A problematic discrepancy can be discerned in our church’s worship services, and it points to a bigger problem among evangelicals’ theology of worship and affections.
Christ Jesus commands us through his apostles to include singing, praying, and preaching in our assemblies for worship (Col 3:16; Eph 6:18; 2 Tim 4:2; etc). Christ also commands that we are to love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matt 22:37). These elements of worship are vehicles whereby our affections for God are internally exercised and edified. I agree with Jonathan Edwards, that it “the nature and design of the ordinances and duties, which God hath appointed,” are “means and expressions of true religion.”1Jonathan Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 114.
Some of the elements of worship are more conducive to expressing our affections than others. For example, we can use singing to express the affection of gratitude in our hearts (Col 3:16). Unless we happen to be the one leading the public assembly in corporate prayer, it becomes more difficult for us to express any of the accompanying affections that go along with sincere prayer, be those affections joy, love, sorrow, or zeal. Generally speaking, to disrupt the public preaching of the Word in order to express our hearts’ affections would be rude and disorderly.
Though some elements of worship are vehicles for the expression of our affections and some are not, it is nonetheless true that each element of public worship is to generate and be accompanied by genuine affection for God in our inner self. The expression of affection does not negate the presence of affections.
What concerns me is that the ever-escalating emphasis on worship music drumming up “emotional” highs for the people of God is creating an apparent chasm between spiritual affections that occur during the singing and the character of the affections that occur during other elements such as praying or preaching. I would submit that many evangelicals are undermining a healthy perspective of what constitutes warm, ordinate affection for God by the inconsistencies of how they approach God even within a single service of worship.
At this point, a great many churches engineer the music portion of worship in such a way that the affections have a certain character for that service. But then the preaching or praying parts of the service, the worship is much more pedantic and subdued.2I realize that some churches attempt to “amp up” the prayer and preaching portions of their service with soft, unformed music in the background. I do not believe that is the answer.
I think this ever-widening chasm between the affections ought to give pastors and church leaders some pause. Music appears to be driving the emotions into a tizzy more than God’s truth. This is the very thing Calvin warned us of in his preface to the Genevan Psalter: “And in fact we experience that [music] has a secret and almost incredible power to arouse hearts in one way or another.”3“Epistle to the Reader,” trans. Charles Garside, in John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, ed. Elsie Anne McKee, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), 95.
If we are content with the solid affections that the Spirit works in God’s people through the faithful proclamation of God’s truth, then we should we be content when the Spirit works affections of a similar character through the joyful singing of stately, doctrinally sound hymns. We should, recognizing the great power of music (especially in this age of manipulated and mass-marketed pop music), and be cautious not to abuse its power. Have we no discernment here? We would be in great sin if we used any of the ordinances of God’s Word to manipulate and knowingly generate false affections in the people under our spiritual care.
I would also submit that by widening the gulf between the affections evoked during these elements of worship we mislead the saints into what genuine, ordinary spirituality looks like. If people think the only time they have great spiritual experiences is when the music is playing, we have misled them. Yet this is a real danger in many churches with the chasm between what emotions are experienced during the music and those affections during the preaching of God’s Word (to say nothing of secret prayer or Scripture memory or the other aspects of their devotional lives).
There are several other possible ill effects of this discrepancy. This ever-widening chasm raises a discrepancy that could undermine faithful expositional preaching altogether. Christian people could try to “bridge the gap” by making preaching more of charismatic-like experience, and change preaching into something more like the music experience. Incidentally, this seems to be in line with the very thing Paul avoided in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)
In fact, in 1 Corinthians 1:15, Paul says if he would have preached with “words of eloquent wisdom,” the very cross of Christ would have been “emptied of its power.” If Paul was so careful with his preaching, avoiding “lofty speech” and worldly “wisdom,” we should lament that we have openly abused music with its own unique “eloquence” and “worldly wisdom.” Are we willing to allow music to be used in demonstration “of the Spirit and of power”?
Calvin seemed to have this concern. Again, he writes,
In truth we know from experience that song has great force and vigor to arouse and inflame people’s hearts to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. There must always be concern that the song be neither light nor frivolous, but have gravity and majesty, as Saint Augustine says. And thus there is a great difference between the music which one makes to entertain people at table and in their homes, and the psalms which are sung in the church in the presence of God and his angels.4“Epistle,” 94.
As church leaders and concerned believers, let us do all we can not to widen the emotional gap between music and the other elements of worship. In fact, it would be of great benefit to Christ’s church if we started emphasizing those classic hymns of doctrinal fidelity and musical beauty that contain (in the words of Calvin) “gravity and majesty.”
|1||Jonathan Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 114.|
|2||I realize that some churches attempt to “amp up” the prayer and preaching portions of their service with soft, unformed music in the background. I do not believe that is the answer.|
|3||“Epistle to the Reader,” trans. Charles Garside, in John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, ed. Elsie Anne McKee, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), 95.|