Music And The Church


As I sat before my computer this afternoon, a tune flitted through my mind–one I associated with my childhood. And surprisingly, I could remember the first words, though I don’t recall when I last heard it. It’s not a traditional hymn that my church sings even when we do sing hymns.

Upon checking, I found it in the old Mennonite Hymnal my parents gave me years ago, so I assume it was a song I heard at church countless times as a preteen. The tune stuck and some of the words stuck.

Interestingly, I consider myself fortunate to be in the in-between generation when it comes to church music. I did grow up singing hymns Sunday morning and evening and at Wednesday prayer meeting. But when I reached college, contemporary Christian music burst on the scene, and I embraced the songs that seemed more in line with my generation. I continued to do so long after I graduated and began teaching. Petra and Steve Camp and Michael Card played a big part in my spiritual growth, right alongside the great hymns of the faith we still sang at my church.

Consequently I’ve never felt at war with anyone regarding music in church . . . until the past five or ten years. There was a stretch there that contemporary Christian songs seemed more vapid than ever. Granted, they didn’t have a lot of meat in their inception. “It only takes a spark/To get a fire goin’/And soon all those around/Will warm up to it’s glowin’/That’s how it is with God’s love/Once you’ve experienced it/You spread His love/To everyone/You want to pass it on” wasn’t packed with theology, to say the least. But the new songs bothered me more. They seemed void of Biblical truth, self-centered, and repetitive.

Somebody else must have thought so too, because some song writers like Keith and Kristyn Getty started putting out music of a higher caliber. And still, I’ve been unhappy, even when our choir is leading us in traditional hymns. Why?

Last March I came across a blog post at the Rabbit Room put up by Andrew Peterson entitled “An Open Letter To Praise Bands” which gave voice to what I was feeling. Here’s an excerpt:

In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you [worship leaders] to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship. (Emphasis mine)

The author of the letter, James K. A. Smith (Andrew Peterson was quoting it), went on to make three excellent points:

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.
2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.
3. If you, the praise band, [or choir] are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

Dr. Smith elaborated on each point, and I encourage you to read the entire post, particularly the letter.

Nevertheless, I realized today as I hummed that old hymn from my childhood that there’s something else our contemporary practices that mimic the world are robbing us of: we aren’t putting worship music into our hearts. Rather, we’re moving from one song to another, changing with the frequency of a top ten pop chart, reading the words on the screen, and promptly forgetting them. Will pre-teens today remember one tune from their church days? Will any of the words come back to them?

I realize music in the church is a touchy subject. As it turns out author and friend Mike Duran wrote about the subject today as well. I appreciate what he said because I do think a lot of complaints about music are more about personal preference than anything, but that, I believe, is a byproduct of the thing that Dr. Smith wrote about–we have come to see the congregation as the audience, and the band or choir and orchestra as the performers. We therefore reserve the right to like or dislike what takes place “on stage.”

That’s not worship. I tend to think, if we capture the spirit of worship again, many of the complaints about music will fade. No, they won’t go away. I mean, let’s be realistic. 😉 But I think they’ll fade.

Oh, that song I was humming? The title is “Jesus Calls Us.” You can listen to the tune played much as I remember hearing it, and here are the words:

1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”

2. Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”

3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love Me more than these!”

4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.

Published in: on September 4, 2012 at 5:59 pm  Comments Off on Music And The Church  
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