Worship Music – The Apparent Great Divide

What a flash point worship music has become! On the other hand, it has apparently always been thus.

In writing about church focus, concerning theology and doctrine, I considered worship music to be a side issue simply involving preferences. However, the comments on “What is the cure, Doctor?” indicate it merits a separate thread. It is clearly both a dividing line and a divisive issue for many congregations. Congregation do, and have, split based solely on animosity over this issue.

Anecdotal evidence would indicate that one major dividing line is drums, as in a modern drum set. The appearance of this instrument actually results in the summary exit of some people from not only the service but the congregation. Worse, I heard a Pastor remark on this topic that the congregation was being held back by such people and they should just go quietly if they couldn’t embrace the changes (hard to believe but that is actually what was informally said).

Thinking about it, the implications appear to extend well beyond my original thoughts of simple preference. What I preseumed could be solved by simply blending styles and alternate presentation seems to indicate issues beyond that.

One suggestion might be that this scenario is a demonstrable symptom of the movement of the church into functioning as an entertainment medium. In that scenario, the assumption that would follow (as with any service provider) would be that the church has a responsibility to service each attendee’s need for a joyous and uplifting experience. The existence of any discomfort would be counter-productive. Notice that one of the undergirding assumptions here is that the responsibility for the experience is placed solely on the church, not on the congregant. This reflects the societal issues appearing today in many other forums with the emergence of entitlement rights. This could be taken to illustrate the church and expectations of its responsibilities mirroring societal change, and therefor completely separate from any Biblical expectation. Many would say this is good and that entitlement is driving positive developments. In most respects, I would not be among them.

A related area of exploration could be around the function of the church in supporting and providing comfort for the member or adherent. Is the worship service for us or for the Lord? Without doubt most Evangelicals would say that it is for Him, but is  that the reality? Isn’t the reality that the church is often views as if it is for us? In all of this, where does simple individual preference come in, and to what degree?

Lastly for now, let us move to the Pastoral comment on naysayers. Now, I do not doubt that the comment was serious, and in context am also quite sure that the person it was said directly to (not me) agreed in principle (evidenced by their comments in other venues). But however true it might be for them, it was pretty appalling to hear it stated out loud. It would appear that those who left were likely better justified then they realized. It could could also be legitimately projected that there were likely other people and other issues that would eventually fall to the same solution eventually. So the question needs to be asked, is ‘my way or the highway’ a legitimate response in any of these situations?

There – that’s a start. Again, for me this seems peripheral to the foundational issues, but I could be missing something. I have my preferences and some things appeal to them and others don’t. But we will see what shakes out in comments…


5 thoughts on “Worship Music – The Apparent Great Divide

  1. cnaphan

    The problem with discussing foundational issues is that it’s pretty rare that they become contoversial. You’d be hard-pressed to find a church that wouldn’t prefer sermons to be Biblical, full of doctrinal explanations, etc… but then suggest “Let’s double the sermon length” and you’ll hear the moans and groans pretty quick. As they say, the devil’s in the details. On the other hand, everyone has experienced church music, so they feel qualified to “chime in”.

    The debate over musical instruments is strangely divisive but nothing new. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the lyre, drum, tamborine and pipe were banned, because of their association with pagan religious music. Later, all music, except spoken word chant and restrained singing, was banned, because of the association with the revery found in the heretical sects. Augustine says that the Donatists “inflame their passions in their revels by the singing of psalms of human composition, which rouse them like the stirring notes of the trumpet on the battle-field”. We all see excesses and reactions against excess in the use of polyphony in the Middle Ages, the revelry of Renaissance Catholicism, early Methodism, the early Salvation Army, and modern Pentacostalism, as in the Toronto Blessing, the Latter Rain and such things.

    Against that backdrop, the furor over drums (presumably because of their association with rock music or African music) seems a bit myopic to me. Then again, the reaction of that pastor is even worse. Maybe we should keep the older style of music, until the congregation is unanimous on wanting change.

    Maybe when we’re older, the young people will want hymns rapped, and we’ll be the old curmudgeons threatening to walk out, hehe.

  2. kwilson Post author

    You are correct that many would agree about foundational issues, but when the rubber meets the road the tune changes. That has actually been my motivation, and what I have observed. It is more like running into a brick wall of grand talk about Biblical literacy followed closely by the leadership clearly giving not priority and effectively inhibiting it. It makes me crazy, as you might have guessed.

    [quote]Maybe when we’re older, the young people will want hymns rapped, and we’ll be the old curmudgeons threatening to walk out, hehe.[/quote]

    Actually when I listen ot much of the latest playing in the youth group we are pretty close to that now. We are commands to make a joyful noise and I guess that opinion as to what is joyful and what is not will be a never- ending one.

  3. cnaphan

    Surely there are some non-relative principles though. Hymns and choirs are usually preferred for a few good reasons: when the people sing in one voice, it reduces any attention given to better singers, it allows timid or poor singers to “pipe up”, it highlights the unity of believers, and the effect is reminiscent of the angelic choirs described in the Apocalypse as singing in one voice, thus uniting the earthly church with the heavenly one.

    Hip-hop and rap do not meet those criteria, mostly due to the individualistic lyrics and single performer.

  4. kwilson

    I would tend to agree, but would certainly get a strong argument from many congregational leaders today, including some of my own. The movement I see is towards an almost anything goes environment. At the core this could be viewed as a fast track to relativism in this aspect of the church, but many see this as good. The idea of worshiping together and thus in unison and less individuality that your reply points to vs what you point out as individualistic worship (though often not as dramatically demonstrated as with your rap example) is, once again, not viewed as bad in many places today.

    To go to the extreme (and likely end up in hot water for being too conservative) there are performance art churches in this city under the banner of mainstream denominations where the service is conducted concurrently with individual art performance at the front of the sanctuary, even though the art (eg. painting) is completely unrelated to the service itself. That may be hard to visualize, but it is true. This is viewed in a very positive light. It’s beyond my comprehension…

  5. cnaphan

    Heh, we have a friend coming to our young adult Bible Study who hails from a United Church and a liberal one at that. And yes, they are full of the “arts” – dancing, plays, poems, performance singing, painting, baton twirling and who knows what else. (well, maybe no batons)

    Samuel Johnson said that religious art never succeeds because it is asked to decorate something more beautiful than itself. From that, we can say that religious art should never attempt to be more beautiful than its message. It ought to adopt the role of a handsome picture frame, which draws no attention to itself, but perfectly fulfills its role by simply presenting the picture in a clear, pleasing manner.

    I’d say that, for religious art in a service, if an individual’s skill is highlighted in any way, it is bad. If there’s clapping or bowing at the end of it, it’s bad. Good artists are still a blessing, but their gifts must be used in a way that downplays their individual skill, and subsumes their gifts into the communal worship. Otherwise, the artists risk pride, the people risk envy, not to mention idolatry.

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