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A Theology of Worship
'Singing' a New Song to the LORD


Verse 4    'Singing' a New Song in Relational Language



Music's Qualitative Nature and Unique Relational Function

Reduction of Music's Unique Function

Performing Out of Tune

Deeper Implications


printable pdf of entire study


Verse 1

Verse 2

Verse 3


Verse 5


Table of Contents


Scripture Index



Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

Praise the Lord with the harp;

make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

Sing to him a new song.

Psalm 33:1-3 NIV



            I imagine most Christians today believe that music is a necessary feature of corporate worship, and could not fathom a worship service without music—Christians from high liturgical church traditions to the simplest gathering, from community gatherings to private devotion. Worshiping God through music is axiomatic, universal and cosmological. The ancient Hebrew poets call forth cosmological worship in music: “Sing to the Lord, all the earth....Let the heavens be glad...let the sea roar...let the fields exult....all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Ps 96:1,11-12). In the New Testament, Paul makes imperative for the young churches to be engaged in relational work with God and together, the alternative to being defined by their surrounding human contexts:


...but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times (Eph 5:18-19).


            “The Christian church was born in song,” says one writer.[1] The links between music and religion have existed from ancient times. What is it about music that we embrace it so automatically? And, with an eye on the above verses of Psalm 33, what does it mean to “‘sing’ a new song”? A sufficient response to these questions by necessity takes us beyond worship back to creation and our theological anthropology.

            There are two important issues about music that are important to distinguish since music is an integral aspect of worship: music’s qualitative nature and music’s unique function for relational communication from inner out, with or without words. They are not one and the same, though inseparable. A problem occurs from confusing them, however, and especially by mistaking the former for the latter. These two keys of music are inseparable because their composition emerges from the human person created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole God. Without this whole understanding of theological anthropology, the human person, relationship with God, worship, music and singing all become reduced to secondary aspects which fragment their wholeness.

            When singing is not fragmented to the secondary, we are not talking about merely singing. ‘Singing’ signifies the whole of life and involves all the relational dynamics of life in its wholeness. Though the immediate focus of this study is worship, this necessarily involves the primary focus on the whole of our relationship with God and thus on relationship together in wholeness. When worship is not fragmented to the secondary, we cannot discuss worship in its wholeness apart from relationship with God. It is indispensable to understand in any discussion on worship this definition:


Worship is the integrating focus and the integral relational convergence of our (both individual and corporate) reciprocal relational response and vulnerable involvement in relationship together with the whole of God.


Therefore, this Verse addresses ‘singing’ in its wholeness. This wholeness is addressed in the following working understanding:


‘Singing’ is the integral relational dynamic of life in the tune of the new song composed in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God; and worship is the chorus of this new song of life in wholeness.


            The following parts of music and singing are discussed and must be understood in this wholeness.




Music’s Qualitative Nature and Unique Relational Function



            Music has a qualitative nature evident in its universal ability to stir and attach to the core of our identity. Rare is the person who does not have favorite music, or specific music associated with particular times in their lives. Music’s profound influence on persons is well-documented. “It lies so deep in human nature that one is tempted to think of it as innate.”[2] Unlike any other form of art—poetry or visual arts—that qualitative nature of music touches our innermost being, the “eternity” that God has planted in the human heart (Ecc 3:11), which my husband Dave refers to as “eternity substance,” that qualitative substance which God created in us to be connected with the whole of his creation and relational purpose in human history:


In God’s big picture plan, all the parts of it are wonderfully put together into this perfect whole. Though humans can’t fully take in or imagine this whole, we can experience and enjoy the beauty of some of its parts. We can because God has made us with the substance of this whole in us; he implanted his eternity-substance in our heart. So, though our mind can’t comprehend or imagine his big picture plan, our heart has definite understanding of it.[3]


            Eternity substance is that deep longing for connection with the transcendent, for the presence of Other, that longing of hunger and thirst for wholeness, to which Augustine’s beloved words speak: “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”[4] Music touches here and stimulates expectation and hope. Very often it is first the music that touches persons’ hearts, and attracts them to church or other group of Christians, and then to Christ. I recall intensely feeling “I want what they have” when my search for meaning in life during my college days took me to some worship gatherings where I heard songs about new life, the free living water, and significance in life with Jesus. I was deeply stirred singing those songs, and more so singing together with equally moved persons than had I sung alone. Music is universal (indeed cosmological), a primal form of human communication that hopes we are not alone. So, says ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl, “it is a feature of music in every known culture that it is used to communicate with the supernatural, with whatever is by definition above, beyond, ‘Other than’ our selves.”[5]

            Not surprisingly then, music’s qualitative nature is a key to theological anthropology, to what it means to be human, as  studied in liturgical history, linguistics, science (neuroscience, evolutionary biology, psychology), philosophy, and by musicians themselves. These varied voices link music’s qualitative nature to its unique relational function. In fact it is thought that in human evolution a tonal, musical “language” as relational language came earlier than referential language. “Ultimately music is the communication of emotion, the most fundamental form of communication, which in phylogeny [in the evolution of the human species], as well as ontogeny [for each individual person, from birth], came and comes first,” writes neuroscience researcher Iain McGilchrist. [6] This explains why babies melodiously coo before speaking their family’s language, like the baby we know who sings profusely but does not yet talk.[7] Babies also can produce a universal range of phonetic sounds that they lose only as they begin to learn their families’ spoken tongues. It also helps us understand why parents communicate with their babies (as well as with adorable animals) in a melodic, higher-pitched voice than they use in normal discourse. Inner-out relational communication is taking place in a sort of wholesome (right hemisphere) way.[8]

            Of the connections between music, relational communication, and the right brain hemisphere where neuroscience has located qualitative functions and music's communicative quality, McGilchrist observes:


It is not just because [music] exists in betweenness [in relation] that music is the concern of the right hemisphere. Its indivisible nature, the necessity of experiencing the whole at any one time, though it is forever unfolding in time, a thing that is ever changing, never static or fixed, constantly evolving, with the subtle pulse of a living thing (remember, even musical instruments are present to the brain as living things), the fact that its communication is by its nature implicit, profoundly emotive, working through our embodied nature – everything about music, in short, makes it the natural ‘language’ of the right hemisphere.[9]


Here McGilchrist suggests the qualitative function of music as relational language for human life, and that in human evolution and development, music preceded referential (discursive) language of words and syntax. The order of development parallels the earlier development of poetry (relational language) before prose (referential language). Moreover, to double the qualitative emphasis, we previously noted that early poetry was sung.[10] For the qualitative nature of music to serve its whole function, it is inseparable from its relational purpose of communication with ‘Other’. This discussion should not only enlighten, but also chasten how we have come to use and misuse music in our modern worship contexts. It underlies the composition of whole worship—that which is the integral relational convergence of our reciprocal relational response and vulnerable involvement in relationship together with God.

            From Christian liturgical studies we have learned that ancient Hebrew and Greek have no separate words for music, because speech and song were conflated. Writes liturgical scholar Edward Foley:


Many ancient peoples did not make a clear distinction between singing and speaking. The audible nature of all reading, for example, presumed rhythmic and melodic features that today would be more quickly classified as music rather than as speech. Public speaking, too, presumed a kind of chanting in cadence that fell someplace between modern categories of speech and song. Though many religions did have specially trained musicians, the ritual music of the ancient world was not confined to their performance. In Judaism and emerging Christianity especially, to the extent that there was audible worship, that worship was lyrical. Furthermore, liturgical leadership was not separate from musical leadership; every leader of public prayer in Israel would have rendered that prayer in a musical manner.[11]


            The Old Testament Book of Psalms exemplifies this lyricism, pointing to the intended primacy of relational communication of the psalms. As a whole, the psalms were, in the words of Bernhard W. Anderson, “intended to be recited and sung to musical accompaniment, [therefore] it is not surprising that they are cast into a poetic form, whose exalted style, rhythmic cadences, interplay of imagery, and emotional overtones are evident even in English translation.”[12] Anderson here is focused on technical elements of the psalms as poetry, yet it is often said that the psalms speak for us, which is to recognize that they are not just poetry for art’s sake. Rather, they are relational language directed to God, earning for them the descriptive name of sung prayer, used in liturgical settings in ancient Israel.[13] Of OT worship, Walter Brueggemann refers to this interactive nature of Israel’s worship as “covenantal conversation” and “dialogic interaction in which both parties are fully present.”[14] Oh, but so much more takes place than Brueggemann’s terms suggest. The psalms have their own way of describing what it is that takes place as God’s people are engaged with God in the primacy as ones created in and functioning in his image and likeness for his relational design and purpose: the new song. In other words, theirs is the primacy of the qualitative and the relational, that are composed in the very qualitative image and relational likeness of God.

            The Psalms are a far cry from the measured communication we engage in today in our worship services. As sung prayers they spill over with the breadth and depth of human communication from inner out, demonstrating the three major issues for all practice: the integrity of person presented, the integrity and quality of one’s communication, and the depth of relational involvement with God—reflections all of God in whose image and likeness we are created. One psalm deserves special attention here because it illuminates the specific aim of this study—‘singing’ a new song to the Lord.

     In Psalm 15:1, David asks, “Lord, who may abide in your tent [’ōhel, home]? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” “Tent” and “holy hill” echo back to the place God brought Israel out from Egypt to, to establish them as his people:


You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O Lord, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands established 


    Ex 15:17 from the Song of Moses

The Hebrew word in Moses’ song for “sanctuary” (miqdāš, from the verb d, “to consecrate, set apart”) refers to places where God’s presence and glory were manifested (e.g. tabernacle and temple). During David’s reign, that meant the tabernacle because the temple had not yet been built. To dwell and live in God’s sanctuary and on his holy hill means to remain in God’s presence, in God’s relational context. David knows from his own experience that the answer to his questions is only “He whose walk is blameless, and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart” (v.2). The word rendered “blameless” is tāmiym and means “complete” or “whole.”[15] The word group for “righteous” (ṣĕdāqâh , ṣedeq, ṣaddiyq) functionally denotes the parties in a covenant relationship can be counted on to be the persons they claim to be, and to do what they promise. This understanding of righteousness exceeds our common notion of the static juridical condition of “being justified” (i.e. by Jesus’ work of atonement) that dominates much of Christian theology and function. Tāmiym and ṣĕdāqâh are both qualitative functions of relationship with God that must be taken seriously if we are to have relational significance to God; they assume the person presented to God is a person functioning in wholeness from inner out—“who speaks the truth from his heart”—which is about the content and quality of our communication, and depth of relationship engaged with God (and each other), the same person the Father seeks (Jn 4:23).

            David’s question is not “what worship shall I bring (what do you want me to do)?” but “what do you expect of my whole person in relationship with you?” His question anticipates our question “who are those who worship in spirit and truth?” The whole person whose communication is qualitative from inner out is the person whose involvement has relational significance to God, just as Jesus said of those “who worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-24). David knew and experienced God’s presence with him in God’s relational context and he engaged in the relational process of tāmiym and ṣĕdāqâh, the inner-out involvement of his whole person, nothing less and no substitutes. So even as we “pray the psalms” with David and the other ancient poets, we are also challenged and perhaps confronted to present nothing less and no substitutes for our whole person before God in order to be congruent in relationship together.

            The God of heart who is relational and vulnerably present for reciprocal relationship, has given us music for the inner-out communication for this relationship together. Music is an inner-out idiom integral to communicating the ‘eternity substance’ that God has planted in each of us (Eccl 3:11). That would explain why every culture has music.[16] Music, poetry and song can help take us deeper in communication by pointing us to whole ontology and function.

            Where music lifts our awareness to transcendence, if that transcendence lacks clarity or is defined by us ‘from below’ as opposed to self-disclosed ‘from above’, then music is apart from the relational context and function of God. That is, this music, though qualitative, does not serve its unique relational function for relational connection, and thus it leaves us as relational orphans. This would explain the view of some that “music, like poetry, is inherently sad.”[17] Moreover, “It is what we would expect in view of the emotional timbre of the right hemisphere; and there is a stronger affinity between the right hemisphere [focuses on its relation to “Other”] and the minor key, as well as the left hemisphere and the major key.”[18] “Perhaps to feel at all is to suffer,” muses McGilchrist. The implication of what McGilchrist and others are saying, it seems to me, is that when we are relationally apart from our Creator, music touches that depth of our human relational condition, and brings forth the deepest loneliness and longing (cf. eternity substance), interpreted as sadness, which might otherwise remain below our awareness.

            Left here, we cannot yet sing a new song. However, as discussed earlier in Psalm 15, David the worshiper helps us understand what depth level is necessary on our part to be involved reciprocally with God, with our whole person from inner out, functioning whole, nothing less and no substitutes.

            ‘Singing’ a new song to the Lord can only be based on and composed by the following:


Music’s unique relational function for ‘singing’ a new song to the Lord is qualitative communication with God from the heart of the person, whose ontology is redeemed to be whole (tāmiym) from inner out, and whose function is righteous (ṣaddiyq) in relationship on God’s terms by grace.


