Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts by Harold M. Best (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 226 pp)
With a D.S.M. from Union Theological Seminary, Harold M. Best was the dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College for more than twenty-five years. As an organist and composer, Best has mentored musicians, artists, and church leaders alike. He has served as president of the National Association of Schools of Music and has written extensively on matters of curriculum, culture, and educational policy issues.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
It all comes down to the music, seemingly. A bad voice, inexperience on the drums, a bloated worship team—they all influence attendance greatly. You’ve probably heard the complaints.
“I can’t worship to this.”
“I’d go to that church, but the music is horrible.”
“Why do they only sing hymns, don’t they realize what century we are in?”
Such statements raise the question: why does music, and by default, worship, matter so much? Harold M. Best’s Unceasing Worship seeks to answer this question.
Best begins his thesis with a definition for worship. He expands worship to move past the melody of a song and beyond the walls of church. Worship is every action and every decision made in life. Best writes,
“Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god” (18).
While most Christians consider worship the musical set before a sermon on Sunday morning, Best urges us to think about worship through a wider lens. Worship is our work during the week; worship is the food we prepare for supper; worship is our creative output, whether painting, writing, or composing; worship is the way you speak to your neighbor. In short, it is a continuous outpouring of who you are to everything around you.
Worship defined as continuous outpouring, then, only exists within the context of community. We can only express ourselves through continuous outpouring when there is an object to receive our expression. Best notes,
“Here, in summary, is mutual indwelling as compressed as I can get it: the triune God dwells within himself in an infinite glory and continuous outpouring. Through uncountable mercies, we are invited and authorized to say this: Christ comes to us; Christ redeems us: Christ is in us; we are in each other; God is our sanctuary; Christ is the everlasting Temple; the body of Christ is a living temple; Christ is knit into it as chief cornerstone; each believer is a living stone and yet a temple; each believer indwells all other believers; and Christ is all in all” (57).
Continuous outpouring occurs from mutual indwelling. As the triune God lives in relationship, so do Christians. We live in a community of family, church, and city. Continuous outpouring occurs within the context of the community.
If everything we do meets the criteria of worship and worship only occurs within the context of community, it stands to reason that Christians ought to worship well, that their life and creative output ought to be pleasing to others. Best agrees,
“All Christians everywhere should seek to make, to do and to articulate things as beautifully as possible” (166).
Our work and our expression in community is a manifestation of God both through outpouring and indwelling. We are called to create and work beautifully because that is the core of worship.
The tintinnabulations you hear on Sunday morning matter, because music is one form of continuous outpouring and mutual indwelling. But to choose your church community around the style and substance of music is to miss the mark. Christians are called to worship well in all things. Whether at your job on Tuesday morning, in the evening on Thursday, or during mass on Sunday, a Christian continuously outpours as a response to who God is.
If you are interested in a comprehensive look at worship, I recommend Harold M. Best’s Unceasing Worship.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
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