matt redman confesses to “girly” worship songs

Zac HicksPersonal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & Thought3 Comments

This is impressive.  Matt Redman, upon reflection on Scripture, speaks quite candidly about modern worship’s use of romantic love language.  He specifically mentions regret over the final line of the chorus of his famous song, “Let My Words Be Few,” which says,

Jesus, I am so in love with you.

The reason this is impressive is because we have a truly humble man who is willing to admit that he’s on a journey of greater depth of knowledge and insight.  It is also impressive because Redman is one of the top ten most recognized modern worship leaders and songwriters in the world.
I also just want to say how big a fan I am of Redman, and why.  When modern worship was in its “fluff” heyday, which I would place around the mid to late 90s, Redman was carving a different path.  You look at his early albums in and just after that era (The Friendship and the Fear, The Heart of Worship), you really do get a sense that here we have a worship leader who reads his Bible.  Yes, early Redman was full of the romantic stuff, too, but there was substance.  My appraisal is that part of the reason we’re seeing modern worship make a shift toward more biblical literacy, more God-centeredness, more theological depth, is because Redman paved the way.  I really can look at the “heavy hitters” of worship in that era, and I don’t see many that were writing as Redman did.  Now, many more are.
I haven’t spoken directly about the topic at hand, i.e. modern worship’s penchant for so-called “girliness,” but much ink and HTML have already been spilt over that, so I leave it to my readers’ comments.  I just think this video is remarkable.  And I thank God for humble public figures like Redman.

old hymns, new music…NOT a new thing

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, History of Worship and Church Music, Worship Theology & Thought6 Comments

Every innovative endeavor is bound to receive some backlash…
And I’ve certainly had my share of less than enthusiastic comments about my re-setting of old hymn texts to new music.  Tonight is an evening where I feel like proffering a response.
Sometimes I encounter old hymn lovers who give off the air (or say explicitly) that they don’t appreciate old hymns being tinkered with, tampered with, even desecrated.  Perhaps some are aware (but I find that many are not) that such a practice of setting old texts to new melodies for modern ears and new generations of Christian assemblies has seen many iterations over church history.  Even more ironic is that some of the beloved hymns that I and my hymns movement cohorts are accused of desecrating are already once-over desecrated texts.  Perhaps, then, for the person unfamiliar with the history of hymnody, I’ll crack open the door of just how historic re-hymning truly is by offering a brief sketch of one man, Lowell Mason (1792-1872).
Mason was a Massachusettes-born Georgia boy, banker turned church musician.  After the explosive heyday of Watts and Wesley (when they shifted in the eyes of the church from being the contemporary movers and shakers to being the more staid, “traditional” hymns…funny how that works), notwithstanding some notable hymns and hymnwriters in between, church song was growing stale.  The old hymns felt tired, and worshipers wanted more fresh hymns for a new era in evangelicalism.  The flurry of the first Great Awakening had come and gone, and the revival dust was settling.  Mason observed American congregations, saddened by the lifelessness in the singing.  He commented:

“Go where we may into the place of worship…when the singing commences…the congregation are either on the one hand gazing at the select performers to admire the music, or on the other expressing their dissatisfaction by general symptoms of restlessness.”*

