Last year George and I attended a different church every week. We experienced numerous different styles of worship and he and I each have our own preferences. We agree on most issues, but I have come to like many of the contemporary songs whereas he prefers the traditional.
The church we chose to attend this year uses just traditional. Now I have to say there are many traditional songs that I love--"Blessed Assurance", "In the Garden", "The Old Rugged Cross" and many more. Then there are the ones that are impossible to follow the tune, the words are archaic and the meaning is unclear.
We have attended week after week and I have not felt "in tune" with the worship songs often, as not many of my favorites are chosen. It was a few weeks ago when we were singing some ancient song that I whispered to George, "Look around. See how many people are NOT singing." The few that were seemed to be just mouthing the words. Is this worship?
Now, I have respect for this church and I know that finding the perfect church is impossible. I also know that it is not proper to go to a church and try to change it to your liking and that is why I have not said anything.
This particular Sunday, the Pastor (as if he had heard my whisper to George a few weeks ago) preached on Habakkuk 3:19c "For the choir director, on my stringed instruments." He said that music is a vehicle. It should be honoring, dignified and submissive to God. He quoted Colossians 3:16 saying that it should be encouraging and lifting up the word, praising God. I agree.
He said too often Contemporary Christian music focuses on self. He said that it becomes about the performer. That being said, it is true. We have seen that happen. Perhaps because the music is more of the worldly nature being contemporary-style, this is a temptation. I do not fault the music.
Let me do a comparison. From the 1800's: "Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry; O Saviour meek, pursue Thy road With palms and scattered garments strowed." In comparison: "Majesty, worship His Majesty Unto Jesus, be all glory, Power and praise. Majesty, Kingdom authority Flow from His throne, Unto his own, His anthem raise. So exalt, lift up on high The Name of Jesus, Magnify, come glorify, Christ Jesus the King, Majesty, worship His Majesty, Jesus who died, now glorified,King of all Kings."
The latter was contemporary. Just reading those words, what is self-centered about that? It is nothing but beautiful, pure praise and honor to God. So many contemporary hymns are personal--"I love you Lord", "I Exalt thee", "Father, I Adore you". Isn't worship supposed to be personal?
Many contemporary songs either take a direct quote from Bible verses or are based on them, ie: "As the Deer Panteth for the Water" (Psalm 42) or "Shout to the Lord" (Psalm 98).
I find it interesting that some of the same churches that have approved later versions of the Bible, New King James, NIV, Good News, cannot embrace the modern music.
The Pastor today mentioned the importance of tradition--that our children and our children's children would have the same songs. If not, each generation would be learning new songs of their own. I don't mind keeping with some tradition. I agree that there are some treasures in some of the old standards that should be kept alive. However, there are some really beautiful and heartfelt new songs. Also, who is to say what is the cut off date? I see songs in the hymnals that go back from 1700's to 1800's and possibly some early 1900's. At what date is the line drawn in the sand and we cannot cross?
This church has decided to use the word "sins" instead of "debts" or "trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer. I think this is a great thing. It is more relevant to our understandings today. It is contemporary.
The Pastor said to feel free to sing these contemporary songs at home, in the car or elsewhere, but that they did not belong in the worship service. He said that Satan is a great musician too and that music for music's sake is idolatry. I understand what he is saying. There are those (and I dare to say this is even true of some traditional church music performers) who enjoy "performing" the songs for church. It does not necessarily take drums, guitars and keyboards to be "performing", a traditional choir can be doing the same thing without any instruments at all and it doesn't take just "evil" contemporary songs. I dare be bold enough to say that in some places I've been that even the people leading the prayers are "performing" the prayers. I feel badly for saying that, but that is how some people come across.
This has not been to tear down any church that chooses only to use traditional music. I don't believe that Traditional vs Contemporary is Good vs Evil, it is just different. I do believe that Contemporary songs can be presented in such a way that they are not about the person(s)leading the song. I do believe that this music is often easier to understand and a good magnet for younger Christians or new Christians just as NIV is easier to understand than King James.
What it comes down to for me, is do I understand what the song is saying? Can I sing the words and mean them? Are they glorifying God? Are they heart felt? Isn't it as simple as that?
Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord!