"The form of hymns enables a good deal of content. This content informs the mind and theology of the worshipper and was a key element of discipleship in the churches. It effects character formation."

"In these days, God has restored truth to the church on the nature of the work of the Spirit, the nature of the ministry of apostles and prophets and much more. Our worship should reflect this restoration. However, with some exceptions (and thank God for the exceptions) much of our contemporary worship is short on content. I think this contributes to the shallowness of believers."

By Daniel C. Juster, Director

Do you long for greater depth in the content of your worship? Does it seem that contemporary worship is lacking in depth of content? How does our worship content compare with historic Judaism and Christianity?

A few years ago, a historian noted that the old Methodist worship hymnal had great depth of content that those who regularly attended Methodist worship services received an education in Methodist theology. This education through worship was a component of discipleship. The Methodist worship hymnal included many of the lyrics of Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, the great apostle of Methodism.

I believe that this is not only the case with the Methodist hymnal, but also with Lutheran, Reformed-Presbyterian, and yes, the worship of the Synagogue siddur as well. So let us examine why traditional worship was a major factor in discipleship through the content of the worship and why this is much less so today.

The Psalms as a Foundation of Worship Content

The foundation for worship content is the Psalms. The Psalms are full of deep and enriching theological content. The Psalms are not short little ditties, they cover an amazing number of subjects. Some Psalms extol God for his majesty as revealed in creation. They do not just mention that He is the creator; they describe the stars, Sun, Moon, planets, constellations, the order of nature including creatures on earth and creatures in the sea. God's wisdom in nature is a cause for wonder. Description is even given for both creatures that are awake in the day and creatures of the night.

The Psalms are full of detailed recitals of God's love and justice in the history of Israel. In addition, the Psalms show the composer wrestling with good and evil, the injustice and prosperity of the wicked, but then assert the ultimate victory of good over evil. The Psalms proclaim God as a God of justice, judgment, mercy and love. Indeed they are a theology course in the nature of God and His purposes.

In addition, they show the hope of the ultimate anointed King who will rule Israel and the nations. Ancient Israel, the Synagogue and traditional churches chanted or sung whole Psalms. This is still the case in the Synagogue and some historic churches. Why is it that contemporary styles of worship only pick out one verse? We seem so limited in embracing the quality of the Psalms as a whole.

The Synagogue added hymns and prayers to the worship service. These hymns often include several verses. Usually they are based on Scripture and give a very strong presentation of salvation being only by God's mercy and grace. They have material for great confessions of faith, repenting from sin, and the hope for the redemption of Israel and the world. In conclusion, worship through the Psalms and in Synagogue worship shapes the theology of the worshipper and is a key element in discipleship.

New Covenant Worship and Hymns

The problem with Synagogue worship and even with the Psalms is not what is there, but what is missing. Now that Yeshua has come, the Kingdom has broken into this world. We can now live in and from that Kingdom with Messiah living in us through the Spirit. The hymns from the Reformation onward were full of the presentation of the meaning of Yeshua and provide the foundation for exalted New Covenant worship. The meaning of Yeshua's incarnation, birth, life and miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, present intercessory work and His second coming are all covered in detail in the hymns. The nature of His atonement is explained and worshippers extol God for this great gift. There is depth for understanding his sufferings for us and for understanding our calling to be willing to suffer for his sake.

The great hymnal of the Moravians (under Zinzendorf) has significant content as well. There are hymns that call us to commit to having Yeshua's character formed in us, and hymns extolling God for the Bible and its trustworthiness as God's revelation. There are hymns that speak of God's ultimate judgment of the world but also the believers' safety from that judgment. There are hymns that also extol God for His wisdom in creating the world and hymns that extol God for the work of the Spirit. Hymns that recount the promises of God are very important in building faith - we sing the promises of God!

In addition, there is worship content that prepares us for the Lord's Supper and gives praises to God at its conclusion. This is very important. This includes confessions of faith based on New Covenant Scripture Worship passages like Phil. 2:5ff, and Col. 1:15 ff.