           We have just defined music’s primary purpose as relational communication made whole for intimate connection first with God.[19] This is relational significance of true worshipers whose hearts are no longer “far from me” (Mt 15:8; Isa 29:13), but who worship the Father in spirit and truth—‘singing’ a new song!

            ‘Singing’, as this study finds, is not limited to technically singing an actual song because ‘singing’ is relational language, verbal and nonverbal, from God to us, from us to God, and to each other. It includes but is not limited to Augustine’s jubilation. The OT is, of course, full of relational language, especially disclosing God’s heart, presence and involvement with his people, but it is the Psalms that provide a rich trove of relational language composing a new song for his people to ‘sing’ back to him in reciprocal relational response for corporate worship (appropriate for private devotions too). One might sniff that the psalms, being poetry, speak only metaphorically. Rather, we contend, the psalms speak relational language in contrast to referential language.

            Food for thought in this regard is a difference between ancient and modern senses for “thanks.” The OT Hebrew dāh is often translated as “give thanks” and “thanksgiving” (e.g. Ps 100), as in giving thanks to God for something he has done, which today is the main focus of thanks. In ancient Hebrew and Greek, however, no distinction was made between praise and thanksgiving. Claus Westermann tells us:


“We are compelled to imagine a world in which petition plays a thoroughly essential and noteworthy role, but where the antithesis of petition is not primarily thanks but praise. And this praise is a stronger, more lively, broader concept which includes our ‘thanksgiving’ in it. Thanking is here included entirely within praise.”[20]


dāh is a larger relational frame than our “thanks.” Praising God focuses on who God is, and, accordingly, praising him for how he has relationally responded to us recognizes his faithfulness to his covenant terms that he bound himself to on our behalf; thanking in our modern sense bends the focus a bit more on us. It makes sense, then, that thanksgiving is included in the ancient Hebrew praise of who, what and how God is. Relationally this is parallel to Psalm 34:2: “My soul [nepeš, soul, innermost being] makes its boast in the Lord” (cf. Ps 44:6-8; Jer 9:23-24; 1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). The word for “boast,” hālal, means also to celebrate and denotes rejoicing and praising God, and is the word in the imperative hallelujah, “give glory to God.” “Boast” is given its basis most clearly in Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: “Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord” (Jer 9:23-24). This is not the shallow boast of cognitive information about God. To boast is to ‘sing’ as a person who is qualitatively tāmiym and who functions in the primacy of relationship with ṣĕdāqâh—made new from inner out because God loved first (“first” as primacy and in the order of action).

            ‘Singing’ takes in other words of relational language. Here are a few of them from the Psalms. Zāmar is translated as “sing praise” and “making melody/music,” always in the relational context of singing to God. The psalmist declares, “I will sing and make melody (zāmar) to the Lord” (Ps 27:6; cf. 33:2; 57:7). In the NT, Paul encourages “singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts” (Eph 5:19). dah covers a range in relational terms—to confess, speak out, praise, sing, give thanks. Psalm 32:5 says, “I will confess [dah] my transgressions to the Lord,” and in the next psalm, “Praise [dah] the Lord with the harp” (33:2). I am especially attracted to rûa‘, which occurs in the phrase “shout for joy,” and denotes making noise by shouting or playing an instrument. “Shout [rûa‘] to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music” (Ps 98:4-6; cf. 100:1 NIV). In much of evangelical worship, we only shout and make noise for the Lord when prompted; we make even more noise for performers.

            Modern sensibility quashes shouting for joy in polite company, but I have no doubt that God would prefer our shouting to him out of heart-felt joy in him than the constrained singing we offer him. The issue is our created composition, not our sociocultural make-up. After all, nature shouts for joy and sings (see Ps 65); and children shout when they recognize who Jesus is (see Mt 21:15). In another sense leaping for joy and dancing is like shouting with our bodies in unrestrained expression from inner out. When God’s ark returned to Jerusalem, David was so full of joy that he “danced before the Lord with all his might” in his underwear (“dance,” kārar, 2 Sam 6:14-16). And when Jesus’ disciples returned from a mission, Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” and praised the Father (Lk 10:21). The Greek for “rejoice” is agalliaō and means to express one’s joy by skipping and leaping ebulliently. Jesus’ whole person was fully and freely bursting out ‘singing’ in stirring relational language, rejoicing in Father’s intimate relational involvement with his disciples.[21]

            Getting back to literal singing, the word šiyr (to sing, singing, song, hymn, poetry) denotes celebrating in song, to sing of and to someone. In the Psalms šiyr is musical relational language that we ‘sing’ to God, the inner-out response of our whole person to God’s whole person, in his relational context and process. There are many more words of relational language used in the Psalms, and all of these relational words ‘sing’ in tune with creation and with the key Jesus composes in.

            Jesus sang hymns with his disciples (see Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). Hymneō is to sing hymns or praises and most likely refer back to the Psalms, songs of praise to God (Heb tehillāh, from hālal, to boast, praise), and is thought to have been a natural part of table fellowship in Jewish custom; certainly Jesus would have enjoyed singing to the Father at such times.[22] Paul was clearly one who sang a new song from his heart, living in God’s primacy of relational involvement as he spent his life building up the church to be whole and to live whole:


Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts (Col 3:15-16).


            In the 1980s, I participated in some unconventional worship gatherings in a house church. Worship was open, meaning that there were segments during which persons were free to express thanks, praises, read Scripture, lead the rest of us in song—as anyone felt led. We also were specifically encouraged to sing our hearts out, to get out of our nice controlled comfort zones, and not be constrained by self-consciousness. It was during these times of singing out to God from “my gut” that I often wept. Sometimes it was from pain, sometimes relief, but, I think in retrospect, mostly from the deep longing and yearning for connection with God that had been weighing on me for years. Those ‘singing’ times were important for me to get back in touch with my heart that had become numbed and hidden. God has faithfully pursued, healed and made my heart whole in relationship together. This relational process necessarily includes ongoingly being distinguished in the uncommon, a process of change (sanctification) that the Spirit’s reciprocal relational word is taking me further and deeper in.



Reduction of Music’s Unique Function


            Sadly, today in contrast and conflict with its qualitative nature and unique relational function, we have reduced the gift of music to lesser secondary functions—entertainment, tradition, instruction, background ambiance—to the loss of the relational significance of our musical sounds when used in these ways in corporate worship. In no respect am I saying that there is no place in our lives for these uses of music. Music’s qualitative nature keeps us at least in touch with our eternity substance, but music for its own sake, as an end in itself, easily becomes merely self-referencing, fragmented, with relational significance obscured in worship—not to mention diminishing our theological anthropology.

