Jonathan Edwards and Worship

A dear brother and I are doing some reading together this summer (The Pastor as Scholar and Scholar as Pastor), and came across this gem of a quote from Jonathan Edwards regarding his own preaching as worship, and godly, biblical emotions in the context of congregational worship. He writes (see p. 23 of Pastor as Scholar),


I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with. (in Edwards, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival.”)


This is highly relevant for all aspects of the gathered time of corporate worship. (See also D. A. Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, ch.2 where he notes the reality of an emotive God.) As worship leaders, we want to raise the affections of our congregations as high as we possibly can – but note the provision – what affects proper “religious affections” is the truth. The biblical Gospel and the grandeur of the biblical God ground and sustain real worship, be it worship in song, in giving, in the elements of the bread and cup, in baptism, or in worship through preaching.


Thank you, once again, Jonathan Edwards!


A Few More Implications and Applications for Corporate Worship

Here are a few more implications for corporate worship. There are doubtlessly more, and each of these could indeed be expanded. Food for thought and discussion:


6. It means that content is primary and there will be a variety of music with no one style mandated.

Think Kirk Franklin, the Gettys, Sovereign Grace, Hillsong, and the Gaithers. If a song passes the test of content (and, I would add, that the music is not distracting—but what distracts can vary widely across different congregations), then it should be considered for corporate worship. The point here is that the Scripture is no more or less a fan of Southern Gospel as they are “contemporary” etc. To be sure, most congregations will have a preferred style, but that’s all it is—a preference. Worship did not begin, or even reach its climax, with the invention of piano, guitar, drums, or organ!


7. Since we sing “to God” it means that we are not to be focusing on those around us or worried about what they think.

This is something that all of us would agree to, yet struggle to put into practice. I was part of a church some years ago that would turn off 95% of the lights so as to minimize distractions and (hopefully) maximize personal worship. Yet that’s the problem – the congregational gathering is, well, congregational. I actually DO want to see how my other brothers and sisters are worshipping. Their worship encourages me and vice-versa. There is a vertical as well as horizontal aspect to worship.

One further point – we should not be “worried” about what others think in a certain sense, yet also need not to make ourselves the center of attention. This must be balanced with wisdom and a love for the body that is greater than yourself (Phil 2).


8. It means that we are to sing with hearts that are thankful and full of gratitude. (Recall Jesus’ warning of Matt 15:8)

Remember Jesus’ words (citing Isaiah): This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
This is a verse that should cause all worship pastors and leaders, as well as all believers, to stop and think about their participation in the worship gathering. How many times have believers gathered and sung notes and lyrics that extol who the Lord is and what He has done, while at the same time their minds and hearts are dwelling on something else? I have. Many times. Yet, it is not OK. We are to sing with hearts that are thankful for all that He has done—we are never to “get over” the Gospel!


9. It means that the whole congregation is to benefit, not just one segment.

Many of us enjoy playing, leading, and singing a variety of musical styles. Rock, “traditional” (think piano and/or organ only), country, bluegrass, contemporary worship . . . a wide variety. Most of the time I think that is a good thing since we can be varied in style while maintaining biblical content. The admonition here is simply this: be thinking congregationally. Think about the body; the Lord’s people. We have a great group of senior adults who love good old hymns done, well, traditionally. They sing whatever it is I lead, but they sure appreciate “Hymn Night” once a quarter when we change things up a bit and do it “old school.” It’s what I grew up on, so it’s great to change up the style. We also pull out the electric guitars, B-3, drums and worship with the sweet overdriven sustain of tube amps singing over us. We did “acoustic night” this past Sunday night. The point here is that if we target just the youth, or young couples, or seniors, or anyone else, then we can alienate the others simply with type of musical style. While you can’t be all things to all people (sadly, I will never be able to pull off Kirk Franklin or Fred Hammond till I get a glorified body and voice!), I would think that as you are leading a diverse people, then they might be served with a bit of diversity in terms of style.


10. It means that those who lead must be qualified to lead since anyone called to lead in teaching and admonishing must meet the qualifications of an elder/pastor (1 Tim 3).

This is an area that’s not been explored much at all. There is a significant difference between “the song leader” and a pastor of worship. Many churches are getting by with whomever can lead a song or two. I don’t see “worship pastor” as an office. Timothy wasn’t to Paul what George Beverly Shea was to Billy Graham, OK? They were pastors. To lead and pastor a people via congregational worship, is, as I have argued, a teaching and admonishing ministry. Churches should be thinking in such directions, and are starting to. That is good news for the Church as a whole. We need less “song leaders,” and more “worship pastors.”

Implications and Applications for Corporate Worship

Given the high nerd factor of the last post, let’s make it practical. Here are a few practical implications that flow from Col 3:16 and corporate worship:


  1. It means that what is sung must have as its purpose to teach and admonish. Therefore, there are songs that we will do, and there are those that we cannot do.


    There is a big difference between, for instance, Kim Walker’s “How He Loves,” and Sovereign Grace’s “Jesus Thank You” or Gateway Worship’s “O the Blood.” Look them up if you’re curious (“heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” Really? Am I thinking about a holy God and a reconciled people or about making out? Seems like this lyric would turn the teens on and turn the seniors off—neither of which are good for corporate worship). We do the last two with great passion, and yet cannot, in good conscience, do the first. See #2.



  2. It means that whenever we sing (and preach for that matter) we are teaching something.


    This should go without saying. To quote my oldest son whenever music is played, “Dad, are they singing for Jesus?” I am teaching my family by the music I lead them in – both at home and at church. What do I want them to learn? Worship leaders and parents, choose wisely. More to parents later.



  3. It means that when we are taught and admonished by biblical songs, we are building a greater capacity to suffer well.


    I know this one personally. When my mother was dying of cancer and I was at my lowest, great, Gospel-centered songs (ancient and modern) sustained and fed my soul. They drove me to the Lord and to the word—living and written.



  4. It means that we need to be on time to the worship service, since when we gather to sing we are teaching and admonishing so that the word of Christ will richly dwell within us.


    Being late means you are missing out on a sweet time of hearing and learning more of the Word of Christ, and is neglecting the one time that we as a body gather together to audibly and corporately tell God what we think about Him and what He has done.



  5. It means that if Christ-centered worship teaches and admonishes us to love and live out the word of Christ that richly dwells within us, then the other side of this is that Christ-less worship aids and abets the action of believers drifting away from the gospel.


    Again, since we are teaching and admonishing, what is taught will either promote depth and faithfulness, or will aid in doctrinal and ecclesiological drift. As a worship pastor, this one is always at the front of my mind and on my heart. May what we sing push us towards the Christ of the Bible and zeal for Him.


I will post a few more implications soon. May Christ be praised as we gather!


Enjoy! Worship!

Dr. J     

The Role of Musical Worship in the Corporate Gathering [διδάσκοντες καὶ νουθετοῦντες ἑαυτούς ψαλμοῖς ὕμνοις ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς (Col 3:16)]


(for all you fellow Greek nerds, this is a pic of Sinaiticus)

WARNING: This is a nerdy (but relevant) post.

What does the Bible say about the role of music in the corporate gathered worship service? Does it speak plainly to this issue? I’m quite sure that this will not be the last time that I write on Colossians 3:16, and anyone around me knows the centrality of this passage when it comes to my own philosophy of corporate worship. I have taught on it, preached on it, and will be presenting on it at the annual Evangelical theological Society meeting this November in California. In my mind, this text is central.


Let me tell you why. A brief survey of popular English translations demonstrates that translators have been at odds with one another regarding the proper translation of “singing,” especially as it relates to “teaching and admonishing,” as well as “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” This verse should be translated as follows:


Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you (plural), with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with/by means of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.


