Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spot the Worship Leader!

Something curious is happening.

Though a captive, I still manage to journey out...sometimes at night, sometimes during daylight running errands. Though this itself is curious, there is something curious'r still, and it is happening alarmingly within the ranks of those who say they are of The Way... . Upon reflection of the matter I thought it would be best not to try to describe my curiosity but rather, present it to you in the form of a puzzle** - for I am curious and puzzled to be quite honest:

** There has been some demand that I actually do explain myself, apart from the 'puzzle'. So, for the sake of clarity, and that no one may put words in my mouth based on their own interpretations, I believe I should write further on my thoughts**

The other day I heard someone talking to an aquaintence of mine saying excitedly, "Hey, I saw you in church last Sunday doing worship!"

Doing Worship.

Buckle up, here we go!

I have heard many say they feel somewhat awkward singing certain Christmas carols that include the word 'gay', as that word in particular has recently in our history come to mean something else quite entirely than the sentiment the word actually entails, which is along the lines of 'Joyous', or 'Happy'. So, at the Church Christmas pageant, when everyone has invited friends and family for the singing of carols, you see a flurried look of corporate chagrin as the lyrics "Gay happy meetings!" comes 'round during 'The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year'. What's going on here, a happy Christmas gathering or a homosexual orgie?! So...The church grumbles as these things happen, and resents the infringement as the redefiniton of words advances into their 'territory'.

Yet - surprise - we find modern churchianity doing the very same thing. They complain, then do the same.

There is something that I too, resent, concerning the brazen and uncalled for redefinition of words. This one not from the big, bad world out there, but from within the ranks of those who call themselves the 'faithful'. This word is very popular right now, and the redefining of it has actually been the catalyst to create millions of dollars for corporate churchianity; you know -those entrepreneurial types that see godliness as means to financial gain (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Those are strong words, but entirely provable in context as I shall explain: The redefining of a word that takes it's original meaning and discards it for an entirely new one makes the word a 'false word' in contrast to its original intent. In the terms of justice, the new word commits 'violence' to the old. So when you not only knowingly choose the new definition, but violently superimpose it over the old one, you have now become a partaker and teacher of something false. As some have said, " The skin of the truth, stuffed with a deadly lie" (all you butchers who make sausages will immediately understand that I'm sure!).

Or a modern reference: You touch up a digital picture, you know, flatten the tummy a little, and when you save it, you save it under the old caption. The computer pops up a little warning: 'Are sure you want to overwrite the old file and replace it with this?' "Yes, enter, whatever! Let's get that flatter tummy up on Facebook!". So, you have the same title, but effectively a new and altered image. This 'new perspective' changes the outcome of those who view your picture completely: "What a flat tummy!" they gush as they look at your pictures.

1st Timothy 6 says, "If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."

As you can see in the above passage, it is the very people discontented with the 'boring old bible' who have a 'quarrel with words'; for it is them who must update and redefine words, 'robbing them of their truth' which in turn creates the 'false doctrine' which then can be exploited as 'a means to financial gain'. Some have tried to turn the above passage around in an attempt to convict those who 'agree to the sound instruction of our Lord' as the controversial and quarreling ones, but scripture context simply does not allow for that. If you are of that mindset, I'm sorry, but you've been caught!

So what is the word in question? Seen from the 'puzzle' above, it is the word 'Worship'.

Modern churchianity has firmly established for itself the 'golden calf' of alternate leadership in the forms of councils, denominational positions, statements of faith, etc, etc, right down to your personal pastor who stands above all of you at the pulpit. What we have seen for roughly 1700 years is a 'church' tossed to and fro by the wind, slipping and sliding along with pop culture, largely due to the changing views and opinions of those with agenda whom either have appointed themselves as leaders, or those appointed by their innate ability to soothe and tickle the continuously itching ears of the sheep of the pasture.

We should truly be thankful for those brief moments in history when a leader emerged with actual allegiance to God, prophets if you will, who actually strived to keep God's Assembly (ekklesia) from fully losing their footing. But what do you do when people purposefully set out to change the faith already established; redefining and re branding the Holy things of God for their own purposes. What do you do? (spoken in your best Keanu Reeves)

You get back to basics. Even the sum of the highest and most complex Harvard level mathematical equation would utterly disintegrate nonsensically if you altered and created a new outcome of a simple constant, for example, 1+1=2. Say for example you arbitrarily redefined 1+1 to still equal 2, but just 2 & 1/3.

"That's not so bad is it? It still equals 2! Well mostly 2... and a 3rd. Close enough for me!"