            Psalm 137 achingly demonstrates the disconnection of song apart from its proper relational context. “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” the psalmist laments among other captives in Babylon. “For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” The singers refused to “perform,” they could not produce joy on demand. Their captors wanted entertainment. The reduction of communication to disembodied entertainment or a comfort-massage is depicted also in the Lord’s words to Ezekiel, who had to prophesy to people who did not respond to God’s communications:


My people come to you…to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice.... Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs, with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice (Eze 33:32 NIV, emphasis added).


            When our own singing in corporate worship does not involve our whole person from inner out as our relational language in God’s relational context and process, our singing amounts to drawing near to God with our lips, disembodied lips. The person we present and our communication lack the integrity for God to be able to count on who and what is being presented to him as whole and not merely fragments from outer in. We sing in a relational gap, as if in a foreign land, engaged in an activity unable to go beyond outer in, which has no significance to God, as he said in Isaiah 29:13. Thus, our perceptual-interpretive framework and related ontology and function need to undergo redemptive change in order for us to participate from inner out to involve our whole person in music as relational language. Otherwise, we engage music (along with poetry and art) composed from narrowed-down terms of reductionism. McGilchrist further brings our attention to the sad reduction of music in modernity through Nietzsche's critique in 1877:


"our ears have become increasingly intellectual [left hemisphere dominance to analyze]. Thus we can now endure much greater volume, much greater 'noise,' because we are much better trained…to listen for the reason in it. All our senses have in fact become somewhat dulled because we always inquire after the reason."


Nietzsche observes the consequence of this intellectualism (left hemisphere dominance) as the loss of joy in modern music and modern art:


"The more the eye and ear are capable of thought, the more they reach that boundary line where they become asensual. Joy is transferred to the brain; the sense organs themselves become dull and weak. More and more, the symbolic replaces that which exists.”[23]


Reflecting on Nietzsche’s critiques while also thinking about how music is assessed in worship today, I suggest that much of our critique of the music we dislike comes from an outer-in assessment of secondary aspects—style, form, performance quality—without considering the primary—relational clarity and relational significance.

            For the worship team in Psalm 137 and fellow captives in Babylon, songs of joy cannot be sung on demand, apart from the relational context and process that makes them whole, represented by Jerusalem. Fragmented persons, however, function as such persons. Joy that is transferred to the brain is joy once removed, and, as Nietzsche says so insightfully, merely symbolic. Although we cannot know whether or not Nietzsche was writing about relationship, he is pointing to an ontological simulation of a qualitative reality. I have engaged in such illusion myself, trying to sing with joy, trying so hard from outer in to experience something deeper. This is precisely where we confuse music’s qualitative nature with music as inner-out relational communication, and substitute expressions of the former for the latter. Joy, we need to clarify, is not experienced apart from our face-to-Face experience with God, the vulnerable presence of the uncommon Other as Subject who is relationally involved heart to heart.

            Another issue related to music in worship is what we frequently speak of as “sacred” music. “Music speaks of God in its own language” according to religion professor and choir director Albert L. Blackwell, who also quotes Martin Luther’s own high view: “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”[24] One person’s “sacred hymn” is another person's fossil, however, so that our definitions of “sacred” are relative. What, then, qualifies music as sacred? I imagine most would call Handel's “Messiah” sacred because it is theologically and emotionally profound. Do theological profundity, emotional thrust, or gravitas make music sacred? Yet, it is difficult to sing congregationally, even while reading the score. A great many more persons can sing by heart “Jesus Loves Me”; does sing-ability and usage make music sacred? The former piece of music has that “quality” more than the latter, but consider what has relational significance to God.

            The Hebrew words for “sacred” mean “holy” and “holiness” (d and d), and signify “to consecrate to God.” The various words—sacred, holy, consecrate—and their related forms denote “to set apart” from ordinary or common usage specifically for God's “uncommon” purposes (cf. Gk. hagios, sacred, holy). Music’s function for inner-out communication—God to us and we to God—serves the primacy of relationship and is music’s sacred and holy and thus uncommon function.[25] A piece of music is not in itself ontologically holy, but as it is set apart from its common uses for its uncommon function, we might call it sacred/holy.

            Unfortunately, we have come to think of particular music as inherently sacred, so that, for example, a choir’s performance of it can take place without the relational engagement of the congregation, and it is assumed that this has some significance to God; the outcome is oxymoronic, “holy entertainment.” This is common use of music defined by human contextualization (cf. Eze 33:32). We engage with whatever depth, or lack thereof, of our person we please. Notwithstanding the qualitative importance in our human lives for music’s common uses, we need to understand that worship integrally involves the Uncommon, not to be defined and determined in its primacy by our sociocultural contexts. It is imperative to distinguish between the common and uncommon in order to compose in tune the ‘singing’ of those worshipers the Father seeks. We thus come back, again, to the challenge to our theological anthropology.



Performing Out of Tune


            Earliest Christian worship, though having some common elements with Jewish synagogue worship, is thought to have been more spontaneous and democratic. Edward Foley says of the first three centuries, “the whole of worship is musical, and to the extent that the worship belonged to the whole assembly, so did the music belong to them,” rather than, for example, limited to a few singers or a cantor.[26] How distant in time and different in the relational implications of such an image when compared with today’s format revolving around a handful of persons performing in corporate worship. Although we cannot go back to copy the earliest worship, we can question and make changes to our current attachment to those performing. This is most notable when one or more singer, the choir, instrumentalists, presents a music piece while the congregation listens or watches with passive involvement. This reduces both congregants and those up front to a relational condition in front of the curtain that renders them to a performance. Corporate worship is not, is never, and should stop being treated as a sacred concert, even a concert performed before God.

            There are five interrelated consequences that performance engenders in corporate worship. First, performance obscures relational clarity by making ambiguous who is being worshiped, thus diminishing relational significance—despite all references made about and to God. Second, performance creates or reinforces a congregation to be passive observers, turning worshipers into an audience dependent on those performing to “usher them into the presence of God,” so to speak, even though that presence is an ontological simulation taking place in front of the curtain. Certainly, those who attend worship have their own relational responsibility for their own involvement with God, yet performance eliminates the opportunity and distracts those who want to worship God. Enthusiastic applause for the performers does not constitute a relational response to God. Dependence on liturgists and other worship leaders is not automatically the same as wanting to be entertained, but the passive posture and lack of relational involvement with God is the same—the condition called “spectatoritis.”[27] Performance ensures the reduction of all persons (including the performers) and fragmentation of the worshiping body. The worshiper who comes as a consumer, and the worship planner and leader who defines their person by a role focused on what to do (who then needs positive feedback from the consumer to feel OK), engage in a kind of self-reinforcing dance together; thus we get embedded, perhaps even “enslaved” to this unsatisfying program. Paul says there is no freedom with the veil present, our minds become unaware of the relational and our hearts become insensitive to the qualitative (2 Cor 3:14-17).