Mason was dissatisfied with lifelessness and decided to do something about it.  He did so, not by shirking the traditions but by re-expressing them in modern ways.  He began affixing new tunes, melodies, and chord structures to glorious old hymn texts…a musical garb he believed modern listeners in his day would appreciate and resonate with.  Check out the impressive list that the nethymnal offers of over 80 new tunes Mason composed here.  Let me point out a few hymns that Mason re-hymned:
Joy to the World! A Watts hymn written in 1719…the original tune of which was certainly not what we sing today!  Mason took the music of G. F. Handel and arranged it for congregational singing…a tune that is now immortally tied to this text.
There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. William Cowper’s 1772 hymn saw new light when Mason re-energized it and hymns of the same meter for modern ears.  Interestingly, the tune that we often sing with it today (not Mason’s tune) is a 19th century camp song (ah, those silly youth and their wild music!).
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This beloved 1707 Watts hymn was not sung to the tune we know and love, until Mason came along and wrote “Hamburg” in 1824, blessing the church in perpetuity.
The list could go on.
In the light of this, it’s quite ironic when hard and fast hymn-lovers criticize folks like myself who attempt to clothe old hymns in new music.  Were it not for the members of the “hymns movement” of old, like Lowell Mason, they would not have some of their most beloved hymns!  Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Sojourn Community Church, Sovereign Grace…they’re not doing anything new.  They’re recycling a repeated practice in church music history–giving back historic hymns to the modern church by re-setting them with new tunes and instrumentation.
Though some traditional hymn lovers criticize this practice, at the end of the day we join hands with the same burden.  It’s a burden to see to it that great hymns don’t lose their place in the changing church.  Some hymn lovers believe that the only way to relieve this burden is to dig one’s heels in and keep singing them the way they’ve always been sung.  Re-tuning them is a transgression too far across the line.  I humbly disagree, because, though I share their burden not only for the texts but the music, I find that the loss of music is by far and away the lesser of two evils (and sometimes the loss of music is not an evil at all, but a great good…as some of those horrid tunes need to be put in the grave! :)).  I’ve waded long enough in the stream of modern worship to know that “sing em our way or the highway” will only polarize, divide, and push away.  For now, modern worship, for better or worse, is tied to a certain set of musical priorities and parameters, and the music is not ancillary to the worship expression but part of the DNA of what draws worshipers to that style (which, as history tells, will change, too).
So all we’re doing in the hymns movement is attempting to be 21st century Masons.  We believe in the power of these old texts.  Therefore, with our musical ability, we’ll attempt to smuggle them in modern music, so that perhaps some might give them a hearing and be pleasantly surprised when a poetic profundity socks them in the gut, drawing them deeper into knowledge, insight, wisdom, and the worship of God.
And if this little post can’t convince some of my criticizers that what I’m doing is worthwhile, at least perhaps it can take some of the blinders off, curing historical myopia.
*Thomas Hastings, Biblical Repertory, July 1829, pp. 414, 415

worship: FIRST an act, THEN an experience

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought4 Comments

Those who resonate with modern worship often feel as though a services filled with liturgical elements besides singing are not conducive to a “spirit of worship” because it does not flow, but rather stutter-steps. However, defining a “spirit of worship” purely in terms of how it moves and engages one’s heart betrays a misunderstanding about what corporate worship is, at its core. (And don’t get me wrong, here.  I believe in flow, for both free and liturgical settings, and I seek to plan services with flow.)  But when we’re getting down to fundamentals, corporate worship is primarily an act, not an experience.* If a person leaves worship not having been touched emotionally or not having been engaged passionately, have they still worshiped? Yes! Why? Because worship is an act and only secondarily an experience. Worship is about walking through certain rituals (some churches have a broader array of rituals than others…but all have them) that the Bible guides us to engage in (like prayer, singing, preaching the Word, Lord’s Supper/baptism, etc.). Those rituals therefore embody how God wants us to worship Him, and when we enter into the act, we are worshiping as a people!

Where does experience fit in? The experience of worship follows as a blessed by-product of the act of worship. When we are truly engaged in and with the acts and rituals of our liturgy, God stirs our heart to respond, not only physically and intellectually, but emotionally as well. Seeking an experience with the living God is not bad. But making the experience one’s primary rubric for whether or not one has “worshiped” mis-prioritizes God’s design.  This has been a helpful way of encouraging my own congregation to get beyond mere feeling as the worship-rubric.  Sometimes feeling is absent (see many of the Psalms) or even antagonistic toward God (see Habakkuk and, again, the Psalms), and nonetheless we are summoned to worship God.  Whether or not we have “worshipful feelings” (what are those, anyway?  goosebumps?  heightened euphoria?  psychological tranquility?  intense pleasure?), we can still say we’ve worshiped.  The further danger, here, that many insightful worship thinkers have pointed out, is that when we are seeking a worshipful experience, are we aiming at worshiping God or worshiping worship?