But now, from this simple beginning point, the sum total of the continuing equation will be completely out of whack to the point of being completely unrecognizable from the previous sum total when the basics of not only mathematics but the integrity of the equation itself were held to correctly.

"Enough about math. Get to the point!"

The modern church has arbitrarily, with forethought and intent, redefined the meaning of the word 'worship' for their own purposes - which has in turn changed what worship looks like in action (in truth), which has in turn changed the *outcome* of said actions, which when all combined has created an entire new concept (doctrine) of what is called worship. This new concept has now so predominantly lodged itself in place of the old one - in such a complete and accepted way - that changing it back is about as likely as regathering the feathers from a ruptured pillow in a windstorm.

A Scenario:

It's Sunday morning, and you sit comfortably in the 2nd service awaiting your pastor to disclose the secrets of heaven. Then, heads turn and excitement builds as they approach. Yes, they slink up on you - silently gliding gracefully up on stage. They adorn their musical instruments, and with hooded eyes give a brief but penetrating gaze about their audience. It is quiet...almost...too quiet. Quiet enough that one could almost hear a still small voice... The air of expectation is now soaring (this is just like 3rd row last Wednesday when U2 came through town!!) That's when they make their move. Almost uncannily, those on stage seem to move at once, that is with the exception of the one up in the foremost position. The hooded eyes and penetrating gaze suddenly give way to a broad smile - with such a flurry of motion you barely process the ensuing scissor kick and 3 foot leap in the air! "Come on, Church! Let's Worship!" That's your cue! All the pent up excitement exposes itself in joyous abandon, as you rocket from your chair with arms lifted higher and holier than even you expected! "This is it!" you think to yourself, "the spirit of worship is here!" Coffee cups get knocked over and bibles get kicked on the floor (some even being danced on - "Wow! What incredible thing is God doing in our midst that we are prophetically dancing on bibles?!" you think in utter amazement). Then, during one of your own worshipful 3 foot leaps you catch a glimpse over Esther's head (who you remind yourself to pray for as her leaps of worship aren't quite as high as last Sunday - but then again there was a lot of excitement that Sunday when Esther found out the church corporately got the first 5 rows at U2, only 3 days away!) you see that person again.

Yes - the killjoy in the corner who seldom claps, dances, sings, leaps or, for that matter, any other form of worship at Sunday service. They always look tired and sometimes they don't even show up! You faintly remember last Sunday them sharing something in the church hallway about long nights of study, the years spent in missions, etc, somewhat interrupting actually, as you and your church at large were trying to get down to brass tacks about how you would all be traveling to see Bono..."The church bus, of course" you remember saying authoritatively. As an esteemed 'tither' you well knew a church need when you saw one-

-Oops - you knew this was coming but find your timing a bit off as your thoughts wandered. The three uptempo songs went by in a flash! As was custom, and from the return of the 'hooded' look in the performers eyes, it's time for the customary two down tempo songs. "Ahh, the meat!" you think - no less excited - just more subdued..more, 'worshipful'. A tear rolls down the cheek of the worship leader (or is that sweat from all his praise kicks?) as you worshipfully sing the lyrics laid out for you to follow on giant projected screens - based almost prophetically on all the felt needs you experienced the prior week. "Wow! They're really 'reading my mail' this morning! This worship music really speaks to me!...yeah, almost about me even...man, I sing 'me' 23x in this song. Worship music makes me feel so special!"


As a musical performer and traveling minister, a certified certificate holding 'worship leader' (U of N, Los Angeles campus YWAM, School of Worship Grad, under direct tutelage of Paul Baloche, Marty 'as the deer' Nystrom, among other greats), and as someone who actually has adorned the printed page of CCM magazine, I can tell you that from my travels, tours, and attended services spanning 5 countries & literally multiple churches per state and province in and across North America, that what is described above is not only a reflection of my generations church experience, but also a modern pop culture church normality (since pop culture churches are the ones that effect the most change in immediate church history they will serve as my example). In other words, the majority of readers immediately identify with the story and need little or no explanation of the events. They 'get it'.

So there you have it. 'Worship'. A worship 'service'. A worship 'concert'. A worship 'CD'. A worship 'retreat'. A worship 'invasion'. All in all in a nutshell, when you say 'worship' today that is what leaps to mind. A band; Paul Baloche, Brian Doerksen; the guy or girl with the perfect hair who's got 3 chords down on guitar already, or the newer humble versions with messier longer hair wearing plaid - yeah, just like from your church. The person who magically appears with an instrument at the utterance of "Let's worship now". In fact the last recorded artists making money today are worship bands, artists, and record labels because after all good christians still buy cd's and don't download.

