Low Doxology by Chris Wolfe
In my writings leading up to now, I have laid out a few definitions, ideas, and standards regarding worship. We began by defining liturgy and doxology, understanding the process behind how we use liturgy and doxology here at City Church, and finally discussing the particular standard our liturgy and doxology should be striving towards. All of these things are very important but they all focused very heavily on formality. Even hearing or reading words like "doxology" or "liturgy" will set a certain tone of formality in many people’s minds. Making our worship more formal isn’t why I brought any of these things up though. To be truthful, formalism is very dangerous; we can spend all our time aiming for "higher" worship and yet be left without any positive progress in our hearts. Trying to make our worship proper is a noble thing to do, but many churches suffer because they overemphasize proper and lose sight of worship.
Theology is a very important aspect of church life. Unfortunately, the trend in recent years is for people that are very academic and book-smart to treat theology like a hobby instead of a true desire to deepen their relationship with God. Obviously this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s still a noticeable trend. On the other side, many true and devoted followers of Christ steer clear of anything too “theological” sounding because they think it’s boring unnecessary study or too complex for them to understand. Again, this is not a rule, just a trend. The unfortunate result of these trends is that they can be a huge influence on our worship preferences. The stereotype is that academics will cling to their hymns while the everyday follower of Jesus avoids hymns at all cost (unless someone adds a chorus and simplifies the music). The reason I’m bringing all of this up isn’t to put people in boxes. I’m trying to highlight the fact that there are different kinds of Christians and worship is meant to be accessible to all of them.
Worship is about offering praise, honor, and glory to the one true God. My last piece stressed the importance of hymns as songs that are filled with rich biblical truth. The fact is though, genuine honor and praise doesn’t require that every song we sing be a condensed systematic theology. A song that is simple in its ideas or themes does not automatically mean that it’s shallow. I would argue that everyone, especially the book-smart types, would do well to be more engaged with the “shallow” songs.
If we use biblical examples to take a better look at modern worship, I think many people would find less to criticize than they thought they could. The Psalms have acted as a sort of song-book for believers for thousands of years and are a great biblical model for the kind of worship and praise that’s pleasing to God. I am going to give you some examples of common arguments used to make contemporary worship seem “shallow” or “less biblical” followed by a Psalm or Psalms that use exactly the thing being criticized.
“Modern worship is…”
Not deep enough. (Psalm 133)
Too simple. (Psalm 117)
If these things are the reason why so many are quick to criticize modern worship, then we ought to critique the Psalms too. Sometimes repetition is useful or necessary to get a point across or to solidify an idea. Simplicity can be effective when you want to focus on a single idea and truly concentrate on it without distraction. If we really stop to take a fresh look at modern worship, it should be easy to see that these works can add great value to our services. They are useful tools in focusing and centering us on particular aspects of God.
If we limit ourselves only to the hymns long enjoyed for their depth, poeticy, and formality, we may begin to miss on the joys that the simpler things once brought to us. I liken it somewhat to swimming. Hymns are in the deep end, a delightful part of worship to tread in and better exercise in the long run, but even if we are properly trained to stay in the deep end of the pool for a really long time we still need to make our way to the shallow end once in a while to rest our legs.
I’ll conclude with this observation. Throughout my many years in church I've noticed that the oldest people there, those who have walked with God the longest, are those that are most genuinely astounded by and moved by the simple fact that Jesus loves us and that God is good. Deep theology is a very interesting thing to me, but after observing those around me both young and old, I have come to realize that there is great importance in slowing down to remember the basic foundational truths of what we believe.
My hope and prayer for City Church is that we will be attentive in setting our minds to the Lord, whether that be through deep meditations of the hymns or through setting our minds on the simple truths of modern praise. It's not the words and music that make it worship, it's our hearts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
My name is Chris Wolfe. I've been involved with worship ministry in some capacity since I was 14 and I now serve as the worship director for City Church. I've had an affinity for music for as long as I can remember and God has used that to His glory pretty much everywhere I've ended up. Even when I've tried to take a break from worship ministries, God has a way of getting me back on stage anyway. Over the years I have come to passionately love God, and as a result, I passionately love to worship Him. When I'm not playing guitar and singing into mics, I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, games, and most important, spending time with my wife.