During my lifetime, many evangelical churches in American have moved from Bible-oriented gatherings to music-dominated meetings. Interestingly, both sets of religious gatherings typically bore the title, “Worship Service.”
When the evangelical church was Bible-oriented, this “worship” paradigm was in place:
(1) Not all elements of the service were considered equally important; the exposition of Scripture was clearly the first and foremost priority. All other competitors vied for a distant second place.
(2) When the term “worship” was used, it was the equivalent of our modern casual expression, “doing church.” It is important to note that the preaching of the Word was considered part of worship, as were announcements, testimonies, communion, prayer, singing, the offering, and special music. This was the typical structure of a “worship service” before 1980.
(3) Many evangelicals viewed music as a “warm up for the sermon.” In this regard, many leaders did not seem to often respect music ministry as actual ministry but many others did.
But the paradigm has changed in many churches. The most important change was what the word “worship” communicates. The word “worship” is now used by clergy and laity alike to refer to the religious feelings aroused by music.
Determining what music is or is not appropriate for the Christian is a hard nut to crack. We’ve all heard of the “Worship Wars” that have been going on for decades (and, it could be argued, even going back to the Reformation), and the rise of fundamentalism this past century has really escalated the issue.
In separating from the world, fundamentalists have taken measures to build a defense of their music standards, but sometimes that defense comes across as somewhat abrasive. Instead of shooting other sheep in the flock, is it possible to reach a level of cordiality among Christians of different backgrounds? Here are a few principles that I believe can help us determine what kind of music is appropriate for the personal lives of Christians.
If all of our thoughts are to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), then there’s not a square inch of real estate in our lives that is available for rent. Even in our private lives, we need to be concerned about what God wants in worship, because every act is to be an act of glorifying God (1 Cor. 10:31). There’s no time that is truly “me time” during which we can unplug ourselves from our dedication to Christ.
Having made that somewhat obvious point, I have a hard time deriving many specifics from the Bible regarding musical choices. I hate to rain on the I-get-my-personal-music-standards-from-the-Bible parade, but the truth is that the Bible has more than 600 vague references to music, and none at all to musical styles. We know that some music can refresh our spirits (1 Sam. 16), and maybe the case can be made that some music can make sounds similar to that of war (Ex. 32). But does any of that information give us guidance for particular styles? I would say no, though there are several other points that can guide our thinking on this issue.
Not many Fundamentalists have written on the subject of worship, specifically. Scott Aniol has authored a couple of excellent books as well as many articles. A few others have written on the subject of worship, but Fundamentalists have typically written on the subject of music in particular. Because books on worship by Fundamentalists are rare, I decided to read the book through carefully, put it down for about a month, then reread it to obtain a better understanding of Dr. Reimers’ thinking.
Dr. Reimers has written a slim volume of 100 pages, dividing his work into three parts plus an introduction and a conclusion.
Part One: True Worship’s Essence and Elements
Part Two: Multi-Generational Impact: Worship Style and Your Family
Part Three: The Dangers of Deviant Worship
Part One is the longest section (46 pages) and deals with the essence and elements of true worship. Dr. Reimers begins with the essence of worship—that worship must focus on the right Person. He states, “Worship is an event where God should be the center of attention and the guest of honor” (p. 5). He then roots this in the teaching of Psalm 135. He also reminds us that “Right worship must accomplish the right purpose” (p. 7). The purpose is to give to the Lord the glory due His name—worship is giving God glory. Dr. Reimers makes an excellent distinction when he says, “The dilemma, of course, is that God already has everything He needs, and we have nothing of value to give. Clearly worship cannot actually contribute something to God, but it can attribute something to him” (p. 8). He follows this up with a contrast between two questions: “Did you get anything out of the service today?” (p. 8) compared to the more appropriate question, “Did God get anything out of your worship today?” (p. 9) The author concludes the study of the essence of worship by saying that “Right worship must conform to the right pattern” (p. 10).