I know when a post is bound to get me into hot water with some. This is one of those times. I am often amused, bewildered, confused and disappointed at the comments I hear or read about various styles of musical worship in the church. The common complaints are:
The music is too loud; The music is too contemporary; The music is too old; I wish they would sing hymns; We changed churches because we didn’t like the music; God doesn’t move through that kind of music.
We choose churches many times like we choose which concerts to attend, based solely on the quality and genre of the worship music. We want to attend where we receive the best worship experience and where we feel God’s presence over other locations. Even worse than this, many still view the Worship time of a church service as simply a time to allow stragglers to get there before the sermon begins. Even while composing this I can’t believe the arrogance we display when we approach corporate worship. Are we really that self-centered a church that we use worship style as criteria for membership?
We are all products of our upbringing and exposure when it comes to church attendance. Of course we naturally have certain preferences of music styles when given an opportunity to choose. Many churches actually offer worship experiences either at different times or simultaneously to accommodate all preferences, but that can lead to separation within the church, or an Us vs. them mentality. I only know the people who attend my specific worship service, about a third of the total church. The problem with this ongoing debate over worship preferences is that by definition, a preference is reflective of a personal, inward “what I desire” attitude vs. an outward expression and contribution to worship of an all inclusive God. That, in my opinion is where we miss the boat in this debate. There are at least two big problems with the way in which we approach musical worship.
This is the first problem as I see it. I have been involved in heated discussions with some of my Christian siblings regarding which style is more conducive to the moving and freedom of the Holy Spirit of God. It makes me want to scream and run naked King Davis style at how self-righteous we sound when trying to argue one style being more “spiritual” of “Godly” than another. Lets take a look back at the history of music as we know it.
Western hymns began with the Homeric Hymns written around 700 BC in Greece and sung to ancient Greek Gods. Their origins are clearly founded in idolatry, not Christianity.
Byzantine or Chant music is an ancient traditional music style that involves a series of tones used to put poems and prayers to worship. It is vocal only and can be traced as one of the original musical worship forms of the early church.
Gospel music, the basis for Black Gospel, Southern Gospel et al, can be traced no further back than the 17th century as a poetic call, response style set to rhythm with hand clapping and foot stomping.
Jazz is another African American style dated to late 19th century but hailed as an American Original art form. It gain popularity in 1910 in the New Orleans area with heavy brass influence and has evolved into modern jazz, southern jazz, jazz fusion and the like.
Rhythm and Blues, or R & B, dates to 1940 and combined blues, jazz and urban influence into a new style. R & B bands might consist of piano, guitars, bass, drums, brass, and background vocalists.
Country and Western can be traced to Atlanta, GA in or about 1920 and is easily identified by its guitars, banjos, hillbilly lyrics and all things Apple Pie and Chevrolet. There is no need to further describe Country music.
Rock and Roll emerged in the 50’s as a style influenced by gospel, Jazz, Blues and Country. It started with Bill Haley and others and now includes Heavy rock, garage or Seattle rock, alternative, rock, pop, grunge and more.
The 70’s introduced us to Contemporary Christian Music, banned on radio stations and picketed at church or concert events. The list of pioneers who paid heavy prices is too long to list. Some include Andre Crouch, Petra, Larry Norman, Barry McGuire and the Rez Band. They were booed and protested but they endured and we enjoy CCM as one of several worship styles today.
Here is my problem with arguing the effectiveness and spirituality of worship styles used in the church today. All of these music genres have one glaring fact in common that can’t be debated. It’s quite simple but so often overlooked in our arrogance. Are you ready-wait for it-grab a seat!
THEY ARE ALL MAN MADE!
We are in essence arguing that the music my great-grandpa invented is better than the music your great-great-uncle invented. We are speaking for God in saying He only moves through a hymn but not an urban rap song. We are limiting the move and the power and the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit by suggesting this style is more worshipful than that style. As it relates to corporate worship we are catering to the inward receiving attitude of worship and enabling divisions in the church over worship preferences. We are defining God by time signatures, instrument selection and tradition within styles that are still in their infancy in the great time table.
The second problem and perhaps the greater grievance is that somehow we have made worship all about us and not about God. We have actually created denominations based on worship genres. We have adopted the attitude of coming to a worship service to receive from God, opposed to coming together to corporately join and offer our outward expressions of love, devotion and gratitude TO God. To put it simply, we paid for a good show when we should have been in the band! We have made it clear that we want to worship this way-we are only receptive to this style-we can only feel God with a 2/4 back beat or a Hammond organ and not with a fiddle, a harp or an acapella choir.
I researched all the verses pertaining to worship music that I could find in scripture and this is all I could determine:
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord: Praise him with songs, psalms and spiritual songs; praise him with drums, stringed instruments and cymbals; make merry melody from your heart; enter into His courts with praise! Play skillfully with a loud noise; Sing your praises to Him.
i can’t determine a defining genre or style being suggested anywhere in the OT or NT. I can’t find where one man-made style is more honorable than another. I can’t see where God’s spirit was moving until someone hit a bad note or plucked the bass too loud or used an out-of-tune piano as their only backup. I can’t find where the whisper of a shy child singing a song was any less received than the most beautiful operatic voice. In fact I find just the opposite. I’m no saint-please don’t presume otherwise. I have just come to adapt an attitude of grateful praise in whatever environment I am in. I attend a service where Rock and Blues is the theme and love it. When I visit my brother’s Greek Orthodox church I relish in the ancient and reverent tonal chants they use that date back centuries. When I am alone on the weekend I show my age by singing along with the old quartet hymns. When I’m on the beach I listen to the incomparable praise of His created waves-something no man can duplicate, and am moved to awe in worship.
Don’t go to church to worship-bring the worship to church with you. Don’t attend to receive-attend to be part of the two or three gathered in His name. Don’t go to church to play worship Simon Says-worship god in Spirit and truth from the heart whatever that looks like for you. And please, don’t get caught up in the arrogant self-centered debates over how God decides to respond to His people. Just go and join in a unified response to Him! It’s not about styles, instrument selection or volume levels-it’s about uncontainable and inexpressible reverence, fear and awe from forgiven sinful felons who have had their sentences commuted! But if you want to mic the drums that’s okay too!