Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sing a New Song

Think for a minute about something that has become one of the most contentious areas of almost any church you or I can name – musical worship.  Why do you think it’s become such a battleground?  It seems like almost every church I know much about is struggling with some kind of compromise between traditional hymns and the more modern “praise music”.  Is one type of music inherently good or bad, better or worse than the other?  Is it just personal taste?

I remember having my first debate about the pros/cons of contemporary Christian music over 30 years ago with my brother.  We didn’t come to any absolute “this is the way things should be” moment then and it seems like we’re not any closer to figuring out where worship ends and the rock concert begins.

I have to admit, that I even argue with myself sometimes because I can think of plausible arguments for several points of view.  I also enjoy lots of different kinds of music.  I love Handel’s and Bach’s music, almost all of which was written expressly to enhance the worship experience, but I know some folks who would be completely bored if we limited our churches to only using their music.  I also love Mozart’s music, much of which was written primarily as secular entertainment.  Does that mean that his music is inappropriate for use in a worship setting?

The Christians who are members of the Church of Christ would feel uncomfortable in a worship service that included any musical instruments.  They use only unaccompanied vocal music during their worship.
“The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church's worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.
“Scriptural backing for this practice given by members includes:
“Matt. 26:30: ‘And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’
“Rom. 15:9: ‘Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name;’
“Eph. 5:18,19: ‘... be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,’
“1 Cor. 14:15: ‘I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.’
“Col. 3:16: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.’  Amos 5:23   ‘...I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’  Amos 6:5 ‘who invent for themselves instruments like David.’
“Heb. 2:12: ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.’”[1]
Now whether you’re in the traditional or contemporary camp, having no musical instruments in the sanctuary would certainly change your perspective on worship music.

Do you realize there was a time in the early American church that singing hymns was considered quite controversial and cutting edge?
“One of the most notable, but least studied, aspects of the 18th-century revivals that led to the rise of modern evangelicalism was the disputed place of hymn-singing. In his very first report on the unusual religious stirrings in Northampton, Massachusetts from 1736, Jonathan Edwards noted that although his congregation had already learned the era's new style of singing—‘three parts of music, and the women a part by themselves’—the revival had worked an extraordinary musical effect:
“Our public praises were greatly enlivened, and God was served in our psalmody as in the beauties of holiness. There was scarce any part of divine worship wherein God's saints among us had grace so drawn forth and their hearts lifted up, as in singing the praises of God.
“Yet soon the fervor of hymn-singing, as well as what the newly revived were singing, came under fire. Not only were critics upset with what Edwards (in a later work defending the revivals) described as ‘abounding in much singing in religious meetings.’ Critics were also complaining that the revived congregations were singing ‘hymns of human composure,’ that is, hymns newly written by contemporaries rather than hymns paraphrased directly from the Psalms, which was then the only kind of hymnody widely accepted in most English-speaking Protestant churches.”[2]
So singing the hymns that so many of us consider stodgy and out-dated, once brought about a revival…hmm.  Could that possibly mean that whether or not you, personally enjoy a certain type of music that is sung in your church, that God may be using it to reach someone with His love?

This is a really tough issue for me; I love hymns.  I also feel blessed by a whole lot (but not all) of the contemporary religious music.  I also enjoy listening to and singing country gospel as well as spirituals.
King David wrote a huge number of songs that helped him to understand the love of God in a closer and more personal way.  Reading through the book of Psalms can ease and comfort a troubled heart and then teach that heart to worship and praise God.  And yet, when early American Christians began expanding upon what King David had done, they experience revival as well as criticism. 

I’m not saying we all have to like all kinds of music.  I’m not trying to say that everything that claims to be Christian music is acceptable in a worship setting.  I’m not saying that we should allow our emotional connection to music lessen our commitment to Biblical truth.  What I am saying is that Satan loves to see our congregations divided over issues that, in and of themselves, are not relevant to our individual salvation.  Would I really let something like whether or not I liked the music a church played keep me from what I am convinced is the Truth?

I had a friend a few years ago, who hated it when the organ in the sanctuary accompanied the congregational singing…really, really hated it.  He actually experienced it as oppressive.  He loved to hear the congregation singing hymns with a guitar.  In the same congregation was another friend who felt that clapping with the music was irreverent and had no place in the sanctuary.  They were good friends of mine and of each other.  Neither one left the church or demanded that all the music in the sanctuary be his (or her) way all the time. 
“Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.  Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”  Psalm 33:1-3

[1] Wikipedia,
[2]Mark Noll, "Singing the Lord's Song," Books & Culture (Jan/Feb 2004) 

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