Footnote 18 – D.A. Carson, ed., Worship By the Book

D.A. Carson, ed. (with Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, and Timothy J. Keller) Worship By the Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 48-49, 52-53 (Kindle Edition, @Location 689).

Context: In the opening chapter of this collaborative work, Carson quotes what he describes as “one of the most succinct summaries of such evidence as the New Testament provides” from an essay by Edmund Clowney, who observes that “The New Testament indicates, by precept and example, what the elements of [corporate] worship are.”  Carson then continues:

“I am not sure that we would be wise to apply the expression ‘corporate worship’ to any and all activities in which groups of Christians faithfully engage – going to a football match, say, or shopping for groceries.  Such activities doubtless fall under the ‘do all to the glory of God’ rubric and therefore properly belong to the ways in which we honor God; therefore they do belong to worship in a broad sense. Yet the activities the New Testament describes when Christians gather together in assembly…are more restricted and more focused.  Doubtless there can be some mutual edification going on when a group of Christians take a sewing class together, but in the light of what the New Testament pictures Christians doing when they assemble together, there is something slightly skewed about calling a sewing class an activity of corporate worship.  So there is a narrower sense of worship, it appears; and this narrower sense is bound up with corporate worship, with what the assembled church does in the pages of the New Testament.”

[In the pages of the New Testament] “there is no mention of a lot of other things: drama, “special” (performance) music, choirs, artistic dance, organ solos.  Many churches are so steeped in these or other traditions that it would be unthinkable to have a Sunday morning service without, say ‘special music’ – though there is ot so much as a hint of this practice in the new Testament.44

44 By ‘special music’ I am including not only the solos and small groups that a slightly earlier generation of evangelical churches customarily presented but also the very substantial number of ‘performance’ items that current ‘worship teams’ normally include in worship.  These are often not seen by the teams themselves as ‘special music’ or ‘performance music,’ but that is of course what they are.

45 There are many entailments to these cultural differences beyond the differences in the corporate services themselves. For example, Britain, without much place for “special music” in corporate worship, does not have to feed a market driven by the search for more “special music.” Therefore, a great deal of intellectual and spiritual energy is devoted to writing songs that will be sung congregationally. This has resulted in a fairly wide production of new hymnody in more or less contemporary guise, some of it junk, some of it acceptable but scarcely enduring, and some of it frankly superb. By contrast, our addiction to ‘special music’ means that a great deal of creative energy goes into supplying products for that market. Whether it is good or bad, it is almost never usable by a congregation. The result is that far more of our congregational pieces are dated than in Britain, or are no more than repetitious choruses.

There’s more nuance in the extended discussion – read for more observations. Usual caveats apply – without accepting every conclusion or using terms identically, these comments have the ‘ring of truth.’   (Hat tip to John Gentry for the Kindle reference) –SW