Leading worship, I: singing praises...
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him; Worship the LORD in holy array. (1 Chronicles 16:28-29)
(Tim) Young men reading the stuff published on worship today would be quite justified in fearing that worship is very, very complicated and only the people who buy lots of books and read lots of articles and think very deeply about this matter could possibly design and lead a worship service that does what it's supposed to do. Why, simply the debates over what the Regulative Principle prohibits and requires are endless! What's a poor boy to do?
In the interest of cutting through some of the verbiage and helping Reformed pastors who want to follow the early Reformers in worship as they follow them in preaching God's Word, here are a few reforms which take their cue from Geneva.
1. The main method of restoring congregational participation within Reformed worship was to call congregants to sing. Thus the music had to be (and was) quite simple. Under Calvin, the congregation sang only the melody; it was plainsong with no parts. Certain men of our time debate endlessly over whether popular tunes known outside the church were used during early Protestant worship. Both sides have their scholars, but my recommendation is that you not waste time on the argument. Leave it alone.
Following the Geneva pattern of repudiating the high style of the idolatrous Roman Mass and cultivating a simplicity that would encourage the common man to join in the singing, we ourselves should repudiate high classical style that communicates our most-excellent taste while masquerading as being all about reverence for God...Worship should not be one more occasion for us to sign our high social class, great educational attainments, or highbrow taste.
God help us to silence our inner aesthete lest we use the culture of worship to show our disdain for the simple, meek, and humble--the uneducated.
But also, repudiate the wimpy, cloying, sentimental, subjective, CCM (or revivalistic) crud. The people of God should not be cut off from Biblical objectivity and masculine zeal in worship. Give your people wholehearted, truehearted, and zealous men to lead them in declarations of God's Perfections and truth. There should be a militant aspect to our music as there should be also to our prayer and preaching. We don't need even one more church whose worship puts on display those rhapsodic flights of heaving bosoms repeating the mantra, "This is how I feel about You, Jesus." Calvin would have taken a whip to it and so should we.
Don't limit your worship to the singing of Psalms. Calvin didn't limit the music of worship to the singing of Psalms and neither should we. The Psalms were a staple of their worship, but other Scripture portions were also sung including the First and Second Tables of the Law. Songs with extrabiblical texts were also sung. Calvin did not make a stink over the Lutheran practice of writing and singing hymns. What is the application of this to our worship?
Work at restoring Psalm singing as well as the singing of other portions of Scripture. Sing the Lord's Prayer, Simeon's Song, the Magnificat, and the Ten Commandments. But also, don't let anyone bind your conscience, intimidating you into giving up the singing of extrabiblical texts--including old favorite or newly written texts set to new rhythyms and tunes.
In an effort to discipline musical pride, at least occasionally sing in unison. Trained voices parading their part-singing superiority should not intimidate atonal congregants into not joining in for fear of being exposed. And yes, this is a real danger. This past week, a woman fairly new to our congregation told me how happy she was that our music was loud enough to keep her from feeling self-conscious as she sang.