Order: Exploring a Worship Essential, Part Two

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Order on Display

 Artistic Order
Having dealt with dimensions of internal order of the mind and heart, it is time to turn our attention to external order.  Works of art are never random works of accidental brilliance; they are the careful results of craftspeople who know what they are doing.  Each earthly craftsperson is that because we have been crafted in God’s image. He is the ultimate craftsman and we have been made like Him.  While each work of art begins as a dream or a vision in the mind and heart of the artist, it soon takes shape through the careful use of artistic forms and is eventually finished as a carefully constructed work of truth and/or beauty.  Through the use of established artistic forms, it is the function of order that guides this transformation. Each field of expression has elements of external order that enables its expressions of truth.

Visual Order
The visual arts: painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and various forms of computer-generated expression, are static; they do not unfold in time.  The expression of order in visual art is contained in the position and juxtaposition of the images employed to represent the truth and/or beauty of the piece.  As still as these images may be, they represent action. As motionless as they may be, they can still depict speed, sloth, or even stillness.  As one dimensional as they may be, they can still present depth and perspective.  All of these created images function well or poorly based on the skill of the artist and the order of the piece.

There are two fundamental approaches to the visual arts and their orderly presentation of truth and/or beauty:

  1. Realistic art wherein the images represent the actual appearance of the objects presented, and
  2. Abstract art wherein the images represent the feelings of the artist about the ideas represented.

Realistic art is a product of the European Renaissance (roughly from the 14th through the 17th centuries) when, inspired by ancient arts, visual artists strove to depict life and objects as they really appeared.  While emotion was certainly depicted, the appearance of the people, places, and things were not altered beyond recognition.  Abstract art was a product of the 20th century philosophies that denied the existence of absolute truth.  Feelings were treated as facts, so the emotions of the artist took over. Images were depicted and named by the artist as personal truth and there could be no argument as to the meaning of the images.  In my view this was not only the rule of emotion rather than truth, but it was also the loss of order as a recognizable element of the artwork.  Modern art became a primary expression of modern thought, chaos on display.

An Iconic Exception
While the use of abstract visual art in the communication of the Gospel of Christ is limited, we must consider the use of icons as aids to worship.  Icons are works of visual art that are not intended to be realistic depictions of saints or biblical characters or events.  An icon is considered a spiritual window through which a spiritual truth can be approached.[1] These works of visual art are not objects of worship but are considered by practitioners to be aids to worship. Realism is not their intension. An icon is a physical window into a spiritual truth.

Performance Art

Sequential Order
Unlike visual arts that are frozen in time, there are many performance arts that unfold in time.  Among these are: plays of all kinds, films, songs, concerts and concert pieces, lectures, and worship services.  In these performance arts the management of time is crucial.

My Naivety
When I was a college student, I had an extremely naive understanding of how pieces of music came to be.  I saw it all as a mysterious process not unlike listening to a song: the composer just started at the beginning and created the song until he was finished.  I remember being offended when a college professor referred to composing music as a “craft.”  My father repaired cars—that was a craft! Writing music was not a craft; it was a mysterious process of musical impartation.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that musical forms were the composers’ best friends.  The symphony, (4 movements) the concerto, (3 movements) the opera and its sacred cousin the oratorio, the sonata, and on and on we could go, were all forms, musical orders, that composers used and audiences expected. Yes, musical composition is a craft, a holy thing over which the Heavenly Dove could brood when the music was for the Lord.  Also in college, during a production of Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s Carousel, the Lord called me to put His story into the form of a musical play.  Immediately I set out to study two things: 1) His story, and 2) the form of the musical play. 12 years later or so, I started writing scripts to tell the Christmas and Easter stories as well as other Christian dramas.  Learning the order of a musical play was not easy, but it was work that I had to do. Now there are more than 25 of these plays on my resume.

It is not difficult to see that works of art that unfold in time generally have a 3-part order:

  • The beginning, (exposition of the themes)
  • The middle, and (development of the themes)
  • The end. (the climactic restatement of the themes-the recapitulation)

At the risk of being over simple, this 3-part structure underlies almost every time of presentation from sermons to lectures, to songs and concert pieces, to stage plays and film scripts.

