Why our worship teams practice

Posted by Stephen Witmer on June 21st, 2017

I was once told by a fellow Christian that church musicians should not practice their music, because the Holy Spirit will work through the music just as it is on Sunday morning.

Is there Biblical justification for music practices? I think there is.

Psalm 33.1-3: ‘Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.’

The phrase in this passage that grabs my attention is: ‘play skillfully on the strings.’ There’s a misconception in some circles that when the Spirit moves, he moves through ecstatic, uncontrolled, unpracticed music. Apparently that’s not what the Psalmist thinks, because he calls for skillful playing. For all but the exceptionally talented, skillful playing requires patient honing of skill, and that requires practice.

The phrase ‘play skillfully’ is composed of two Hebrew words. The first word means to ‘make something good’ and the second word means ‘to play music.’ When that first word, to ‘make something good,’ is combined with other Hebrew words, it can mean ‘to speak well’ (Deuteronomy 5.28; 18.17) or ‘to walk in a stately fashion’ (Proverbs 30.29) or ‘to make someone more glorious’ (1 Kings 1.47) or ‘to adorn one’s head’ (2 Kings 9.30). When combined in a slightly different grammatical construction it means ‘to inquire thoroughly’ (Deuteronomy 13.14; 17.4; 19.18). In other words, this word refers to doing something in a good and pleasing way. When used with the Hebrew verb ‘to play,’ as it is in Psalm 33.3, the meaning is ‘to play skillfully.’ This is also the meaning in 1 Samuel 16.17; Isaiah 23.16; Ezekiel 33.32.

Here are a few more verses that suggest that those who led the worship of God in the Old Testament period valued skillful playing and singing in their worship:

‘Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful’ (1 Chronicles 15.22).

In his old age, David organized the priests and Levites of Israel for their role in the worship of God. He made sure the singers were good at what they did. ‘Their number who were trained in singing to the LORD, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288’ (1 Chronicles 25.7).

‘The men did the work faithfully with foremen over them to supervise: Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites of the sons of Merari, Zechariah and Meshullam of the sons of the Kohathites, and the Levites, all who were skillful with musical instruments…’ (2 Chronicles 34.12).

Of course, skillful playing and singing does not guarantee worship that is pleasing to God. Ephesians 5.18-21 makes clear that pleasing worship comes from Spirit-filled people, is directed to the Lord in the context of the gathered community, arises from an undivided heart, is full of thanksgiving, and is accompanied by mutual submission among believers and reverence to Christ.

One of our values at PCF is ‘undistracting excellence.’ We try to be prepared and ‘skillful’ in our leading of worship in song and prayer and preaching so that God’s people are led, not into worship of us, but into worship of God. I’m grateful for the hard work of our worship leaders and teams every week, as they seek to lead us into an experience of the great, Almighty Triune God.

His mercy is over all that he has made

Posted by Stephen Witmer on June 12th, 2017

This morning, Annie was coloring a page from her PCF Kids workbook that contained Psalm 145.9: ‘The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.’ Our family talked about that verse over breakfast. It is a great and necessary reminder for us. It is the lens we need in order to view all the events of our lives and interpret the day before us correctly. There may be things that will happen today that do not feel like mercy. It may feel at times as though God has forgotten us and the details of our lives are not under his control. But this verse tells us differently. It says, amazingly, that God is good to all, and merciful to all he has made. So, let’s take God as his word and believe this. Today, the Lord’s goodness is coming our way. Today, his mercy is over us. I hope you will join me in believing this truth, no matter what your present circumstances.

Public school, private school, home school?

Posted by Stephen Witmer on May 31st, 2017

One of the many things I appreciate about Pepperell Christian Fellowship is that we have a healthy diversity of approaches to educating our children. A number of our families home school their children, some send their kids to private Christian schools, and some send them to local public schools. I say this is a ‘healthy’ diversity because I do not believe that the Bible mandates or privileges one educational approach over the other. Instead, it grants us as parents flexibility depending on what works best for each of our families and our kids.

Given our church’s healthy diversity, here are a few things I hope all parents of school-age children at PCF will agree on:

- God holds parents ultimately responsible for the education of our children. We’re the buck-stoppers in ensuring that our children develop a biblically-formed, Christ-glorifying worldview. We can’t farm out that task to a private Christian school, as though, once we make that educational choice, our work is done. If we choose to send our kids to public school, we’ll need to be talking regularly with our kids, interacting with them about what they learn in their classes, assessing with them what they’re taught and how it fits with the Bible. If we choose to home school, we’re responsible to teach these things to our children.

- We’re called not to be dogmatic about things the Bible doesn’t mandate. We ought to choose the educational approach that works best for our family and kids, and not assume that it’s the ‘best’ or ‘biblical’ option for every family. It’s wrong for parents who adopt one approach to disdain other approaches, and communicate (explicitly or implicitly) that other parents have chosen a second-best option. We can celebrate the unique advantages of each approach while also being honest about the drawbacks of each one. Above all, we ought to show grace to one another.

- We ought, as parents, to be thoughtful and prayerful about the choices we make. Taking one educational approach doesn’t lock us into it permanently for the lifetimes of our children. It’s good to prayerfully reassess as our kids grow and develop, and our family circumstances change.

Several years ago, the Gospel Coalition asked three mothers of school-age children to share some thoughts on their family’s educational choices. These mothers go to the same church, are good friends, and have chosen three different options: home schooling, public school, private Christian school. Their contributions are a model of good, biblical thinking and gracious, godly interaction. I hope you’ll read and consider!

Here's a look into the future

Posted by Stephen Witmer on May 12th, 2017

Several years ago, our son Samuel was watching a children’s video. As I walked past, he looked up and told me that his little sister was afraid of this episode and that he used to be afraid of it, but wasn’t afraid anymore. I asked him what changed – why he was no longer frightened. He said, ‘Because I’ve watched the whole thing already, so I know what’s going to happen. I’m not afraid.’

Christian, here’s a God-given view of our future. This view can steady and strengthen us today. We’ve watched the whole thing already, and we know what’s going to happen. We don’t need to be afraid:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever’ (Revelation 22.1-5).