Psalms, Worship, and Prayer

by Shane Lems at The Reformed Reader blog

 The selections of articles about the psalter and Christian worship in Sing a New Song are outstanding.  Here’s a helpful discussion in chapter 11, “Psalmody and Prayer” written by John Fesko.

“We live in a culture that desires near-constant entertainment, so it should not be much of a surprise to find an entertainment-driven understanding of music in the church.  Sociologist Alan Wolfe, in his insightful The Transformation of American Religion, explains how pastors of megachurches use marketing research to identify the different contemporary music preferences of the people in their communities in an effort to make worship appealing, contemporary, and relevant.  Wolfe explains, ‘The whole idea behind this approach is that secular culture, for all its faults, knows something about getting and retaining an audience.’  What lies behind such assumptions is that the music in a worship service must be entertaining, and, if it is, churches will be able to retain visitors.  Yet there is an underappreciated dimension of music in worship that has been passed by, ignored, or unknown, namely, songs as a form of congregational prayer.”

“If song in worship is a form of congregational prayer, then music in worship turns on an entirely different axis.  No longer is music in worship a question of entertainment but rather an expression of personal and corporate worship and devotion.  In such a light, singing psalms in worship takes on an important and significant role not only in corporate worship but also in the corporate and individual prayer lives of Christians” (p. 173).

This is a great perspective.  It should help us judge our songs from a biblical and corporate point of view.  Are our worship songs biblical, corporate prayers to God, or are they private, ambiguous feelings on display for the sake of entertainment?  I do believe that where psalms are abandoned, ignored, and/or replaced with ambiguous contemporary praise music, the solid piety of the church devolves and degenerates into immature Christianity – the immature Christianity one often finds on top-40 Christian radio and on the shelves of Christian book/music stores.

Positively speaking, remember that when you sing with the saints this Lord’s Day you’re praying together with your brothers and sisters to the living God.  As we sing together, we’re not only teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns, we’re also calling upon the name of the Lord together.

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