Author Archives: Pioneer Library

About Pioneer Library

Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do.

Review: Deliverance to the Captives

Karl Barth (1886–1968) was a Swiss Protestant theologian, known for his involvement in the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, as well as his commentary on Romans and his multi-volume work of systematic theology, Church Dogmatics.

Deliverance to the Captives (1959; Eng. tr., 1978) is a collection of sermons preached at Basel Prison in Barth’s later life. It is one of several small collections of spoken addresses and prayers by a man much better-known for his theological writings. Though Barth mostly wrote, preaching was no small part of his life-work. Those of his spoken addresses that I can find in English are the following:

  • A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons (2016; sermons preached in 1914)
  • The Early Preaching of Karl Barth (2009; preached 1917–1920)
  • Come Holy Spirit (1933; preached 1920–1924)
  • The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928; lectures given c. 1922)
  • The Word in This World (2019; preached in 1934)
  • Prayer and Preaching (1952; seminars given 1947–1949)
  • Deliverance to the Captives (1978; sermons preached 1954–1959)
  • Call for God: New Sermons from Basel Prison (1967; preached 1959–1964)

Of these, two slender volumes contain Barth’s preaching to the prisoners at Basel Prison from 1954 to 1964: Deliverance to the Captives (German, Den Gefangenen Befreiung) and Call for God (German, Rufe Mich An = Call on Me).

Barth preached at Basel Prison 27 times, usually on holidays such as Christmas or Easter. Those who knew him wrote that he relished these opportunities, and that the prisoners listened with gratitude. He was in his seventies when most of these were preached.

The sermons savor less of academia than many that I have heard on a Sunday. They are fresh and encouraging in their outlook, and they display what Barth himself called his “solidarity” with these prisoners. The sermons are evangelical in tenor and frequently include invitations to trust in Christ.

Themes prominent in his theology come out in the sermons from time to time, but he does not have many theological axes to grind.

The sermon “God’s Good Creation” gives us a brief look at Barth’s theology of creation, based on James 1:17.

“Teach Us To Number Our Days” was the most interesting with respect to theology. It outlines his explanation of the work of the atonement as God’s No to sin and death and God’s Yes to life.

What happened in the death of Jesus did not happen against us, but for us. What took place was not an act of God’s wrath against man. Quite the opposite holds true. Because in the one Jesus God so loved us from all eternity—truly all of us—because he has elected himself to be our dear Father and has elected us to become his dear children whom he wants to save and to draw unto him, therefore he has in the one Jesus written off, rejected, nailed to a cross and killed our old man who, as impressively as he may dwell and spook about in us, is not our true self. God so acted for our own sake. In the death of Jesus he has cleared away, swept out and let go up in flames, smoke and ashes the old man in us, that we may live a life of freedom. That he may himself say to us his divine ‘yes’, valid once for all and unconditionally, to this old companion who has no traffic with our true self, to our old ways and byways, and he did say ‘no’, unmistakably, in the death of Jesus as the substitute for us.

Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, p. 122–123

Worship As Transformation (In Spirit and Truth – Part 5)

So far in this series, we’ve gone over what worship is, worship as testimony, worship as teaching, and worship as theology. Today we conclude with worship as transformation.

In John’s first epistle, he writes that we do not yet know what we shall become, but we do know that when Christ appears, we will be like him.

How do we know that we will be like him? Because we will see him as he is.

This transformation into the likeness of Christ is not complete at regeneration; it takes place, instead, at glorification.

John explains our transformation into the likeness of Christ by stating that we shall see him as he is. It is not our own efforts, but the vision of Christ that transforms us.

Seeing Christ requires change. It requires change as a matter of justice, because the unrighteous may not—cannot? would not?—see him; but it also demands change as a matter of course. What we see changes us.

All worship is transformative.

A. W. Tozer called faith “the gaze of the soul.” As we look to Christ in faith, we are transformed by our worship. But it is not only Christian worship that is transformative—all worship is transformative. If we spend our lives worshipping at the altar of money or pleasure, that worship is what inspires all our waking hours.

