As we consider the unmatchable holiness of God (read part 1), I think there is practical application for worship in the local church. As we think about the heavenly beings described in the last post, may we not learn a few things about what it means to worship a God who alone is holy? It is unfortunate that worship has become such an item of contention in the modern church. Of course, if we understand our Bibles we see that the ‘worship wars’ go back all the way to Genesis 4 when Cain tried to create his own idea of what pleased God. Unfortunately, I think much of what constitutes worship in the contemporary church today would classify as a stench in God’s nostrils.
Spiked hair, cool clothes, and nowadays even an occasional beard (or at least a soul patch!). He puts the ‘gel’ in ‘evangelical.’ Meet a typical music leader in the Western contemporary church. A man with a great voice that can sing every choir part simultaneously. That last part might be a bit of an exaggeration.
Let me say clearly that I’m appreciative of the talent and creativity we see in music leaders in the church today. Part of being made in the image of God means that we should expect certain people to be gifted in the arts. I for one am thankful for my brothers who are exceptionally talented in music and seek to use these gifts to serve the local church. Furthermore, let me make it plain that what I’m about to say doesn’t just apply to the “hipster type” music leaders only. Whether you sing straight out of the Heavenly Highway Hymnal, or have an iPad stand, or you’re anywhere in between, I implore you to listen to an important truth from the passages we’ve seen above about facilitating worship: get out of the way.
Getting Out of the Way
Again, let us consider the Seraphim in Isaiah 6. They literally use their wings to shield their bodies as if to remind us that to even consider them as we worship the Holy Triune God is both heinous and foolish. The focus of these Seraphim is unquestionably on the Lord of Hosts. The same goes for the creatures in Revelation 4.
Look, we ought to do things well, don’t get me wrong. But I wonder what your church’s gathering would look like if you were more concerned about showing the congregants the holiness of God than you were about what you and your band looked and sounded like. If you were intentional about not singing songs describing what you or I do and instead sang more about who He is and what He has done. Holy, Holy, Holy.
Can you imagine the heavenly beings in Isaiah 6 or Revelation 4 transitioning off into a guitar solo in the midst of their chorus on God’s transcendent holiness? Can you imagine them for one second talking about the penultimate joy of heaven being a reunion with loved ones gone on before (as some hymns seem to suggest)? I wonder sometimes what we are worshiping on Sunday mornings. Is it our musical ability? Or perhaps the atmosphere of fog, lights, and positive and encouraging music? Is it a longing to be back in the 1950s? Is it our idea of God? Or, when we gather, is our focus on the One of unmatchable holiness?
So here’s one practical plea for those leading music in the corporate gathering: would you work this week on getting out of the way? Dress well. Sing well. Play well. But also lead well by covering your face (in the figurative sense of course) and fading into the background. Let folks think in worship not how great a particular guitar or drum solo is or how many octaves you can switch or how many “good ole time religion” songs you may sing, but rather let them think about how glorious, awesome, and holy the Lord God Almighty is. No gimmicks, just depth. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
Holy is Relevant
It’s interesting (and sad) how divisive music can be in our churches, isn’t it? And how much money churches will spend on smoke, lights, lasers, screens, and presentation software all in an attempt to be relevant. It’s almost as if we’ve been duped into thinking we need something extra in order to make God’s holiness “unboring”. Like, if we aren’t staying ahead of the technological curve, there won’t be any exciting ‘worship experience’ and people may start going to the latest and greatest ‘Newerest Life’ church down the street. Or even, if we can’t get people jumping, flipping, dancing, or shaking, they might not find things engaging enough.
But oh I plead with you! Let us show people God’s unmatchable holiness. We can do so by singing songs that are faithful to Scripture. Songs that exalt the glory and wonder of God. Songs that lift up the gospel and all that God is for us in the person and work of Jesus. Don’t be complicit in anything that works to take people’s attention away from the Holy One. Don’t be a part of anything that works to make the music about the music or the musician and creates an atmosphere of entertainment instead of an environment of reverence.
What do we really have to offer in comparison to the Thrice Holy God anyway? May we work harder at getting out of the way. If you lead music, show us Christ. Because this Holy God has spoken to us in His Word, we can be assured that Scripture is sufficient for telling us how He desires to be worshiped. We don’t get to worship God in whatever way we please. The history of Israel shows that often they would try and worship the right God but be doing so in the wrong way, and the Lord did not accept their worship. Let us be mindful that the God of unmatchable holiness is to be worshiped on His terms, not ours.
And finally, let me say a word to pastors. The buck stops with you anyway, even in the songs sang. Furthermore, there’s a lot of application in this for our preaching as well. I don’t want to walk away thinking about how funny or winsome you were. I don’t want to be amazed at your creativity and innovation. Show me the Holy and He will suffice. Show me in His Word His worthiness. Show me that His holiness permeates the universe and is glorious enough to exact from us unceasing praise. You are not a match for His holiness. It’s wicked and foolish to attempt to be anyway. His holiness is unmatchable.