Many churches across America and around the world will celebrate Reformation Sunday this week. We remember with gratitude the bold call to Scripture, faith, grace, Christ and God’s glory that came from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Martin Zwingli and others.
Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther publicly called his colleagues to discuss the 95 Thesis he posted on the Wittenburg Door. He wasn’t trying to start a new church or a reformation. He was deeply concerned for Christ’s church and was calling his fellow monks and priests to study Scripture in regards to its claims on issues such as penance, justification, the papacy, the Church’s authority versus scripture and many others.
That got me thinking. If a new Martin Luther were to emerge today, what would be his concerns? If he could post 95 thesis for discussion, what would they be?
I’m not the new Martin Luther and I don’t have 95 critiques to present. But I would love to get you to think with me and add some of your own discussion points. Perhaps collectively we’ll come up with 95 ideas worth considering.
Some Reformation Songs:
To get us in the mood, here a couple songs to consider:
Zac Hicks penned a song called Sola as a way to remember the 5 solas of the Reformation. You can hear it here.
Perhaps the most played song on Reformation Sunday is A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Martin Luther, based on Psalm 46. Here are two versions you might not have heard.
One of my favorite a cappella groups is Glad. They have an inspiring version of Luther’s classic hymn.
And here are 1 million men singing Tommy Walker‘s arrangement on the Washington Mall during Promiser Keeper’s Stand in the Gap event.
While not exactly a revision of the old hymn, this is a great new song called A Mighty Fortress by Christy Nockels
95 Ways to Reform Our Worship
The reformers had a saying semper reformandum which translated means “always reforming.” I have worked or led worship for at least a dozen churches and have ministered in hundreds in America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. The following come from observations in all these places, though certainly not all will be relevant to all churches:
NOTE: These are not presented in any systematic order of importance, but merely as my creative juices bring them to mind. As more ideas are suggested, I will add them with proper attributions.
- Many evangelical churches wouldn’t know what to do if the Holy Spirit moved in their services. Be prepared for God’s sovereign work in your midst.
- On the other end of the continuum, many charismatic churches equate successful worship with the emotional content or a spontaneous move of the Spirit. The Spirit’s goal is to draw attention to the Father and Son. Our worship should, too!
- Let’s stop dumbing down our worship. Many of our contemporary worship songs satisfy the soul the same way as junk food. We feel full when we leave, but later we feel sick and realize we got negative nutritional value. Instead, let’s write songs that have a shelf life longer than six months and that teach lasting theological truth.
- Let’s strike a better balance between God’s immanence and transcendence. Immanence refers to God’s immediate presence where he is intimate and personal—He’s here with me. Transcendence refers to God’s majesty, power and rule—He’s up there watching over me. Most churches tend to emphasize one or the other. Too many churches forget that both of these are true.
- Let’s write songs that plumb the depths of the Gospel. I’m thankful for the hymn movement that is bringing back great hymn texts, but where are the new songs that explore justification, sanctification, and glorification in everyday language. I need to hear the good news of the Gospel every day, but not just in simple “Jesus loves me this I know” type language—and I find it hard to share the archaic language of many hymns with my neighbor.
- Why does so much Christian music mimic cultural music? For many centuries the church was on the cutting edge of music and the arts, but since the Renaissance the church has slowly become a consumer of cultural art and not a primary shaper of it. It would be cool to see Christians creating new styles and genres that honor Christ and shape culture.
- Small churches should stop trying to mimic the mega churches. You don’t have the resources or the talent. Instead, look at how God has uniquely blended gifts and talents for the sake of your community. Gift envy could kill your church. Also, remember that every mega church started out as a small church with people committed to a God-given vision and mission.
- Let’s reinvestigate biblical forms of worship. Bob Webber was a professor and friend of mine and I appreciate his work that resurrected interest in various historical forms of worship. His 8-volume Complete Library of Christian Worship is an outstanding resource. But I feel like we need to go back to the Bible as our source for all that we do in worship. This requires worship leaders and pastors to become intimately familiar with Biblical teachings on worship.
