MUSIC, WORSHIP AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
As a teenager, I played the organ for midweek sung Evensong. I learnt how to play the 'Mag', 'Nunc', creed, versicles, responses, and many more Anglican peculiarities but it was all very superficial. Then someone told me about the need for a personal relationship with God through Jesus, by turning to him and inviting him into my life. When that happened, I experienced and appreciated a whole new expression of church music, including 'choruses' (not to be confused, as I later learnt, with worship songs)!
In my first encounter with evangelical Anglicanism, tempered with mild charismatic renewal, I saw the role that music could play in worship. I also began to study the New Testament and soon discovered that so much of present-day church in the west compares poorly to the church of the Acts of the Apostles. So, a passion for renewal was birthed within me, and the desire to encourage Holy Spirit renewal was at the root of the call in 1985 to full-time ministry and became the aim and heart of Christian Music Ministries.
For the past 40 years I have written musicals, psalms, hymns and songs, which have been a resource and teaching-tool, creating the environment for churches and individuals to encounter the living God. Music enables us to teach Bible facts and at the same time experience the presence of God. It’s not quite an original quote, but 'Music reaches the parts nothing else can reach'.
When the Spirit moves God’s people usually sing! This seems to be the pattern in the revivals of Wesley, the crusades of Billy Graham, right through to the growth and explosion of worship material through the charismatic renewal of the 60s-90s. There are excesses and failures in all this, where worship music has become a large industry and sometimes an end in itself, thereby blunting the original aim. Nevertheless, music, and other creative arts such as dance, drama, poetry, painting etc remain vehicles for expression of the incarnational life of the Spirit.
Living things always evolve, usually with change and decay, so renewal must always constantly be renewed. The hymns and forms of the past have a vital role in preserving and evaluating our heritage, but some things need to be laid aside, whilst we assess the new expressions. Wesley and others wrote great hymns, some of which serve us well today, but there are also many that have validly been confined to posterity. And maybe more should be! 'Here today and gone tomorrow' is not necessarily a negative epitaph, for the main consideration should be "What is the Spirit saying to the church?", the realisation of which demands an ongoing exposure to the Spirit.
St Paul’s injunction to "Be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5:18) precedes the instruction "speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs", the latter of which specifically requires an ongoing life in the Spirit, an intimacy with God that will most likely be fluid and informal.
Christian music is essentially functional rather than aesthetic or educational, and certainly must not be there in preservation of a specific culture or tradition! Whether it be Handel or Hillsong, Rutter or Rend Collective, good Christian music will be that which facilitates a two-way communication, revitalising the relationship between believers and the Lord. When Jesus spoke to a woman at a well he revealed a profound truth: "God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Church without music is almost unimaginable, but church music without the power of the Spirit is bound for failure. However, when Spirit and Truth combine, we have a church that perpetuates renewal and resource, a foretaste of heaven itself!