             Third, when worship leaders (including the whole team) create and draw worshipers into a context of performance and audience, the dynamic is essentially to assume a role of mediator in likeness of the high priest who went behind the curtain to mediate connection with God in the tabernacle/temple—though the worship leaders in fact only function themselves in front of the curtain. This mediator’s role, however, is critical because it becomes a substitute for Jesus, the High Priest, who went behind the curtain to make the sacrifice to remove the veil for reciprocal relationship, heart-to-heart, together with the now vulnerably present and relationally involved whole of God.

            The fourth consequence of performance in worship is that worshipers are implicitly taught that God is also an observer of our worship, perhaps even a distant observer we can only assume to make connection with. This is the consequent reconstruction of God who has vulnerably disclosed himself in the incarnation for compatible relationship together “in spirit and truth.” The decision and effort to include the vulnerable presence and relationally involved God in corporate worship has to be made in reciprocal interaction with the Spirit, or else we are left to our own shaping of God. Fifth, for persons involved in performance, intentionally or inadvertently, their participation easily becomes a substitute for nothing less and no substitutes for their own person expressed to God.

            I am not proposing to eliminate occasional special musical or dramatic pieces, for they can be edifying for the building up of the body relationally as God’s family. My husband and I appreciated a musical/dramatic rendering of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. The message was edifying as it illuminated Moses’ honest and intimate exchange with God, ending with God’s tender touch on a humbled Moses. There was relational clarity and significance (being portrayed); and it challenged those present to be relationally involved with God at this level of depth. It is more often the case, however, that performance obscures the primacy of relationship with the primary focus on the secondary.

            What is the role and function, then, of worship leaders, choirs, worship bands, drama and other creative expressions in worship? Persons who lead worship have a vital responsibility that comes with their own relational accountability before God for their own ontology and function in his qualitative image and relational likeness, nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, their first relational responsibility is as worshiper who ‘sings’ a new song to the Lord, and in that relational response of their whole person, leads others together in joint response. An important note of caution is necessary here: a worship leader (e.g. lead singer) may function with relational clarity—being focused on the Lord, singing to him; yet, it is still possible to be relationally disengaged from him, and thus have no relational significance to him. This is the subtlety of outer-in function—the genius of reductionism. We cannot get away from performance—even if we want to and have made efforts toward that—as long as we define ourselves and thus each other by what we do and have. For leaders, and all participants in worship, to be out of tune and off-key involves this inescapable issue of our theological anthropology.

            Here are some added thoughts about choirs from a Free Church perspective to take seriously that can be applied to the others. This writer explains that the entire congregation must come to worship prepared to participate in music, and, putting the choir in perspective, says:


“Musicians and choirs serve a questionable function (entertainment?) if the congregation does not sing. At College Church our choirs understand that first among their ministry responsibilities is leading the congregation in singing. This is foremost a heart matter, then one of earnest example.”[28]


The perspectives in this study affirm this comment, along with another writer’s comments that “the choir is only a supplement to the congregation” and “choral music is never a substitute for congregational song.”[29]

            It cannot be stated enough: whenever worshipers are sitting listening to others perform music (this also includes dance and drama), be it the choir or worship band, relational clarity is obscured and relational significance to God is lost. Furthermore, there emerges a subtle “choir/band and the rest of us” distinction that fragments the church’s wholeness as God’s family, all of whom have a defined necessary function in relationally belonging to the body of Christ.

            Related to the concern about performance is the question whether it is appropriate for churches to hire professional musicians, or have non-believing musicians leading worship (in the band, string quartet, pianist, etc.). That churches pay people to play a musical instrument or sing in worship (even their own members) exposes the high priority given to the skill level of persons leading worship music, and making secondary or unimportant the relational significance of worshipers to God—those whom he seeks “in spirit and truth” and can count on to be whole worshipers—nothing less and no substitutes.

            Psalm 33 illuminates this for us. Earlier we considered Psalm 33 for its abundant relational language. The poet also says something about musical skill in worship. Certainly the OT values skillfulness, and the quality of music itself, but the OT sense goes deeper than our notion of skillfulness today. We focus on the proficiency level of musicians or artists, persons who have refined their craft, and give primacy to the quality of the product over the person who created it. In Psalm 33, the psalmist proclaims, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy (Ps 33:3). The context is relationship with God, established from the opening words, “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous... Praise the Lord.... Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” The Hebrew word for skillful is yātab and denotes to be good, pleasing, lovely, and favorable. Yātab, translated incompletely in English as “skillfully,” is only about what is pleasing and favorable to God—and thus connoting the relational inner-out idiom of music in God’s relational context. Yātab includes inseparably the skillful quality and relational significance to God.

             The OT uses another word group translated into English as skillful or skillfully—hokmāh, kam to denote to be wise, skillful, intelligent, have insight and judgment—words used in reference to temple artisans and tailors (Ex 28:3; 31:3,6), military strategy (of God, Isa 10:13), and diplomacy (“wisdom” of Joshua as Moses replacement, Dt 34:9). The contexts and related texts are not limited to the level of proficiency, but are inseparable from the involvement of the heart (leb, Ex 28:3) and the spirit (rûah, Ex 31:3,6)—pointing to the significance to God of the whole person who is engaged in serving him from inner out.

            This biblical understanding of “skillful” definitively challenges the assumptions we make about what pleases God. Our notions of “skillful” and “excellence” are disembodied, thus fragmenting and reducing persons—not to mention the view of God we project onto him—and reducing relational primacy in corporate worship. Hiring professional musicians gives primacy to our outer-in terms from our human context of how good the music sounds. Consider that if the priority of the worshipers was to sing and make music in their hearts to the Lord, they would not notice or care if the sound of the musicians was less than professional. This discussion extends also to the practice of including non-Christian musicians in leading worship. The critical issue involved here is the perceptual-interpretive framework that we use to distinguish what is off key and out of tune, and what composes singing the new song.