Worship = singing = guitar/piano, etc. It is the first entry in your Google search, so to speak.

But is it worship?


As a friend shared with me, it *is* in fact all about the change in the meaning of the word. Think of the hymns. Those old out-of-touch grey haired fogeys actually got something right! They didn't call their songs worship because they knew they were just songs. Songs dedicated to God, songs of praise, but a song is still just a song in the end. In fact in the new testament people even taught and admonished one another using the sword of hymnry (Col 3:16). A tool indeed, for God's people. But today, we have worship schools to lead you out of those bad habits of making people uncomfortable in song. No - you gotta make them feel good, make them feel special, make them come back... people will pay, I mean, tithe for something like that!

But worship? As the Greek word, 'proskuneo', in its general sense means to "Kiss Toward", which is describing not necessarily an action in and of itself, but a spiritual 'position'. To 'Kiss Towards' was a common occurrence in older times of Emperors and Kings as people knelt in absolute humility reaching up in trembling fear only to kiss the hand or ring of the 'deity'. And that is the nice translation - pressing in further the very same sentiment is described in other places as a dog cowering under a table begging for scraps. This is our unseen spiritual 'position'. That is the internal 'position' of worship.

So how is the worship above acted upon in the new testament? How is it seen? By consolidating the various points of reference throughout the bible we find an interesting picture.

A second scenario:

Look at the scenario in the book of Judges, chapter 7:13-15. Gideon is told by God that he will have victory over the oppressive Midian people. Gideon in effect says, "Yeah, Right!". So God, ever patient, tells Gideon to go down right to the edge of the Midian camp and see for himself. So, in the middle of the quiet night, Gideon grabs a buddy and sneaks down to the Midian encampment and hides in the bushes. He overhears a conversation by two enemy Midians about a dream one of them had, where he saw in his dream that they would lose to God's people. Gideon and his buddy are overjoyed. God was right after all! Then... oh, the bible must be wrong! For it says the very next thing they did was 'worship' God. Ok, listen - if Gideon and his buddy were in earshot to overhear two guys whispering at night about their nightmares then those two guys must be in earshot to hear Gideon and his buddy rev up their fiddles! At least those 3 foot jumps and scissor kicks would have rattled the bushes!

So, you can begin by defining what worship isn't. It is not a band, a singer, or a song.

To get to the point, the encompassing portrayal of worship in the new testament is direct acknowledgement of God. This is predominantly seen by "deeds done in direct relationship to this acknowledgement" (Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). Yes, the spiritual 'position' is to revere, but is seen in " to serve, to render service", "to serve, do service to". You can look this up for yourself to get the points and the Greek translations. It's all readily available...just past the Milk Bottles, that's right, the part of the fridge that says 'Meat'.

Romans 12:1 describes it this way, that giving yourself as a living sacrifice is your *reasonable act of worship*. What does that mean? Well sacrifice implies dying to your own needs so that the needs of others may be met. No, not giving away your old rusty lawnmower because you bought a new ride on one in the shape of a Hummer. That's easy - the bible says, 'sacrificially'.

Well, maybe you could sing 'Onward Christian Soldier' to him over the fence as he pushes that stalling, leaking rustbucket around his yard.

Let's get past our neighborhood streets and think bigger. Do your neighbors end at the end of your street? When an expert in the law challenged Jesus' teaching to "love your neighbor as yourself" saying arrogantly, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells the parable of the Samaritan on the road to Jericho. Samaritan's were only partly Jewish, and were hated by the Jews in Judea and Galilee.

They also worshipped differently than the Jews in Israel.

Boy did they ever!

Read for yourself: Luke 10:25-37. After a fellow man from Jerusalem was beaten within an inch of his life and robbed, first a Priest, then secondly a Levite walked past him and didn't do anything as he lay there dying in agony.

Do you think Jesus picked a Levite for his parable accidentally? Remember, the Levites were those guys in the old covenant who knew little else than sitting around the Temple strumming around on harps all day that David made for them (remember what God did with their temple?). Kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it? According to Jesus, the Samaritan who was hated by these folks, was the only one to help, actually getting down and dirty: dressing the wounds himself using personal and expensive oils and wine and then paying with silver for extended medical care. Jesus says that this fulfilled the greatest commandment, to "Love the Lord Thy God with all your heart, Soul, Strength and Mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself". This was also in answer to the question of "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Luke 10:25

You may very well say: "Well, I just want to sing and express to God how cool he is and that I have all this love for him - not wander around scary, not to mention dangerous - back alleys looking for beat up people. After all, I do have this amazing voice and can play a mean 'A2' on my acoustic guitar...all gifts from God, of course."

Listen - if you try and do that with either sin in your heart, or in your self proclaimed worship band, you have only mocked God instead.

"Wait! You can't say that all these singing worship leaders have hidden sin."

No - but neither do you see the unseen spiritual position of 'proskuneo' to call them a worship leader in the first place! Think of it. Just a few years back they were calling them types 'super apostles'... (2nd Corinthians Chapters 11 & 12). I dare say Paul the Apostle would have similar concerns over a term like 'Worship Leader'.

I can tell you this however:

James 4:17 says, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do, and does not do it - sins."

Show me the... fruit!

Can you say you have sacrificially even loved one neighbor as yourself per one song sung to God about how much you love Him?! Jesus said our love for him, the greatest commandment, was tied inextricably with that very commandment.

That's like standing on the shore of the lake with your guitar singing ever so sweetly that your going to rescue the drowning guy splashing and gasping in front of you. Then suddenly, to your right and to your left, others show up with instruments and begin singing that they too are going to rescue the drowning person who is still thrashing about gulping down lungfuls of water. Then, you assemble an awards ceremony to single out and elevate the singer who best sung about saving the drowning victim. **Wild applause**

And that poor gurgling wretch in the lake? He drowned (sometime during the 'best runner up' category of the awards).

I don't care how eloquently, passionately, or fervently you sang about it - until you drop your guitar and run out and actually do it, it is all meaningless.

You say your love for God has given you a 'heart for worship'?

1 John 5:3-5 says:
"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world."

So, his commands are not burdensome for those born of God... and here you made skulking around those dark alleys sound so fearsome! You are born of God, right...?

Then what are God's commands? Look at the parable of the Sheep and the Goats:

Matthew 25:31-46 (excerpt):
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

If you have read this far, then please - indulge me one last time. If you are a current worship leader so saved by grace that reading all this has not affected you, then just... one more.

Today 'famous' worship bands now charge almost $40,000 (yes, forty thousand dollars, go ring up a booking agency of todays worship stars) to come to your church to strum their guitars and sing/tell you what you already know; namely that God is pretty nifty. I know this because they come rolling through town and say "God is awesome! Amen?" and you yell "Amen!" all excitedly like you have it all figured out.

Now During the time of Amos the prophet, there were other ministers in the church who were musicians living really much the same way (just not in Nashville). For example, "You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions..." (Amos 5:11) It looks like these ministers were getting the poor, or you know, average joes, to pay them large amounts of dough so they could build mansions (just not in Nashville). These guys were real worshipers, obviously because they played balalaikas and harps and must have had such a heart for worship because they yearned and longed for the day of the Lord.

But God got all confusing as usual and told them, "Why do you long for the day of the Lord? Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!" Huh?

Man, God can be a trip!

"Ok, Then. God'll looove this! Let's write more songs and have bigger conferences! We'll hold 'Cornerstone' in Palestine this year and then maybe-"

Enough, God says. Enough. Amos 5:21-26

I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?

You have lifted up the
shrine of your king,
pedestal of your idols,
star of your god

which you have made for yourselves.

Why did God *hate* their religious assemblies, filled with songs? Was it that they were insincere in singing them? Not at all. In fact they longed for the day of the Lord (Amos 5:18). But God said, "Away with the noise of your songs, I will not listen to the music of your harps!". Well, they must have been pretty good harp players because God at least calls it 'music'. But he calls their songs, 'noise'.

The most important part of a song are their lyrics (I learned that in worship school). Here they are, with gigantic hearts of worship uttering profound love for God, and He calls it noise. Maybe God was thinking of what he was going to say a little later on, things like, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

Or, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? ...But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." Luke 6:46

It must get old hearing so many 'Lord, Lords'. God hated their "worship music" because they believed worship could be sold for a song... which it couldn't then, currently can't, and never will. Yet we keep churning it out by the iPOD full. It must sound like noise as God puts it, after a while.

Wake up people, I'm not saying you can't sing your songs. Go sing them. But what your doing on stage only comes close to worship in Bizzarro world. Don't think for one second you are extravagantly worshiping God. You are at best singing a hymn.

If you must sing them in public, make sure you fully understand Matthew 6:5-8, because if your 'acts of righteousness' are publicly displayed - 'Standing in the (churches) and on the street corners to be seen by men' - then Jesus calls you a play actor (hypocrite). Someone pretending, or acting out the real thing, all the while knowing nothing of it's depth and richness. He says go into your room and close the door.