Trust me, I long for the emotional/feeling component, too.  There’s a wholeness (a shalom) that God intends for worship–full engagement of body, mind, and soul, and when all those things align, it is a truly other-worldly, powerful, transformative experience.  But when it’s not there, I’ve moved past hyper-analyzing myself, the worship service, the things that were “wrong” that prevented me from gaining that experience.  I just chalk it up to my humanity, and I remind myself that God no less receives my worship when my experience falls short of bliss.

I believe this is a crucial thought for worshipers out there.

*Though I’ve felt and understood this for a long time, the act/experience comparison is a helpful, concise summary, the insight of which I received from a short worship article written by Sam Downing, pastor of City Presbyterian Church in downtown Denver, in a worship bulletin.

the modern worship request to “see God’s face”

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought5 Comments

“I want to see Your face.”  That line and derivatives thereof are a common request in modern worship songs.  We are often telling God we want to see Him.  Some notables:
“In the Secret,” by Andy Park: “I want to touch You, I want to see Your face.”
“Better is One Day,” by Matt Redman (albeit from Ps 27): “One thing I ask and I would seek, to see Your beauty.”
“Open the Eyes of My Heart,” by Paul Baloche: “Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You.”
“Show Me Your Glory,” by Third Day: “Send down Your presence, I want to see Your face.”
I myself have added a refrain to Isaac Watts’ great hymn, “Come, We That Love the Lord,” which reads,
We have come to give You praise
Almighty God, lift up our gaze
Lord, we long to see Your face
Won’t You come and fill this place?

No doubt some of my theologically conscious worship-leading buddies, especially those in the hymns movement, are rolling their eyes…maybe even furrowing their brows.  Not only have I added to the already perfect hymn of the greatest hymn-writer, I’ve inserted some spurious theology, capitulating to the likes of mainstreamers like the four aforementioned songwriters.
The seriousness of the request of seeing God/God’s face/God’s beauty/God’s glory (they’re all pretty much the same request) was first pointed out to me by Michael Horton in a book that was very formative for my theology of worship, entitled, In the Face of God. In it, he wrote,

Any aspect of worship that attempts to take the seeker into the Holy of Holies without going through the Mediator and the sacrifice leads to judgment. Israel’s faith was filled with a sense of awe and respectful distance, fearful even to spell out the divine name. his reverence stands in sharp contrast to today’s ‘God is rad; he’s my dad’ informality. We must beware of scandalous familiarity with God. Perhaps we do not know him as well as we thought we did.*

This resonated in my soul at a time of life when my view of God’s power, glory, and sovereignty was rapidly expanding, concurrent with my increasing dissatisfaction with how carelessly some in the modern worship camp seemed to approach Yahweh Sabaoth.  That was the early 2000’s, and I’m happy to find modern worship nowadays being steered in a direction of higher praise, loftier theology, and a more transcendent Deity.  So why have I seemingly come full circle, to the point of inserting a “face request” in one of my own songs? (Ooh…just had a revelation of a new cheesy book title: The Bible: God’s Facebook…actually there’s a lot of analogical substance there…anyway.)
The answer is that I find “face time” with God to be a scripturally sound concept: (1) marked as a blessing of the new covenant to be fully realized at the eschaton; (2) encouraged in portions of the old covenant, where one would think such talk would be banned.
Job 33:26
He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state.
~Seeing God’s face here is framed in a positive light.
Psalm 11:7
For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
~Seeing God’s face is a reward for (ultimately Christ’s) righteousness.  We can conclude that we who are in Christ do and will partake of that reward.
Psalm 17:15
And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

