Church Music, Again

up-front-1463389-639x478I figure if the songs we sing in church can repeat a line three times, and the worship leader can have us sing that stanza three times, then I have the freedom to write about church music again. (A couple previous posts are “Music And The Church” and “Congregational Singing”).

I’ll be honest: I’m concerned. My church has taken a stand against viewing the preaching of the word as a performance which we evaluate like we do a movie we go to see. Which is good. Very good. However, our music is nothing more than concert-like. Is there not a disconnect? If the “worship” time is all about the guys up on the stage, why would the “audience” not view it as the warm-up act for the main event: the preacher?

If we want to put on concerts, I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem when we put on a mini-concert on Sunday morning and call it worship.

A couple weeks ago, the worship leader (I have no idea who he was because we never have the same person two weeks in a row), said he was so excited because he felt there was a new freedom in our worship. I thought, How would he know? He can’t see the audience with the spotlights shining in his face and the rest of the room in total darkness, and he can’t hear anyone other than those who are on stage with him. So how is he to judge whether or not there is a “new freedom”?

Some weeks before that, I talked to the worship leader (a different guy) after our service to ask about the particular choice of songs. The words of one seemed particularly unbiblical—more in tune with the health and wealth message than the gospel. As I recall there was some line in one that said something about victory in the streets. Well, I looked around to see if I could find it, and I didn’t have the lyric right. The song is called “Build Your Kingdom Here.”

As it happens, I found it on a site that rates Christian worship songs, and they gave this particular song zero stars. Zero. According to their rating scale, “A rating of zero stars means this song is not recommended for ANY use in a Biblical church.”

Here’s the explanation of the rating for this particular song:

This is a good example of how an otherwise good topic can be misapplied and misunderstood by those singing this type of song. God is in the process of establishing His Kingdom now in the reborn spirits of men who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not establish His physical Kingdom on earth till Christ returns. He will not “heal our streets and lands” until the Millennial Kingdom. Right now we are to preach the Gospel whereby the Holy Spirit changes people who commit to Jesus Christ from the inside out. Two other phrases in this song show it is from a Dominionist/Latter Rain perspective. “Change our atmosphere” and “Holy Spirit, come invade us now”. The “atmosphere” of the world will not be changed until the Millennial Kingdom because right now it is under the dominion of the evil one. The Holy Spirit does not “invade” people, and if they are being forcibly “invaded” it is another spirit.

I don’t endorse everything the people at this site believe, but some of their evaluations were not only ones I agreed with but dovetailed with others who have written about worship music. In this song, the “heal our streets and lands” was the line that I balked at, and the invading of the Holy Spirit is wrong on so many levels—first and foremost, as I see it, that the Holy Spirit already lives inside each Christian.

But the thing that grieves me is the fact that two songs up from this one on the Worship Song Ratings list is one we “sang” (had sung to us) last Sunday: “Break Every Chain.” This one earned one star. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

[Lead:]
There is power in the name of Jesus [3x]
to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain. [2x]

[Chorus:]
There is power in the name of Jesus [3x]
to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain. [2x]

Songs like this that say so little really bother me. Why are we filling our worship time with such vapid fare?

We are to pray in the name of Jesus because He stands in our stead before God. He is our mediator. But the chains of sin and guilt and the law and death were broken at the cross. He isn’t breaking chains now. But of course, I’m only reading into the “chains” what I expect them to mean. I have no idea what the song writer meant or what the worship leader means or what the other people standing in the dark are thinking.

It’s simply vapid—devoid of any real substance, any real meaning. A synonym is vacuous—“having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless.”

And this is the type of song that at least one worship leader says is part of a “new freedom to worship.”

I’m sorry, but what is happening to the church?

Is our time with God reduced to empty, repetitious inanities?

I fear for the next generation. What are their minds going to dwell on when they’re stricken with cancer or facing the death of a loved one? Have they memorized Scripture that the Holy Spirit can bring to their remembrance? Do they have the words of hymns rich in doctrine to resonate with their soul?

We need revival.

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Published in: on August 4, 2015 at 7:00 pm  Comments (36)  
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36 Comments

  1. “We need revival.”

    Amen!

    I share your concerns about worship leaders and modern churchian music. I am often lamenting, can we just sing and old fashioned hymn? How about a gospel song passed down for generations? Something I find really interesting, many young people and kids seem to agree with me. They like the “ancient” tunes. Church is different from “the world” and that difference is actually a huge part of the appeal.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Much agreed. Even though I’m a 90’s kid (i.e. “New is true, old is mold” by the culture’s standard), I love older worship music.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And how did you develop that love, Karl? Just wondering if it came from your family, from the church you grew up in, from your own love of music or theology or . . .?

        Becky

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        • I grew up in a family of singers, and my parents played Amy Grant, Michael Card, Petra, and other Christian bands when I was young. (So I think my love of theology came from the music I listened to?)

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          • Some of my favorites, Karl. I LOVED Petra. And yes, those artists packed their songs with Biblical truth. And no, we didn’t sing their songs in church. They were never intended to be “congregational.” But so many churches have blurred the lines between what is performed and what induces participation. I don’t think things will change unless worship leaders take a stand and say, This is the purpose of our singing, and we together need to lift our voices to God to accomplish it.

            Becky

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    • I wish some of the song writers would take these hymns that are in the public domain and change all the thee, thou, hast, and art’s so that the language doesn’t feel so archaic. I want that great hymn writing to be accessible to this next generation.

      What we’re doing now is following Christian radio’s top ten. Who even gets to learn the words? When I do like a song and the tune sticks, I may find myself humming it in the next day or two, but I don’t know the words.

      And we’ll never again have a cross-generational church that has a shared hymnody that unites us. Because when millennials are fifty, their kids will be singing songs that are different from the ones they once sang.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 7 11 songs. Seven words that you repeat eleven times. Nice post Becky. When our music is about the performer we have gone the wrong way

    Liked by 2 people

    • 7 11 songs. I think I will use that phrase . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • My mother in law shared that with me

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  3. I can’t totally relate since I worship in a congregation that primarily sings hymns. I love hymns because of their poetry and depth. The new worship songs that I’ve heard are geared to rev people up or move people to tears, but they don’t often possess much meaning. I think it’s important to remember that worship is not about what we get, but what we give to God. The new entertainment-style worship is more me-focused and less God-focused.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amen to your comment. Thanks for sharing.

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    • The new entertainment-style worship is more me-focused and less God-focused.

      Exactly, Elihu! That’s the real problem right there!

      Becky

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  4. Amen!!!!!!!
    My husband and I just left our church because of the road it’s going down. It has turned into an emotional Sunday experience. I’m so concerned with the future. God help us.
    Thank you for speaking truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our pastor still preaches from Scripture, but when the music contrasts by pandering to entertainment mode of the day and by straying from meaningful and Biblical content, I think, What are we teaching the next generation? When they are elders, what will make them want a pastor who isn’t performing and who holds to Biblical truth? If it’s not necessary in one phase of the service, why should it be necessary in the other?

      I pray God opens the eyes of the leaders.

      Becky

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      • Unfortunately our new pastor was not preaching with much substance.
        It was again emotional.
        We would have stayed had the preaching been doctrinally sound. There were many things like health and wealth message we couldn’t stand for.
        I am concerned. Amen to praying for our leaders.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ugh! When the word isn’t preached, that’s such a shame. I don’t know how we’ve gotten into this mess in such a short time. When did the health and wealth message infiltrate our seminaries and take over our music? Why are we listening to it and singing it? This is why I think we need revival and it needs to start with evangelical Christians—those of us who say we believe the Bible alone. We need to actually put that into practice.

          Becky

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Spot on, Rebecca. I would like to add that, as a Millennial, the songs I remember are not those my church sang one month or one year ago, but the worship songs from my childhood (“You are My All in All”, “Shout to the Lord”, “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”). Your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was a young adult when Christian contemporary music really caught on, Karl, and I loved it, but so much of it then was influenced directly from the Psalms. I used to buy every praise tape that came out and had a collection of Steve Camp and others. I grew spiritually because of their music. I’m not a “hymns only” advocate.

