The Scriptures tell us plainly that we come to God only according to His demands and dictates, not according to our whims or desires. God instructed Israel, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”[ii] Jesus Himself said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”[iii] The purpose of this Philosophy of Worship is to unpack the essential truths that will be used to guide the congregation and our music ministry in worshipping our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Since true worship can only emanate from those who have been born-again, the worship service must only be designed with believers in mind. While it is true that unbelievers can come to a worship service and be converted,[iv] God and not the “seeker” is the ultimate concern. Therefore, the worship service should not be planned for the preferences of unbelievers, but regulated by the Word of God alone.
The Psalmist declares that we must worship the Lord in the “beauty of holiness.”[v] The congregation must assume the solemn responsibilities of worshipping the one true God. The emphasis of the worship service is not upon the performance of those who lead, but upon the heart of those who respond. We desire that believers approach the worship service with an “earnestness and whole-heartedness on [their] part that desires God more than anything.”[vi]
The Bible exhorts us to worship the Lord in manifold ways. The worship ministry must acknowledge and prayerfully incorporate these rich manifestations of a worshipping heart. The Bible states that there is an aspect of acceptable worship that is both vigorous and exuberant. The Psalmist declares, “O clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy.”[vii] The astute worshipper will note that the applause is directed towards God and not the performance. The Bible also describes silence as an essential element of acceptable worship. Again the Psalmist declares, “Be still and know that I am God.”[viii] The Apostle Paul regulates the entire worship service with this exhortation: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”[ix] As the congregation grows in spiritual maturity, these expressions of worship will be done as appropriate responses to the glory of God.
Those who minister in music must possess and maintain a high standard of spiritual integrity and maturity. As in the ministry of the Word, the music should not be separated from the messenger. While we must strive for excellence in the worship of the King of the Universe, the emphasis will be on the spiritual qualifications of the one who ministers, rather than upon the talent of the performer.
As we encourage spiritually gifted people to minister within their range of ability (whether playing an instrument, singing a solo, or being involved in any way in the ministry of worship) the goal should never be only to perform but to minister in such a way as to direct the congregation’s focus upon the majesty of who God is. Those who minister in this way will make prayerful endeavor to draw attention to God rather than to themselves. So as not to draw attention towards self, appropriate and modest attire will be expected by all those participating in the worship ministry.
Those who minister in music during the worship service must be members in good standing with the church. Exceptions can be made only by Elder approval. Children under the age of 18 will be evaluated on the basis of their spiritual integrity and must exhibit a thorough understanding of our philosophy of worship.
The goal of the music ministry is to present the glory of God in such a way as to provide a framework for the congregation to respond in worship. In our worship service, we will strive to balance a music ministry with an appropriate use of material from both the past and the present. The body of Christ maintains unity while incorporating diversity. The cultural, social, and economic background of congregants will vary but each possesses the same Spirit that exalts Christ as Lord.
We believe that the use of hymns from past generations provides a valuable link to our theological heritage and we cherish the solid, biblical theology that they communicate. We also believe it is equally important to communicate biblical truth and theology in a culturally relevant setting to the present generation. Therefore, we will endeavor to utilize songs from both traditions that communicate sound biblical theology.
We believe our music should reflect the diversity of our congregation as it reflects the style of individual expressions of worship. These styles must be governed by the Word of God and be distinctively God-centered. It is important to note that a worship service of a church from Mali, West Africa will be significantly different in style than, say, a worship service of a church from the Midwest region of the United States. Acknowledging that cultural influences make a profound impact on worship styles, we believe it is important that the music ministry fall within the prevailing culture of the believers who are in the assembly, provided it is congruent with the rest of the principles in this policy.
Because we honor the biblical exhortation to forebear with one another and because we are called to “diligently preserve the bond of unity”[x] in the church, we will promote a biblical tolerance for those whose tastes are different than our own. “We will put understanding above accusation, forbearance above faultfinding, and Biblical unity above demand for uniformity.”[xi] We believe that preserving the bond of unity with forbearance is paramount to surrounding our value of truth with love.
Realizing that some music has value for edification and enjoyment not specifically appropriate for a worship service, we will endeavor to provide settings in which such music can be performed and appreciated (i.e. recitals, sing-a-longs, Christmas programs, etc.)
Our God is the great God who is worthy to be praised! When we approach God, we are standing on holy ground. May the congregation be exhorted to worship in the “beauty of holiness” and come with “an earnestness and wholeheartedness on [their] part that desires God more than anything.” May the ministers be reminded of their awesome task of leading God’s people in worship. May the example of Nadab and Abihu stir them with zeal to lead in reverence and holiness. May our worship ministry always be God-centered, theologically-sound, and brother-sensitive.
[ii] Leviticus 10:3 (NASB)
[iii] John 4:24 (NASB)
[iv] 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 (NASB)
[v] Psalm 29:2 (KJV)
[vi] Bethlehem Baptist Church. Philosophy of Worship.http://bbcmpls.org/, 1996.
[vii] Psalm 47:1 (NASB)
[viii] Psalm 46:10 (NASB)
[ix] 1 Corinthians 14:40 (NKJV)
[x] Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 4:5
[xi] Bethlehem Baptist Church