Monday, July 12, 2010

0 Worship and the Corporate Praise of (all) God's attributes

A humble question thrown out there for response... What should we expect might be the impact in the church if music that is sung before the Lord in worship is limited to what might be called in contemporary music circles "praise" music? I thought of this this morning as I read Psalm 9 - a psalm that covers a large range of attributes of God as David offers the Lord praise. The first two verses, I would say, are similar to songs that are frequently heard:
[9:1] I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
[2] I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalm 9:1-2 ESV)
There are songs I know of that are built around this kind of thought - praise for God's works and an expression of joy in being able to sing to offer worship to the almighty king. No question that such is a Biblical subject for praise and worthy of being sung corporately as the church gathers to praise God. As I read this morning, though, through the rest of the Psalm, I see the wisdom of it all as David wrote it - and, again, the thought came to me concerning the rest of what God is praised for. I've never heard, for instance, a contemporary song that takes verses 5 and 6, for instance, and built a song around them.
[9:1] I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
[2] I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
[3] When my enemies turn back,
they stumble and perish before your presence.
[4] For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
[5] You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
[6] The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
their cities you rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.
[7] But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
[8] and he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness.
[9] The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
[10] And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
[11] Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
[12] For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
[13] Be gracious to me, O LORD!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
[14] that I may recount all your praises,
that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in your salvation.
[15] The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
[16] The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
[17] The wicked shall return to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.
[18] For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
[19] Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
let the nations be judged before you!
[20] Put them in fear, O LORD!
Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah
(Psalm 9 ESV)
Now, not wishing to get into a protracted criticism of contemporary music, but just musing about this. It certainly must be granted that not all psalms range far and wide praising God for such attributes as wrath and mercy, righteousness and vengeance, grace and sovereingty. Some are very brief, like Psalm 117, and deal with just a narrow aspect of God's being:
[117:1] Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
[2] For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 117 ESV)
So certainly it cannot be argued that if one is not going to practice exclusive Psalmody, one must praise God for a wide array of His attributes in every single song that is sung. The Psalms don't give that model. HOWEVER... I do think it worthwhile to think about what occurs when God's attributes of vengeance, wrath, holy hatred of sin, etc., are never sung about in corporate worship. Certainly if one sings the Psalms exclusively, there is a high degree of likelihood that God will in fact be praised in a full-orbed sense, for all his holy attributes. I do believe the range of attributes (as well as the range of human emotion and attitude!) that are reflected in the Psalms should give pause to those who want all worship music to be uplifiting to the Christian's heart and to produce joyful response. The Psalms just don't do that... hence worship music shouldn't have that exclusive focus (as it often does).

Thoughts? If a church practices worship in such a way that worship song is limited to joyful praises of God's goodness and mercy (and neglects His other glorious attributes, particularly the ones that are 'hard to sing about'), what impact might that have on the people's conception of God and of their relation to Him? Maybe I'm out in left field, but I don't think it's got a negligible effect...



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