            I think that having non-Christian musicians in the worship band (or other group of musicians leading worship) is primarily about preference for more skillful musicians. I have also heard the rationale that including them is outreach to them, or avoiding exclusion of non-Christians. The sentiment behind the thinking seems commendable, but it reflects an undeveloped understanding of the significance of corporate worship as God’s family, “family time.” Far more important for these non-Christian musicians is their need to experience family love, not for what they do (i.e. play drums, sing soprano), which only reinforces fragmentation of their person, but be treated with the depth of involvement that goes deeper than inclusion in the worship band/orchestra based on ability. If the function of the musician group is to lead the congregation in praise—which is only relational language—to God, then this requires the involvement of their whole person, from inner out, nothing less and no substitutes—no ontological simulations. What this implies, then, is that the Christian band members themselves are accountable to Jesus for their own person presented, their communication, and the depth of their relational involvement. Many worship band members are themselves youth or young adults, who should themselves receive nurture and mentoring from the pastoral staff or other more mature believers in these primary matters of relational significance to God and to grow in the primacy of relationship.

            With performance going on, the gathered worshipers depend on others to mediate their worship, by their choice or by the design of the worship service. The relational messages implied by the performance-audience dynamic in worship are also theological: “Jesus, I do not believe that you have eliminated the need for a mediator between us.” In other words, we have repaired and re-hung the damned curtain! More vividly in relational terms, the writer of Hebrews seemed to be scolding Christians, admonishing them to enter the Most Holy Place that Jesus opened up, to “draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” through the curtain (see Heb 10:19-22). To engage in worship as if Jesus had not torn the curtain open is to “deliberately keep on sinning” (v.26); we have “trampled the Son of God under foot,” treated the blood of the covenant that sanctifies us “as an unholy thing,” and “insulted the Spirit of grace” (v.29).

            Music itself has become a kind of mediator, particularly the use of contemporary worship music (CWM). In an interesting piece on CWM, Lester Ruth perceives a dependence on music as mediator between worshiper and Jesus:

This emphasis on the use of musical sets to facilitate an experience of God erodes a classic understanding of Jesus Christ as the mediator between humans and God the Father. Typical use of CWM places expectations on music to mediate worshipers’ approach to God. Perhaps displacing Christ as mediator with the Father goes hand-in-hand with the central focus on an exalted, divine Christ in CWM [overly christocentric perspective]. If worship’s primary end is communion, or intimacy, with the Son, not with God the Father, the need for Christ as mediator is itself lessened. Mediation is shifted to the music. Thus prayer in CWM is not to the Father through the Son but to the Son through the music.[30]


            Although Ruth is focusing on trinitarian worship, he raises the theological and relational matter for how we use music as mediator in corporate worship. It is a subtle shift we have gotten into, but one that might explain why some worship leaders/planners also to strive for a sensory experience through music’s volume and repetition (quantitative aspects). Contemporary worship music immediately comes to mind, but these emphases are not limited to contemporary music. Consider the blast of a pipe organ, or the repetition of Taizé songs. For effect, these work; for relational connection, they give us an outer-in experience that may really be an ontological simulation, a substitute from the secondary.

            The relational issues addressed here for music in worship—the secondary and its substitutes—apply also to preaching and gesture. Preaching and teaching the Word are primary in evangelical churches, and do most of the “work” of a worship service. Sermons take up the bulk of the worship service’s time frame, and preachers are clearly defined by secondary matter of what they do and have. What they do (“Great sermon, Pastor!”) and have (style, eloquence, wit) often seem to be valued more highly than any other criteria, notably sensitivity to what is qualitative and awareness of the relational. In principle this is similar to hiring professional musicians.

            Gesture refers to the physical movements made by those who lead worship in its various elements (welcome, leading Communion, prayer, directions for standing and sitting, etc.). Whenever the focus of worship leaders and congregants is from outer in on how to do something properly, however “properly” is defined, gesture becomes fragmented from the whole person. Performing out of tune thus also entails making the secondary in preaching and gesture primary, keeping us before God in front of the curtain.



Deeper Implications


            Throughout this theology of worship, we have discussed contrasts and conflicts: uncommon and common, primary and secondary, inner out and outer in, qualitative and quantitative, relational language and referential language, intimate relational connection and relational distance, whole ontology and function and fragmented/reduced ontology and function, without the veil and with the veil, ‘singing’ in tune and performing out of tune. These are not merely academic conceptual categories, but relational dynamics all pertaining to our theological anthropology, and on whose terms we live in relationship together—God’s whole terms or our reduced terms. Our understanding of these contrasts and conflicts ongoingly sharpens and deepens as we grow in the primacy of relationship together with God.

            The relational implications of the who, the what, and the how of our reciprocal relational response to the whole of God are critical for us to face up to and understand in order to listen to God’s heart from inner out and receive his person vulnerably extended to us with our whole person. Though difficult to face, we need to become more sensitive to and take responsibility for how we relationally affect God negatively in order to go deeper with him in his relational response of grace to us. This dashes any false assumptions we have that we do not affect God negatively (e.g. Jn 14:9; Eph 4:30).

            Music has been the main focus in this Verse to discuss ‘singing’ a new song. The underlying issue is our ontology and function and how we are involved with God. In this section, we examine more deeply the relational implications of our choices, which is illustrated by, but not limited to, music’s place in our lives. Music only illustrates the broader issue of wholeness and reductionism.

            Music, as mentioned above, strikes to the core of our identity, seemingly even to form it. Having grown up in the musically dynamic 1960-70s, like many other persons I have a soundtrack to my self-perception and identity, with a kind of developmental musical hermeneutical spiral. This interweaving of music and identity is symbiotic and strong. Christians identify deeply with specific music (hymns, songs) and styles (e.g. traditional hymns, gospel, contemporary worship music). In this sense music partly constitutes our identity, so when my music is challenged, I take it personally and will fight for it in some way, outwardly or internally as tension.

            Underlying the fight/tension for my type of music is that I am engaged in secondary outer-in criteria to define my person, and thus define others. Many worship writers admit to having a bias for traditional and classical music over contemporary worship music (CWM), and by and large end up disparaging CWM on the basis of “quality,” an assessment from human shaping. To their credit, some of these writers admit to their artistic snobbery, yet they still need to go further to understand the theological anthropology that snobbery emerges from and what snobbery does relationally. The dynamic is about making distinctions not unlike the false distinctions from human shaping that focus on outer-in criteria of what one does (e.g. musical and artistic education, training) or has (e.g. sophisticated knowledge)—the same type of false human distinctions Paul confronted (1 Cor 1:12; 3:3-4). As discussed much earlier in this study, based on those distinctions, we engage in a comparative process of better or less, assigning value, creating a stratification or hierarchy—however subtle—and not only making music primary, but by implication my/our music better and others’ less (as Paul defined above).