~Here the Psalmist seems to be speaking of the hope of the eschaton, and through a righteousness which is ultimately not his, but Christ’s…nonetheless a moment of face-longing.
Psalm 24:6
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
~Face-seeking is a positive thing, a habit esteemed and encouraged.
Psalm 27:8
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
~Much like the previous, but an even bolder claim of commitment to seek His face.
Hosea 5:15
Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
~Repentance and the pursuit of justice, mercy, and godliness is summarized in the concept of seeking God’s face.  Seeking God’s face is not only a good thing, it is the right thing.
1 Cor 13:12
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
~I understand that interpretive directions could lead to a variety of ends, but given the rest of the “face talk” of scripture, I see warrant to interpret at least part of “face to face” as our face and God’s face.
2 Cor 3:18
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Besides biblical quotations about seeking God’s face, the modern worship request is backed by a biblical theology of the new covenant (see especially the book of Hebrews).  The veil is torn in the temple.  We have access to God’s very throne-room through the meritorious blood of Jesus Christ.  So biblical soteriology (salvation theology) supports this kind of face talk.
Christology (the study of the person of Jesus) also supports it, for in Him, we behold God incarnate, the face of the eternal One.  We read the eyewitness accounts of the gospel writers and of Paul, and by the Spirit we mysteriously behold the face of God through the Word of God.
Sacramentology (a biblical understanding of the sacraments), at least for the Presbyterian/Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox, also supports face talk.  For in the Lord’s Supper there is a genuine communion between Christians and Christ (however that happens)–authentic “face time,” seen and experienced with the spiritual eyes of faith (1 Cor 10:16).
The biblical evidence, to me, is overwhelming.  Requesting and expecting the face of God not only seems to be allowable, but encouraged.  But, as Horton has reminded us, there’s a scriptural balance of, in Matt Redman’s words, “the friendship and the fear.”  Depending on your disposition, you will be inclined toward one or the other, and your inclination will often cause you to subtly discount the other end of the spectrum.  Stately, fear-minded worshipers might scoff at face-statements as too brash, too disrespectful, too irreverent, too assuming.   Casual, face-seeking worshipers might balk at overly transcendent worship language as too distant, too cold, unworshipful, and mood-killing.  The reality, as in many instances, lies somewhere in between.  And perhaps a good marker of being somewhere in the middle is a fully authentic willingness to say or sing, “Lord, I want to see your face,” while in the back of your mind remembering, “but I know that is a potentially dreadful and awesome request.”
Such balanced face-seeking in worship actually makes the face-seeking all the more rich and meaningful.  It ups the ante of the request instead of cheapening the manifest presence of the Almighty One.  It’s my hope that we all can grow in seeking God’s face together.
*Michael Horton, In the Face of God (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 16-17.

traffic tickets, leading worship, and hardened hearts

Zac HicksPersonal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & Thought1 Comment

I had a most interesting experience yesterday driving to church at around 7:30am.  My commute is about 20 minutes, which is just enough time to center myself and prepare my heart and thoughts for stepping into shoes I’m not worthy to fill–being a pastor and worship leader.  3/4 into the drive, a cop pulls up behind me and signals me over.  As most people do as they’re being pulled over when they don’t immediately know why, I started to replay the last 5 minutes of driving, but for the life of me I could not figure out why I was being summoned to the roadside spectacle of flashing lights (come to find out later, some of our church family were driving by watching their pastor apprehended by the law).  Well, I had expired tags, which I will go to resolve, just after I write this post.
Needless to say, I was upset.  I was pounding my fist on the steering wheel, upset at myself for having been negligent with expired tags, upset at God for sovereignly ordaining an encounter which so wonderfully UNprepared my heart for worship.  I parked the car at church, muttering at God.  I muttered at God from the car to the door.  I muttered at God from the door to my office.  I plastered on a smile and said “hey!” in a fake, enthusiastic voice to someone I saw in the hall, and then I went into my office to “prepare for worship.”  I had set in my heart that my worship preparation this week would consist of telling God how upset I was and how I wouldn’t really be engaged today, thank you very much.  I picked up the worship bulletin and was reminded that I needed to spend a few minutes rehearsing the chant that would open our service…it was a setting of Psalm 95.  The chant’s refrain was as follows:
Harden not your hearts, as your forbears did in the wilderness.
After about the third time through that refrain, it was obvious that God was talking to me.  I’m sure you understand the message I was receiving.  That transition state between being angry with God and being humbled by God is an awkward one, but that’s right where I was when I said out loud in the empty choir room, with a nervous and bitter laugh, “God, are You preaching at me?”  I didn’t need an answer.
Yesterday, I re-learned a lesson that I am perpetually teaching to my brothers and sisters week-in and week-out: God is worthy of praise, irrespective of our circumstances.  His infinite worth demands our best efforts, our most enthusiastic worship, our loftiest thoughts.  The simple lesson of “your feelings don’t matter, Zac…I have a summons on your life to gather with my people and worship me” was spoken by God once again, loud and clear.
There is a divine grace in being a pastor and a worship leader.  Others can choose to evade God on days like that, but for us, it’s our job to be there.  I count that a huge privilege.  It’s almost a spiritual discipline.  Running from God as a pastor or a worship leader really is futile, because you’re going to have to reckon with Him at least once a week when you stand before His presence in the midst of His people.  I’ve learned this lesson before.  It was good to learn it again.
Well, off to the DMV.