We become what we worship.

As we focus on earthly things, we lose sight of our eternal purpose, which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Our hearts become exposed to the same “moth and rust” that will destroy our treasured possessions. But if turn our worship to God in heaven, we remind ourselves that we are eternal beings.

Ultimately, our worship is the gaze that shapes our souls. God does not need to hear us praise and thank him. But when we glorify him with our lips, it helps us in some way to also glorify him with our lives.

Worship As Theology (In Spirit and Truth – Part 4)

In last week’s entry, we looked at worship as a way of initiating believers into theology. Now I want to look at some of the most well known songs of recent years as indicators of our theological condition.

The worship industry is skewing our theology.

The worship song “The Blessing” for many believers was a year-defining song in 2020. The song debuted in March 2020, just as covid-19 was becoming a global pandemic. “The Blessing” received a Dove Award for worship song of the year in 2020. There is nothing objectionable in the song itself; most of its lyrics are from Numbers 6. At its core, it is a simple reminder of God’s goodness, and yet I find the timing of its popularity to be perplexing.

I believe the worship industry is skewing our theology towards positivity, not by stating untruths about God, but by omitting truths that are crucial to biblical worship.

The Bible is filled with laments, but our worship is not.

It is interesting that as hundreds of thousands have died, rather than lamenting them or remembering the Son of God on the cross, Western churches have been repeating “He is for you” and “Amen” more than twenty times. This makes me very uncomfortable on a personal level. Is the song a timely reminder of God’s attributes, or does its popularity signal just how deeply we keep our heads in the sand when storms start blowing in?

Modern worship songs are obsessed with triumph; biblical worship means fellowship with the God on the cross.

A review of the most popular songs by Charismatic worship leaders indicates the extent of our theological imbalance. Even a cursory look at the most popular worship songs of 2020 and 2021 shows that triumphalism has become deeply ingrained into our worship. There is a definite tension between the man Jesus Christ going to the cross as a silent lamb, and the following lines from top ranked worship songs:

You win every battle.

Phil Wickham, “Battle Belongs”

The God I serve knows only how to triumph.

Elevation Worship, “See a Victory”

You can do all things but fail, / ’Cause You’ve never lost a battle. / No, You’ve never lost a battle / And I know, I know / You never will.

Elevation Worship, “Never Lost”

You are my Champion. / Giants fall when You stand, / Undefeated, / Every battle You’ve won.

Bethel Music, “Champion”

At the same time, in academic theology circles, Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God is considered one of a few books that has served to reorient New Testament theology around the suffering of the cross. Lucy Peppiatt stated in an interview that it was one of the best theology books of the twentieth century, and I agree. While suffering and Christ’s suffering are becoming a central issue for the lectern, the cross is being ignored more than ever on the worship stage.

The God of modern worship is a peppy, militarized caricature of the God of the Bible.

The military language belongs in our worship and is found on both Testaments—but it is a constant feature of our worship songs today, and is frequently found in churches that align themselves with pro-military political power. The clear conjunction of literal and figurative military language is unsettling. What’s likely worse is the attitude of triumphalism that is all resurrection with no cross.

I know next to nothing about the theology of Elevation Church. But the worship songs they produce are putting forth an image of a God whose core attributes are vague, triumphal, and optimistic. The more ethereal God is, the better the song sells. God never loses a battle, God raises the dead and brings new life, God blesses. It is the Facebook-algorithm-tailored version of worship. If this is all that we sing about, we are communicating that this is all that our children need to know about God.

Triumphalism is more characteristic of Islam than Christianity. In Islam prophets hardly sin and certainly never doubt, and the theological vision and political vision are one and the same. Whatever Jesus’ political vision was, it was certainly not triumphalist. The idea that God has never lost a battle may be true in some abstract sense (God successfully administrates all events in spite of the devil?), and worshippers may even sing it with that in mind; but it is precious little comfort to those who have prayed against covid-19 and watched multiple family members be carried away by the disease. The message of the cross is the distinctive message that we need to pass on to our children and to the watching world. God does not prevent all suffering by “winning battles”, but he does have victory over the devil in the humiliating death of Jesus.

We are being duped by bigger churches with more money and better music.

The theological ideas found in our worship music are, more than anything, a barometer of the kinds of thinking found in megachurches. What we need are fewer imitators and more prophets. We need worship leaders who both write their own songs and evaluate their selections for Christian meetings. Gatherings need to take worship seriously enough to spend equal time preparing worship and sermons—after all, they probably spend equal time teaching the congregation theology. In many churches, more of the service is taken up by music than the sermon itself. We often allow the undiscipled and undisciplined to take the microphone when we would never allow them in the pulpit. There needs to be a prophetic rebalancing, a deep repentance of our flippancy, and a new theology of worship must be developed to save the church from the poisonous reach of Mammon in our music.

Worship As Teaching (In Spirit and Truth – Part 3)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Colossians 3:16, NKJV

In his book, The Reset, Jeremy Riddle writes that worship team members and worship songwriters should be among the most spiritually disciplined and theologically minded in our churches. Worship is treated as a task that any musician can do, while preaching and teaching are reserved for those with special gifting, if not licensing or ordination. If we understood the profound influence of worship on our theological imaginations, we would reckon the influence of worship teams as not so far behind that of preachers. Worship teams need accountability, not just in their performance and production, but in their spiritual lives and discipleship.

Worship reforms the imagination of the church.

When Jesus told his disciples to drink the cup in remembrance of him, he requires us to believe that the cup is his blood. Baptism requires us to believe that we are being reborn from the dead in that act of washing. As we inhabit these metaphors, the sacraments span the gap between imagination and belief: we believe the cup is his blood because it is true in a spiritual sense; we imagine the cup is his blood because it is not materially true in another sense. To debate the transformation of the cup into blood is to miss the point, which is the act of remembrance. All sacraments necessarily have the same sort of ambiguity because they are themselves points of continuity between the physical world (represented to us in the sacramental elements) and the spiritual world (represented to us in our imaginations). Much of what worship does—no matter in what sect—is capture and transform our imaginations.

Worship music initiates believers into theology.

Worship is not the end of the pathway from the Word to theology; it is the beginning. Those who can’t understand sermons can understand songs and sacraments. Children of Christian parents are weaned from lullabies to hymns. Many a born-again believer “cuts his teeth” spiritually on his church’s worship lyrics.

It is not enough for worship to say something that is true about God. It should be saying something distinctively Christian about God. We should ask ourselves whether our sermons and our worship music are saying the same things about God. If someone only attended the music portion of our services, what kind of God would be portrayed to them? If our worship merely states that God is nice and that he has blessed us abundantly, we should evaluate whether our music could just as well be sung by adherents of other faiths.

Worship music should be examined the same way sermons are.

Some church members are theologically critical of all aspects of church, including music; most receive sermons critically and song lyrics uncritically. We may notice that we don’t like the rhythm or melody of a song, but we rarely analyse the lyrics. But if worship is itself a form of teaching, as I suppose it is, we should examine our music as closely as our sermons to find it acceptable before God.

Many make wide allowances for music that they do not make in other forms of teaching. Many would gladly sing “In Christ Alone”, never noticing that it consciously promotes several core tenets of Reformed doctrine. Worship, after all, is both in spirit and in truth. Pentecostals in particular focus on creating an attitude of love more than finding theologically acceptable songs. I believe, though, that we have lost balance completely.

Pentecostals and Charismatics are focused on worshipping God in spirit and are progressively placing themselves in the hands of a music industry that has put Mammon at the helm. Cessationists are focused on worshipping God in truth and little room is left for spontaneous expression, personal testimony, or the gifts of the Spirit. We have become polarized in our churches, and we desperately need a renewal of theologically informed songs that capture personal testimonies. Such songs will have the power to prophetically transform the imagination of the church.

