by Petra Nicholas – article Jan – March 2019

There are a myriad of things that one can see when interacting with the Internet that range from sweet and cuddly to morbid and murderous. However, the downright strange videos usually take the cake. Viral content has become the order of the day and the more novel your content is,  your likelihood of views increases. Two videos that find themselves perfectly suited for the classification of novel are “Beyoncé Mass” and “Ballys and Bibles.” Both epitomize the tension between sacred and sacrilegious. 

The “Beyonce` Mass”is  a video viewed by 170,091 persons on a channel called ‘Broadly’ that features the multiplicity of women’s experiences through docufilms. This video features a Church where a female leader conceptualized a Mass that highlighted how the artistry of Beyonce` can be used to express the narrative of black women and their spirituality. Hit Beyonce` songs were sung during the Church service and then a message preached that spoke of how Beyonce in a sense epitomizes black female empowerment through her art.

“Ballys and Bibles” continued along the same thread. The video begins with a group of rappers in balaclavas (gang masks) rapping on stage in a Church service. The crowd is filled with young people all hyped up about the music. The rationale behind this very unique scene is that this type of rap music is being used to draw in young men and women off the streets and out of a lifestyle of violence. 

These two videos beg the question: Is contemporary worship and Gospel music compatible with the worship described in Scripture? To explore this question as best as possible there are a few considerations. 

Firstly, a description of what scriptural worship looked like both in the Old and New Testament would be helpful.

Secondly, we’d need to explore if there are any inconsistencies that are seen in principle with contemporary worship/gospel music and scriptural worship. Finally, we’ll examine different perspectives on this discussion.

The Old Testament provided  for us a shadow of God’s ultimate desires that were fulfilled in the person of Christ.  These shadows cast themselves through sacrificial offerings for sin and to show gratitude. Old Testament worship essentially brought to the Nation of Israel the holiness and righteousness  of  God, the acts that were performed would point to and remind them that God was to be revered. Therefore in its outworking, Old Testament worship involved sacrifices, priestly roles and  special feasts/events. We also see liturgy throughout the Old testament especially in the Psalms that magnify God for His character and wondrous acts. However, through the coming of Jesus Christ a few of these things were done away with, as He fulfilled all of them. Worship in the New testament then involved the offering of praise as our sacrifice (Hebrew 13:15) as well as the offering up of our personhood by way of our lifestyle and choices. (Romans 12:1) It excluded the need for priests making sacrifices for us but instead having access to God’s presence for ourselves. New Testament worship is essentially a lifestyle versus an event or special feasts. (John 14:23-24) Finally, we see that the purpose of liturgy in the New Testament Church was to extol Christ and to edify the saints (Colossians 3:16) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

The two videos previously mentioned, though possibly extreme examples, provide us with a sort of motif for modern worship and contemporary music. In both videos we see a display of what would popularly be considered as secular acts. On the surface Beyonce’s lyrics don’t particularly scream glory to God, neither does wearing symbols of gang violence generally call to our remembrance the Holiness of God. We see examples of the impure perishing in God’s presence, would these offerings have stood up to God’s holiness? 

With an appreciation that God is more concerned with our hearts than rituals, would the acts demonstrated in these videos prove acceptable worship by New Testament prescription? One could argue that these acts could be an offering of praise if the intention of the persons singing the lyrics are to glorify God and to edify the Church. With these considerations in mind we can conclude that this might not be a black and white topic.  

Is contemporary worship and Gospel music incompatible with the worship described in Scripture because secular elements are involved?  Many would unapologetically agree that this makes them incompatible, because indeed what communion has light with darkness? And if in truth God is holy; separate and in a class by Himself how can He then receive unholy offerings?  While a few might not be as staunch in their stance, as Paul is seen in Acts 17:27-28, 1 Cor. 15:33 and Titus 1:12 quoting pagan lyrics, drawing from secular concepts to exalt Jesus as the true Lord and to edify the saints. Then there are those who will out rightly claim this as an effort to be relevant and engaging. In lieu of creating a conclusion I’m yet to fully appreciate, I’ll end with a few considerations for each argument. Holiness is a standard to which God holds individuals accountable, the Holy Spirit and Scripture should always guide our outlook on ungodliness. Secondly, in light of presumed exceptions to scriptural principles we must examine based on context, Paul used secular quotes as reference, not in support of their wisdom or inspiration, but instead to point to error of popular belief.

Finally,  it is important to be relevant to a context; Jesus pulled on agrarian examples to point to Kingdom principles, but he never drew from the profane in an attempt to honour God. Therefore in ministry and edification we must be careful to not compromise in our attempt to be relevant.