of worship leading, self-promotion, and being an artist

Zac HicksPersonal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & Thought7 Comments

Here’s a candid moment for you.  I continue to wrestle with a tension (that will never go away), which I have experienced from day one of establishing an online presence in preparation for the release of The Glad Sound.
My goal for this album and any future ones (Lord-willing) is much less about promoting my own music and much more about being part of a movement with an agenda.  The hymns movement is a grass roots campaign to influence modern worship to regain much of what it has lost—historical rootedness in the biblical depths of ancient hymns.  And I believe God is behind this.  As I read the Scriptures, I know God desires to be worshiped in reverence and awe.  To Him is due the loftiest of thoughts, praises, and admiration. I believe the hymns movement is a necessary piece of the puzzle of modern worship. This is where my heart bleeds, and it is THE reason I’ve produced this record.  If I did not think God cared about this movement and the positive impact it would have on His worship, I wouldn’t have wasted my time doing this.
It has been made abundantly clear to me, given the culture I live in, that to achieve these goals, I must “market myself” in a sea of loud voices.  This means I must promote myself and continually place my personality, thoughts, and ideas before people.  I need to talk about this “great thing” that I’m doing.  I need to take pictures.  I need to encourage others (individuals, corporations with audiences and media outlets) that who I am and what I’m doing should be appreciated, talked about, and shared with others.  I need to convince people that I’m unique and worth people’s time.  Need…need…need.   “Need” should be in quotes.
At the same time, I’m a follower of Jesus.  And He teaches, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).  The apostle John reports a similar but even more poignant statement: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).  Elsewhere, Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  One of the most glorious passages of Scripture (which my 4-year old has nearly memorized!), says:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:1-11).
How does modern self-promotion and marketing meld with Christian self-denial?  There’s a tension here.  And it’s the classic “in the world, not of the world” tension.  Some would say this is a contradiction: one cannot promote oneself and yet heed Christ’s command to deny oneself.  I think it’s less black and white.  Promoting oneself is not wrong by necessity.  Paul promotes himself (2 Corinthians 12:11…I’m aware that he simultaneously says “I am nothing”).  But his self-promotion in that and other instances is for a greater purpose, be it to illustrate a theological point or to set himself up as an example of godly behavior so that others might have a tangible reference point.  Ultimately, as with many other issues, this comes down to the heart.  What is the motive behind the self-promotion?
I think these things, for honest Christ-followers, start out pretty innocent but that the heart, gone unchecked, reaches an idolatry tipping point, when all the self-promotion goes to one’s head (really, goes to one’s heart).  I find myself having to frequently heed the Spirit’s whispers, “Be careful here, Zac.”  So, yes, instances like last night where I’m walking around downtown Denver with my friend, posing for shots for my “artist portfolio,” do (and should) make me feel a bit uncomfortable.  And I think the discomfort is a divine grace, a heart-check.
For all you Christian artists, business people, authors, and anyone else who, out of cultural necessity, promote yourselves so that God’s kingdom objectives might be achieved, my encouragement is to tread forward, but tread forward as one would traverse a pathway littered with broken glass.  Move forward in prayer.  Move forward with a team of people from whom you invite regular input, questions, and checks and balances.
I don’t think the tension will ever go away.  God help us if it does.