Review: Always Enough

Author: Rolland and Heidi Baker are missionaries and itinerant speakers. They have planted churches in the United Kingdom and Mozambique. Heidi is also the CEO of Iris Global, a humanitarian organization they founded for work in developing countries.

Full Title: Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision among the Poorest Children on Earth

Overview:

Always Enough (2003) is the story of Rolland and Heidi Baker, focusing on their experiences in Mozambique as missionaries.

In Africa they experienced not only disaster and poverty on a national level, but national repentance and revival as Mozambicans responded to God. Miracles attended their message and are a major part of their story—especially healing and miraculous provision.

Through the Bakers’ delegation of responsibility and leadership, at least five thousand churches were started in Africa in less than a decade. I thoroughly enjoyed this inspirational book and recommend it highly.

Worship As Testimony (In Spirit and Truth – Part 2)

Christian worship is a way of embodying our personal and corporate testimonies. In song, we express what it means to us that God has saved us, changed us, heard our prayers, and formed us in the glorious likeness of his Son.

Not all worship is congregational worship.

Some of the testimonies we put into song are personal, individual, not suited for use in the congregation. This does not make them meaningless. There are plenty of lines in the Psalms of David that would be quite out of place in a Christian gathering! And even songs that are sung in gatherings are grounded in personal testimony. Psalm 18 begins with a long explanation, historically grounding the song in David’s biography:

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul . . .

Psalm 18:1, NKJV

Personal testimonies become corporate testimonies.

The modern worship song “How He Loves Us” is a great example of the shift from a personal testimony to a corporate testimony. It became a radio hit for David Crowder in 2009, reaching number 8 on the Billboard charts and receiving a nomination for a Dove Award. (The album did win the Dove Award for best worship album.)

But many of us first heard that song in a viral YouTube video from 2005 by John Mark McMillan, who wrote the song. The lyrics are slightly different, the song is several minutes longer, and there is a whole verse about “the day Stephen died”, referring to McMillan’s friend who had died in a car accident. It is an intensely personal story, and the original song doesn’t make sense without knowing that testimony. Crowder repackaged the song for a broader audience—famously scrapping the “sloppy wet kiss”—and in the process transformed the song for corporate worship. Both types of song are indispensable in Christian worship.

Personal songs can be honest about suffering without shame.

The Psalms teach us that the variety of spiritual experience is great. Biblical commentators such as John Calvin have stated that this is practically one of the most important things we can glean about the Psalms as a whole. Christians are not aloof from the whole pageant of human life, ranging from lament to ecstasy.

My soul faints for Your salvation,
But I hope in Your word.

My eyes fail from searching Your word,
Saying, “When will You comfort me?”

For I have become like a wineskin in smoke,
Yet I do not forget Your statutes.

How many are the days of Your servant?
When will You execute judgment on those who persecute me?

Psalm 119:81–84, NKJV

Psalms like Psalm 13 and Psalm 42, along with many passages from the Prophets, show us that the lament is a legitimate form of worship. We miss much by making worship that pretends that Christians are always happy people. Jesus himself prayed to be delivered at Gethsemane, and asked God why he was forsaken at the cross—quoting Psalm 22 in doing so. Astoundingly, God himself fellowships with us in our unanswered prayers, which is in itself better than answering them.

Corporate testimonies become personal testimonies.

Testimonies are not just joyful expressions: they also serve to stoke our memories of God’s goodness when we cannot remember. When we are in a place of joy, corporate testimonies can remind us how to live in lament, and vice versa. We need these memories to rekindle our joy in the Holy Ghost.

When we are least attracted to worship, we are most in need of the collective memories that are preserved for us there. Worship changes our perspective and helps us to reorient our lives around God’s story that is happening all around us every day, even on the days that we do not sense that we are a part of that story.

