Praising Athletes... Praising Leaders... Praising God?

Praising Athletes... Praising Leaders... Praising God?

Nearly everyone has been to a local sports game. Whether it be baseball, football, basketball, or some other sport, there is much in common: A cheerful, energetic person makes announcements and introductions. A good singer accompanied by a live band starts the event by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner"—the audience sings along. Well-rehearsed cheer-leaders lead the audience in cheering—arms waiving, legs jumping. The audience joins in the cheers—often imitating some of the motions. In addition to these planned cheers, there are innumerable spontaneous leaps, shouts for joy and words of encouragement and congratulations for the players. Even the most reserved participants will applaud when something spectacular happens. People dress festively and bring banners praising their team. The band plays frequently, and other special events may be featured at "half-time."

American political meetings are similar to the above. They have similar bands & banners, songs & slogans, and claps & cheers. The biggest difference between these two events is that the sports audience praises people for what they are doing at the event, whereas the political meeting usually praises people for making promises. To what extent believers should be involved in such praise of human beings is beyond the scope of this article.

The point we want to make is that our society completely accepts almost anyone that goes to the above events, then stands up, sings, cheers and/or shouts for their team or their leader. A man or woman can work an eight-hour day at a most respectable job, and then wholeheartedly cheer for their little high school basketball team the same evening—and no-one will consider him or her insane or abnormal. The person can be a mother, father, teen-ager, teacher, judge, mayor, farmer, tradesman, businessman, doctor or just about anyone else, and almost nobody will find it unusual.

But if these same people were to attend a service to worship the great Creator of the Universe, could they find similar enthusiasm? Could they loudly cheer, clap, and sing for Him? Think about who is being praised: these teams and leaders sometimes lose their contests—and they all eventually still get too old to perform. But the Eternal’s greatness continues forever.

Our sports and political events show that we, as a people, are capable of energetic, powerful praise. But what kind of praise does the Eternal want? That is a fair question. Does He ask for the staid, somber, "respectable" speeches and music that has been the backbone of "Christian Churches" for hundreds of years? What does the Bible say about this subject?

Bible Commands Us to Praise

The Bible says a lot about praise. The book of Psalms is full of praise to the Eternal, as well as commands that we praise the Eternal. The last chapter of the book is a good summary:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150.)

We cannot list all of the verses in Psalms about praise in this short article! But there are more commands to praise Him in the Bible than there are to keep the Sabbath, to keep the Holy Days, or to observe many other doctrines that people regard as "essential." Praise can take on many forms: shouts, singing, clapping, playing musical instruments and even dancing.

It is clear that the Eternal did not want His Praise to become old and boring; He wanted it to stay new and exciting. Five times, we are commanded to "sing a new song" to the Eternal (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isa 42:10). So often, parents are frustrated when their children seem to have no interest in "church music," but are only interested in the popular music of their day. This difficulty is made much worse when the "church music" is either hundreds of years old, or newly-written music in a style that is hundreds of years old. While not every modern style is appropriate for praise to the Eternal, the majority of styles are. Young people like energetic music—and so does the Eternal! The age-old idea that religion should be a solemn, emotionless experience is simply not in Scripture. The Bible speaks of loud sounds and shouts of joy:

Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy (Ps 3:3).

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! (Ps 47:1.)

I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude (Ps 109:30)

I will also clothe her priests with salvation, And her saints shall shout aloud for joy (Ps 132:16).

Like the sports teams of our day, the Eternal provided for well-rehearsed people to lead the praise in His temple. About 4,000 people worked to produce music in the temple—day and night. (1Chr 9:23; 23:5). They sang and used harps, other stringed instruments, trumpets, cymbals and tambourines (1Chr 15:16; 13:8). This was not some kind of quiet background music—they sang and played loudly (2Chr 30:21; Neh 9:4; 12:42)

Praise Is Not Just
"The Icing on the Cake"

Nearly every one will agree that "praise is good," but some will liken it to the "icing on the cake"—after important matters of doctrine, government, financial management, buildings, etc. are calmly taken care of, then congregations should turn to the subject of emotions and praise. The Scriptures teach otherwise. When David brought back the ark, it was accompanied by much rejoicing (2Sam 6). When Asa realized that the entire nation needed to repent, it was a loud, emotional experience:

Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul; and whoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around (2Chr 15:12-15).

