Masculine worship: pounding guitars and lots of D minor?

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Here's a post sampling the sort of music here being discussed. Check it out, then read this discussion. Or the other way around.

Here's an e-mail exchange between our Pastor for Music and Worship, Jody Killingsworth, and another church musician outside our church. The subject is men leading worship.

Yes, some readers are sceptical of the entire enterprise. The effeminacy of androgyny has taken over our culture whole-hog, leaving even the vows of wedding ceremonies neutered. Tragically, otherwise Biblical churches think and act as if men and women are interchangeable in everything but the Sunday morning pulpit and Thursday evening session meeting. Here, though, we'll assume the worthiness of the work under discussion and leave those unconvinced to argue over it somewhere else.

So, assuming men--not women--should lead the corporate worship of the church; and also that those men should lead from their manliness; what are the steps to be taken? (The e-mail has been redacted to protect the guilty.) (TB)

Dear Jody,

What are the essential elements of "masculine worship?"

When it comes to explaining why we do the things in worship the way that we do them, I am trying to rethink some of my assumptions. Concerning masculine worship, I assumed for a long time that it was simply a matter of guitars, drums, distortion, and 100+ dbs… Oh yeah, and lots of Dm. 

Now, I'm trying to rethink masculine worship and your thoughts would be very helpful to me...


Jarod (we’ll call him)

Dear Jarod,

Yes, masculine worship is a difficult concept for us to grasp, isn't it? And the reason why has to do with a sea change in American culture that took place during the industrial revolution. Prior to that, masculine piety existed and led in the church, whereas feminine piety, its God-given complement, played a necessary but deferential role. Stop for a moment and read this helpful summary of the problem from Doug Wilson's Mother Kirk.

Masculine piety is something we simply don't understand anymore because all our assumptions today of how to be godly are feminine assumptions. Feminine piety is our baseline; our operating system. I’ve heard it said that culture is all that stuff you suck in without noticing. Today, effeminacy is the air we breathe. So as soon as we become convinced that we need to have masculine worship, inevitably we try to get everybody sitting around fire pits, roasting wild boar, and acting like a bunch of un-bathed Viking Neanderthals. Now, I’m exaggerating, but my point is that when what we're trying to recover is as far gone as masculine piety, it's our tendency to overcorrect in the pursuit of it. And this is because we lack any godly frame of reference. Which is to say, we lack wisdom.

Yet, we do so desperately need to recover what has been lost. And that's where your question comes in. What is masculine worship? What are we aiming at, exactly? What do we do?

In the first place, it's crucial to understand that masculine worship is not the absence of femininity. Here it’s important to distinguish between femininity, which is God-given and "very good," and effeminacy, which is a serious sin (1Cor. 6:9). The true failure of most contemporary Christian worship songs (and many Victorian and Revivalistic hymns for that matter) is not that they are too feminine, but that they are effeminate. They force us to posture ourselves as women in relationship to God. Lyrically and musically they teach us to think that we exists in some kind of romantic love relationship with Jesus. This is a misappropriation of an otherwise valid Scriptural analogy, that of the Bride and Bridegroom--a corporate analogy, reserved for describing the relationship between Christ and the Church. This corporate analogy CCM wrongly applies to each individual believer, leading both men and women to sinfully think of themselves as existing in an individual love relationship with Jesus in that “Ooh baby” kind of way.

But this is not how Scripture defines the individual's relationship to God. We do not become brides of Christ by regeneration, but rather "sons of God" (Rom. 8:14) and "fellow heirs with Christ" (vs. 17). If there's any "gender bending" to the gospel, it's that women become sons, and therefore fellow heirs of the grace of life (1Pet 3:7). Mind you, this applies only to their ultimate standing before God, not to the termination of their role as helpmeet. The Gospel at once levels us, "...there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28), and re-affirms the created order, "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (1Tim. 2:12). So, how does this work itself out in worship?

Here again, Wilson is helpful. In his book Future Men, he demonstrates (read it here) that masculine worship does not exclude women in the way that "feminine" worship excludes men. Men tend to stay away when women lead in the church, but women flourish when men take spiritual responsibility. And that's the key, I think. Masculine worship is that which leads men to understand, feel, and own the weight of their responsibility before God. It's not a men's club. It's not worship for men at the expense of women. It is worship that leads men to take responsibility for their own souls and for those God has put under their care. Turns out women like it when men take responsibility. Who knew?

So, how can you as a musician and liturgist best lead men to take spiritual responsibility? That's a better question to ask, I think. And a good way to process this is to think your way through the fruits of the Spirit. Remembering that all our assumptions about godliness are feminine, think through the fruits (Gal. 5:22-23) asking how each one can be reclaimed for men. Let's start with Joy.

Joy is vital to godliness, and is consistently joined to the worship imperative in Scripture: "Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing" (Ps. 100:1-2);"Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises" (Jas. 5:13). Joy is an essential ingredient to true worship, and vital to a man's authority in the home and world. I mean, what woman wants to submit to and follow an unhappy husband? So you must lead your men in joy. But how?

Women (quite naturally) and effeminate men (quite unnaturally) take delight in relationships more than truth. Put that in a can with a little open tuning, shake it up, and out pours CCM. Godly men, however, delight first in objective principles that are bigger than and outside themselves. Scripture is full of such principles: truth, order, dominion, honor, self-sacrifice, judgment, law, fatherhood, citizenship, duty, truth, war, etc. These are just a few of the Scriptural themes men were made to delight in. Give your men such themes to confess, and make sure the musical accompaniment helps them to rejoice in them. 

Consider this: one of the most disarming things about "When the Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash’s bold testament to the coming judgment, is that it's in C Major—the epitome of joy as far as keys are concerned. And you've heard how we sing the Ten Commandments at ClearNote—upbeat and in a major key. In other words, with joy! And it doesn’t get any more objective and non-lovey-dovey than the Ten Words, does it? Men and children love to sing our setting of the Law. And I think women love it because of that. My point is this: it's not enough to tremble under God's judgments. It’s not enough to feel threatened by the law (threatening is what heavy distortion and D minor do well, of course). We ought to tremble and we’re right to feel threatened, but it's not enough. We must ultimately teach our people to confess, with King David, that God's judgments and commands are "sweeter also than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Ps. 19:10), even as they humble us, and just because they do.

But we must use wisdom here! There is a time and a place for sorrow. There's a time and a place for the key of D minor distortion. There's time and place for 100+ decibels. And yes, there's a time and a place for subjective relationship (be sure and read my comment below Daniel's critique), and many other things that we understand to be feminine (remember there are an equal number of women present!). It's our job as shepherds to know the time and the place for all things.

In recovering masculine worship, the goal is not to scrupulously avoid all the feminine elements in music. Otherwise you will have stopped making it. Luther didn't call music the "handmaiden of theology" for nothing! What makes for a godly music is the same principle that makes for a godly home: that which is masculine is to lead and order that which is feminine.

I'm happy for us to keep talking this through. Such questions deserve many, many hours of attention. But I can tell you right now, there are no easy answers; no silver bullets. “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27) And sounding the depths of this little mystery is going to keep you up nights.

Yours in Christ Jesus,