New Books—and What’s Next (January 2022)

What’s New

There are three new books from Pioneer Library:

Dramatic Stories of Jesus: Filling the Silent Places in the Gospels is (or was) one of the rarest books by Louis Albert Banks, now in print for the first time in 97 years.

The World’s Childhood is a book of sermons on Genesis 1 to 3 by Louis Albert Banks.

Benjamin Needler’s Expository Notes on Genesis 1 to 5 is a classic work from the Puritan era. Needler was an Anglican who was ejected from the Church of England in 1662 due to his views.

What’s Next

Joseph Parker’s monumental series of over 1100 expository sermons, The People’s Bible: Discourses upon Holy Scripture, has been completely re-typeset for a new edition. I ran into some hiccups in the design work, but it should be (re-)released sometime in 2022.

There are several more commentaries on Genesis that are in progress for publication, as I’m chipping away at creating my ultimate list of free Bible commentaries in the search for excellence and thoroughness in biblical studies. I’ve discovered a wealth of new favorites and I am thrilled to share both insights and the books themselves. A few of the books on Genesis that I’ve planned to put back into print are William Hunnis’ A Hyve Full of Hunnye (1584), Lancelot Andrewes’ (d. 1626) sermons on Genesis 1 to 4, and Gervase Babington’s Comfortable Notes upon Genesis and Exodus (1592).

The Branded Foot is an extremely rare novel by Archibald Forder. The story is about Lex, a young and idealistic Christian who gets stranded in the Arabian Peninsula. The plot is based on the author’s experience of rural Arab life; the story also likely includes a dramatisation of certain aspects of Forder’s missionary career that he could not share openly. I don’t have much taste for fiction, but I do look forward to sharing this one with the world.

There are (still!) a number of Louis Albert Banks’ books that will be going into publication in 2022. Among those planned for the future are The Motherhood of God, The Winds of God, The Honeycombs of Life, The Sinner and His Friends, and A Year’s Prayer-Meeting Talks. All of these are in progress and several are completely typeset and proofread; it is just a matter of finishing up the publication work. Banks fans, keep searching Amazon periodically, as there is always more on the docket.

Free Commentaries on Genesis – Quick Links (Ultimate List of Free Bible Commentaries)

This is a shortened version of my ultimate list of free Genesis commentaries, created for quicker reference. Commentaries covering the entire book are in boldface.

Those I especially treasured as thorough and thoughtful were the commentaries of Ainsworth, Babington, Kalisch, Needler, and Patrick, the sermons of Candlish and Fuller, and the Genesis Rabbah, a Jewish midrash. Gibbons also has an absurd number of patristic quotations.

Genesis Commentaries

Alcuin (1–16) | Alford | Ambrose (1–4) | Ambrosiaster (“Pseudo-Augustine”) | Anonymous [“Fidus”] (3) | Babington | Basil the Great (1) | H. Bonar (1–6) | Browne (“Speaker’s Commentary”) | Bunyan (1–10) | Bush | Chapman(?) | Clapham (1–14) | Coghlan | Colman (1–3) | T. Cooper | Cumming[1] | | Delitzsch vol 1 (1–14) / Delitzsch vol 2 (15–50) | de Sola, Lindenthal, & Morris | Driver (“Westminster”) | Franks | Geddes | Genesis Rabbah | Gibbons/Gibbens (1–14) | Gibson | Goodspeed | Groves | P. Henry (1–11) | Hughes | Hunnis | “Ibn Ezra” (Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra) | Jacobus | Jervis | J. C. Jones (1–8) | Keil & Delitzsch | Kurtz / alt. ver. | Latch | Lightfoot | Luther vol 1 (1–3) / Luther vol 2 (4–9) | D. MacDonald (1–3) | McCaul (1) | Murphy | Needler (1–5) | W. Paul | Payne Smith [“Ellicott’s”] | Richardson | A. Ross (1–14) | Ryle / alt. ver.| Sibthorp | Simeon / alt. ver. | Skinner | Spurrell | Terry & Newhall [“Whedon’s”] / alt. ver. | Todd | Turner | Victorinus (1–2) | von Gerlach | Walker (1–2) | J. White (1–3) | Willet | I. Williams (1–4) |

