Play that funky music

by libr8tr

Most of the stuff I write is on theological/biblical issues.  I’m not all that interested in the practical stuff, like whether or not I should wear a tie to church.

Here it comes … but, I have been thinking about the issue of music in the church service recently.  If you go to an Evangelical or Pentecostal church nowadays, you will hear “contemporary music”, which is a lot like jazz mixed with rock.  It is designed to connect with people from this day and age.

Contemporary worship music is very effective in connecting with people.  It is so effective that even liturgical churches have adapted to the changes and put “worship bands” in their services.  This has a mixed result.  Some people prefer the hymns, while others prefer the “praise songs”.  It has caused a bit of a split in these churches.

To many, the difference is merely between old and new.  To me, the difference is deeper.

In my church, we practice catechism, which means that we teach children the basics of the Christian faith through prescribed questions and answers.  It is hoped that they will be encouraged in their faith through the process.  This process begins in childhood, however, I believe the process of learning and growing should continue throughout one’s life.  In fact, it does!

Whenever we sing a hymn or a praise song, we are feeding ourselves a theology.  We are involved in the process of catechising ourselves.  The melody is simply a delivery method to atheology.

And, what theology are we feeding ourselves?  Here are the words to “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”:

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

Now, read the following praise song:

Lord the Light or Your Love is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus light of the world shine upon us,
Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
Shine on me. Shine on me.

Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth Your word
Lord and let there be light.

Lord I come to Your awesome presence,
From the shadows into Your radiance,
By the blood I may enter Your brightness,
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness,
Shine on me. Shine on me.

As we gaze on Your kindly brightness.
So our faces display Your likeness.
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me. Shine on me.

(Cliff Richard)

The first song is a catechism into the depths of the Christian hope in Christ.  The second is more of an attempt at “personal surrender”.  This is not to say that modern Christian music is “bad”.  Nor do I believe that all hymns are excellent.  Some are really lousy.

No, I think the vehicle  (melody) can be simple, complex, or something in the middle, without issue.  The real issue is what “word diet” are we feeding on?  Much of contemporary Christian music is man-centered.  Theologians call it “Arminian” (not Armenian).  It means that if I do X, God will do Y.

This is not good theology.

This is a diet of worms.

The music we should sing, in church and to ourselves, should be Christ-focused.  That is why I can easily listen to “Holy, Holy, Holy”, and “Sing to Jesus” (a wonderful song by Fernando Ortega) wherever I’m at.  These songs both affirm my Christian faith, rather than confuse it.

So, here’s my appeal;  Music directors, please consider the words, not the vehicle; church members, please consider the words of the praise songs you sing to yourselves.  The point is not the “newness” or “catchiness” of the tune.  It is not the tradition.  It is what we are catechising and being catechised into.  If we focus on the theology of the songs, then we can be open to both new and old, while rejecting the hellish.