A Musical Interlude

Song writers and musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty

Song writers and musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty

From time to time I’ve discussed what I perceive to be problems with the music portion of worship in many churches, and of late that includes my own.

Instead of breaking down the problems again or elaborating or pointing out particulars that seem inconsistent with a service intended to glorify God and edify believers, I thought I’d post a video which shows the kind of music I would like to see more of. It’s contemporary and it’s Biblical. It focuses on God and His work. It is musically the kind of song lay people can sing. And it is theologically on target, requiring people to think even as they worship.

Honestly, I think I could have posted any song from the Gettys’ hymn collection and said essentially what I wrote above. Their music is that good. I invite you to see for yourself, and then check out their YouTube channel.

Published in: on September 16, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (16)  
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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:

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

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.

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

Photo shared on FB by Susan Gentry DeMaggioOnce upon a time, when churches had bulletins in which the order of service was printed, occasional lines read, “Congregational Singing,” followed by a number in a hymnal.

Times have changed, bringing changes to church services. Certainly some of those are fine and appropriate and not in the least contrary to Scripture since the Bible doesn’t mention bulletins or orders of service or hymnals.

In fact, how we conduct “church” is more a reflection of our culture than any Biblical mandate. There’s simply not much laid out concerning what our “assembling ourselves together” is supposed to look like.

I was raised in a church that didn’t use instruments to accompany our congregational singing, and I don’t remember a choir. Instead the congregation sang hymns in four-part harmony at the direction of a music minister or song leader—I’m not sure what his title was.

But in my teen years someone introduced contemporary Christian music, and before long praise songs made their way into church.

Since then, there seems to be a running controversy about how we are to “do worship” because with more and more frequency, congregational singing has come to be known as “worship.” Prayer, offering, sermons, even communion are something else, apparently, and corporate singing alone is worship.

Along with these changes, much of this “worship” has taken on the trappings of secular concerts. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this ostensibly since the Bible doesn’t lay down any direction about our singing except to say that we are to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (see Colossians 3:16).

So in some churches, the tech people flash words on a screen, lower the house lights, turn on spotlights to illumine the worship band, and crank up the mics. The leader will sometimes verbally cue people to the next line of a song—though it’s in front of them—or riff some line that’s not there. Sometimes, with no warning, all but one member of the “worship team” will stop singing and the rest of us are left to wonder if we are also to be silent or to be led by the single singer.

In short, there’s more of a concert feel to these times of singing than there is of congregational singing. Good? Or bad? Young people should feel right at home with the concert atmosphere, and tradition isn’t supposed to become Law.

But maybe there are a couple bigger issues. I wonder if we’ve lost the purpose of our singing.

When we meet together we can make a joyful noise to the Lord as the people of Israel did and we can sing to instruct one another as Paul said in Colossians 3. However, I think we might be losing both those purposes in our concert environment.

First, people go to concerts to be entertained. I think too many people are going to church for the same reason. Was the pastor funny? Did he repeat the stories he’s already told? Was he boring? That mindset is replicated during the singing. Rather than thinking about the instruction of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, or singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God, or making a joyful noise to the Lord, we’re thinking about whether or not we liked the music. Is it too old fashioned, too shallow, too repetitive, too loud, too archaic, too jazzy, too uni-voice, too whatever I don’t like as much as I like something else?

People who love hymns and people who love contemporary music can error in the exact same way—judging the music based on how entertained they are by it.

In addition, in a recent Facebook discussion about worship, several people mentioned euphoria as part of the experience in the “concert mode” style. I have to wonder how many people are gauging “worship” based on how euphoric it makes them feel.

I do think when we enter into a closeness with God, we can experience a “spiritual high,” but if we go about trying to recapture that surprising joy, as C. S. Lewis referred to it, we’re worshiping for the wrong reason. We ought not think about what we can get from the experience. Instead, we ought to be focused on other believers or on God as we sing truths or praise. And yes, when we sing truths for others, we will hear them too. When we sing praise to God, we may enter into a closer experience with Him.

But those are gifts God gives us as effects of our singing. Our purpose ought not to be to receive an emotional boost, and it ought not to be to be entertained.

Secondly, singing is only one aspect of worship, but our concert mode and our “worship team,” “worship band,” “worship leader” phraseology encourages us to think of music as worship and the rest of our service as something else.

I suppose these two are tied together because we don’t often get a euphoric bump when we put an offering into the plate or even when we listen to a sermon (unless our preacher is one who milks the crowd and has everyone weeping by the time he’s finished). Nevertheless, the teaching of the word of God, giving to His work in our church, community, and the world, petitioning Him to change our hearts and draw us closer to Him, are all parts of worship, whether we feel it to be so or not.

Worship ought not to be about how we feel. Worship is about us giving. We ought to worship God, not because we to get something from it, but because He deserves it.

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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