[This is not written with a certain person or church in mind and was not prompted by any particular recent events.]
I think we both can agree that one of the most controversial topics among Christian church-goers for the past several decades (perhaps centuries) is that of worship. And when I say worship I don’t mean that we were created for it and it should be part of every aspect of our lives. I’m referring to the part of the church service where we worship through music.
From what I’ve heard, you usually are pretty opinionated and vocal about four parts of this time: (1) whether the music is too loud or showy, (2) whether the songs are hymns – the only songs with any theological depth, (3) “needless” repetition or contemporary remakes and/or (4) being sure to reach “old” un-saved people as well.
As a rather opinionated church-goer myself, I’d like to address these along with you.
1. Loud & Showy
“Those lights are blinding!”
“I’m going to go deaf!”
“Why is the worship leader moving so irreverently?”
“The screen is so distracting!”
“That guitar soloist is a show-off!”
Yes, many modern churches use many of the same sound, visual and musical techniques you might see at a secular concert where the pagans go. Their reason? The “pagans” are used to this and drawn to it. The churches want to draw those people in so they can hear and experience our message of God’s love and forgiveness.
Yes, it’s ultimately the Holy Spirit that draws us to the Father, and our display of brotherly love for each other that point them to Jesus. But if the non-Christian never even comes to a place where he can see our brotherly love and a place where the presence of the Holy Spirit is already thick and active, then the chances are less likely that they will come to Jesus.
We are allowed to engage some of the culture in a redeeming way that points others to Jesus (Acts 17:16-34).
There are types who prefer the chill, coffeehouse show to the flashy, crowded concert. The good thing about the Church is that there are multiple types of local churches with different styles that meet those people where they are, too!
2. Hymns & Theological Lyrics
“The old hymns just have so much more biblical doctrine and theology packed into them! I want the songs that I can worship with my mind and intellect.”
I agree, songs should be lyrically/theologically sound and there are a few out there I can immediately think of that have some theological flaws. But let’s be hesitant to throw around “heretic!” and quick to extend grace before jumping to conclusions about the eternal destiny of that person’s soul because they’re note as theologically trained as yourself.
As for modern worship songs, I’ll let the songs speak for themselves. Please, actually check out the lyrics and tell me those lyrics don’t have just as much powerful theology in them.
For the honor of the Savior / Let the cross be lifted high / The great exchange of love and grace / Came down to give us life / For the honor of the Spirit / Whose power lives in us / That we might see much greater things / As we embrace Your love
“Your Love is Strong” by Jon Foreman (2008) [coincidentally the man whose concerts are being protested by Christians claiming he’s not a Christian]
Heavenly Father, You always amaze me / Let Your kingdom come in my world and in my life / Give me the food I need / To live through today / And forgive me as I forgive / The people that wrong me / Lead me far from temptation / Deliver me from the evil one
There in the ground His body lay, / Light of the world by darkness slain; / Then bursting forth in glorious day, / Up from the grave He rose again! / And as He stands in victory, / Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me; / For I am His and He is mine— / Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
3. Repetition & Remakes
Modern worship songs are so repetitive and thus uninspiring, unintellectual and unneeded.
Remakes of old hymns are the next-closest thing to sacrilege.
Please begin by checking out Psalm 136 and Psalm 67. And how many times did the inspired-by-God, “best song of all songs” repeat this line? I’m not sure why Jesus would have a problem with repetition when He Himself asked God the same request repeatedly while praying in the garden. Also, His teaching on how to approach God (“ask, seek, knock”) seems like He’s suggesting repetition as being an effective form of prayer.
I’m not personally a fan of repetition in songs period – it’s simply a personal preference. I just don’t see why it’s a topic that even needs to come up.
As for remakes of old hymns and claims that the original authors would be rolling over in their graves, I actually think John Newton, a man who ran a trade ship only to later realize that he had been the one suffering spiritual bondage, would have whole-heartedly agreed with Chris Tomlin’s chorus: “My chains are gone! I’ve been set free! My God, my Savior, has rescued me! And like a flood, His mercy reigns!”
And Fanny J. Crosby, the blind lyric-writer of “Blessed Assurance” didn’t even write the music to her poetic passage. I believe she would feel humbled and blessed knowing generations over a century later are still adapting the tones of her hymn to draw many to Christ, still sensing through listening the maintained reverence of the solid trust in God she expressed through her writing. As a missionary, she would have understood studying and adapting to the culture in order to reach it for Jesus.
Pastor Edward Mote originally published “My Hope is Built” anonymously, and is sung to many different tunes, insinuating he wouldn’t be offended in the least by the original melody being altered. His hymn expounded on the importance of Christ as our foundation for life taught in one of Jesus’ parables. Hillsong’s new version observes this in addition to pulling in cross references to Paul’s teaching on Christ as the cornerstone of our faith. (It’s also a tad repetitive!)
Worship songs written today are not going to sound like worship songs written in the ’90s – which don’t sound like songs written in the 18th century – which don’t sound like the songs the early church sang or that David wrote.
4. Reaching Older Generations of Non-Christians
It can’t be a youth concert! You have to reach the older, unchurched people, too! Turn down the volume for them – not me!
I wholeheartedly agree! We should be making sure we reach all non-Christians, regardless of age or demographic!
My only thought on the final point is simple:
Weren’t the unchurched individuals who are now our senior citizens teens when the drums were the most controversial addition to music? Weren’t they enjoying their young adult years when Rock and Roll was on the rise and influencing American culture? These people were not listening to Christian radio or browsing through hymnals. They listened to the latest secular radio station, hung around the bar scene, and went to Woodstock. They probably spent their money on The Beatles and The Monkees records!
Yes, we should reach more than just young unchurched people – we should reach unchurched people over 60 also. But the argument that we should lower the volume and sing hymns to reach their generation just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So before going on your next opinionated rant on church music, please ask yourself:
Is your criticism causing more harmony in the Church or disunity? (Romans 12:16)
Is this really a hill to die on – an issue that will send people to hell or corrupt their souls?
And when did worship become something more about us and our preferences than simply bringing glory to God?