Harold Best on the object of worship (6)

Harold Best’s thoughts in the book Unceasing Worship are so well articulated and impressive that it is natural to share a few of them here, with a few extra comments.   This will be the last bit of sharing from this worthy book.  I’ve returned it to the library and wish I’d bought a copy for myself to begin with so I could mark it up instead of using post-it notes.

I know from personal experience how easy it is to draw people into my confidence with music, using it as a means for creating a bridge between them and me, between God and me and between them and God.  When we are told by fellow worshipers that our music is actually making God more real, our repentance must be followed by corrective teaching.  (166)

I don’t know that I’ve been given this specific affirmation in my leading, but it does resonate with me that at times, in my efforts not to take compliments to myself but rather to direct them to God, I might still have been off-base. I might have given glory to music, or even to worship, and either would have been inappropriate.  God is present, period.  Neither music nor corporate worship makes Him more present or more real.  Inasmuch as we feel a more palpable presence, we are probably losing our moorings.

This is the direction, always, of music:  vertical, to the Lord, first and foremost.  (147)

As I’ve thought and said so very many times while experiencing Best’s book:  yes, yes, YES.  May the church universal take in this concept and act upon it, in all corners and forevermore.

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New songs, and Harold Best on singing (5)

This “Monday Music” blogpost will deal more with the concepts than specific song lyrics, although I’ll also include some of the latter.

Singing is not an option for the Christian.  No one is excused.  Vocal skill is not a criterion.  (Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, 145)

A thousand times, yes.  I cannot relate to the feelings of those who can’t match pitches and have no sense of musical confluence whatsoever.  But I can’t believe that God wants anyone to exclude himself from singing.  I’ve seen way too many saints disinterested in the experience.  Perhaps this has not been entirely the fault of these individuals.  Churches, and leaders within churches, need to do all we can to encourage all to sing.

We are to sing “to the Lord”  These three simple words … make it clear that singing is above all an act of worship, an offering to the Lord and not to people.  …  Performers should understand that their performance is directed to God while people listen in, not the opposite.  …

We can sing a truly new song only once, and thereafter we repeat it. …  Singing a song newly means that we must sing the thousdandth repetition as if for the first time. (145‑6)

I spent a few years in churches in which  “The New Song” was a popular choice.  I always thought it was rather a shallow attraction that caused folks to shoot up their hands and beg for that song on special singing nights.  The song is in my opinion ill-conceived, and it gratuitously includes musical elements designed to tickle the fancy, as opposed to raising the level of consciousness of God or even of heaven.  Furthermore, “The New Song” was only about singing a new song, about singing to God.  Its text is in this regard secondary–it speaks of something but doesn’t actually do that something.  There are better expressions:

“Sing a new song to the Lord; praise His name, for the Lord is good”

“Let men their songs employ”

“Sing on, ye joyful pilgrims”

“Sing praise to God who reigns above, the God of all creation”

“Sing ‘alleluia’ to the Lord”

“Sing the wondrous love of Jesus”

“Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb”

“Sing with all the sons of glory–sing the resurrection song”

~ ~ ~

If you’re interested in further thoughts on new congregational songs, please read this post. And if there are helpful ideas on the teaching of new congregational songs, please share them!

Harold Best on style and the arts (4)

Harold Best’s thoughts in the book Unceasing Worship are so well articulated and impressive that it is natural to share a few of them here, with a few extra comments.  I have a couple more days’ worth of gleanings….

I am quite sure that if the body of Christ could be on a more peaceable practitional road if traditionalists understood tradition as a dynamic, ever-changing phenomenon and if the contemporists would understand that a tradition is ready to begin as soon as a new song is repeated even once.  (139)

Biases are strong.  I have a few myself.  🙂  I think it’s very difficult for many of us to read the above statement objectively.  Either we see our own biases being affirmed, and we inwardly say, “Yay!  Go, Harold!  Man, if my church could only read this!”  Or perhaps we see more blatantly something pinned on us and those like us … maybe the statement about traditionalists strikes me as a slam on me, or the statement about contemporists seems to push me and my opinions aside.

[Of all the arts, music alone] contains no words, no deeds, no gestures and virtually no exterior referential devices.  Music alone falls into this category and consequentially is the most abstract of all the art forms, the least capable of “saying” anything outside itself, therefore the most open to associational meaning. . . .  At the same time, music is the most ubiquitously expressive of all art forms because it soaks up meaning from around itself more quickly than any other art form.  (157)

Now there’s something that supports my bias–take that!  [Flip Objectivity Mode switch to On.]   What richness of thought, though.  [Guess that switch is broken.]   My feeble cranial neurons misfire when reading many of Harold Best’s sentences, and this is no exception.  I’m not sure what he means when he speaks of music’s soaking up meaning … but not referentially?  Can anyone help here?

