What is Scripture’s role in regulating worship?

(Original posting 10/13/2017) I’m currently preparing for comprehensive exams to complete my Master of Music in Church Music degree. Part of that is being prepared to answer a number of questions on worship and music philosophy. So, in preparation for that portion of the exams I’m going to inflict, . . . I mean share, some of my practice answers to those questions with you! So the first topic is, “what role should Scripture play in developing a worship and music philosophy?”

I’ll use Scripture to make the case for defining its own role. ​All references are to the ESV translation unless otherwise noted.

​Hebrews 12:28b says, “offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” The word acceptable clearly implies that God has criteria for what pleases Him in worship. Also, there must be means of worship that are unacceptable to Him or else there would be no point for the above instruction. But this raises the obvious question, what determines acceptable worship?

In ​Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Israelites their final instructions before crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. Chapter 12 contains instructions on the proper worship of God and verse 8 says, “You shall not do according to all we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” Thus, God determines what acceptable worship is, and our own intellect and feelings will only lead us astray. We must turn to God to know what is acceptable in His eyes. But again, we have an obvious question: where do we find these criteria?

First we see in Matthew 4:4 that we must turn to the word of God, as when Jesus quotes Deuteronomy to Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Further, in 2 Timothy 3:16-18, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

​So here we have the principle that Scripture is our sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, known since the Reformation as the principle of Sola Scriptura. Thus, Scripture must be our guide in developing our worship and music philosophy. But how, then, are we to apply the Scriptures today? The Old Testament gave the what, when, and how of all the particulars of Tabernacle and Temple worship. But, although the New Testament gives the content of Christian worship, it provides very little to go on for the means and methods of worship in the assembled body of Christ.

The approach of finding chapter and verse for the direct answer to every question, as could be done for Tabernacle and Temple worship, is called the Encyclopedic View of scripture. One just looks up the answer. Since we don’t have those direct answers in the New Testament we must approach Scripture using what is called the Encompassing View. This is what Paul was talking about in 2 Timothy about being “trained for every good work.” We use Scripture to train our discernment. The writer of Hebrews explains in chapter 5, verse 14, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

​An example of this can be found in Galatians 5 where Paul provides two lists, one of the works of the flesh, which are to be avoided, and one of the fruits of the Spirit, which are to be developed. In the first list He appends, “and things like these,” and to the second, “against such things there is no law.” The words like and such show that these lists are not exhaustive but that the trained Christian is to use their trained powers of discernment to know how to apply these lists to their own life experiences.  Thus, Scripture provides boundaries and objectives for the Christian walk but leaves many details up to our trained powers of discernment.

​Applying all this to the role of Scripture in developing a worship and music philosophy goes back to where we started: “offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” Reverence and awe are examples of the boundaries and objectives that Scripture sets for worship. Our worship must contain these two characteristics plus any others prescribed in Scripture, such as John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” In applying the freedom of discernment, Galatians 5:13 instructs, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

​Thus the answer to, what role should Scripture play in developing a philosophy of worship and music, is: Scripture must be the sole guide in all matters of faith and practice within which we may apply the freedom of discernment trained by the word of God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *