Get rid of songs that entertain.

I am continually stirred by John Henry Jowett’s writings. They seem simultaneously lost to time but more apropos than ever. Indeed, the fifth of his Yale lectures on The Preacher, entitled “The Preacher in His Pulpit,” could very well be re-published today without much alteration and it still retain its original significance and resonance. One might expect to think that a lecture on “the pulpit” might deal predominantly with the sermon itself. I very well expected the same thing. However, remarkably, Jowett does not actually belabor an examination on sermon preparation. Instead, he spends some time speaking to the events that surround and precede pulpit proclamation, endeavoring to show their mutual importance when it concerns congregational worship. He especially elaborates on the music that heralds the sermon. Jowett writes:

Let the music be redeemed from being a human entertainment, and let it become a divine revelation. Let it never be an end in itself but a means of grace, something to be forgotten in the dawning of something grander. Let it never be regarded as an exhibition of human cleverness but rather as a transmitter of spiritual blessings: never a terminus, but always a thoroughfare . . . Let a tune be chosen from the standpoint of what will best disclose the secret wealth of a hymn and open the soul to its reception. Never let the anthem be an “unchartered libertine,” playing its own pranks irrespective of the rest of the service, — at the best an interlude, at the worst an intolerable interruption and antagonism — but let the anthem be leagued to the dominant purpose, urging the soul in the one direction, and preparing “the way of the Lord.”1

I find myself nodding vigorously in agreement with these words. The saccharine-sweet, pithy emotionalism that comprises a large swath of our so-called “worship music” ought to be jettisoned into oblivion. Or, at the very least, be segregated to the concert stage. It certainly has no place in the sanctuary. To be sure, I’m fine with concerts and music shows and lights and production values, etc. But as long as we are captured with the idea that that is what constitutes “true worship,” we are being deceived by nothing but human entertainment and cleverness. We aren’t being moved in our souls to the humble adoration of a holy God. We aren’t stirred in our hearts to praise that same God for rescuing all the wrecks and wretches of the world by grace through faith in his Only Son. That’s what worship is all about. That’s what worship is for. Songs that entertain don’t belong on the same platform as the proclaimed Word.

1

John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), 167–68.