Behind the Music: Exploring the Grammar of Worship

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In a recent conversation with a friend working on the front lines of the church we began discussing how Seedbed might better serve our community of sowers. Somehow we got off onto a conversation about worship, and I began to opine about the songs sung in church these days.

I suggested to my friend that one of the most significant but overlooked issues of worship music is the lyrical grammar. Who is the subject of the song? Who is the object? Are the verbs active or passive, and the big question: Who gets the verbs.

My friend quickly shot the idea down, contending that this conversation is irrelevant to present day worship leaders. It’s not practical. “But,” I asked him, “What if the grammar of worship is the most practical issue of all?”

It reminded me of this word from the late Bob Weber,

“Biblical worship tells and enacts [God’s] story. Narcissistic worship,

instead, names God as an object to whom we offer honor, praise, and

homage. Narcissistic worship is situated in the worshiper, not in the

action of God that the worshiper remembers through Word and table.”
[Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 232-233.]

It occurs to me that the great movements of God so often happen on the heels of worship reform.

I once preached a sermon on Gideon entitled, “Revolution begins with reform at the home office.” You will remember the first instruction God gave to Gideon was to tear down his father’s altars to Baal.

Idolatry tends to center all the action in the activities of the worshippers in an effort to manipulate the actions of the gods. Doxology is quite opposite, centering all the action in the activity of the God. For a prime example take a look at Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.

Remember when they found the lost Torah hidden away in the Temple while doing some major construction work? Upon reading it, King Josiah ripped his robe in grief and the fear of God. His temple renovation project quickly transitioned to worship reformation, and God’s people received something of a reprieve from impending ruin.

I’ve been listening to Exodus for the past several days and find it astounding how much meticulous instruction God gave to Moses when it came to the construction of the Tabernacle and all its articles and artifacts. Following that the entire book of Leviticus focuses on how worship will work inside. Getting worship ordered rightly matters, right down to the grammar.

Of course, it’s nothing short of astonishing to consider the reformation of worship associated with the death of Jesus. As the Son of God breathes his last on the cross of Calvary, the curtain in the Temple separating the most holy place from the rest of the house spontaneously ripped from top to bottom. Talk about a worship revolution.

On we could go but we must bring it to a Saturday evening close. Grammar matters and it might just mean the difference between true worship and narcissistic idolatry. Pay attention in worship this week. Who gets the verbs?

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