Would King David Love Hillsong?


There's been quite a reaction to this bit I posted showing male Marine recruits singing an anemic ropey-dopey praise song and contrasting it to regular folks singing a robust praise song. Several people have written in asking about talking to friends and loved ones who are all about the ol' Hillsong scene. How to converse with a brother about worship, maturity, and masculinity without offending him? 'Cause, you know, men are sensitive and tender.

One note specifically mentioned the ol' David-dancing-before-the-Lord defense of acting goofy or going into dance-trances. I am no theologian, dear friends. Je suis un artiste with a waxed mustache. But I'm going to tackle this David thing for you. Gonna dunk on it, really. And then you can go read some more serious people on the topic. Then I'm going to ask that the Hillsongy types reconsider how they view worship in the first place. Then I'm going to drop C. S. Lewis and De La Soul on this party.

King David's Dancing

The undignified dancing like a fool part of David's march in 2 Samuel 6 probably looked a lot different than what we've been trained to imagine. He was, after all, a king. That's not to say he wasn't naked and embarrassing people, but I suspect it was much more masculine looking than the hippy-dippy that we do trippy in our worship services today. A mighty warlord and king, the greatest warrior of his time, whose beard was surely dark and curled and massive, stripped down to a loincloth "leaping and dancing before the Lord". If we read that without post-hippy-music-festival eyes, we are likely to visualize something much more like the folk/traditional dances we are familiar with from NatGeo: war dances, mating dances, celebratory dances. Masculine dances. Not trance flower-power dances.

So often I have heard David's dancing given as a justification for crazed pentecostal pew-jumping, or glossolalic spinning hand-flailing, or even just losing yourself or being undignified in the moment. And while Christians should certainly shed the self-importance that makes us concerned for how others perceive us, behaviors in which we lose ourselves are ultimately a rejection of the Gospel in which we find ourselves.

Michal didn't despise David because he started acting all goofy. She despised him because he took off the robes of his kingly dignity in order to better dance with all his might before the Lord. This was, above all other adjectives, a mighty dance.

(Incidentally, it is not to be blithely assumed that Michal was wrong in her reaction to David's dancing, although I think she was. When it came to his women, David was often the one in the wrong.)

David's dance happened in a very liturgical setting, in which the Levites and mighty men were in a great procession, taking six steps and giving a sacrifice every seventh. David was a part of that liturgy, but he was also a Christ figure inaugurating a new era of worship in Israel's history. He was of the procession but also above it, at its head, making a new thing. In that sense it is like the showbread moment. These moments show that he was a special Christ figure.

In speaking to a Hillsong friend I might emphasize that the most important horizontal aspects of worship are togetherness (everyone doing everything together, no one on their own agenda), and solemnity (in the C. S. Lewis sense), although you might not want to use the word solemnity. And that in the vertical aspects of worship, those same things, communion-togetherness and joy-solemnity, are how God relates to us.

God's people are summoned and they are to worship as a people, together, in unison. That doesn't mean they worship in robotic sameness, but it means that worship designed to carry an individual off to an isolated island of trance or meditation is not meant for corporate worship. The purposeful loss of emotional or intellectual control is not God-honoring, because it abstracts the individual from the people. When we gather, everything is plural, everything is corporate. David was king. Christ is king. We are the people.

Corporate Solemnity, Even In Song

C.S. Lewis, in his Preface to Paradise Lost, talks about the old English word solempne as exemplary of an attitude which we have lost, and need to recover:
“Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression, or austerity. The ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a ‘solemnity’. The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity. A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est. Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not. The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for a pomp–and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of a 'solemnity’. To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people to enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connection with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast–all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual… . You are to expect pomp. You are to 'assist’, as the French say, at a great festal action.”
"Fruit of a widespread inferiority complex". So much of our contemporary worship spring from the idea that we are not worthy to worship God. That in making something that went beyond feelings into doing and building and thinking and offering our very best, we'd be telling God that our very best was good enough. But this is a deadly false humility. God has told us that we're worthy to offer him things, not because of us, but because of Jesus. And it's real. We ought to offer our poor and sinful most magnificent, because it will be covered over by Jesus' most magnificent. No need for false humility, take hold of being a son of God.

So worship ought to be heavy with weight. Solemn with joy. Large with feast. And large and feast require all of all the people, not just some of you. God summons his people to a great feast, to a mighty worship. And he summons you the individual as far as you are a member of his people.

This corporate focus doesn't make you less called by God, by the way. If anything, it reminds you that you're called whether you're feeling it or not. He doesn't call you to some nebulous ecstatic union. What are you, a transcendentalist? He calls to a very real, very spiritual (which is to say, hyper-real), very concrete feast. The people of God are having communion, having conversation, with God. Y'all have things to say. Real things. Not mantras, but real praise and thanksgiving.

Of course, if one wants evidence that contemporary worship is obsessed with the self and the individual's relationship with God apart from the church, one has only to look at lyrics that abound in "being De La". It's just me, myself, and I. Mirror, mirror, on the wall. (If you're too young for this song to mean anything, it's not a praise song, it's just me having fun with the words "me, myself, and I".)

Musically and lyrically isolating the individual from the group, I sing a song of myself. I raise my hands when I feel it. I kneel when I feel it. I sing when I know the songs and am familiar with the band, 'cause every band "performs" the same song in different ways, repeating this or that line over and over again, going back to this or that verse because they feel it, and I've got to follow as best as I can.

I would not, by the way, call for a return to some perfect previously achieved ideal form of worship. There ought to be a great diversity through time and space of how God's people biblically worship him. But we ought to be a part of the stream of time, the great cloud of witnesses, the mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. And we ought to be thinking corporately, congregationally, as the people of God. Our worship music can't be this thin individual stuff anymore.

Are we going to dance? Are we going to raise our hands? Are we going to embrace? Fabulous. Let's be engaged about it, let's be awake about it. Not "do what you feel", but "all together now", and with as much excellence and solemnity as our sinful people can muster. For God already accepts our works.

And yes, even when they're Hillsong tunes.


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