Just a continuation of this series. Go back and read Part I , Part II , or Part III
Employs various styles of worship music that reflects the congregation’s diversity, from the Psalms, ancient hymns, early American and Puritan hymns, contemporary music, and even music written by musicians within the church, but should ALWAYS done with the utmost reverence and sincerity, not for the sake of entertainment. Excellence should be pursued in worship for God’s glory, not man’s approval from the pews.
What I would argue for here, in place of some of the extremes we see in churches across America is an approach that embraces diversity in musical styles, but ultimately is authentic in its worship.
How is worship authentic? Well, first I would distinguish “authentic” from “sincere”. We can be copycats of whatever music is coming out of some Nashville based Christian music label, or vice-versa blindly follow a hymnal and organ like its still good ol’ 1890. We can do either of these and still offer it with sincerity in our hearts to God. But neither is really authentic. They are extremes we gravitate toward by not pursuing a richer, fuller idea of how music can be used to praise God.
By placing great importance upon the width and depth of musical sources we draw from, we are in effect celebrating the history of the church and the saints through their words, and participating in an ongoing celebration of music that is focused on Christ and our redemption through Him. This stands in very stark contrast to much of the modern church where we become very exclusive in our musical styles and sources, and we enshrine our own tastes as a tradition to be guarded. (Ever heard someone lament the presence or modern music or instruments, or someone complain because a church didn’t have a rockin’ praise band?)
The Psalms were the original hymnbook for the nation of Israeal, but take a look at most post-1950’s hymnbooks and try and see how many Psalter tunes are there. Not many, which is unfortunate. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing scripture! When we memorize Psalms that we sing regularly, we are memorizing God’s word to us.
Hymnwriters from Puritan England and early America like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, Joseph Addison, Joseph Hart, John Newton, and William Cowper to name a few wrote hymns that beheld a majestic and merciful God, and sinful man in need of mercy. There was not a lack of theological depth or biblical language in their words. We would do well to not forsake hymns from this important period in our own church history.
Some contemporary praise music is quite good. Not the majority of it, but I can be forgiving because that is the case with any period of music. Ultimately the majority of it gets weeded out and the best remains. There will be music written in the last 20 years that one day will be included in hymnbooks and become standards (maybe, unless the hymnbook passes away from use in our churches)
There is even a place for homegrown music in an ideal church. What better way to pursue artistic excellence for the sake of Christ than to encourage our musicians and songwriters (if you have ‘em) to use their talents within the church? Many musicians have felt as if they had to leave their talents at the door and submit to a stiff tradition that’s inherited. This is wrong. The nation of Israel had large numbers of musicians employed from the tribe of Levi for temple worship, men who pursued excellence musically.
But….. think back to my first sentence; Reverence. Without it, our worship becomes empty, our words become hollow, and our music becomes entertainment-driven and is idolatry. This should be our arbiter of judgement, not merely subjective taste. There is room however for differing tastes and opinions. A community of believers should have the ability to talk openly, and not accusatorily, about what elements of its worship it finds lacking in reverence and find some middle ground. No member should be able to stand apart from the rest and demand that their views be catered to.
Diversity in the instruments present in worship according to the talents and preferences of the congregation, from piano and organ to acoustic guitars and strings, or electric instruments, but… done with the utmost reverence and sincerity.
Here is an illustration: Imagine we sent missionaries to a foreign country and they had great success in sharing the Gospel to a remote group of people. In an attempt to introduce them to parts of the larger Christian tradition and history they taught them a few songs. What if the organ and piano were foreign instruments to them? Would we require they adopt the same traditions as we use in our own cultural setting, or would we encourage the use of their own native instruments to sing their praises?
Likewise, when we minister to our communities around us we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more comfortable with instruments they are familiar with. Should we be suprised that to someone in their twenties an singing to an organ is culture shock, or that electric guitars and drums become distracting to someone who grew up in the 1950’s? This is the area that requires the greatest sensitivity. Ultimately its domineering for a generation to expect everything to stay the same for the sake of their own tastes, just as its presumptuous for a younger generation to seek to reinvent a church’s worship in its own ideal overnight. There has to be compromise, dialogue, and a mutual appreciation for differing tastes. Otherwise we end up with segregated services, or people leaving to form their own churches over what is only a cultural issue, and not even a matter of theology or ecclesiology.
If a church is to be authentic, we have to allow this. Cultural wars in which we pit our traditions against the “worldliness” we see in music outside the church is a self-defeating position because throughout history the church has borrowed from outside culture, or at times helped fuel it. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is something sacred because of its nature, or because of its use? I would have to admit that there is nothing inherently sacred about our music, or our instruments, or our songs, but everything sacred about their use.