Kevin DeYoung (author of Why We’re Not Emergent, Just Do Something, Freedom & Boundaries) started a new brief series on Our High Places at his blog. He’s discussing six areas that the contemporary church holds as their high places – blind spots that even the good kings of Israel tolerated or ignored:
“This little bit of pagan influence, this little capitulation to the culture was too ingrained in their thinking to be seen. Or if it was seen, it seemed too normal to think of doing anything about it. The good kings didn’t extend wickedness. They actually did much to curb it. They didn’t build or promote the high places like the bad kings did and the nation did under those kings (2 Kings 17:7-12), but neither did they destroy the high places like they should have. They were good kings with blind spots.”
It’s difficult, but beneficial, to think about the blind spots in our own lives related to worship, idolatry, or cultural accommodation. The first “high place” DeYoung discusses is the lack of Psalm singing in America’s churches. He doesn’t advocate for exclusive psalmity (neither do I), but wonders why so many churches seem to sing everything but the Psalms.
Likewise, in the March New Horizons, Stephen Oharek discusses the problem of one-dimensional worship – either one dimensionally joyful or sober – and proposes a biblically robust psalmity as an important part of the solution.
“The maturation of our churches depends in no small part upon our willingness to allow the complexities of the Word of God to shape our worship, thereby shaping the personality of our churches…Among the 150 psalms, some are full of praise, some are full of sorrow, some focus on confidence in God, and others focus on God’s wisdom. Still others deal with such matters as kingship, thanksgiving, and remembrance. The Psalter is not a set of praise choruses. It is truly multidimensional.”
The Psalms contain every mood of our existence as Christ’s chosen people and speak of Christ and our identity in him. The church’s worship should be as complex as the Psalms. Oharek goes on to discuss how a congregation’s worship service (primarily word, sacraments, and prayer) profoundly shapes its personality. If a church only focuses on upbeat, joyful worship, then it is probably safe to assume that the congregation will be similar. On the other hand, if a congregation’s worship is strictly somber and serious, the congregation would be, too. But,
“doesn’t the complex nature of the Psalter suggest that the more mature Christian will have a broader range of emotions, and that the more mature congregation will not be simply joyful or serious?”
Oharek also discusses (very helpfully and succinctly) what this looks like liturgically and closes with an exhortation to church leaders and congregants alike:
“Do we trust that God can use our worship services to cultivate more mature personalities for our churches? Are we willing to avail ourselves of the rich spiritual resources that are at our disposal? If so, then worshipers and worship leaders will reflect upon these things weekly. They will allow themselves to be guided by the disposition of the various portions of God’s Word more and more each Lord’s Day. In doing that, let us see if God does not expand and mature our congregations and their personalities.”
This is getting long enough, and there is much still to say. But it would behoove the American church to abandon the “convenience store approach” to worship (as D.Wilson says) by actually learning and singing psalms (not to mention old hymns). Are the Psalms too hard? Teach them! Too irrelevant? Explain and preach them! Too old? Why are we moderns so caught up in the “new”, the “improved”, distancing ourselves from history along the way? Too boring? They are Scripture! They are unneeded? Jesus, the apostles, and the church through the ages sang them, and Paul commands us to sing them (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3).