Pentateuch Commentaries

Ainsworth | Blunt | “Chizkuni” (Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah) | A. Jackson |Kalisch | Kenrick | Kidder | Morison | “Ramban” (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman) | “Sforno” (Ovadiah ben Ya’akov Seforno) | A. Wright |

Whole Bible Commentaries & Study Bibles

Barnes | Benson | Bullinger | Calvin | Constable | Dodd | Gaebelein | Gill | M. Henry / alt. ver. / abridged ver. | Hewlett | Jamieson | Kitto | Kretzmann | Lange | Meyer[4] | Meyer[5] | Patrick | Poole | T. Scott | Sutcliffe | Trapp | T. Williams |

Sermons & Lectures

Andrewes (1–4) / alt. ver. | Banks (1–3) | Boardman (1–2) | Bonnet (3) | Bonus | Bromby (1–5) | Candlish | Close | Crosse (1–23) | Dods (“Expositor’s Bible”) | Fuller | Horne | MacDuff (28) | Mackintosh | MacLaren [“Expositions of Holy Scripture”] | J. Parker [“People’s Bible” vol. 1] | Rollinson (49) | Shute (16) | Thornton

Studies of Biblical Characters

Cumming[2] (1–11) | Cumming[3] (12–36) | Cumming[4] (37–50) | Kelly (12–25) | Meyer[1] (12–25) | Meyer[3] (25–35) | Meyer[3] (37–50) |

Dissertations & Essays

Barrington (3) | Bate (3) | Gray (14) | Holden (2–3) | Kennicott (2–4) | Oakes (1–3) | Salkeld (2–3) | Shuckford (1–3) |

There are many more works, especially in Latin, that are available online. If you know of a work I’ve left out that’s freely available online, written in English, and in the public domain, please leave a suggestion in the comments.

Review: Ventures among the Arabs

Ventures among the Arabs recounts the adventures of Archibald Forder, a missionary who worked among Arabs. Forder worked primarily in the lands we know as Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, but also travelled in many other areas, especially where Bedouins are found. He and his wife first went to Kerak, Moab (present-day Jordan) to fill a gap for William and Jane Lethaby while they travelled elsewhere.

Forder travelled alone into northern Najd, an area that was almost wholly untouched by Europeans. Alois Musil is perhaps the only explorer who overlapped closely with Forder in place and time, and they interacted with the same tribes.

Forder is known—like Musil—for adopting native language, dress, and lifestyle as much as possible. He lacked institutional backing and was forced by the Church of England to become independent, but he did not forsake his missionary outpost. He is refreshing for his lack of worldly prestige or ambition; he is simply a man with a message.

He pioneered among the Bedouin in present-day Jordan, and made visits to rural areas all over the northern Arabian Peninsula. Little or no missionary work was being done in most of the areas he visited, so that his accounts and his depictions, for the time in which they were written, were almost wholly unique.
In terms of day-to-day life, Forder did medical work, often aiding wounded Bedouin after tribal skirmishes. He also distributed Scriptures as a colporteur.

In his lifetime, readers of Forder’s books complained that he didn’t supply any personal details about his life, and he tried to remedy this in 1919 when he published In Brigands’ Hands and Turkish Prisons. Later books show how he pioneered a new mission among Palestine’s Bedouin (based in Jerusalem).

Ventures among the Arabs is a fascinating little collection of stories about Forder’s beginnings in his Arabian mission. I highly recommend all of his books for those interested in the history of missions among Arabs.

What Is Worship? (In Spirit and Truth – Part 1)

The fact that our worship underwhelms us is a signal of how much we are in need of true worship. We need true worship to honor the Father rightly. We need true worship to change our perspective.

