This will be a long post, but it begins with the Star Wars Last Supper. I therefore make no apology. Finally, after a couple of weeks of boring definitions and historical lectures, we get to the exciting divisive stuff that splits churches and starts wars. Yay! If you promise to try not to get bloodthirsty, I will begin with an observation. A couple of elements of corporate worship, it seems, have at least partially had their identities swapped within the past century. They are the song and the sacrament. Since one of the purposes of these essays is to give us a shared understanding of worship under which we can unite as a body, and since this topic is particularly divisive, I am going to attempt to tread lightly in my examination of this phenomenon. For those of you who know me, this is no small task, so please read with a forgiving spirit if I do offend. If you believe I have not taken a hard enough stance on an issue, perhaps you are right. But let us remember: "Unity in the essentials, liberty in the nonessentials."
1.) Traditionally a song has been a tool whereby the body of Christ might better align her sentiment with her intellect. The major purpose behind singing in corporate worship has been to identify one's self with accurate theology and appropriate sentiment. That is, to make sure we're thinking the right things about our feelings and that we're feeling the right things about our thinkings. It's a shalom thing.
Jonathan Edwards said, "True Religion, in great part, consists in holy affections." It reminds me of Robinson's famous plea that God would, "tune my heart to sing thy grace." (Almost as though there were wrong ways to sing about God's grace. Hm...) The song is often played with the minor 6 chord played in the 9th measure, around the time we sing "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it," giving us that pathos of longing to accompany the ethos of our depravity. Music has the uncanny ability to connect the realities of the intellect to the realities of the heart when used well. We return to the major cadence in the next part of the verse when we come to "Here's my heart, Lord take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above," and we are resolved both in the truth of the words sung and the spirit with which they are given. Music has been given special dominion over this phenomenon of unity. It joins the heart, soul, mind, and strength of a man as we see him cry out in his desperation to the God who alone can save him, encouraged by melody and harmony to express with everything he has in his person this deep declaration.
Very powerful stuff.
2.) Traditionally, a sacrament has been a means of grace whereby the body of Christ might receive the real presence of Christ through the senses. The Roman church recognizes seven sacraments, and the majority of the protestant church only two. There is not only this difference, but also what is meant by "means of grace," "receive," and "real presence of Christ" varies quite completely between denominations. Put your pitchforks away. We're not going to go there. First, I'd like to submit to the reader that I will only be focusing on one sacrament in particular here, for it is the common denominator and that's what we're going for here.
The traditional understanding of Holy Communion, (or Mass, or the Lord's Supper, or the Eucharist), is that something unique happens when we come together in remembrance of Him, breaking the bread and taking the cup as He did, that happens at no other earthly time. For hundreds of years, this act was the centerpiece of each and every worship service. In fact, the Roman Catholic church still refers to the entire service by the name of the sacrament: Mass. You'll remember that the four main elements of the corporate worship of Yahweh since the Levitical law (never revoked or expired, only fulfilled!) were the Gathering, the Proclamation of the Word, the Sacrifice, and the Sending Forth. The sacrificial piece was preeminent, for it was what made the people right before God and enabled their relationship. Jesus' fulfillment of the sacrificial requirement was not an annulment of the debt but a complete payment of said debt. The church rightly saw that we did not therefore remove the time of sacrifice from the order of worship, but rather we celebrated it all the more. Jesus commanded his church: "Do this in remembrance of Me." One must believe that in remembering him, we are not merely reminiscing about the good old days, but we are instead honoring the God-man for who He truly is and what He really did.
NOW, I think it only fair to point out the following things:
1.) The musical piece of today's worship service, is often itself called "worship." Hauntingly reminiscent of the sentiment that gave the ancient worship services the name "Mass." We've changed the name of the service to exclude the sacrament and we've changed the name of the song to elevate it to the centerpiece status once held by the Eucharist. Reformers may defend the switch, claiming that the sacrament had been raised to the point of idolatry. Perhaps, but the solution is not to lower it to the point of our sacrelidge. "The music IS worship" is the agreement now, whereas it was once said that "worship IS Mass." Communion has not been removed completely from the picture, however. It does have a recurring role quarterly (perhaps until the contractual obligations have been fulfilled and we can finally kill off the culturally irrelevant character one and for all). Instead of partaking in Holy Communion to remember, now we're merely doing it so as not to forget.
2.) When we gather in "worship," it is often said (if the music was good), that God was in our midst. We even feel like we've gotten an extra special boost from God and now we can make it a bit farther than we could have on our own. What we have effectively said is that this partaking in the musical acts has been "a means of grace whereby the body of Christ has received the real presence of Christ through the senses."
3.) When we hear that someone has visited a local church for the first time, the question asked is often, "So, did you like the worship there?" This question would not have even made sense to people who thought of worship as a duty and a need instead of as a consumer product. They also would not have understood that you were referring to the music and atmosphere.
What has happened? I feel dirty, as though I've taken part in staging the coup against Caesar Eucharist, and he's looking down at me, saying, "Et tu, musician?" My craft was designed to play the supporting role in a high drama where the starring role belongs to the craft that remembers Christ and His supremacy. I repent my part in this egocentric mutiny where our consumer mentality is paramount in our worship, and I pray that we as the Church will truly seek to respond to God’s divine progressive revelation appropriately.