- Become students of culture. In too many cities the church has become irrelevant to the issues people are facing. One of my pastors liked to say that a good preacher will start his day with the Bible and the newspaper. We must be grounded in the Word of God, but relevant to our day. I see too many churches defaulting one way or the other. To do both well requires staying in a dialogue with other community members.
- Learn to love people who are different than you. We all prefer to be around people who are the same as we are. In Kenya I was the only mzungu (white man) in several communities. That was uncomfortable until they embraced me and welcomed me as a brother. Heaven is going to be a tapestry of people from every nation, tribe and tongue—and that will include people who will make you uncomfortable today (e.g. tattoos, piercings, suits, skin color, etc…).
- (via Buddy Eades) We must stop equating music with worship in churches? The Church must expand both its emotional language and its worship language to connect with the variety of elements in the Scriptures. What would a worship service be like without singing? Maybe the dancers feel this way each week or maybe the rhythmic people who sit on their hands, not to mention the talker and word oriented person who actually might like the occasional responsive reading. Worship can’t only be about a praise band!
- (via Steve Hammaker)This one is fresh for me (just got off the phone…): How do we shepherd the generation of our parents with the changes that affect our children? So much of what people want is affected by what they are hearing in the market. How do we avoid the “marketing factor?”
I’m going to stop here as I’ve probably already offended almost everyone I know! 🙂 My goal, however, is not to offend, but to challenge us to rethink our worship.
What would you add to the list? I hope there aren’t 95 issues we need to face, but I would guess that among the hundreds of people who have visited this blog, we could develop a pretty long list!
Steve Hammaker says
No offense here, Phil. Good questions, all of them. (Not sure at all what to do with #6, but still something good to address.)
This one is fresh for me (just got off the phone…): How do we shepherd the generation of our parents with the changes that affect our children?
So much of what people want is affected by what they are hearing in the market. How do we avoid the “marketing factor?”
Great point, Steve. We have whole market segments in Christian music because of our personal tastes. I’m currently listening to music on Spotify that is probably quite different from you, Wade Williams and Paxson Jeancake, let alone my kids or my parents.
Marketing has made it tough to argue against personal preferences instead of communal deferring to one another.
Thanks for the comment.
Buddy Eades says
We must stop equating music with worship in churches? The Church must expand both its emotional language and its worship language to connect with the variety of elements in the Scriptures. What would a worship service be like without singing? Maybe the dancers feel this way each week or maybe the rhythmic people who sit on their hands, not to mention the talker and word oriented person who actually might like the occasional responsive reading. Worship can’t only be about a praise band!
Totally agree, Buddy. I know I even default into that way of thinking without realizing it.
I was talking with David Hamilton yesterday about those in our congregations who don’t really “get” the arts and how do they engage with God in worship. Worship is born of the Spirit and founded in truth, therefore anyone can worship, whether they can sing, dance or draw or none of the above.
Thanks for adding that to the list!
Daniel K. Robinson says
I love the fact that you are asking the question…though any list that we produce today is likely to be superseded with the progression of time; simply because the foundation of any consideration is predicated on our incomplete understanding and comprehension of an infinite God. Yes, He has made himself known to us in Christ, but as Paul writes to the Corinthians “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known ” (1 Cor 13:12; ESV).
You make a good point, Daniel. My goal is to think more carefully about worship in our generation, as the Spirit gives us insight. Just as wise shepherds know the condition of their flocks, we as pastors and worship leaders should consider our ways over time. I know from experience how easy it is to have a myopic view of planning worship one week at a time. I know some churches do well to plan 6 to 8 weeks at a time with the addition of special holidays and series requiring longer-term planning. But how often do we step back and look at the effect of our worship leading over a decade or a generation? How do the songs we choose effect the practical theology of our churches? How about the scriptures we read (or choose not to read our of “fear of man”)?
We may not understand our times perfectly, but I think we should be like the men of Issachar who sought to understand the times and like the Bereans who carefully studied the scriptures to understand the Gospel.
May God bless our worship this weekend, this year and in our generation – for the Glory of the Father and Son, empowered by the Spirit.
Daniel K. Robinson says