To worship means to bow.

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

Matthew 2:2, NKJV

The word “worship” has come to signify an entire industry of music, often represented by record labels that are not even run by Christians. But even the English word outside of the modern church has little or nothing to do with music. To “worship” originally means to proclaim a person’s worth by bowing to them as an act of love and allegiance. In some biblical contexts, the English word “worship” means the physical act of prostrating oneself before another in expression of obedience (though biblical languages have several words that may be translated “worship”, and not all of them can mean this).

Worship does not depend on where we are.

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.

John 4:20–21, NKJV

This may be the clearest New Testament teaching about worship, and yet we often hear mellifluous talk from the pulpit about how great it is to come into “God’s house” to offer worship. We are God’s house, we can offer our worship anywhere, and worship is much larger than the musical portion of our public services. We gather together to learn from each other, to receive teaching, and to remember Christ’s death, not because any institutionally-recognized location is a condition of acceptable worship. In fact, Jesus explicitly denies this idea. It is a Christian distinctive that we can worship God anywhere (see Acts 16:25!); we gather together and sing as one of many acts of worship.

Christian worship usually includes music.

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:26, NKJV

Since the days of Moses, music has been a distinctive element in Judeo-Christian worship. The Muslim may well be perplexed that the Christian reads (rather than recites) his holy book, and sings (rather than performs in ritual) his worship. Music is powerful in its ability to engage the mind, memory, and emotions. Christian worship is not a purely intellectual exercise. It involves our whole soul, and Christian music is a key expression of that fact. The memories of the earliest songs of our childhood show us the formative power of music. Music also has the power of disarming us, allowing us to understand a new perspective without argumentation. This makes it a powerful tool for teaching, for good and for ill.

Worship is more than music.

. . . speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord . . .

Ephesians 5:19, NKJV

Paul and Silas did not only sing songs in prison; they also prayed and spoke and evangelised. Even Christian songs themselves are a form of teaching. Jeremy Riddle writes that we have grossly underestimated the teaching role of Christian worship songs. Our worship leaders and songwriters should not be spiritual novices with thorough musical training; whatever their musical training, they should be theologians, capable of mediating and transferring spiritual truth through both word and song.

Worship may be addressed from us to God, from God to us, or from us to one another.

There are not one but three patterns of Christian worship: praise, prophecy. and exhortation. Some psalms may use two or three of these in turn, signfiied by changes between first, second, and third-person pronouns (“I”, “you”, and “he”). It goes without saying that we may freely address praise to God, directly:

. . . To You, O LORD, I will sing praises.

Psalm 101:1b, NKJV

In addition, a few modern Christian songs include lines that are written from God’s perspective, speaking to us words of encouragement. This may seem overly bold to some, but David’s psalms often included prophecies along with prayers. Worship as prophecy is an established, biblical pattern:

“For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the LORD;
“I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”

Psalm 12:5, NKJV

Thirdly, worship can include words of exhortation between believers. Psalm 91, one of the most remarkable and memorable psalms, never addresses God directly. Verses 3 to 13—nearly the entire psalm—are in the second person:

He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

Psalm 91:4, NKJV

Worship is about God.

I will sing of mercy and justice.

Psalm 101:1a

Worship, in the end, is not about how happy or despondent we feel, but about God’s wondrous attributes. Worship is an act of grounding our finiteness in God’s infinitude. It is for this reason that it is so important that those who prepare Christian worship of all kinds—whether in song, prayer, prophecy, or exhortation—must be seasoned disciples, trusted teachers, and grateful prophets.

Worship is for everyone.

Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!

Psalm 117:1, NKJV

Worship is not a musical performance put on by a few special saints. It is the prerogative of all Christians. When I write about worship, I don’t want anyone to misconstrue my words as only applying to worship leaders. The condition of our worship will improve when Christians everywhere realise that it is their responsibility to reflect God’s glorious image in their services and sacraments.