lincoln brewster’s “today is the day” needs theological precision

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought10 Comments

Lincoln Brewster’s popular song “Today is the Day” seems like a flash in a pan.  I think its popularity has peaked (KLOVE plays seem to have lessened).  I have no doubt that churches are using it.  Brewster writes accessible, singable melodies and has a gift for crafting texts which are accessible and easy to remember.  He has given new vitality to a passage that is well-worn in Christian worship–Psalm 118:24 (though check out the TNIV’s translational decision about this passage, which, if correct, means that this passage is saying something different than what we’ve thought).  The song seems to be putting lyrical feet to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…,” and that is always a welcome reflection in worship and the broader Christian life.  However, the first verse is theologically troubling:
I’m reaching my hand to Yours
Believing there’s so much more
Knowing that all You have in store for me is good
Is good

It’s a simplification at best, and a distortion at worst, of a popular and powerful passage of Scripture:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Cutting to the chase, the thrust of this passage is quite different than Brewster has construed it.  To the contrary, not all that God has in store for us is good.  God just promises to work good in all things (be they good or bad).  This is a huge misunderstanding of this passage which has led to prosperity gospel thinking, crippling the church by stripping it of a theology of suffering.  Jesus prayed for the church,
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
This and other countless passages let us know that trial and tribulation is something the church WILL experience (we’re not going to be removed from the world and its suffering).  And trial and tribulation are NOT good.  Yet Romans 8 reveals that God can and does use them in the lives of His people for good ends.
Trying to be fair to Brewster, I can think that perhaps Brewster has this in mind as he writes this verse.  “All you have in store for me is good,” perhaps, is looking at the end after the trials.  However, this is so touchy and potentially damaging when misunderstood that it’s not good to leave things fuzzy on this issue.  So I land a bit harder on Brewster than on “Mighty to Save” because the collateral damage is potentially much more devastating.  What would a new Christian do, upon believing this, with future trials?  I fear they would despair in their faith, believing God to be a liar.
So my plea to my brother and colleague, Lincoln Brewster, is: Please rewrite this section. Please use it as a teaching point for the church.  Maybe run new potential songs by some pastors/teachers/theologians you trust to give honest feedback about the content before you publish and record.
Given that my attempts at gaining permissions from major labels like Integrity’s Hosanna! (Brewster’s label and administrator) for lyric changes have all been denied, it doesn’t appear I can use this song in our church.  I’m nervous about the misinterpretations that it could yield and, as a teacher (which all worship leaders are, whether they acknowledge it or not) being held accountable for giving bad food to God’s sheep (James 3:1).
Worship leaders, I humbly urge you to think critically about using this popular song in your worship services.

why it’s sweet to wear robes in worship

Zac HicksWorship Style, Worship Theology & Thought2 Comments

Our church is a hybrid of “high church” and “low church” practices.  Our services have both a liturgical feel and a “free church” feel.  For these reasons, we tend to have a hodgepodge of people with a diversity of backgrounds in and out of the Christian church.  We get asked by some who aren’t from high church traditions why we pastors wear robes.  Here are 5 brief reasons:

1) It highlights the office of the pastor while de-emphasizing the person. A simple robe covers much of the person, helping to conceal that which distinguishes his or her personality. It reminds us that we lovingly submit ourselves, not so much to the person and their personality, but to the role they have been called to by God—pastor.

2) It fights against us viewing the pastor as a “CEO” figure. In American culture, a suit and tie are the “uniform” of business professionals, lawyers, etc. A robe de-emphasizes any cultural “uniform” and reminds us that the pastoral office described in the Bible is in many ways different from our society’s concept of a business leader.

3) It reminds us that, when they preach, they bring to us the very Word of God, as opposed to the thoughts and opinions of one person. Scripture is God’s unique, unparalleled revelation of Himself to us. It is like no other book.

4) It reminds us that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The pastor, wearing a piece of clothing that both covers over and is distinct from their own clothing, offers to us a symbol of how we approach God in worship, “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27)—it is His righteousness that makes us acceptable to God.