God knows what art is about.  He knows why we have art.  He understands that just as his handiwork cannot say “Jesus saves,” so a good bit of ours cannot either.  (159)

That seems helpful to me and to many of those around me:  we must know that mere artistic creation, however reflective of God’s creativity, cannot–without text–speak His saving truths.  As a believer, when I’m at my best, I endeavor to do things with my life and talents that cause me, like Chariots of Fire’s Eric Liddell, to feel and say things like, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Yet purely instrumental music–which for me more often represents artistic heights and depths than choral music–cannot, in and of itself, serve as “witness” for Jesus’ way.  Pleasing God while doing my art may well be very real in my heart, but it is not extroverted.  Its meaning is subjective and personal, not explicit in terms of communication of truth to others.

We spend so much time in our ecclesiastical efforts to do the construction from culture upward instead of from the kingdom downward, we too can become scattered and irreparably confused.  (170)

Here, Best’s comment goes to mission as much as it goes to style.  The idea of being targeted to seekers or outsiders in the Christian assembly seems noble and right-headed, yet it falls short.  I think I want to publish this quote more broadly and more regularly.

Final Best quotes to come … on the direction of music in worship

Harold Best on idolatry (3)

Just two passages from Best today.[1] These warn of the danger of giving music too high a place in corporate worship.

I wonder whether the Restoration Movement churches–traditionally relatively simple in terms of church music “programs,” and rarely, if ever indulging in all that many songs in a sitting–might be just as guilty of emphasizing music too much as the churches that have full-blown programs, 40-member choirs and anthems, a $2 million organ, 15 other instruments … or the charismatic churches that sing for a half-hour nonstop.

If we are not careful, music will be added to the list of sacraments and perhaps with some Christians become another kind of transubstantiation, turned into the Lord’s presence.  Then the music, not the Holy Spirit, becomes the paraclete and advocate. (119)

Idolatry is, at base, the act of shaping something and then falling under the assumption that it can shape us.  If we are not careful, then, music and the arts will be acting on us instead of us acting on and with them.  (121)


[1] Should anyone ever wonder about my intentions in sharing things other people have written, most often, there are two:

1.  To help others by boiling down messages and offering salient points that might be discussed and might make a difference in the Kingdom.  This seems efficient, and I’ve appreciated it when others have so shared with me.

2.  To encourage further reading and searching.  In the case of this book, Unceasing Worship, I recommend it without reservation to anyone serious about God and worship.

Harold Best cont. (2)

Harold Best’s thoughts in the book Unceasing Worship are so well articulated and impressive that it is natural to share a few of them here, with a few extra comments.  First, a little more context for a quote I included yesterday.

The full significance of an act is lost if we forget that continuous outpouring is the grounding concept for it.  We act because we worship, not the reverse.  (112)

We see here what I take as a proper delineation of worship and service, not a careless amalgamation of the two ideas.  Here, Best appears to speak primarily of service, reminding us that acts of kindness, goodness, charity, mercy, etc., are properly founded on the basis of a vertical connection between the believer and his God.  In other words, the best service grows out of worship, not the other way around.

The more Christian artists understand that artistic action is nothing other and nothing less than pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet, the more they will be refreshed and liberated in their imagining and crafting. (112)

Both the art and the craft (the right- and the left-brain activity) of Christians can be thought of as perfume-pouring!  I really like this, and I expect it to show up in the future in my music-making.

All our outpouring, and therefore all our action, is in him, unto him and for him.  This is the only possible fact that allows us the freedom of concentrating completely on the content and process of our work without having to obsess about God while undertaking it. (117)

Not often feeling free to worship or to serve (due to baggage, situational constraints, etc.),  I’m compelled by the liberty portrayed there.

When we try to propagate our homemade versions of God working in us, we are too often prone to saying, “Well, it really wasn’t me doing the suture; God was holding the needle for me,” or “It was God singing through me.”  But in saying things like this, we virtually deface—no, we pervert—any biblical concept of our humanity, namely that God created us to do things fully, exhausting our capabilities as good stewards.  . . .

Furthermore, if I say the he is sewing up incisions or singing through me, I am cozying up to a combination of pantheism (God is my sewing arm; God is my voice) and puppetry (when God pulls the strings, I sew or I sing).  (117-118)

These ideas resonate in me.  I haven’t been specifically asking for much comment lately (but am always appreciative of those who do comment, whether publicly or privately).  Here’s a specific opportunity to offer your thoughts, though.  What do you think of those last two paragraphs?

