Worship Music at Celebration Center
"Some have accused us of using the instruments of the devil. I have decided that these kinds of accusations are made by people who are preservers of the past or people who are afraid of intimacy - especially in the worship setting."
Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for His surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, with praise the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150 (NIV)
At Celebration Center we understand that worship in music can be expressed several different ways. There is instrumental and vocal music. We listen to concerts, solos and song services. During our worship celebration from Sabbath to Sabbath we plan an extended time when every person in the congregation is invited to participate in praise and worship to our great Creator, the Giver of good gifts, the Father of lights, the One who amazes us with His Grace.
While we appreciate concerts, song services, and, solos for our worship services - We create an environment where worshippers are directed toward God. We consciously attempt not to draw attention to the musicians up front. As worship leaders, the team is there to model worship. The leaders are expressing personal adoration, gratefulness, and humility to God. The songs are primarily directed to God as opposed to music that is about God. We intend for the worship to be unencumbered by distractions. The lyrics of our praise and worship songs are chosen to assist each worshipper in the process of "doing business" with God. Many of our songs exalt the name of Jesus.
We intend that our senses and feelings be involved in worship. I'm not talking about emotionalism, but a healthy involvement of the emotions. Making worship primarily an intellectual experience is much too limiting. God created all of our feelings and emotions. The more I worship with my whole being focused on God, the better is my worship of Him.
I used to sing songs and read scripture about shouting praises, but I'd never heard anyone shout in church. I remember singing and reading about dancing and raising one's hands to God, but I had never seen that practiced either. All my years of life and ministry - until the last six or seven - had been a one-dimensional experience.
I am grateful to be a Seventh-day Adventist. I've been a minister in the Adventist church over twenty-five years - happy to have been called to the ministry at thirteen years of age. During my years of development, both as a person and in ministry, I seem to have been given a healthy dose of curiosity - especially in the area of church life. Why are things the way they are? Why do we do this? Why do we do that?
Years ago, I began to wonder about the part music should play in the worship service. Many of my questions grew out of my study of God. As I began to see more clearly how magnificent He is, the way we used music in church seemed to reflect Him so poorly. My problem was not with the songs themselves. It had more to do with the process: sitting in church, checking the bulletin for the number of the next hymn, having someone standing up front announcing the number I'd already read, being told to stand, perhaps even being told to sing lustily one or more verses someone decided would be right, and then sitting down again.
When we were finished, it just seemed the whole experience was paltry, so Milquetoast. We were light years away from expressing the magnificence of our God and the "so great salvation" He has provided for us. As I was seeing a bigger God than ever before, I wanted to come closer and become more intimate with Him.
I remember one Sabbath morning listening to the organ as the elders and I were getting ready to go out on the platform and thinking aloud, "Is this a funeral we're having today?" It didn't reflect the fact that we had come to worship and celebrate the God of Creation, the God who by speaking words from His mouth created a universe so awesome that our most sophisticated telescopes cannot reach its outer limits, the God who poured out all of heaven to show us a salvation great enough to reach the very lowest of humanity - every one who would repent - and would have done thousands of times more, if it were necessary.
We have been criticized at Celebration Center for the contemporary sound of our music, the use of guitars, synthesizers and drums. Some have accused us of using the "instruments of the Devil." I have decided that these kinds of accusations are made by people who are preservers of the past or people who are afraid of intimacy - especially in the worship setting. There is nothing wrong with preserving many things from the past, but I'm quite sure that the business of reaching people is of much greater interest to God than the preservation of the past.
Look at the example God Himself gave us. He sent His Son to us. Why didn't He require that we come up to Him? Or demand that we speak like Him or take on His form? Why did He come down to us, take on our form and speak the language of the people to whom He came to deliver His message.?
Why would church leaders today insist on using music that, according to surveys, less than three percent of the population ever listen to on their own? Are we trying to accomplish what God Himself never tried to accomplish? Are we trying to require of people what God did not require? Is our standard higher than His? There are untold numbers of cultures who have their own musical sounds and style. Why would we require that they worship God using our choice of music?
I am not an educated musician, but I am a great appreciator of many different kinds of music. I'm glad that's true, because it means no one had the opportunity to tell me what worship music is and is not. Tbrough experience I'd discovered that some music easily opens me up to the greatness and majesty of God and draws me close. I also found that often the music considered to be great worship music, written by the masters, actually put a distance between Him and me. I began to look around for people who understood what I was looking for and knew how to produce it - people who were not influenced by the status quo or the question, "How have we always done it before?"
At the time, I was pastoring a church that allowed some experimentation. Thank the Lord for that church! Not everyone liked everything we tried; in fact, there were times
of great opposition, but we forged ahead as carefully as we could. Over the years I have had committed, dedicated musicians study the issues of music in worship, and we have come up with two main truths: worship occurs between a person and God; and, to be most effective, it needs to be expressed in the language and musical taste of the worshiper.
For many years we have been sending missionaries into all parts of the world attempting to turn people of drastically different cultures into North American Anglo Seventh-day Adventists. Haven't we learned that this is a poor plan, to say nothing about the fact that it is not God's plan? We have drastically different cultures and tastes right here in our own backyard. One of the wisest things we could do is learn to speak their language instead of requiring that they speak ours especially in regard to music in church.
Some may concede that this might be a good idea for evangelistic purposes, but once people are "in the church," we must teach them something better. Who says what's better? Who determines that one form of music is any better than another for the purpose of worship? Some music is technically superior and shows the genius of the composer, but worship is about God and me. If one kind of music helps me in my worship of God more than another, then it is good. What a gracious thing it would be for church leaders to find out what the tastes of the people in their communities are and then teach them to worship the Creator using their own musical language.
At Celebration Center, this is just what we have done. Using the music produced by the contemporary praise and worship publishers, such as Maranatha Music, Vineyard Music Group and Hosanna-Integrity, we have an extended time of praise and worship every Sabbath, up to 25 or 30 minutes. In a recent week we sang All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name, Let Your Glory Fall, It Has Always Been You, Draw Me Close to You, Jehovah, and We Exalt 7hee.
What is worship? There are so many definitions and thoughts on the subject, but I propose that worship is a personal, intimate expression of one's adoration of and surrender to God. In the book Exploring Worship by Bob Sorge, he asks,
What is the root idea of worship? What is the absolute essence, the common denominator, in all of worship? I believe it is seen in the lives of men like Abraham and Job, who worshiped in the midst of the most life-shattering circumstances. This is the fundamental essence of regardless of negative circumstances or complete emotional turmoil, I bow my heart and life before God Almighty, acknowledging his supreme Lordship. (74)
Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (Psalm 134:1,2; Psalm 103:1,2)
Dan Simpson is from the Midwest, born and reared in Minnesota. He's a third-generation Seventh-day Adventist educated in the Adventist school system. He was called to ministry when he was an earliteen and has spent the past 28 years as a pastor and evangelist having worked in the Oklahoma, Chesapeake, Minnesota and S.E. California conferences. Simpson is married and has three children. When he wrote this article he was the pastor at Celebration Center in Redlands, California. He observes, "I have committed the rest of my life to this church and the journey of finding out more about who God is and how to better worship and serve Him - both individually and corporately.
This article was printed in the Spring/Summer 1995 issue of IAMA's magazine, Notes