            It is the workings of reductionism and its counter-relational work, not music per se, that was behind the so-called worship wars. Churches have responded to the conflict by having either separate services (traditional and contemporary), or blended worship services. Yet, what a sad division we have allowed in God’s family, similar to the divisions Paul confronted in the Corinthian church: “Has Christ been divided? (1 Cor 1:13). Music, while it receives primary focus, is wrongly blamed as the issue; rather, it is an issue of theological anthropology, just as Paul made this unmistakable (1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12). That is, to make music the issue is an outer-in approach to the underlying problem that is about reductionism in conflict with wholeness from inner out.

            From our own reduced ontology, we give secondary matter of outer-in criteria of music (form, style) primacy of place to compose worship, and thus to transpose church function by displacing the primacy of relationship disclosed by God to us. This exposes our theological anthropology whereby we mainly define ourselves, each other, and God, by secondary matter from outer in; the primacy of relationship is diminished, and the relational function of music for communication between us and God is reduced to personal preference and our sense of entitlement—all self-determined. We thus engage in reductionism and experience reductionism’s counter-relational work of fragmenting the whole of God’s family.

            This dynamic from self-determination has had far-reaching divisive outcomes historically in God’s family, for it includes also denominational fragmentation based on secondary criteria (e.g. how to baptize, structure of governance, manifestations of the Spirit, liturgical traditions), or even the priority of “doctrinal purity” over the primacy of relationship for which Jesus rebuked the church at Ephesus (see Rev 2:2-4). “You have forsaken your first love,” Jesus could very well be saying these words to us right now, because what is missing is agapē, the depth of relational involvement of our whole persons in the primacy of relationship together with God and with each other as the family of God. The primacy of relationship is relegated to secondary (or lower) place in church and in decision-making for worship. The worship wars simply reflected what we are really about—what constitutes our identity to define us and determine how we live. Worship music is only one battleground in the true war between wholeness (God’s whole) and reductionism. And none of it is on God’s whole-relational terms.

            If we do not embrace the primacy of relationship, what then is the significance of our following Jesus? What is the significance of the gospel we claim and proclaim? What is it that we are saved to, not merely saved from, if not adoption into God’s family, the new creation? Adoption, according to Paul, has functional significance in the ‘already’ of now, in this life on earth. In fact, according to Jesus, ‘eternal life’ (what is commonly the answer to “what are we saved to?”) is not merely some future state of bliss, but is the relational experience of relationally knowing the Father and the Son (Jn 17:3), and with each other (Rom 8:29) in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit (Rom 8:15-16; Gal 4:6). This is the good news of the gospel of Christ, the significance of a full soteriology (the new song) that is composed synchronously with what we are saved from and to, and thus an ecclesiology to be whole (the new sanctuary).

            The implications of our focus on secondary matter, of defining the human person from the outer in and presenting something less and some substitute for our whole person—especially in but not limited to worship—go so far as to challenge the gospel we profess. Most of us would deny that we are, for example, xenophobic, racist, sexist, or prejudiced in any other serious way, yet tension related to music has essentially the same basis (criteria from outer in and the inevitable comparative process) and relational consequence from the ‘us vs. them’ attitude that only repentance turns us from and baptism into the new creation ushers us into. All of this points to and involves the deeper conflict, even war, that persons knowingly or unknowingly struggle with between that which is whole and reductionism of it. This illuminates the integral fight in which Paul was engaged both for the whole gospel and against reductionism, as noted above in the church at Corinth.[31]

            Giving primacy to all secondary matter belongs only in Secondary Sanctuary. If we think deeply about God and what he receives through our music, our singing—disembodied lips, or whole person for heart-to-heart connection—we have to come to some rather unsettling conclusions. I raise the following examples in the chart below for reflection, for thinking in relational terms of what is primary to God, and about our relational messages to him, the person we present, the quality of our communication, and the depth of our relational involvement with him and each other, that is, our response of love.


When we...

Implied relational messages we give God...

Theological implications

Sing in the third person rather than second and first person (about God, not to God)

I want to keep relational distance from you


I/we do not wish to worship behind the curtain in the Most Holy Place; I/we will stay in front of the curtain

Listening to someone else sing—soloists, choirs, small ensembles.


You don’t want to hear from me. I don’t wish to communicate with you. Let someone else say it for me (substitute for my involvement). Our relationship is not important to me or to you. Forget “face to face.”

I/we need “substitutionary worship,” someone to mediate my/our worship to you. Jesus’ function as “High Priest” is not sufficient.

Background music for a time of silent prayer.

We do not like silence, even to be with you.

We live by a different gospel without the primacy of relationship.

Songs that are led in a vocal range that strains the majority of worshipers

Lead singers are more important than the assembled worshipers praising you. Performance is primary to you.

No relational clarity or relational significance.

Repetition beyond two or three times of choruses or lines of song lyrics. High volume.

You desire quantity and volume over the quality of my/our communication to you.

Your relational response of grace is not sufficient; self-determination is a necessary supplement.

Performances: special music, dance, or drama that the congregation watches as an audience at a show.

You prefer to observe a few persons from a distance, as we also do. Or, you really are an observing ‘audience of one’.

God is transcendent and incarnate, yet relationally inaccessible or distant, thus to be referenced to and not relationally involved with.

Present anything less and any substitute of our whole persons involved in worship, e.g., non-Christian musicians and professional musicians playing in corporate worship.

The skill of musicians (outer in) matters to you more than the involvement of our whole person (inner out). You define persons by what we do, neither by primacy of reciprocal relationship with the Spirit nor your terms of grace “in spirit and truth.”

You are neither the qualitative God of heart vulnerably present, nor the relational God intimately involved, who has created us in our qualitative image and relational likeness.


            The unifying message of all the above messages to God is this: my/our terms over yours for relationship together. The relational messages inherent in these activities and conditions are from autonomous efforts of self-determination because they are contrary to the primacy of relationship of God on his whole terms. The relational consequence of our self-determination is that we give God something less and some substitute from outer in, in place of our whole person from the inner out (signified by the heart). In contrast and in conflict, the incarnation principle of ‘nothing less and no substitutes’ requires our compatible response in order to compose the who and what we ‘sing’ to God in worship from inner out—open, vulnerable, and unembellished by the secondary.