Probably the ultimate example of praise as an integral part of government policy is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. King Jehoshaphat knew he did not have a sufficient military force to defeat the enemies coming against him, so what did he do?

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: "Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever." Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated (2Chr 20:21-22).

And finally, when Nehemiah was attempting to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and the temple in the face of many adversaries, praise was high on the priority list: "And the Levites,…said: ‘Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!’" (Neh 9:5).

Praise in the New Testament

The New Testament contains fewer commands to praise the Eternal than the Old does, but it gives no hint that any of the Old Testament praise commands are obsolete. Rather it confirms that David, the greatest man of Old Testament praise, was a "man after My own heart" (Acts 13:22). The apostles continued to participate in temple services, even after the Resurrection (Acts 3:1). When the praise of some of Jesus’ followers disturbed the Pharisees, look at our Savior’s answer:

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: "‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:37-40).

But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant and said to Him, "Do You hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?" (Matt 21:15-16).

Notice in the above verse that young people were involved in praise—it is not something just for the older, mature, "converted." The Eternal accepted praise from Samaritans:

Luke 17:15-16 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

There are a few direct and obvious New Testament commands to continue to sing praises to the Eternal in worship services. Please read the following verses:

How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification (1Cor 14:26).

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God (Eph 5:18-21).

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col 3:15-16).

The context of these verses, seems to be the assemblies of the brethren—worship services. What is the difference between a "psalm", a "hymn" and a "song?" The difference is fairly easy to understand when we look at the Greek words from which these were translated: "Psalm" is from the Greek psalmos which refers to the Hebrew psalms which were usually accompanied by stringed instruments. "Hymn" is from the Greek humnos which means a song of honor, celebration or praise—it does not mean a slow, somber song. "Song" is from the Greek ode (from which we get our English word "ode") meaning a poetic composition of any kind adapted to singing. Paul uses the poetic adjective "spiritual" to indicate that they were not to sing just any popular song as a part of the service. Paul is telling the Ephesians and Colossians in the above verses that they could use a wide variety of styles of religious music in their services. We can do the same thing today.

Praise at the Time of the End

The theme of praise to the Father and Son continues in the book of Revelation, with apparently everybody in heaven and earth participating—both speaking and singing praise. No matter how you understand the prophecies of this book, you will have to agree that praise is an important part of the events at the end.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!" And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: "Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!" (Rev 5:11-13.)

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen" (Rev 7:9-12).

And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth (Rev 14:2-3).

And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! (Rev 15:2-3.)

How Can We Implement More Praise in Our Congregation Now?

Changing our services is not a simple matter since many brethren are accustomed to only quietly singing a few songs in a service. Unfortunately, enthusiastic praise has been given a bad name by some "Pentecostal" or "Charismatic" congregations who have gone to the opposite extreme by encouraging people to roll on the floor, laugh uncontrollably, scream, or fall over unconscious. None of those practices are Biblical. There is a middle ground. As previously stated, we, as a people, are capable of energetic praise, but we usually give it to human athletes and leaders, rather than to the Eternal.

>We would like to suggest that many of the good examples from our sporting and civic events be considered for use in our worship services. Obviously, there

are bad examples (obscenity, disruption, sexual lewdness, etc.) in sporting and civic events that do not belong in a service. (We are purposefully not using rock concert behavior as an example!) If a speaker is talking, everyone should be quiet enough that he can be heard easily. People should not draw attention to themselves or distract others from the main purpose. Here are some of the good examples that we could possibly use from these events:

Live music is preferable. The "big events" of our day almost always have live music. Live musicians can be inspired and capture the particular inspiration of the moment, whereas recorded music will be predictably the same every time. Also, the sound coming from a multitude of instruments is "more alive" than sound coming from just a pair of stereo speakers. (There is a solid technical reason for this, but we do not have space for it here.)

Use recorded music if live music is not available. Fortunately, nearly every congregation can afford some kind of recorded music. A combination of live and recorded music may make sense in some cases.

Use energetic music. Young people tend to have more energy than older people and prefer more energetic music. They should be encouraged to participate and use their energy. Older people might stay in better physical condition and "feel younger" if they participated in more youthful music.