      But I see music creating a generational divide. It doesn’t have to do that. Older folk can be challenged to think of the desires of the younger generations by accepting good theologically sound contemporary music, and young people can be challenged to sacrifice their preferences for the sake of the older people in the congregation—which means that music will not be of one kind alone. I think it is such an obvious and easy solution. I don’t see why churches approach this issue as if it is an either/or matter. Rather it should be a both/and solution.

      But there should be no place for the repetitive, vapid music I’ve been hearing of late at my church. It will lead to a watering down of the gospel, in my opinion.

      Becky

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      • Based on your above comment about Petra, how can one NOT grow in their faith while listening to such music?

        My view on the hymns-only stance is the same as the KJV-only perspective. I think it’s stupid to say that the KJV is the only trustworthy translation, just as it is equally stupid to say that all Bible translations are equal.

        I haven’t noticed that divide. Just like any other issue, it’s a divide between those who notice the problem and those who don’t – and truth transcends time.

        I agree with your comment on preferences, but that is not the central issue as I understand it. The central issue comes down to questions like, “Is it GOOD to have concert-style worship, using every instrument and music amplifier at our disposal?” Once that is brought up, questions about whether certain instruments, songs/lyrics, etc. aid the vain repetition of modern worship naturally follow.

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  6. Amen. At our church we’re too small to have moved into the “concert venue” mode and we take care to keep our focus on worship rather than performance, but that default keeps creeping in sometimes.
    And we also keep a good mix of old hymns and new “worship music”…but sometimes my husband and I have to look at each other and sigh…Those mindless praise songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You have really nailed it. They are vacuous, aimed at drumming up feelings, insulting to worshipper and Worshipped both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As Elihu said, our singing is actually us giving worship to God. So when the music is “me” focused and aimed at emotionalism, that’s a problem. Thanks for sharing your church experience, Madeline.

      Becky

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  8. Becky,

    What are you going to do about it?

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    • Hey, Sam, here’s what I’ve done so far: prayer, contacted two previous music ministers via email, put my concern before an elder, then before our pastor, spoke to music leader personally, blog about music in church from time to time. 😉 Do you have any other suggestions?

      (BTW, the one Matt Redman song I saw on the list at Worship Song Rating received four stars. Yea! I agree with that. As I mentioned to the music leader I talked with, I don’t think the issue is contemporary vs hymns—there is good theology in both and bad theology in both. I want to see the good theology songs, and I want to see congregational worship through singing as opposed to small group performance. Actually small groups can lead us to worship, as soloists once did, but the inclination of a congregation these days is to respond to “performances” by clapping. We are responding to how well the singers perform and less to our God and what He has done, is doing).

      Becky

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      • So, from the sound of it, you have done everything you can. Now are *you* prepared for God’s Answer?

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        • Well, I’m not sure what you’re implying here, Sam—that God will answer by saying vapid, repetitive songs are just what He wants from His church?

          Scripture indicates otherwise.

          Sadly—and this is why I wrote the post—we free-willed humans may be disobedient and do things our way, for our pleasure and not for God’s glory. So, yes, I’m prepared to see the church here in America continue on a wayward path. But I will pray that God brings revival—which might mean suffering and even persecution, unless we repent. “Whom I love I reprove and discipline: therefore be zealous and repent” (Jesus to the church in Laodicea).

          That’s what God wants for us, too.

          Becky

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          • My point is this. Your problem isn’t the fact that there are vapid or repetitive Christian stories (oops, I meant songs:-) in existence. Some songs are not meant to be Worship songs. You evidently have a problem with your church and the songs you find vapid and repetitive are keeping you from Worshipping. You have prayed about it. You have gone to the Elders and the Pastor and still they are continuing to do use songs you find offensive/troublesome.

            So, we know God has heard your prayers. That leaves us with only two options. He answered your prayer and you have not heard Him or He said, Wait. And we are to wait patiently for Him to respond. So which is it?