Unceasing worship

Before offering some more quotes from Harold Best’s book Unceasing Worship:  Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, I should say something about his major premise.  After a LONG stand with this heady, soulful book, I’m not sure I yet completely understand his notion of “continuous outpouring.”  Best theorizes that God is a continuous outpourer, and we, in His image, are also continuously outpouring.  It is our job, then, I’d say, to outpour well, and to outpour with cognizance and spiritual awareness of offering everything to Him–whether mopping the floor or outstretching our arms in praise.

Conceptually and linguistically, I resist the notion that everything is worship, because I think that concatenation waters down both worship and service. Put in terms of “outpouring” and not worship per se, though, Best’s whole philosophy is rather palatable.  C’est vrai: our lives must be seen as sacrifices; these sacrifices take many forms, including the vertical and the horizontal.

Worship leaders and preachers do a lot of public praying. This area of public worship can often be careless, cliché-ridden and theologically thin.  It can turn into a daisy chain without much thought to overall flow, biblical precision and word beauty.  Were the Scriptures themselves muddled this way, we might have a case.  Public praying should not only be scriptural as to content but also scriptural as to loveliness of style, richness of expression and fullness of truth.  (102)

I’ll add a little to Best’s mention of “biblical precision.”  I often find prayers (and comments in Bible classes) to water down distinct ideas by generalizing and stringing things together that really aren’t connected.  Heard a prayer like this before?

“Thank you for your grace, your abounding love, and your forgiveness, Lord, because it is in giving that we receive, and you taught us to love, and love is giving.  And forgiving comes out of giving, so thank you for giving and for forgiving.  And now, let us give with a cheerful heart, because, knowing of your grace, we can do nothing but give.”

Now, there’s nothing particularly alarming there, but neither is a precise biblical use of language espoused in the prayer.  Love almost becomes grace, and grace becomes forgiveness, and giving is aurally related to forgiving, so it somehow leads to giving money, which has very little to do with love or grace, except insofar as they are all spoken of in scripture.  Ack.  Moving on….

Even though it is the personal responsibility of all Christians to grow up into the stature and fullness of Christ, as if there were no preachers, it remains the responsibility of the pastoral staff to preach as though there were no other way to get the full truth of the gospel across.  (104)

I like this.  It’s the dilemma of dual viewpoints, both of which are valid.  I would suggest, as a tagalong to Best’s well-worded statement here, that the problem is more often with the “all Christians” side.  Preachers, by and large, take their sermonizing duties seriously enough.  The problem is that those of us in the pews don’t take primary responsibility for our own spiritual development.

As to the relation of preaching to the rest of the liturgy, it is to be seen as an offering of worship among the many offerings of the corporate gathering.  Preaching is not the high point of worship to which all prior actions are meant to point or for which they prepare.  it is not a chosen oracle or an automatic apex that towers in importance over the Word, the sacrament or the simple singing of a hymn, because, in fact, truth is at stake in all these actions.  (106)

On this point, I think Best and I (and my parents and grandparents) are soulmates!  Even some of the words are almost the same!  In case you can’t tell, I’m thrilled to be validated by the likes of Harold Best in terms of the place of preaching in the scheme of things.

More to come …

Unceasing worship

I am moving into my 3rd straight summer with relatively few schedule constraints, and once again I am dreaming of getting into long projects, and continuing projects once begun.  Two in the latter category are delving into the book of Genesis, and completing Harold Best’s book Unceasing Worship. The Best book is one I have had checked out from the college library for more than a year.  It is a daunting book–one with so much packed into most sentences and paragraphs that I feel I have to stop, breathe, and go do something else after reading a couple of pages.

Here are some quotations I have found particularly piquant, peradventure, in my periodic perambulating through the pages:

No discussion of worship is possible without the consideration of what worship was like before the Fall. (21)

His leaving alone is an action that comes of a sovereign engagement in all things, transcending our versions of sequence, spatial differences and time lapses. (22)

The whole of Scripture verifies the principle of worship as a continuum.  Two words for worship–proskunein and latruein–suggest a close relationship between worship in a given place and time and worship as an all-pervasive and ongoing condition.  (35)

The relentless holiness of God is the only beauty that he possesses.  It is not aesthetic beauty but the beauty (there is no other English word for it) that self-inhering holiness exudes.  (39)

The corporate assembly is where love and mutual indwelling congregate; it is where believers have each other within eyeshot and earshot, within kindly embrace. (62)

I’ll probably offer more from Harold Best as I make my way through this book.  It’s a sometimes-painful read….