The form of hymns enables a good deal of content. This content informs the mind and theology of the worshipper and was a key element of discipleship in the churches. It effects character formation. In classic hymns there are several verses that say different things and then a chorus that ties the verses together. That form lasted for many centuries. It is now largely abandoned in contemporary forms. Why?

Understanding the Problem and a Call for a Solution

As a Messianic Jew, I count myself very blessed to know the worship content of the Church and the Synagogue. In these days, God has restored truth to the church on the nature of the work of the Spirit, the nature of the ministry of apostles and prophets and much more. Our worship should reflect this restoration. However, with some exceptions (and thank God for the exceptions) much of our contemporary worship is short on content. I think this contributes to the shallowness of believers.

I believe the problem stems from the lack of patience reflected in our contemporary culture. We want music with a strong beat and choruses that carry us along (emotionally) but do not say much. These kinds of simple songs and choruses have an important place and can be a real blessing when there is more content from other material. However, they should not be the only items on the menu. There is no reason why contemporary worship may not take great old hymns or whole Psalms and write contemporary music for them. There is no reason why we cannot write new music of greater depth. I think people love the music and worship of Hillsong in Australia because they infuse their contemporary worship style with deep theological content.

We would benefit immensely by using classical worship content in individual devotions and in corporate worship. It is a treasure. In addition, immersion in this content will inspire depth for new worship material. It will produce stronger believers of greater character who understand their faith better. Let us hope and pray for the day when we recover deeper content in our worship!

By Daniel Juster
Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International Donate to Tikkun International.
Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
Name Display my name ?
Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
10:54 04May11 Sharon -
I agree. I began learning scripture through singing, and through my children's music tapes when they were toddlers. I am pleased to let you know that I have heard young adults (my son is a worship leader) take some old hymns and re-arrange them in contemporary music style. It's already happening!

11:09 04May11 Teresa -
Yes and Amen! I long for words of worship put to music that speaks of the goodness, faithfulness and the awesomeness of mine God, Lord and King. His words put to music that will fill the atmosphere and never returns void to Him. This stirs my heart and heals mine soul to worship Him in truth and in spirit.

11:28 04May11 Sally Prittle -
I agree strongly with this article. I am afraid the shallowness is wider than just our taste in worship songs, extending to sermon themes and Bible study, but a correction through inclusion of hymns old and new would redress the balance somewhat. I find such richness in hymns that I like quiet time immediately after one to savour what has just been proclaimed.

11:40 04May11 Raymond E. Wiggins Sr. -
Again, an effective word of exhortation for "deeper content" in our worship. You are so on point to emphasize the "theological" importance of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (perhaps some of those "new musical utterances and arrangments you are suggesting) in our gatherings.
The Scriptures do testify that such "melodies" are to be means of "teaching and admonishing" one another in the things of God (Colossians 3:16), even the "deep things" of God (I Corinthians 2:10) which should lead to "deeper content" of praise and adoration unto our Lord and our God from the fruit of our lips in the midst of the churches (Hebrews 13:15)! May these things indeed be restored!

  -- Dr Juster replies: This has been accomplished before and can be done again!

12:27 04May11 Alan Kirkham -
The new Methodist hymnbook omits all hymns which mention the blood of Jesus. We hear that Methodism is in decline. Is there a connection?

  -- Dr Juster replies: There is indeed a connection. The Methodists no longer believe like the Wesleys.

12:46 04May11 Stephanie -
I believe that in addition to our lack of patience, we also lack an understanding of what worship should be. We visualize it as uplifting music that touches our heart. We do not understand the deeper component, therefore, we don't know something is missing. The Body of Messiah needs training to understand the true nature of worship.

13:15 04May11 Walter Fessenden -
I applaud your article. Born in 1929, I have been in the church my entire life. My wife and I attend a great Bible teaching church (Calvary Chapel in Redlands California) where the music is mostly contemporary - some hymns sung to an upbeat tempo. We really miss the great old hymns, but we do use them in our home worship times. A friend referred to some of the contemporary music as "seven-eleven" music - seven words sung eleven times.