Use a great variety of music. It is important to look for words that have an acceptable message. Some songs do support unbiblical doctrines, others praise the worshipers more than they praise the Eternal. While "punk," "heavy metal" and a few other styles of music seem to be largely devoted to destruction and negativism, most popular music styles can be used for positive, uplifting praise. Separation between parents’ and children’s musical tastes is often made worse because parents reject all of the songs in a particular style, not just the songs that are specifically bad for some reason. Of course, some of the great older works of the past are well worth keeping.

Use a variety of instruments if available. The Bible contains many different lists of instruments used in praising the Eternal. Most of the lists differ from each other. Since no instruments are specifically condemned in the Bible, we conclude that we may use whatever is available.

Encourage everyone to sing along when practical. The musicians and singers "at the front" should always be considered leaders, not performers. Some "special music" songs do not lend themselves to singing along, but people should be encouraged to sing along when possible. Providing words on over-head projectors or in books is very helpful.

Encourage hand-clapping or toe-tapping along with rhythmic music. This is a way that almost anybody (even 2-year olds) can be a part of the music. It is biblical, relaxing and fun (Ps 47:1; 98:8; Is 55:12).

Use group readings or responsive readings. Not everyone can sing—singing is difficult for those who have had little opportunity or encouragement when they were young. Instead of singing, psalms or other short passages of scripture can be read in unison—loudly and with feeling. Responsive readings involve a leader reading a line or two, followed by a response from the rest of the assembly. Sometimes the response may be an echo of what the leader said, sometimes it may be the same thing every time (Psalm 136 is an example). You can use existing Bible passages or write your own readings.

Think about using cheers. These are very short, "catchy" sayings that everyone repeats together—they may include hand or arm motions. They are of particular value in teaching young people. Some single Bible verses can be used, or you can write your own in accordance with the scripture. (If this concept sounds too strange, skip it—there is no clear Bible command to do it, though there is some evidence it may have happened—Ex 24:3,7; 19:8.)

Allow some audience participation during spoken messages. Speakers should ask for questions or occasionally ask questions of the brethren (e.g. "How many of you have seen a real-life example of the ‘good Samaritan?’") Questions and comments encourage everyone to be listening. While unrelated questions will sometimes take time away from the main message, it is better that everyone hear ¾ of the message, than for only ¼ the people to hear an uninterrupted message that "put to sleep" the other ¾.

Go Slowly, Do Not Offend

We hope that our readers have not given up and concluded that we are trying to turn worship services into a football game or a circus. Paul clearly instructs that services should be conducted "decently and in order" (1Cor 14:40). Our point is that services should be energetic and exciting, not "dead" as so many services are. People should leave remembering what they heard, said, sang, and did—not what the person in front of them was wearing. Our Great Father is worthy of more praise, pomp, and production than any athlete or leader.

Nevertheless, it will not be easy for many brethren to get used to services of this nature. Due to dozens of years of repetition, some people believe that a worship service is a few quiet songs, two messages, and possibly some announcements or "special music." The principle in Romans 14 needs to be used. Paul said he would not eat meat if it offended his brother and caused him to stumble. If livening-up your worship service would cause many brethren to leave it, then changes need to be made slowly—at the rate that brethren can understand them. (Not all of the above suggestions have been used in this writer’s local congregation, though he has seen them used in at least one congregation, somewhere.) It may be wise not to implement any changes at all right now. Those who disagree with these concepts need time to study the scriptures and to see what the Bible says (i.e. to look up "praise," "joy," "shout," "loud," "music," "sing," etc. in a concordance).

No one should be forced or "talked into" participating in anything that they do not feel comfortable with. Praise should come from the "heart." The purpose for these various forms of praise is not to earn salvation, to gain religious "brownie points," to attract more members or to "do something different." The purpose is not to become "more acceptable" to other "charismatic" religious groups. The purpose is to give our Creator the praise that He asks for and deserves, and to teach His Truth to people in ways that will stay with them for a long time. We should not neglect clear Bible instruction just because some other religious groups have at least partially understood and implemented it when we did not.

May the Eternal bless all of His people as they praise Him!

—Norman S. Edwards

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