How many jumping scissor kicks do you do for Jesus in your closet? Or is it just onstage?

God has already revealed to us what is acceptable worship. A sacrificial life. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Invite the stranger in. Clothe the naked. Attend to those in captivity.

But we changed it. Redefined it. Altered it. On purpose. Now, worship? It's as comfortable as the fresh coffee and pastries Sunday morning. It's all rock 'n roll, magazine covers, and $40,000 fees. There are tiny little groups of people in Nashville and Texas and Abbotsford who write all the songs that you sing and make all the profit. They even want more profit so they start worship training schools and write books, to instill these new ideas in you to perpetuate the - business - of worship.

Yes, you can still be worshipful to God singing a hymn (yes, a modern relevant one, not some funeral march). But remember earlier, the small alteration of the math equation 1+1 still equals 2? Just 2 and... ?

CS Lewis wrote in 'Mere Christianity' that this was one of the Devil's greatest tricks: Christianity, plus... Christianity, and... it didn't matter and what, just that you added anything would be a distortion.

Like the equation being radically and unrecognizably different if 1+1=2 became 1+1=2 (and a 1/3). It still equals 2 -with just a wee bit more... The end result?

A wrong answer. Period.

'Worship plus' has truly invaded God's people with a vengance and it's like a new soda campaign: "Remember 'Fizz'? Well now ladies and gentlemen, we give you 'Fizz Plus!' " There is wild applause and fervor until one day someone realizes 'Fizz Plus' is garbage and they want the old Fizz back. "Whaat? They stopped making it?!"

I'm not going to get into the corrupt lives of many well known worship leaders. I will not get into the staggering amounts of cash being pilfered out of the 'business of worship'. You say your songs are worship because that is how you express your love for Him.

I will simply say what worship is not: the rockstars on stage at your church.

I will leave you with this: 1 John 2:3-6, 5:3-5

"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him."
"This is love for God, that we keep his commandments"

Think about it - look at the puzzle again.

For further study, please read "So you wanna be a Rockstar" by Keith Green posted right here: http://www.keithgreen.com/

For further, further study: Mother Teresa and your Church's Worship

For Further, further, even further reading: Rockstar Worship Leaders

Deeply, and from my captivity,

Richard the LionHeart


A Contrarian's Way said...

wow! thanks for your detailed thoughts and beliefs on worship. i hope you had some of that previously written and were able to copy and paste a little :-)

Sir Richard The LionHeart said...

Hi Contrarian,

Well - actually it's good you caught this just now as I was actually up all day yesterday and most of the night 'till about 3am expanding the original post and writing from my heart - no copying or pasting! Whew. So it may have some additions since you read it. I look forward to going over your profile as you seem a kindred spirit.

By Grace


PJ Hudson said...

hey bro-- nice piece.
I agree with you except I want to push you a little further regarding your meaning of worship. The scripture from Romans that you used was from the NIV which is most unfortunately translated as worship, where-as the actual word used in the original language means none other than service... Let me ask you this... God said to worship Him alone, yes? Here's the catch (and why so many misinterpret the meaning of worship as based on Romans 12)... Did God say to "serve" Him alone? No-- we are "allowed" and expected to serve others, as well as God... But, we can worship ONLY God. This means that worship and "service" are 2 very separate things. You've caught on to the meaning of worship... but be careful of adding "service" to the meaning because then we would be forced to stop serving others (since God requires that we worship Him only) :)

Sir Richard The LionHeart said...

Hey - Long delay in the awnser but as you say in Romans 12 we are to worship Him alone but we can serve Him AND others...

I get your meaning but remember that as we do serve others we are actually serving Jesus by doing so.. the very passage I reference above, the Sheep and the Goats - Jesus says when we did our acts of service we were really doing them unto Him - so in my opinion the service and worship still center on God ALONE though bystanders get unexpected benefit from your faithfullness to Jesus - alone - in worship.

-Richard Cummins

PJ Hudson said...

Hey Bro- Just saw your response.
The scripture of the sheep and the goats is talking about serving, and as you do things for other people in the name of Jesus, it's as if you're doing it for the Lord as well, it is not worship. Let me re-iterate- Worship is not serving other people... The problem that happens when you say that "serving other people as if serving God" is worship, then the true meaning of worship becomes unclear, and it could just so happen that worship never ever happens because it's unclear exactly what worship is. Jesus never once said "worship me through your works (service) for other people"-- He talked about service, but he also made it clear to Martha that she was distracted in her service while Mary was simply sitting at the feet of Jesus (and in an act of worship, I would guess).
Bless you bro-- miss you... miss our deep talks!