Notice the underlined portion. This is similar to the New American Standard translation. Now, compare that to how one of my favorite translations, the ESV, translates this verse:


Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16 ESV)


Do you notice the difference? Depending on where you put the term “singing,” determines how Paul intended Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to be used. The first translation above demonstrates that corporate music has a teaching and admonishing function, with its end being that the word of Christ would richly dwell in the Colossian believers. Putting a comma after “wisdom,” in the ESV, effectively separates “teaching and admonishing/instructing” from Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. (For all of you Greek nerds, the participle “singing” is not grouped with “teaching and admonishing,” rather it comes three words after “spiritual songs” and nine words after the first two participles.) Furthermore, I am not alone in making this point. If you have studied the book of Colossians in much depth, and you have likely use the works of Doug Moo and Peter O’Brien. Their commentaries on Colossians rank among the best. To varying degrees of both of them are inclined precisely to this translation and meaning of the text.


I will be writing more on this in the future, and specifically some of the implications of this, but let me just go ahead and announce the goal: musical worship in the gathered service is to teach and admonish believers so that the word of Christ will richly dwell within them. Here is an interesting note on “teaching and admonishing/instructing” – the only other time these two words (participles) occur together in the Pauline writings (in any verb form) is in Colossians 1:28, where Paul is describing his own ministry. This alone will be a fun point to explore.


This is only the opening salvo when it comes to this text. If I am right, then there are many implications. We will begin to explore such implications in short order. In the meantime, as you prepare yourself for corporate worship on Sunday, read the paragraph of Colossians 3 beginning at verse 12, and consider what I have said here regarding verse 16 as you gather together with your brothers and sisters in the faith to lift high the name and the word of Christ. {implication #1 – don’t be 15 minutes late to the gathering}


(See, I told you this post was nerdy!)

Dr. J


The Centrality of the Word in Christian Worship

I get to serve both as a professor of Greek and theology as well as the worship pastor at my local church. I am thankful for each of these posts since they each uniquely contribute to the other. As I thought about what should be the topic of my first post in three years, it was an easy decision. What’s more important than the Bible when it comes to the gathering of the saints to worship?

To be sure, this isn’t earth-shattering, but I think that the Word ought to be central in Christian worship for at least three reasons: [note—what this is not about is the matter of the regulative principle; that is for a future post]

FIRST, the highest point of the worship meeting is the preaching of the Word. Everything else prepares us for that, flows from that, and is a response to that. All worship leaders need to sit and think on this one. Do the songs, readings, prayers etc. prepare the peoples’ heart for the preached Word? We are not competing with the sermon, and thus are there to serve the people by all that we do. When I lead, I want to whet the appetite for the Word. I want there to be pressure on the preaching to “deliver the goods,” as it were. As a worship pastor who also gets to preach and teach, I see it from both sides. It is the Word that transforms. True, we are to sing the word as well (Col 3:16; cf. the Psalms!), but the Lord has ordained that the preaching of the Bible is the apex of our gathered worship.

SECOND, the songs that are sung are to be biblical. This is perhaps overly simplistic, but it seems that not everyone has gotten the message, so I will repeat it here: the songs that are sung are to be biblically and theologically accurate. To be sure, there will be figurative language befitting the genre, and I have plans for several posts regarding the hermeneutics of worship, but if the people of God are to be full of the word of Christ, then the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” that are sung must meet the “sniff test” when it comes to content. The musical portion of the service ought to flow from and drive people to the Bible.

THIRD, Paul tells Timothy to “attend to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). What is a more delightful sound to the ears of the Lord than his people reading His word aloud as an act of worship and adoration of the triune God? Be it a Psalm of praise to call the gathered church to a service of worship, guiding them through a passage of confession and pardon, or ending with a glorious benediction, reading of the Bible should actually be part of our worship. The Bible must be central to our corporate worship. To be sure, it means more than these three things, but certainly not less. May the Lord be honored in all that we do when we gather in his name!

Rebirthing a Neglected Blog

This will be of interest to about 3 people, but after a few years of significant life-change I’ve decided to blog. Blogging should have a purpose. I am not a culture warrior-there are better blogs than mine for that. I am a professor, worship pastor, and family man–not necessarily in that order. So, my hope is that there is room for what will hopefully be a useful blog on the matters of worship and theology, and a few thoughts on the family, both at home and at church, with a bit of music thrown in. So, without further ado . . .



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