Depending on your perspective, you could either say that Bob Kauflin a) has been used or b) has given of himself in the arena of worship for decades. His is a voice that typically deserves a hearing. One year ago, he posted the piece below. It’s about the essential quality of words in worship.
With only one comment at the bottom, I would like to let this stand as is. I hope you benefit from it.
Worship Without Words
by Bob Kauflin
I find it fascinating that God gave us a “songbook” with numerous musical references, but no actual music. It’s not that music is unimportant. Badly played or written music can make great theology sound obscure or unappealing. Great music can make shallow lyrics sound profound and incredibly moving. Which is why when we’re deciding what to sing congregationally, we want to give the greatest attention to the lyrics we’re singing.
In response to my tweet someone asked:
Briefly, the answer is yes, especially when we think of worship in the “all of life” sense. We can worship God, or anything for that matter, without words. We do it all the time. The sight of a sunset over the ocean, a newborn baby, or a loved one can leave us speechless in wonder. But in my tweet I was specifically referencing the songs in our gatherings. While we can certainly worship God while listening to or playing instrumental music, here are a few reasons why it’s crucial to keep the connection between congregational worship and words strong.
Words are the primary way God has revealed himself to us and relates to us.
David was a skilled musician of profound emotions. But when it came to worshiping God, it was his words, not his music, that God chose to preserve for us in Scripture (the point of my tweet).
When Israel returned from the Babylonian captivity, Ezra sought to reestablish temple worship. So he and the other priests stood on a platform and read “from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). God’s Word provided the foundation for the repentance, gratefulness, praise, and celebration that followed.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for basing their worship more on traditions of men than on God’s commands (Matthew 15:3–9). The early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). Paul encouraged Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture and commanded him to “preach the word” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:2). We are to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” as we sing” (Colossians 3:16).
God means for words, especially His Word, to be at the heart of our engaging with him.
Words are what we use to define God, ourselves, and our world.
Worship is more than words, but it’s not less than words.
Words enable us to worship God together.
Words complete the act of worship.
So by all means, let us thank God for music and treasure those times we’re dumbstruck as we consider the unparalleled greatness, holiness, beauty, and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. But let’s also remember that God redeemed us to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Now, my one comment. . . .
Since I’m a guy who frequently emphasizes the need for musical notation in the corporate worship of literate societies, you might be surprised that I take exception to Kauflin’s incredulousness at the lack of notation in the Psalms. I would not suggest that Hebrew worship needed notation to the same extent. And, in fact, I don’t know that notation per se was a possibility in that millennium.
Relatively modern musical notation has its origins deep in the middle of the Dark Ages. (I don’t care much if the label “Dark Ages” is politically incorrect. There was a lot of darkness then — spiritually and intellectually, not to mention electrically.) One Guido D’Arezzo — a name I for some reason remember without trying — is credited with what became our solfege or do-re-mi system. His was ut-re-mi, I believe, but you get the point.
Thing is, we know little to nothing about any attempts to notate music prior to Guido of the 11th century CE (see there? I said “CE” … I can be politically correct¹). There were other, primitive notation systems, to be sure, but it doesn’t really fascinate me to observe that the Psalms contain only oblique music references and no notation. I frankly doubt whether there was any notation, in the Psalmists’ time, that could have been preserved.
Still, Kauflin’s overriding point abides: the words warrant more attention than the music!
¹ Politically correct, maybe. But not without mentioning that it’s the “Common Era” because everything still centers on Jesus of Nazareth. The dating is still, roughly, pre-Jesus and post-Jesus, no matter what you call it.
Additional blogposts on worship and words:
A prior post analyzed and discussed some other Bob Kauflin thoughts. For balance, see here: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/kauflin-a-bit-of-this-a-bit-of-that/
This post spoke of communication, words, and Bob Kauflin’s emphasis, as well: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/keepin-it-real-4-covering-style-and-content/