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  9. Interesting. I agree with what you say whole-heartedly. All of that big church mentality including the worship “band” complete with spotlights, fog, fancy lighting, etc is surely very easily turned from worship to entertainment. The words you are singing are so very important. Some of the old hymns were very deliberately teaching doctrine, although there are also some “bad” old hymns too.

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    • I agree, LA, there are some theologically unsound hymns (and even Christmas carols), so it’s not really a hymns vs. contemporary music issue. It’s about making our music on Sunday morning contribute to the edification of the body and the glorification and worship of our Lord and Savior.

      Becky

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  10. Oh my! I agree with this. Songs have changed so much. I do like some of the songs sung. The problem is once I walk out of the church I forget them. When you sing hymns you can at least remember them. But people younger than scowl at hymns. They act like they have no power. We may be more used to instant Jesus and instant moments.

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    • I agree, Leah, that we aren’t even doing a good job preserving the best of the contemporary music. I wonder if we’ll stop singing “In Christ Alone” now that it’s “old.”

      Becky

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  11. My family has led worship at our church twice, and beforehand both times my step-dad has reminded us that it is not a concert, that we are literally leading the congregation into worship, and that it is not about us. The songs we pick to sing must be worshipful, not like the albeit Christian songs we hear on the radio, and we’re not going to be adding little embellishments like singers at concerts, because the people have to be able to follow us to worship the God of the universe. I think that a lot of worship teams need to hear that speech. 🙂 Also, our church rotates each week from hymns with only the piano/guitar accompaniment, (out of the hymnals) or the worship team, (usually doing hymns). I love this system because we still keep the beautiful old hymns, but its not always the same so nobody takes it for granted. And between each song people pray, or comment on how powerful the lyrics are, etc. Which adds to the worshipful atmosphere, and causes us to focus on God instead of ourselves. Great post that so many people need to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I think many people need to read your comment. I love the way you lay out what you’re doing, mixing the old with the new, but keeping it truly worship-centered, with the congregation participating. One of the things I’ve mentioned to both my pastor and an elder I wrote too about my concerns, is the leader riffing in places and ways that the congregation can’t follow. I think seminaries should include a course for worship leaders because there’s not enough good teaching such as you received from your step-dad. Why wouldn’t worship leaders act like performers since that’s probably what they see the most. But at this point, I think it’s the pastors and elders who need to step up and say, this is what the music during our worship time should be.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  12. As a Millennial, I see a lot of problems with some of the worship songs in church, whether it’s repetitive, empty lyrics, or ones that are better suited for private listening, not corporate worship. There are good and bad songs of any age, but it’s too easy to just go with what’s popular instead of what’s good.
    When I was in college (Christian college), I tended to skip worship chapels because the music was too loud and unfamiliar. In a given chapel, they’d do maybe one remixed hymn and the rest would be completely new, rarely repeated. The church I attended at the time ended up having ‘Blended’ and ‘Contemporary’ services; the former, which I attended, had a fairly solid variety of older and new songs with good lyrics, but a lot of my peers went to the contemporary.

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    • Julie, I think you’ve brought up the key point—many of your peers went to the contemporary. I think churches—mine for sure—are trying to capture the younger generations. I think it’s important to reach all generations, but I don’t think the way to do so is “dumbing down” the music to that which is currently on Christian radio.

      We [Christians and the culture] talk about younger generations leaving the church, but as one pastor recently pointed out, so many churches have already segregated high school and college young people from the rest of the body. They don’t go to church now. They have their own time which may be as much a social gathering as a time of worship or teaching from the word. So it’s no wonder they leave what they never felt a part of.

      So music, as I see it, is really only a symptom. And sadly, some are using it as if it can cure other ills. It can’t and will only make them worse, I believe.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience!

      Becky

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      • My first year of college, I went to one of the Bethlehem Baptist campuses, but the college group was not plugged into the larger body at all–there was even a Bethel/Northwestern rivalry going on. When I switched churches, I also got involved in Awana, and that helped me get into the body as a whole. Plus, there were other activities that we got into a college group–we had a movie night at the pastor’s house once, and we did a few service projects too. That definately made a difference.

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