            A strong word to remind us is ongoingly needed: the change we need does not come about by focusing on what we should do or not do, for example, to tell ourselves, “from now on, no more performing.” This is to think in outer-in terms, which does not get to the heart of the matter for redemptive change to emerge. We need to involve ourselves in the primary, the relational work with the Spirit to make the primary primary—the significance of ‘singing’ a new song to the Lord!





‘Singing’ a new song to the Lord:      Music is relational language that has both a qualitative nature and a unique relational function, which emerges from the human person created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. Yet when we function from a fragmented ontology that focuses on the secondary, we reduce music’s integrated function at best to only the qualitative, and confuse the qualitative for music’s unique relational function. Such singing is off-key and remains out of tune with the new song.

            In contrast and in conflict, ‘singing’ signifies the whole of life and involves all the relational dynamics of life in its wholeness. Worship is the integrating focus and the integral relational convergence of our (both individual and corporate) reciprocal relational response and vulnerable involvement in relationship together with God. Therefore, ‘singing’ is the integral relational dynamic of life in the tune of the new song composed in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God; and worship is the chorus of this new song of life in wholeness—all for which the Spirit is present to raise up with us in reciprocal relationship together.



[1] Ralph Martin, Worship in the Early Church, rev. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), quoted in Edward Foley, From Age to Age: How Christians have Celebrated the Eucharist (Chicago: Liturgical Training Publications, 1991), 9.

[2] Oliver Sachs, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, rev. (New York: Vintage Books, 2008), x.

[3] T. Dave Matsuo, Following Jesus, Knowing Christ: Engaging the Intimate Relational Process (Spirituality Study). Online: http://www.4X12.org., ch.3, section “Eternity Substance.”

[4] Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961), 21.

[5] Bruno Nettl, The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-Nine Issues and Concepts (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1983), quoted by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 77.

[6] Iain McGilchrist, 103.

[7] Babies are born with the innate capacities of absolute pitch and ability to make phonetic sounds of all languages. It is only as they learn the language of their particular culture that they lose these universal communicative capacities. Acquiring referential language is one of the dynamics where in order for the left brain hemisphere to function it needs to ‘blot out’ functions of the right hemisphere. See McGilchrist, 132    and Sachs, 138-39.

[8] One professor I know will occasionally and spontaneously utter a few words in falsetto when he is excited or emphasizing a point. People find that endearing because such emotion is rare in that context!

[9] Iain McGilchrist, 73.

[10] Iain McGilchrist, 102-105.

[11] Edward Foley, 9.

[12] Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 21. This volume discusses the Psalms from form-critical method (i.e. literary form and liturgical function), and rhetorical (stylistic) features of ancient Hebrew poetry.

[13] Concordant with McGilchrist and others’ observations about referential language achieving dominance over relational language, Anderson notes, quoting others: “Although [the psalms] may have originated primarily within the liturgical life of ancient Israel and Judah, [they] were finally appropriated, preserved, and transmitted as instruction to the faithful” (J. Clinton McCann Jr., “The Psalms as Instruction,” Interpretation 46:118; 202). “At this final stage...the Psalter was a book to be read rather than performed, meditated over rather than recited from” (Gerald H. Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, SBL Dissertation Series 76 [Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985]; 202). “The shift from liturgical use to religious education corresponds to a profound institutional change that occurred in the pre-Christian centuries: from temple to synagogue” (Anderson, 202). Here is a clear example of the shift from relational language to a reduced function in referential language.

[14] Walter Brueggemann, Worship in Ancient Israel: An Essential Guide (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 9, 25.

[15] Tāmiym is central to a deeper understanding of theological anthropology; see T. Dave Matsuo’s discussion in The Whole of Paul and the Whole in his Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process (Paul Study). Online: http://www.4X12.org.¸ ch.1, section “Related Issues in Hermeneutical Impasse, Flow and Outcomes” and ch.2, section “The Journey Begins.”

[16] Neurologist Oliver Sachs writes “This propensity to music—this ‘musicophilia’—shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our species,” (my emphasis).

[17] Suzuki, M., Okamura, M., Kawachi, Y., et al., “Discrete cortical regions associated with the musical beauty of major and minor chords,” Cognitive Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 2008, quoted in McGilchrist, 73.

[18] Iain McGilchrist, 85.

[19] Oliver Sachs provides an interesting quote from French writer Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27) in which a character wonders “whether music might not be the unique example of what might have been—if the invention of [referential] language, the formation of words, the analysis of ideas had not intervened—the means of communication between souls. It is like a possibility that has come to nothing; humanity has developed along other lines.” Musicolphilia, 139. His words are prescient of current studies in neuroscience and evolutionary biology of the dominance of the left brain hemisphere in referential language development. McGilchrist has stressed that the left hemisphere, in order to excel in its functions, needs to suppress the right hemisphere.

[20] Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. Keith R. Crim et al. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1981), quoted in Bernhard Lang, Sacred Games: A History of Christian Worship (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 9.

[21] In this passage Jesus also makes definitive our necessary ontology and function to relationally know and understand God by engaging his self-disclosures with epistemic humility, for which “infants” (nēpios, v.21) is a key metaphor. Please see T. Dave Matsuo’s helpful discussion in Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008). Online at http://4X12.org., Introduction, section “The Approach of this Study.”

[22] For further study of the Jewish background and influence on early Christian worship, see Paul F. Bradshaw. The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[23] Nietzsche, quoted in Nicholas Humphrey, Seeing Red: a Study in Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), p.3, quoted in McGilchrist, 418, italics in original.

[24] Albert L. Blackwell, The Sacred in Music (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 226.

[25] In human contexts, where music facilitates relational connection between persons, or interacts with others, this is music pointing to God’s design and purpose of his created relational whole, though not directly in communication with God. In contrast, music’s function from outer in that focuses on drawing attention to itself, like modern art, is detached and reduced to ordinary or common function.

[26] Edward Foley, Foundations of Christian Music (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1992), quoted by James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, rev. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 119.

[27] Ethnomusicologist Roberta R. King, “The Power of Worship,” article in “Kenya Church Growth Bulletin,” vol. 2, no. 4, 1992, 3.

[28] R. Kent Hughes, “Free Church Worship: The Challenge of Freedom” in D. A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 171.

[29] James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 114-115.

[30] Lester Ruth, "Lex Amandi, Lex Orandi: The Trinity in the Most Used Contemporary Christian Worship Songs" (unpublished paper, 2005).

[31] For a deeper study about Paul’s conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism, see T. Dave Matsuo’s The Whole of Paul and the Whole in his Theology.




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