  -- Dr Juster replies: What an amazing phrase. I will have to remember it. 7-11. It greatly captures what I am saying.

14:35 04May11 Carol -
A very insightful article that helps us to understand how very powerful it is to pray and sing the Psalms and to better appreciate what our Jewish brothers and sisters have preserved for us in the Siddurs. I am thankful to have such a great resource concering the Jewish prayers. Thanks for shedding light on this subject.

23:12 04May11 Amy Trees -
I think music is a very important. The only thing I remember learning from church when I was a little girl was the songs we sang. I dont remember the crafts we did

  -- Dr Juster replies: This is so true and part of what our worship should do.

18:55 05May11 BD -
One of the gifts of contemporary worship is the joy it brought back to the body of Messiah. As a young girl over 45 years ago, I would sit alone with my guitar and rework the hymns long before it was the thing to do. I was so disheartened even at such a young age that the hymns had become a drudgery in the churches and the rich words lost in the same old same old way we offered up our meager praise. In the early days the Messianic Jews also brought a depth to the upbeat music. I was in awe of the song the Sacrificed Lamb! As time went on the Name began disappearing. I recently mourned to my pastor how infrequently I hear the Name of Jesus sung or spoken. Now it is the stage, the microphone and just the select chosen few who "lead" us in worship. The electric power and drums drown out the voices and have caused us to lose our hearing. We repeat one liners endlessly ... I long for the days of stringed instruments when the wood was enough to cause the notes to resound with rich deep praise. The most frightening thing I saw was a young child carrying an inflated balloon replica of a microphone twice the young lad's size...he was on his way to Sunday School.
I learned recently that the Levitical Priests sang over the sacrifices as they were offered up on the Bronze Altar. It made me wonder, who sang over Yeshua as He hung on the tree. Would our worship leaders choose Golgatha as their stage? I have to confess there are times, not always, but there are times I want to upset the stage and pull the plug. I long for silence and a quiet singing, a humble song, with majestic words. There is a wisdom in Revelation's harps. Surely there are times for the trumpets and cymbals what better way to joyfully proclaim Yeshua Risen Indeed. Consider a simple tune:"Jesus keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain, free to all a healing stream, flows from Calvary's mountain." When I learned of the multitude of blood that flowed from the tabernacle sacrifices, then I understood, then my heart gasped, then I saw the wonder and grace and terrible truth of the atonement of the Holy One. Sadly, the church is now sometimes a lonely place and I am lost in the cacophony and God bless me. Thank you for writing about something that has broken my heart.

  -- Dr Juster replies: When I was the pastor of Beth Messiah in Maryland, for 22 years, I had a rule. The voices of the people were to be heard above the instruments, the instruments were to support the people singing.

16:17 06May11 Jasmin Dyck -
I agree. But thank God for raising up song writers like Keith and Kristyn Getty. Their hymns express deep spiritual truths of the Christian faith.

03:09 10May11 David Wright -
There are some good modern hymnists in the UK. Graham Kendrick is widely known for the hymn "Shine Jesus Shine", but he has written many more; some with deep theological content. Paul White has set many of the psalms to new melodies and Noel Richards is another great hymn writer.

03:27 19May11 Kaytee Rath -
I am not sure I understand. "How Great Thou Art" is old timey and worshippers still stand up in awe and respect (even when sitting for the modern hymns). "Shine Jesus Shine" is contemporary (maybe not anymore) and makes me cry passionately. I love all the music, even hard angry Christian music for warfare prayer. You are saying we need to include the contentful hymns. I love them too. G-D cries in the secret places when we are prideful. I had a dream while in Israel in 2000. I was given a harp shaped like G-Ds heart: big

17:58 21May11 Bill Goodberlet -
Love the provoking content. It seems to me that the Psalms are not necessarily written FOR worship as much as they were written while IN worship. They are David's journal, perhaps while he was in the tabernacle with the ark of the Covenant. Worship seems to be designed to bring us deeper into fellowship with our King, and in this place, the Spirit can certainly instruct us ... but I'm not sure the lyrics to the music needs to be doctrinely deep, just so that it takes us to that deeper place where we commune and fellowship with Him. Do you see the value in that? I understand that words set to music are easier to remember and singing songs of the Psalms have helped me to memorize greater portions - but that's not neccessaritly worship either. just fun ways of memorization. hmmm.

