Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 4, 1968
NUMBER 47, PAGE 14b,19a

Beauty In Worship

Worship is an emotional feeling toward God that is guided by an enlightened mind. Beauty is a quality of human taste that can inspire worship. For hundreds of years gentiles were emotionally stimulated to worship; but their feelings were guided by the imaginations of their darkest nightmares and not by minds enlightened with truth. Therefore, their worship was not beautiful. Many of the hideous acts of pagan worship cause modern man to shudder with horror. Men like Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas filled the hearts of many gentiles with truth about Jehovah, Jesus, our present purpose and our future hope. These enlightened minds did not become insensitive to worshipful emotions; to the contrary, they became more responsive and more beautiful.

There is a principle which is woven throughout God's will to man, and that is: man is commanded to do that which is beneficial for him. Similarly, there is a uniform principle woven throughout God's plan for man's worship, and that is: beauty. In singing there is a special beauty. It is the beauty of music. When words are accompanied by melodic and harmonic tones, the resulting beauty is quite capable of inspiring the emotion of worship.

In the "fuzzy" thinking of many people there arises a problem: Is all emotion worship? Organ music or symphonic music alone can inspire our emotions, and truly it is beautiful. Should we call this worship? Jesus defined worship in John 4:24 as involving two elements: spirit and truth. The term "truth" refers to God's word. Worship is our feelings blended with God's revelation. People who try to worship God with the unaccompanied sound of an organ are not truly worshipping God. That is only half-worship; it involves the spirit but not the truth.

Beauty is the strongest argument for the use of an instrument as an accompaniment to singing; but the fallacy of this argument is this: it assumes anything beautiful that can inspire our feelings of worship is an aid that God accepts. The opposite is true. Paul said, "He (God) is not served by human hands" (Acts 17:25). For centuries human hands have produced paintings, sculptures, architecture, and instrumental music to inspire worship. In the Christian worship it is the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:15) and our hearts and not the fruit of our hands that pleases God.

The most beautiful and harmonious. Worship is inspired by the singing of people who are enthusiastic, interested, reverent, involved, and who are trying their very best. This kind of singing can be a little flat or off-balanced; but if the singers put all their heart into it, it will inspire any sincere person. Some of the most harmonious singing sounds uninspiring because the singers are not truly putting their hearts into their song.

Lukewarmness is the best antidote to beautiful singing. Lukewarm singing is not inspiring. Singing that does not inspire is singing that does not produce worship. When Christians encounter this kind of singing, they lose interest. Singers will then begin to drop out. A recent survey made among several congregations revealed that from 9% to 30% of our brethren are already drop-outs from the song service. They are present in body but they are not participating in the singing. As the number of drop-outs increase, the beauty of the singing decreases.

Poor singing was the primary reason for the abandonment of congregational singing in the developing apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church. Congregational singing was replaced with the choir. The zeal of Luther's reformation in Germany gave re-birth to congregational singing, but it was eventually replaced with the choir because of the loss of zeal. History has continued to repeat itself many times since then. This transition from congregational singing to the choir is the only way for lukewarm people to achieve beauty in singing. History can repeat itself in the Lord's church today. Many want beautiful singing, but they are too lukewarm to achieve their own desire. Already some are beginning to contemplate the possible use of choirs.

In the present quest for acceptable worship, extreme views have developed. Some are of the opinion that worship should strictly be concerned with truth and not beauty or emotions; and others are of the opinion that worship should strictly be concerned with beauty and not "legalistic" concepts of truth. Let us examine both extreme views.

Both attitudes share one common view. Both groups feel that we must make a choice between one of two opposite alternatives: we must choose either beautiful singing or scriptural singing. Both groups feel that there is no possible compromise.

It is true that there are some "old favorite" gospel songs that have no beauty in either the music or the message. When those songs are sung there is no emotional response generated, and most who sing them experience a "dry" reaction. It is supposed that these are the only songs that everybody can sing, and it is supposed that these are the only songs that are scriptural; therefore, they are the only songs that are led by some song leaders. This attitude toward the "old favorites" becomes a tradition; consequently, any "innovations" of good songs that have beauty of music and message are immediately suspected as being unscriptural.

Others could care less about the scripturality of the message of songs. Their only interest is in the emotions of worship. These people demand beauty for the sake of beauty. They will sing only the beautiful songs. Many of these beautiful songs have no real message of truth. One such song is "Precious Memories." A close look at the lyrics reveals that his is not a song of spiritual truth. It is simply the thoughts of a person looking back on his life, his family, and his friends. But because this song is beautiful in a general way, it is used. Many "beautiful" songs are too difficult for the average singer; so these song leaders who direct them force a larger number of people to become drop-outs from the song service and to become mere spectators because they cannot sing the songs.

Both extremes are wrong. Beauty for beauty's sake is nothing more than entertainment. It suppresses the truth. Truth for truth's sake is boring. It suppresses the emotion. God did not intend for men to be either bored or entertained. Since both spirit and truth have been commanded for our worship, then we must part company with those extreme views and take our stand between them. Gospel singing can be both beautiful and scriptural. We do not have to sing the extremely difficult oratorios of Handel, Hayden, or Mendelssohn in order to have beauty in our worship; and we do not have to sing emotionally-barren songs to have the truth.

The solution to this problem is in our attitudes. Some need to overcome their indifference toward putting feeling into their singing. A greater sense of personal involvement in the Christian life creates a climate where beautiful worship can have an abundant growth. Such involvement includes frequent and humble prayer. In living the Godly life a sense of truth from the word of God and from good gospel songs will grow into the Christian's heart, and along with this sense of truth a reverence for God will naturally flower into the beauty of worship in song.