Worship volume

Farmville Enterprise November 29, 2017

In last week’s column I quoted a portion of a Psalm which reads “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1) That word “shout” stuck with me for several days.  Does God actually tell us to shout during worship? It is the same Hebrew word, rua, found in the book of Joshua where the Israelite army is commanded to walk around the walls of Jericho, blow the trumpets and shout. Rua can mean to give a battle cry or to raise a jubilant shout.

At Farmville’s Community Thanksgiving service Melva Green said that hers was a noisy church and invited us to shout if we felt like shouting or raise our hands if we wanted to lift them up. The worship Sunday night was upbeat and loud. It reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with Bruce Pope who was our next-door neighbor. Farmville ministers had just done one of their pulpit exchanges and an African-American minister switched with the Baptist preacher. In his typical delivery, Mr. Pope said, “There was nobody sleeping at the Baptist Church but I guarantee you there were some people snoozing at that other church!”

In some congregations the worshipers are more demonstrative than in others. I feel a bit odd when singing lyrics about lifting hands in praise and then, inevitably, not actually doing it. My worship tradition has been one focused more on doing things “decently and in order.” Indeed, the Bible speaks of orderly worship. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33) There is a passage in 1 Kings 19 where Elijah is told by God to go stand on the mountain and wait for the Lord to pass by. The Lord is not in the powerful wind or the earthquake or the fire, but rather, in the gently whisper or still, small voice. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

There are also times when God is in a burning bush or leading the Israelites in a pillar of fire. Verses about joyful shouting abound.  “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalm 47:1) “Shout for joy to God, all the earth!” (Psalm 66:1) “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you- I whom you have delivered.” (Psalm 71:23) “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” (Psalm 81:1) “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.” (Psalm 98:4) “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” (Psalm 100:1) “He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 105:43)

Mark D. Roberts writes in The High Calling, “So which is it? Should we worship in reverent silence? Or should we praise God with joyful shouting? What is the most appropriate volume of worship? Soft or loud? In fact, the biblical answer is ‘both/and.’ There are times for hushed silence before God and times when it’s appropriate to shout with exuberance. Yet, most Christians seem to fall on one side or the other of the ‘volume question.’ I am much more comfortable with quiet worship than with joyful shouting. I have friends who think they really haven’t worshiped unless they were singing at the top of their lungs. Without insisting that every worship experience include a full range of expressions, I think it’s true that most of us need to grow in our worship in ways that stretch us. I need more freedom to let go, to invest my whole strength in loving God. Some of my friends need to learn how to be silent before the majestic holiness of God. Perhaps, by God’s grace, we can help each other discover new experiences of worship as we learn to give all that we are to God.”

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