“Slice-of-Life” the Unfortunate Alternative
There is another way to stage an event; “The-Slice-of-Life” structure.  This unfolds in time but there is nothing especially expositional about the opening (Act One) or conflicted about the middle (Act Two) or conclusional about the ending (Act Three.)  The Jesus story does not lend itself to the Slice-of-Life form.  Yet, one can hear sermons like this much too often or songs like this that seem to start nowhere and travel nowhere and end up nowhere. The careful management of time in any type of performance art is the order your story or you message needs to get through to an audience.

The Worship Service

Public Worship: A Form of Godliness with Power[2]
A worship service is a presentation of communal art. Music is the principal art of public worship.  Congregational song has born the burden of communicating the spirituality of the People of God since the days of David’s Tabernacle.[3]  Is there a more quoted repertoire than the Book of Psalms in all of Western civilization? I think not. (Please note that I specified “public worship.” I realized that worship does not equal music, etc.  I am talking about public worship.)

Public worship is a community art that unfolds in time, so the order of such an art is important. Public worship should not be random songs thrown together for insignificant reasons.  A worship set (the proper term is “liturgy”) should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

  • Call to Worship—Introduces the spiritual theme,
  • Praise—Songs that extol the excellence of the Lord along the theme,
  • Worship—Songs that adore the Lord and honor His presence, and
  • Conclusion—Songs or a song that responds to the chosen theme and leads to the rest of the service.

The 3-part order can be seen here:

  • Part One: Call to Worship/Praise
  • Part Two: Worship/Prayer, responding to His presence, and
  • Part Three: Conclusion.

The songs should flow naturally from song to song in theme and musicality.  God invented music for just this purpose.  When worship leaders discover how music works and obey those God-given factors, the worship of the people of God can take on a divine order that moves the People of God forward.  The Brooding Dove can find a place to land.

Musical Gravity
God led church musicians to discover harmony and musical notation so that songs could be easily transferred from person to person and from generation to generation. Part of this wonderful gift is what is called the Circle of 4ths and 5ths. If you are a worship leader and you do not employ the Circle of 4ths and 5ths in your song flow, I implore you to discover it.  It is like musical gravity.  Your worship can flow gracefully from song to song like a stream flowing downhill.  No pumps needed, just the natural, God-invented flow of music.

Is there a more important type of public art than the worship service? I think not.  There is more going on than just choosing and singing songs.  I challenge worship leaders and lead worshipers (pastors) to find out the facts.


People Need the Worship Arts
We can no longer consider the worship arts as pleasant decorations employed by the church to brighten up the place.  These things are essentials!  We cannot fulfill the 2-fold commission of the church without them—to love God and love people. How can we “preach the Gospel to the whole world” or “make disciples” without the fresh, creative power of the Holy Spirit? We must provide the Brooding Dove a place to land and do His well-ordered work of pushing back chaos and bringing in order. This lost world needs the creativity of the People of God. Lost people need it. Growing people need it. Tired people need it. Discouraged people need it. Proud people need it. Humble people must have it. They need the embryonic dreams and visions from the Holy Spirit. They need the processes of craftsmanship as the dreams and visions become works of art—works of Truth, Beauty, and Order. They need the Truth of God the Father. They need the Beauty of Jesus, the Son of God. They need the Order of the Holy Spirit of God in their lives. Who can express these things?—The Church through her anointed artists. That is why the Last Days Outpouring of the Holy Spirit will bring a RENAISSANCE OF THE WORSHIP ARTS!

It is time for leaders to lead.  The words of Isaiah and John’s reference to them, are the words we need to hear today.

Mark 1:2-3 NKJV
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.”  ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'”

Isaiah 40:3-5 NKJV
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Do you see the order of this highway? Valleys and mountains leveled, wild, dangerous curves redesigned for orderly travel, rough roads resurfaced for ease of passage? Artists design and build this highway as we are led by the Spirit.  Why? So the glory of the Lord will be revealed, the chaos of sin abated, and the order of the Spirit installed. “In the Last Days, saith the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit.” Watch out! Dreams and visions ahead!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
© 2022 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

[1] An image used in worship in the Eastern Orthodox Church and among other Christians of similar traditions. Icons depict Jesus, Mary, and the Saints usually in a severe, symbolic, nonrealistic way. (The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition)

[2] II Timothy 3:5

[3] 2 Sam 6:17-18 So they brought the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.

Order: Exploring a Worship Essential, Part Two

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