  -- Dr Juster replies: You are correct that some of the Psalms are as you say. However, others were written for worship in the Temple, and not just meditation. Songs of Ascent for going up to the Temple, and then songs that were sung by the choir at high worship times and then personal expressions for meditation. All these types of Psalms are there. However, I am looking for that worship that praises God for more of what He has done and for who He is. We don't just say "You're wonderful" over and over, but we say why. And yes, I do value those short pieces that with music help us also into his Presence. The type of material you mention does have an important place too, but it is one part.

21:28 24May11 Daniel Warthen -
Good article, I was raised Baptist, weaned Church of Christ, matured in the Methodist church, encouraged inthe faith by the great hymns telling about how great was our God and Saviour, disillusioned by the many contemporary songs about what we were doing and going to do, but I am once again encouraged by the worship in the Messianic community, with so many songs formed from Scripture and the Siddur, sending praise and adoration, and worshipping our Father and King, and His glorious Son!

14:53 30May11 Torah-Laura -
Thank you for this encouragement for more thoughtful and scriptural based lyrics. One of my greatest joys has been at times to pick up the Bible and turn to the psalms or any other passage of scripture that might lend itself to song. Then I vocally play with making up spontaneous melodies singing them on the spot. This worshipful activity has been deeply satisfying and enriching. I sing imperfectly to a perfect God and I believe that brings Him pleasure because my heart and mind and voice are set on His holy Word. Sometimes I think we can become too dependent on worship leaders when we can be experiencing the joy of the practice of creative praise and worship wherever we happen to be either with His Word in our heart given to improvised song or by simply turning to a passage of Scripture and turning that into a simple or not so simple melody. Another thought, the enemy of our soul may delight in robbing believers of this activity since when we engage in praise and worship that is Scripture based he is reminded of the Greatness of our God and the defeat of the enemy at Calvary. Thank you for this opportunity to share some heart felt thoughts on a very important subject.

18:19 30May11 Ann Thomas -
A very good article indeed. I totally agree. I am from Wales and I have just been reading a book about the the life and works of William Williams who was a Welsh Methodist of the times of the Wesleys and who also wrote some great hymns. How we miss them and the theological substance they brought.

08:43 02Jun11 Gregory -
Firstly the land of Israel is no ordinary piece of land; this land is Hashem's land. When you interfere with that land you are actually interfereing with Hashem's covenant promises to Abraham this is his land and he will have it no other way. The Jews, be it orthodox or not, are his people. The enemy Hasatan knows this and he is the one who wants to drive Israel into the sea and also whom Hashem loves he chastens and he has allowed israel to be chastened on meny occasions because of her sins but remember what he did to babylon after she was exiled to babylon. The bottom line is: Israel is his. He puts up, he takes down, he blesses when we walk in obedience to his instructions (TORAH) and he punishes when we walk in disobedience. Israel is his throne, Israel is his foot stool, Israel is the city of the great king in closing all who oppose her are treading on very dagerous grounds he will fight for his people Israel Jew and goyim(Gentile).

Also in this issue of the newsletter:
Eitan Shishkoff: Annual Passover Distribution at Tents of Mercy
Eitan Shishkoff: Calling on the Lord Together in Zion
Marty Shoub: Passover In Japan
Betty Intrater: Israel Society Takes a "Second Look" at Messianic Jews
Ariel Blumenthal: Japan: A Dress Rehearsal For The End Times?