5) Wearing robes is part of our heritage. As Christians, it is part of our ancient Israelite heritage. The priests wore robes to distinguish their office (Exodus 28). It is also a part of my Reformed/Presbyterian heritage (robe-wearing is also a part of other Christian traditions as well). From the time of John Calvin, Reformed pastors would don the garb of a Renaissance scholar (a black robe called the “Genevan robe”) to legitimize their credentials as someone who was studied and learned in the Scriptures. This was important during a time when the Catholic church would have accused the churches of the Reformation of being unbiblical in their Christian expression.

the christian calendar for modern worship?

Zac HicksConvergence of Old and New in Worship, Worship Theology & Thought5 Comments

Let me talk about the Christian calendar, and then discuss how worship leaders in modern settings can utilize it without compromising what makes modern worship so beautiful.
Why use it
Not every church follows the church year, also called the “liturgical cycle.”  Why does our church spend time doing so, observing seasons such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost?  For one thing, it links us to practices of Christ’s church which are very ancient.  We know that primitive forms of the church calendar were emerging as early as A.D. 57.  Secondly, observing a uniquely Christian calendar reminds us that we are a peculiar people set against a world that doesn’t necessarily follow “God’s time.”  The January-December / Sunday-Saturday calendar we follow ultimately has roots in the pagan Roman empire, and the use of a Christian calendar within the church reminds us that all our time and living revolves not around what the larger world has to offer, but around Christ Himself.  Notice that all the seasons symbolically center around Christ.  Advent refers to Christ’s advent on earth.  Lent refers to Christ’s time of fasting and humiliation.  Pentecost refers to the outpouring of Christ’s Spirit on all kinds of people.  In Christ spin all the gears of time, and we acknowledge that when we worship through a Christian calendar.

How it can be used in modern worship
You don’t have to be a “liturgical” church to incorporate and observe the Christian calendar.  You don’t have to change your service’s structure to walk through the church seasons (though some change might help!).  First, I’d suggest just becoming educated about the Christian calendar.  The least expensive, most accessible, and generally reliable way to start is wikipedia.  They have a decent article on the liturgical year which will branch you to other articles that help you understand the big picture and the smaller aspects of each season.  Second, once you become aware of the year, cater your song selections (or at least some of them) to the season.  Songs on the Spirit during Pentecost.  Songs of repentance during Lent.  Eschatological songs during Advent or Epiphany.  Third, use your technology to color the ambience of that season.  Each liturgical season has its color.  Maybe you can have a graphic designer create slide backdrops with those colors and dream up icons or thematic symbols to accompany those visuals.  

Hopefully some of these suggestions can break the ice.  But sky’s the limit when it comes to creative ways to help your people–even in modern worship settings–embrace the church year.  And trust me, when modern worshipers with very little liturgical roots grab onto the church year, they CAN’T GET ENOUGH.  It’s balm for the soul (only a slight exaggeration).  Our postmodern milieu cries out for roots.  The Christian calendar can be a start at providing that.
Grace & peace.

in defense of “7-11 songs”

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought2 Comments

Modern worship is often criticized for its plethora of what are labeled “7-11 songs” (songs which have seven words, sung eleven times).  The criticism is that it is pointless, even stupefying, to say the same thing over and over again.  But before all such songs are dismissed wholesale, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 
First, the heavenly beings themselves incessantly chant “Holy, Holy, Holy…” over and over and over again before the throne of God (Revelation 4:8).  (We might call that an “infinity-infinity song.”)  
Second, the Psalms themselves contain repetitions and refrains (cf. Psalms 8 & 136). 
Third, the church has engaged in this practice since her inception (think of the repeated Kyrie Eleison [“Lord, Have Mercy”]). 
Fourth, often times such “7-11 songs” are direct quotes of or strong allusions to Scripture, and when we are instructed to meditate on God’s Word (Psalm 1:2), what better way than singing and repetition? 
There are of course ways where the repetition can be taken too far (and modern worship is guilty of this), but let’s remember that repetition is a biblical and historical church practice.