praise vs. Lament
Jeremiah 18: 19-23: Please, Lord, answer my prayer. Make my enemies stop accusing me of evil. 20 I tried to help them, but they are paying me back by digging a pit to trap me. I even begged you not to punish them. 21 But now I am asking you to let their children starve or be killed in war. Let women lose their husbands and sons to disease and violence. 22 These people have dug pits and set traps for me, Lord. Make them scream in fear when you send enemy troops to attack their homes. 23 You know they plan to kill me. So get angry and punish them! Don’t ever forgive their terrible crimes. (CEV)
The last word: After all that, should we add music to the list to be discussed in Sabbath School?
In short, there is much more diversity in Scripture than most of us can handle. But it still belongs to appropriate ways of worshiping God.